Paul identifies himself as both a servant of Christ and one entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed (1 Corinthians 4:1). It is to the first part that we warm to; we know our place as servants. The challenge is the second part; that we have been given a sacred trust of the mysteries that God has revealed. In my experience as a mentor of Christian leaders few realise that they have been entrusted with anything special. Many are frustrated that others seem unable to grasp what is obvious to them. They fail to realise that this understanding is the mystery entrusted to them. They are the ones who have the responsibility to bring it to the church.
This trust is a gift from God and as with all gifts, in embracing it we realise that the Lord has done something special in our lives. He has entrusted to us something of Himself. What a blessing and a responsibility.
Many fall into the trap of trying too hard to press on everyone what has been entrusted to them. This reveals our insecurity; we can be made to feel great if others are blessed by our blessing. Paul lets go of control as he sends Timothy with a letter, passing on the mysteries. The letter holds the teaching, his loved and faithful son in the Lord holds the life. (4v16-17). A powerful combination that allows the Lord to work in people’s lives as He opens their eyes and their ears to receive the message intended for them.
A sense of horror overwhelmed me as I realised that it was only by the Lord holding me on a tight leash that I was kept from working for the destruction of His people.
The Lord has given me a degree of wisdom. As I have watched a spiritual train wreck happening, I have been tempted out of a misguided sense of compassion to intervene and sort it out. I am frustrated by the failure of leadership to do what is needed. The Lord however has held me back. And so He should, for if I were to speak I would damage His body and disrupt His greater plan.
Paul writes, ‘If anyone thinks he is wise by the standards of this world, he should become a fool so that he can become wise.’ (1 Corinthians 3:18) The problem with wisdom is that it can only work with what is perceived and understood, it cannot see God’s big picture. So in this ‘train wreck’ I have to fight against the counsel of wisdom, however godly it seems. A greater wisdom is at play that will ultimately expose my limited wisdom as foolishness. I have to become a fool in my own eyes as I restrain myself, knowing that the Lord has spoken a deeper wisdom into my heart. Faith trusts that God’s counsel will prove true. Hope waits patiently for Jesus’ intervention and love is possible only in this settled state of knowing the Lord has all in hand.
The cross stands as an embarrassment! If I proclaim a God of power it is embarrassing that my God was taken to a cross and executed. If I expect the Lord to bring physical and emotional wholeness then I am embarrassed by the physical torture and emotional abuse He endured. If I look to Scripture for wisdom, I am embarrassed by Jesus’ foolish decision to go to Jerusalem where everyone warned that He would die. I am part of a disciple making ministry, focusing on whole of life discipleship. The cross then is embarrassing because it cut short The Incarnation: God with us, for only three short years.
These spiritual pathways are good, but whichever way we approach God, the cross stands as a stark contrast. Paul wrote, ‘Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.’ (1 Corinthians 1:22-23 NIV) It is easy to miss the point of the cross and lift up the spiritual pathway God has used to transform my life. When I do this I miss the greatness of God in the narrowness of that pathway. Paul continues, ‘For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.’ (1 Corinthians 1:25 NIV). How often God uses the fumbling efforts of a young Christian, while the polished wisdom of the godly fails. My spiritual pathway kneels before the cross as powerless. God alone gives life.
When we think we have ‘the answer’ in a spiritual pathway, then we risk worldliness. Paul says,
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. … 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NIV)
Jesus was constantly harassed by leaders who were jealous for their own spiritual pathway. The Jewish leaders were, in these terms, worldly for the fruit of their passion was jealousy and quarrelling. We see this same fruit in the Church today under different spiritual banners.
Inevitably as we seek God we follow a spiritual pathway. When we do, we are tempted to find affirmation there. Jesus told the religious leaders, ‘How can you believe when you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?’ (John 5:44) Whichever pathway we are in, the time will come when Jesus will lead us to the cross as He crucifies our reputation or even our place in the pathway. This crucifixion can never be predicted or arranged, but when we are faced with the dilemma we know it! This crucifixion elevates Jesus as Lord over the pathway in our hearts. It seems we will lose all we have gained, but actually we gain Christ who is greater by far!