Pastor John, as humans we like to share things. We’re wired to share and to rejoice in grand things. But what would you say to someone who has a favorite Bible teacher, and they love to boast and brag about that certain Bible teacher? What would you say to someone who has this tendency?
First Corinthians 3:21–23 stopped me dead in my tracks (or live in my tracks) again as I was meditating the other day. It is simply staggering. There may be one, but I can’t think of another passage of the Bible concerning the standing or the position or the wealth or the privilege of the children of God in the universe than this one. But before I read it, let me set the stage that I was reading it in.
God Gives the Growth
I know and am reminded every time I read through 1 Corinthians, which I am right now, that what got this book started was that the church was being divided by boasting in their favorite teachers: “‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ [so I am better than all you jerks who only look at human teachers]’” (1 Corinthians 1:12). And Paul spends the first four chapters at least working against this boasting — this pride that he sees in these factions that are breaking out. And he gives numerous arguments.
For example, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6–7). So why are you picking up on Apollos and Paul and exalting us and yourselves in us when God is the one who is giving the growth? And if we have any fruitfulness or effectiveness that is different from the other, then it is owing to God and not to us. That is the kind of argument he is giving here in these chapters.
“One of the reasons that we boast in men is because we have a meaty ego that is trying to shore up its significance.”
And then the most amazing argument of all, the one that stopped me in my tracks, was 1 Corinthians 3:21–23 where he says, “Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours” — I mean, just ponder that argument. And then he fills it out — “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas” — so you know he is relating to that issue again — “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.” So Paul must have felt that one of the reasons at least that we boast in men — that we grab a hold of our favorite teacher and just have a vicarious self-exaltation in his primacy — is because we have a meaty ego that is trying to shore up its significance, its power, its shrewdness, its intelligence — some kind of lack we feel in our significance.
Children of the King
And Paul is saying, Look. Consider for a moment who you are: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God” (Romans 8:16–17). And what does God own? Everything! And so why would you boast in men when all things are yours?
So it is a paradoxical kind of argument, because you might think that if a person starts to think that they are the child of God, and that they are coming into the possession of the whole world as their rightful inheritance, they would be proud and therefore boast. And he says, No, it doesn’t have that effect. It removes the need to boast among men and, in fact, it produces humility and servanthood. All things are yours. The world is yours. Life and death are yours. Everything is yours. And what does it do? Look at 1 Corinthians 3:5: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed.”
In other words, the life we can live, Tony, that I see in this verse is an utterly amazed, peaceful, confident life that everything in the universe is coming to us. It is coming very soon — soon for John Piper. So let’s join Jesus as servants of all: No boasting in man, trusting Jesus, savoring our reward that is coming, serving all. It is just an incredible way to live.