• Epistle Reading
  • In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! St. Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians, and obviously also to us, this morning, are words of warning, words meant to convict us, to make us examine our lives, and ask—are we living a life which is well-pleasing to God? Last week we listened as St. Paul called us God’s fellow-workers, but then he went on to warn us that our work will tried as by fire, and work that’s unworthy of God will be burned up like straw. This morning we hear what it means to offer ourselves worthily to God, and St. Paul takes for his example the lives of the Apostles, and his own life in particular. He ends this reading by saying, “therefore I urge you, imitate me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16) St. Paul wasn’t filled with pride and ego, he’s not flaunting his own achievements, rather he’s calling his children (in the reading he calls them “my beloved children,” verse 14), he’s calling his children to authentically embrace the life in Christ. The life that, as Christians, they claim to want. So what does this mean to St. Paul? How are we, as self-professed followers of Christ, how are we to live? What we can expect? St. Paul says that the Apostles are made a spectacle to the world (v. 9)—literally their lives have made like a theatre to the world, both to angels and men. It’s hardly believable the things that these men will do. They’ve been condemned to death (v. 9), and in fact all the Apostles except St. John the Theologian (who dies in exile on the prison island of Patmos) will die as martyrs. The reality is that we’re all condemned to die at some time or another. The question becomes, what is important? Do we die in our sin, or do we, like the Apostles, die to our sins; do we condemn ourselves in order to be followers of Christ? St. Paul continues, “We are fools or Christ’s sake, but you [talking to the Corinthian Christians] you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!” (v. 10) This is a deeply sarcastic verse, contrasting the comfortable lives of the Corinthians with the lives of persecution for the Gospel of Christ that the Apostles live. Obviously, the Apostles in fact are wise and strong and honored in Christ. While the Christians of Corinth, that we can identify ourselves with, live in comfort—foolish and weak and a dishonor to the name of Christian that we bear. A dishonor because we’re willing to sacrifice nothing to be followers of Christ. St. Paul says the Apostles are “fools for Christ’s sake” (v. 10)—they are fools in the eyes of the world because in order to follow this Christ, they “hunger and thirst, are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless” (v. 11). They have given up everything for the sake of the Gospel. Anything that would separate them from Christ was not worth fighting for, and was willingly abandoned by the Apostles. And then we remember the last verse again—“imitate me” (v.16). “This is how I am,” St. Paul is saying, “I am willing to give up anything, even my life, in order to follow Christ.” He makes no excuses, and no exceptions—if it will require him to sadden his Lord, then St. Paul simply won’t do it. The next verses are very reminiscent of the Beatitudes—“Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted we endure; being defamed, we entreat” (from vv. 12-13). St. Paul continues with his presentation of the reality of a life fully given to Christ. Christ taught, “You will be persecuted if you follow Me” (John 15:20). We hear the persecutions of the Apostles—considered fools, condemned, beaten, hungry, naked, reviled, defamed—what types of persecution might we endure today? Having to sacrifice the food or clothing or house or car that we most desire in order to give alms to those in need. To stand up for Christ, perhaps we’ll have to quit a job or separate ourselves from acquaintances or relationships. We’ll be teased, mocked, and belittled for witnessing to the Truth of Christ. Media, and even the people around us, attack our faith and our Lord. And if we stand up for what we believe, we will suffer persecutions. The life of Christ, and our lives in Christ, are totally other than what the world is. The world is concerned only with physical, material, temporal satisfactions. The life in Christ is a conviction that there’s more to life than material comforts. The life in Christ is a condemnation of sin; it’s a life that refuse to compromise with the way of sin and death. And therefore whoever tries to follow Christ is brutally and constantly attacked. Just as with Christ Himself—the world wants to destroy any witness to something other, something beyond, something or Someone of meaning. And in response to these attacks, in imitation of Christ, the Apostles respond with love. They don’t fight back, rather they accept all the abuse for the joy of serving Christ, and being fellow-workers with Him in reconciling the world to God. St. Paul continues, “I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you.” (v. 14) As we said before, St. Paul is not shaming or bragging, he’s writing warning to his children—this is the life you’ve chosen, this is what it takes to follow Christ, these are the choices you’ll face. In the middle of the storm, will you still chose Christ? St. Paul then ends with a beautiful image—“for though you might have ten thousand instructors [teachers] in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me” (vv. 15-16). St. Paul planted this Church; He preached the Gospel in Corinth and founded the Church there. So he tells them, you may have many teachers, but you only have one father in Christ—I have begotten you through the Gospel. He’s Fr. Paul, to the Corinthians. In the Orthodox Church, this is our understanding of calling our priest “Father.” Spiritual father, guide, father in Christ. And as their father in Christ, as their spiritual father, St. Paul writes them this instructive warning as to what the struggles may be in truly deciding to follow Christ. And if we’re not truly desiring Christ, then we really need to get up and leave. If we’re not willing to follow Him to the end, then there’s no reason in even starting out. St. John writes in the Revelation, “The lukewarm will be spewed from the mouth of God” (Revelation 3:16). And Christ says, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). St. Paul’s warning is obviously pertinent for us all to hear and heed—and especially on a day when we have a new member of the Church. Paul (how appropriate that Shannon’s patron saint is St. Paul), Paul has decided to embark on this life in Christ. So just as you get started, you have the opportunity to hear your namesake remind you yet again just what it might cost to be a follower of Christ. What you have to be willing to give, if need be, in witness to the Truth. But as St. Peter will tell us in the Epistle reading tomorrow, if we endure these things “an entrance will be supplied to you…into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!