One of our aims at Bethlehem College and Seminary is to teach you to read the world and yourself and the Bible with such illuminating skill that you will always see clearly why you should not boast in that skill or in those who you think have the most of it.
The Corinthian Christians could read the messages of Paul and Apollos and Cephas, but they read like children. They had not yet learned to read with such illuminating skill that the glories they saw in the messages prevented them from boasting in the messengers. So they were dividing into admiration societies: “I am of Paul,” “I am of Apollos,” “I am of Cephas,” “I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:12) — and this, against Paul’s explicit command, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31), and, “Let no one boast in men” (1 Corinthians 3:21).
A Breathtaking Argument
So for those of you who are graduating, let me make one last attempt to spare you this childish way of reading the world and reading yourself and reading the Bible. May God grant you henceforth to read the world and yourself and the Bible with such illuminating skill that you will always see clearly why you should not boast in that skill or in those who you think have the most of it — or the most of any human ability.
To that end, I point you to one breathtaking argument Paul uses to exclude such boasting. The argument is very brief, like a lighting bolt is brief. It’s 1 Corinthians 3:21: “Let no one boast in men, because all things are yours.” That’s the argument. Let no one boast in men. Why? Because all things are yours. All things are yours; therefore, never boast in men. We have tried to teach you to read this — to read it in such a way — that the argument becomes overwhelmingly effective in you.
Because All Things Are Yours
When a sense of insecurity in your abilities, in your job, in your ministry, in your theology, tempts you to attach yourself to someone stronger, someone more competent, more esteemed, more gifted, more secure, don’t do it. You don’t need to do it, because all things are yours.
When a sense of out-of-the-way insignificance in a world of social media, and publishing, and growing churches, and conference-speaking, and metro-urban cultural emphases tempts you to attach yourself to someone or some group that’s more prominent, more shrewd, more published, more successful, more admired, more urbane, don’t do it. You don’t need to do it, because all things are yours.
When the craving for the kudos that come from being in the know about the latest prominent music group, or athletic team, or movie, or pastor, or theologian, or book, or mobile app, or political guru tempts you to attach yourself to them, don’t do it. You don’t to need to do it, because all things are yours.
When the craving for secondhand significance and worth and power and authority tempt you to grasp for it vicariously by boasting in men, don’t do it. You don’t need to do it, because all things are yours.
The Brightest Thunderbolt Strikes
“All things are yours” as you graduate from Bethlehem College and Seminary. That is the brightest thunderbolt that could possibly strike in the darkness of your life — present or future. But Paul knows that when lightning strikes, we tend to close our eyes. We tend to shield ourselves and shrink back from the brightness. And so we miss the grandeur of it. It doesn’t have its full electrifying effect on us. So it doesn’t do its whole work of setting us free from the darkness of insecurity and insignificance and the craving for prominence and power.
So in the millisecond of this lightening strike, Paul captures with his high-speed, inspired, revelatory video some amazing still shots of the thunderbolt “All things are yours.” He captures eight frames: 1) Paul is yours. 2) Apollos is yours. 3) Cephas is yours. 4) The world is yours. 5) Life is yours. 6) Death is yours. 7) The present is yours. 8) The future is yours.
Looking at the Lightning
It has been our aim at Bethlehem College and Seminary to help you examine such photography with such illuminating skill that you will never need to boast in man again. Look at these frames of the lightening bold with me.
Paul is yours. Your father in the faith. The one who betrothed you to Christ. The who suffers countless hardships to build you up. The most prominent apostle outside Israel. The one who was caught up into paradise. The writer of Scripture. You are not his. He is yours. You don’t need to scrape for a few minutes of his attention. Every minute of his life, now and forever, and everything that he does, and says serves your greatest and lasting joy. He is yours.
Apollos is yours. All his Alexandrian eloquence. All his rhetorical brilliance. All his intellectual powers. All his newly refined theology. All his edgy demeanor that pushes the envelope outside the established apostolic band. He is yours. You are not his. You don’t need to follow him around hoping for some attention. Everything he is and has and says will be turned by God for your advantage — whether you are in the inner ring, or whether he has never heard of you. He is yours.
Cephas is yours. The original one. The one whose words go all the way back to Jesus himself on the earth. The one who heard him, saw him in the flesh, touched him, smelled him. Confronted him. Defended him. Denied him. Peter, the pillar, the rock. You are not his. He is yours. Everything he was, or is, or will be, everything he says and does, are being woven into the tapestry of your life with perfect skill to make it beautiful and complete.
The world is yours. The whole world. The world with all its negative connotations in these chapters. “God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:20). “The world did not know God” (1 Corinthians 1:21). “We did not receive the spirit of the world” (1 Corinthians 2:12). This world. This whole God-created, God-owned, God-ruled, natural, sinful, broken, painful, beautiful, horrible, hopeful world is yours. Not just a part of it. All things. In this frame, Paul caught the entire length of the thunderbolt. You are not the victims of this world. You own it. It is not your master. It is your servant. From the most beneficial beauties to the most malignant cancers, it is yours. Everything in it, and everything that happens on it is working together for your greatest and longest good.
Life is yours. Every breath you take. Every beat of your heart. Every chemical transaction in your body. Every day you face. Every night you sleep. Every movement you make. Every word, every deed, every relationship, every accomplishment, every plan — failed or successful. Every emotion that rises, every thought that passes, every book read, every line tweeted, every text sent, every conversation, every gift given, every sin committed. All of it — all your life — is yours. You don’t belong to it. It belongs to you. You are not attached to life. Life is attached to you. Life follows you. Life — all of it — serves you. Forever.
Death is yours. O death where is your sting? It is on Golgotha’s empty cross. Death, where is your victory? It is in the empty grave outside Jerusalem. Then what are you, Death? I am your servant. I serve you while you live to make you wise and serious and fruitful. And I will serve you when you die, to bring you home to Jesus. And to all eternity I will serve you from the lake of fire, reminding you of what you have been spared. You do not belong to me. I belong to you. I, death, am your servant. Death is yours.
The present is yours. All things are yours now. All things do not begin to serve you at some future time. They are serving you now. Every moment of your life is yours. Every moment is your servant. Every moment is a stroke of the divine brush on the canvass of the final masterpiece called you. Every moment — the sad moments, the happy moments, the fearful moments, the bold moments, the lonely moments, the grieving movements, the ecstatic moments, the sleeping moments — all the moments, the present is yours. You are not the slave of time or chance or any sequence of events. You own them. They are yours. They serve you. They are God’s emissaries to bring you to glory, and make you glorious.
Finally, the future is yours. Nothing will come to you in the future — the future of ten seconds from now or ten days or ten months or ten years or ten decades or ten centuries or ten millennia or ten ages of millennia — nothing will come to you that is not your servant. You do not belong to the future; the future belongs to you. Everything that will come to pass from this moment on will work to your advantage. You will shine like the sun in the kingdom of your Father. You will be kings and priests. You will judge angels. You will have bodies like Jesus’s glorious body. You will be over two cities, or five, or ten. You will be a pillar in the temple of God. God will be your God and walk with you, his friends, his child. You will sit with Jesus on his throne. You will never sin again. You will know and you grow in immeasurable pleasures forever. And you will be the fullness of him who fills all in all. The future is yours.
Because You Are Christ’s
“Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:21–22). How can this be? Because you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.
You are Christ’s. You belong to him the way a hand belongs to a body. The way a bride belongs to a husband. The way a subject belongs to a king. The way a brother belongs a brother in one family.
How do you know if you are Christ’s? Romans 8:9: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ is not his.” If you have the Spirit you are his. So I ask you, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2). Yes, by hearing with faith. God came to you in his word — the gospel that you heard — and by that word created life in you, and you believed. And in believing what you heard, the Spirit was received. And this Spirit is not the spirit of slavery, but of sonship. He bears witness with your spirit that you are a child of God, and if a child, then an heir — a heir of God and a fellow heir with Christ” (Romans 8:16–17).
All things are yours because you are Christ’s — Christ’s body, Christ’s bride, Christ’s subject, Christ’s sibling, Christ’s fellow-heir.
Christ Is God’s
And why does belonging to Christ make all things yours? Because Christ is God’s. “You are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” Christ is God’s Son. Christ is God’s Word (John 1:1). Christ is God’s image (2 Corinthians 4:4). Christ is God’s Beloved (Matthew 17:5). Christ is God’s radiance (Hebrews 1:3). Christ is God’s essence (Hebrews 1:3). Christ is God’s heir (Hebrews 1:2). All that God the Father is or can be or can do for one like himself he is and does for Christ.
And because you are Christ’s, all the Father is, or can be, or can do for a creature, he is and does for you because you are Christ’s.
Boast in Jesus
Therefore, graduates of Bethlehem College and Seminary, do not boast in men, boast in Christ. Be done with all worry, and all feelings of insecurity, and all fears of insignificance, and all craving for secondhand importance. Do your work in the deep, solid, unshakable confidence and peace that no matter what comes to you in this world — tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword — all things are yours, all things serve your glory, “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”