I have been reading in 1 Corinthians lately, and when I was writing this post about Sweet Pea, I came across a picture which illustrated something I had been reading in 1 Corinthians—so here I go again, writing about my sweet puppy… and Jesus, two of my favorite topics.
She’s the perfect dog for little kids to walk on a leash. In truth, Sweet Pea doesn’t actually need a leash, other than to appease the leash laws (the kids don’t know that though). She is so dedicated to her master (me) that she won’t go very far. Most the time, you leash a dog to keep the dog from wandering off course, or getting too far ahead or behind. With Sweet Pea and the kids however, it’s the other way around, we used Sweet Pea to keep the kids from getting too far off course, ahead or behind. They would toddle around, holding the leash, feeling SO grown up for the fact they were holding my dog’s leash. Inevitably, some child would be excited and want to run farther down the trail. This would work for a little bit, but when they went too far for Sweet Pea’s comfort (maybe 50 feet, give or take depending on the terrain and her view of me) she would stop. She would absolutely refuse to move, until I got closer. If the little one was lagging behind and not wanting to keep up, Sweet Pea would begin to pull them along, insisting they keep moving and keep close to me.
Some kid may try to take her off course, get her lost, but she wouldn’t have it. If they were strong enough to insist, she’d get out of her collar and come running back to mom. She was willing to follow them in any direction amiably for a little distance, (happily even because she knew that the leash generally meant they were going to lead her along where I was going) but not if it meant she couldn’t follow me anymore. She didn’t care who had the leash, she cared who her real master was, and where I was going.
Not only was Sweet Pea not going to be led off track, but she helped keep them on track by not being willing to just blindly follow. You see, any of the kids could have dropped the leash and gone on their merry way, but they were usually pretty focused on their little follower, wanting to ensure someone was following them—because leading Sweet Pea made them feel important and grown up. They weren’t willing to let that go, even if it meant they had to “lead” Sweet Pea a little closer to me.
What does this have to do with 1 Corinthians??? I’m glad you asked.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the first thing he addresses is their competition, so to speak, over who they are following, or let’s say, over who is holding their leash. “I’m following this teacher.” “I belong to this church.” “I went to this seminary.” “I like this podcast, this book, this method, this organization.” And so on, and so on.
In my illustration, it would be as if I had several dogs, each being walked by a little kid, and the dogs were arguing about which kid holding their leash was superior.
The point for Sweet Pea was never who held the leash, but who her ultimate master was. She knew that, even though the kids may have thought they were leading the way, I was her ultimate master. She knew that I had the “sovereign” control. And more importantly, she loved me. She may have liked them, and been willing to listen to their commands to a point, but she loved me, and nothing could have induced her to leave me. The closer they followed me, the more closely it looked like she was following them. But for Sweet Pea, it was still all about me, and she was only willing to follow the kid with her leash to the point that that kid helped her follow and draw near to me.
This is the perspective Paul is urging the Corinthians to take—to think more like Sweet Pea. He reminds them that the teachers they are following are not the point. The point is JESUS. If those teachers wander too far ahead, or lag behind or head off course, they can’t just follow them there. They need to keep their eyes on JESUS, and stay close to HIM. A teacher may help them do that (certainly, this is why we have pastors and teachers and authors, etc…to help us follow Jesus more closely), but the moment he/she isn’t, they need to put on the breaks, or pull ahead, or wriggle out of the leash… They aren’t going to be held accountable for following a man on earth, they are going to be held accountable for whether or not they followed JESUS.
Here’s the cool thing, though. Leaders like to have followers, and those followers can help keep a leader on track. It’s a two-way street! Just as a pastor, mentor, teacher (whatever the case may be), desires to lead his/her flock in the way of Jesus, they are kind of like that kid holding the leash sometimes—they can get a little too far ahead, or behind, or off track (as we all can). So, if the followers are always looking back to Jesus, checking in and making sure they aren’t being led astray, (this is what Sweet Pea would do), then they won’t be at the mercy of their teacher. This is critical!!!! No matter how fantastic your leader/teacher/pastor/mentor may be, you cannot only look to them—you are still responsible to follow JESUS, first and foremost. But the beautiful thing is that as you do so, you, like Sweet Pea, may help keep them on track and ensure they themselves stay close to Jesus. We are to spur each other on—following Jesus is an intensely personal journey, but it’s also extremely communal. BOTH.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:19-25 (emphasis added)
So here are excerpts from the first few chapters in 1 Corinthians. Read it. Be reminded that, whether you’re Sweet Pea, or you’re the child holding the leash, the MASTER (Christ—not me—I know you were all confused on that point!) is ALL. You are both equally responsible for staying close to the MASTER, and both challenged to “spur each other on” and to “encourage one another” to follow Christ and Christ alone. And if you boast, let it not be in the one who has been given temporary “control” of the leash, but in the one from whom all things flow, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Sovereign Master of all.
1 Corinthians 1:13-4:7 (emphasis added)
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[b]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas;beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. …
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” …
3 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. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 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. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 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. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”[a];20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”[b] 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas[c] or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
4 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
6 Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?