Flowers, Tents, and Being In Christ
Dear Kaleid Women,
Good morning! The rain moves out today. May you find the joy of a spot of sunshine before the day is over!
Today we are continuing to explore Paul’s idea that being a Christian means being “in Christ.” Paul told Jesus-followers what was unique and real and available and powerful in their new lives by talking to them about their position in Christ. So far, we’ve gleaned from his teaching in Colossians, Ephesians, and Romans. This week we turn to Corinthians to see how Paul described Christianity to the church in his unique way.
Life in Corinth...
When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he had a lot to say about how they lived with one another. His letters to this one church shape much of what we understand and practice about life in community with other believers.
Corinth was a busy place where trade and festivals brought many visitors. Sailors spent time on stopovers there and took advantage of the temple prostitutes at the Temple of Aphrodite. Think Vegas or “spring break!”
Also, every two years, Corinth hosted an Olympics-like event called the Ithsmian Games. People would come from all over Greece to camp out in the fields around Corinth in tents (Paul was a tent-maker there, remember?) and watch athletes from their home towns compete for the gold. Think Super Bowl.
Corinth was a bustling city with built-in excitement and adrenaline. Proverbially speaking, it was the place to go for a lot of sex and sports. This culture of transience, competition, and appetite was the atmosphere that the Corinthian believers breathed.
So, for Paul, how did being “in Christ” shape their identity vis a vis their community and their context?
First, it meant smelling different.
II Corinthians 2:14-16 “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”
The Corinthians could relate to triumphal parades where a winning athlete, covered in beautiful smelling flowers, would lead raving and raucous fans in a victorious procession.
In II Corinthians 2, Paul turns the familiar scene into a metaphor and makes Christ the victorious athlete encircled by a beautiful fragrance of life. He turns those in Christ into the fans: the co-celebrators and co-carriers of Jesus and his life-aroma. To be in Christ is to carry the scent of Christ, together, in a parade of collective followership. Paul points out that some onlookers will recognize the scent as life while some people will confuse it for the scent of death and be turned off. Either way, he says, “in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in His presence.” (v. 17)
To be in Christ is to wholeheartedly take sides with Jesus as the victor, to join with other people who celebrate the same thing, and to sincerely carry the aroma of life along the busy streets filled with competitors and fans for other teams.
Second, it meant experiencing new life infused with purpose and purity.
A few chapters later, in II Corinthians 5, Paul returns to his local metaphors by talking about earthly bodies as tents and eternal bodies as true houses. He tells people that to be in Christ is to be fully alive in a new permanent home, even while we still camp out in our tents.
Verses 17-21 say this: So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
These are a packed few verses, to be sure. But the gist is the connection between new life, reconciliation, and righteousness. In a city of stimulation and excitement, Paul was reminding them that they had a life beyond a temporary dwelling and a purpose beyond cheering for the home team and a purity derived from the very life of a self-giving God.
These blessings were nothing that the Corinthians could buy on their busy streets from any loud vendor. They were nothing that the Corinthians could attain at games or in temple orgies.
To be in Christ is to live a new life, even while we still live in our tent of a home. It is to be reconciled to God--to be at peace with God and to share that peace with others and with the whole created world. It is to somehow have our broken lives transformed into God’s righteousness.
You smell different, friend. You smell beautiful because you follow Jesus.
And you shine, friend. You shine with the pure love of God’s new life.
Go into your competitive, transient, appetite-driven world today in confidence, knowing that in Christ you are one among many carrying God’s fragrance and knowing that in Christ you embody the wholeness that all of the other people in tents are searching for.
The Kaleid Team
P.S. Our Spring/Summer Contemplative Circle on the Beatitudes will begin on May 12 (Next Week!) and go until July 7. As usual, we will meet via zoom from 6:30 - 7:15. We would love to have you! Register here.