A United Airlines agent was rebooking a long line of weary and frustrated travelers. One angry passenger pushed his way to the front of the line, slapped his ticket down and said, “I have to be on this flight, and I have to be in first class.”
The agent said, “I would be happy to help you, but I need to help some other first.”
The passenger responded angrily, “Do you know who I am?”
The agent promptly got on the public address system: “May I have your attention! We have a passenger here who does not know who he is! If anyone can help him find his identity please come to the gate!”
Paul addresses who we are in Christ in 1 Corinthians. He begins, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If we are followers of Christ, we are sanctified and called to be holy. We are saints.
We are the temple of God.Saints and temples - that sounds like a really good identity.
It’s important to know who we are, but it may be equally important to believe it. After telling the church that in Christ they were all saints and temples, Paul says later in chapter three,
“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. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?"
Even thought God has given them a new identity, they had not understood and embraced it. Their identity was somewhere other than Christ. This jealousy Paul speaks of is “zalos” - envy, indignation, or emulation. It’s an identity formed by comparing ourselves to other people. It’s checking out the competition to see how we compare to others.
Strife is “eris,” or contentions. This is thinking, “I must be right - and I should be revered for being right.” It’s an identity formed by feeling superior to others. Paul goes on to make an important distinction between that kind of identity and one built by Christ:
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” (I Corinthians 3:10-15)
When we build our identity on how good we look, how good we are at our job, how much we make, how much stuff we have, who we marry, or what we know, says that’s a building of wood, hay and straw. It’s never going to sustain us when hard times come our way.
When Howard Hughes died in 1976, he was worth $2,000,000,000. He married beautiful women, built and flew airplanes, and made successful movies. However, he trusted no one; he was loved by no one. He died a recluse in a dark room, drug numbed, afraid of germs, Uncle Sam and people in general. He built with sticks and straw, and when hard times hit they could not sustain him.
As saints, we need to build with the material of temples: gold, silver, and costly stones. We need to honor this temple God has made of us.
We don’t belong to the world. We don’t need to work harder, get more things, go into debt, or trample on people to own the world. That's all wood, hay, and straw. 1 Corinthians 3: 21-22 says, “All things are yours, whether [the teachings of] Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future —all are yours…”
In other words, we don’t have to fight for position in the Kingdom of God so we can get part of a limited supply of grace, or peace, or hope. We don’t have to compare ourselves to others and make sure we are superior by the culture’s standards. Jesus came to give us true life, not only in the next world but in this one as well.
True wealth comes from an identity grounded in Christ's presence within us. It's not the fading riches of Wall Street, or the fleeting fame of strength and beauty. We belong to God – we are His saints, His temple - and this gives us an identity that will stand firm for eternity.
(Notes from a sermon by Scott Norris given on August 19 at Church of the Living God)