February 8, 2016

The Glory of God in the Letter 'M'

Last week I wrote about the fact that God’s modus operandi, in building His church, is not usually to target the upper crust of society; not usually to gather together the movers and shakers a culture, with the idea that, through them, the gospel will ‘trickle down’ to the rest of society. On the contrary, the composition of most gospel churches is like that of Corinth: “not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble.” This way God, and not man, gets the praise! God saves no-names, and uses them to advance His work, so that it will be clear – both to the no-names and to the watching world – that the power at work in them is divine, and not merely political, monetary, or otherwise!

But there are exceptions to the general rule. God does save the noble, the wise, and the mighty (and sometimes even uses their influence for the sake of the gospel). There is a gospel for the elite, as well as for the ordinary Joe … as evidenced by the fact that Paul says (notice the letter ‘m’) that “not many” wise, noble, and mighty made up the Corinthian church. It was Selina Hastings (Countess of Huntington), a famous and wealthy 18th century English noblewoman, who taught us to heed that letter ‘m’ in 1 Corinthians 1:26. Here is how she put it:
Blessed be God, it does not say “any mighty,” “any noble”; it says “many mighty,” “many noble.” I owe my salvation to the letter “m.” If it had been “not any noble,” where would the countess have been? (HT: Justin Taylor)
Isn’t that fantastic? Yes, God generally seems to seed the gospel into the culture at a very grassroots level. But the same gospel that saves what someone has called ‘the cap and t-shirt crowd’ also saves those who wear evening gowns, and academic regalia, and smart business suits. The same blood covers the sins of the elite as well as the proletariat. “All have sinned” and there is salvation “for all who believe” (Romans 3:22-23, emphasis added) and for “every one who thirsts” (Isaiah 55:1) – “the small together with the great” (Psalm 115:13).

There were wealthy people, for instance, in the church pastored by young Timothy (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Their wealth meant they were prone to certain temptations, of course (a fact which is also true of a lack of wealth, by the way). But there they were: in the church, right alongside the working class. And it paints a beautiful picture, doesn’t it? Christianity is not just for the elite; but neither is there a gospel only for the average. So that the church – in both its universal and local manifestations – is, in this way as well as others, something like Joseph’s coat of many colors! Jews and Gentiles; slaves and freedmen; men and women; young and old; African, Asian, European, Latino, and many combinations thereof; rich and poor; elite and average … all in one body, gathered around Christ rather than culture!

And so the sprinkling in of the bourgeoisie among a group of mostly run-of-the-mill church members serves much the same purpose as the fact that the church is mainly made up of small timers! Both serve to show the power of God! On the one hand, the average nature of the membership of most churches shows that the clout behind their spiritual successes must be of God and not of mere human influence and clout (of which the church often has not a great deal). On the other hand, the fact that, in the church, the upper crust gladly take their seats among the commoners (and that the commoners love them as brothers!) demonstrates much the same thing – that what is happening among these people is something much bigger than that which can be explained by mere sociology! The vari-colored nature of the church, in other words, serves notice to its members and to the world that it is God, and not man, who has brought it all together!

So praise God for the letter ‘m’ in 1 Corinthians 1:26 … and for the breadth in the gospel and the diversity in the church which it signifies!

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