by Rev. Tommy Williams, Senior Pastor
“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 belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
This is how the apostle Paul concludes chapter 3 of I Corinthians. As one commentator has noted about this, “It is foolish to boast in human leaders since God’s ownership of the entire universe is shared with those who have been united with Christ.”
Paul wants the church to understand that all belongs to Christ and that we share together mutually in its life and health and mission. Paul continues his work of meaning-making in chapter 4 giving the church a sense of how to understand its leaders.
“Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” Leaders must be trustworthy, leaders endure and persist through hardship (vs. 11-13). Leaders in the church are those who can be imitated and, in so imitating one’s leaders, people become more Christ-like. Leaders are accountable to God and will be judged by God not only for their outward actions but their inward lives.
Unfortunately, there are many examples throughout the history of the church when leaders have failed the people of God. In our own time, there our sisters and brothers in the Catholic community have been abused in horrific ways by priests charged with providing spiritual care. In other churches as well, pastors and leaders have abused the power and positions they hold. I am sure this angers and breaks the heart of God and betrays the trust of so many. How can the people hold on to their trust in God when the leaders of the church betray their sacred roles?
Throughout this letter, Paul is, in effect, counseling us away from hyper-allegiances to particular leaders, good or bad, with our deepest loyalty held to Christ. Our trust in Christ alone can remain even when, God forbid, the leaders of the church, fail. Even as Paul brings himself with “love in a spirit of gentleness” and offers himself as spiritual “father,” he maintains that Christ is the one on whom true spiritual leadership is founded.
So, in our leaders, in ourselves, we seek Christ-like virtue and behavior – “when reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly” (vs. 13). These are good Christian practices for any of us – and for the church – especially when in conflict.