My name is Chris Thomas. I’m a fortunate husband, a father of three and Dad to five. I’m an advocate of foster care as an expression of the gospel. I’m a pastor at Raymond Terrace Community Church, a regional church based in the Hunter Valley, Australia. I mostly write about the gospel and how it informs both work and rest.

Who Do You Follow?

Who Do You Follow?

I joined Twitter in June of 2011. My profile page informs any who might land on it that I am following 494 people, and more astoundingly, 243 people follow me! Most of those people I don’t know personally. Yet in the world of Christian blogging and social media, my stats barely rate a mention. A quick survey of more celebrated church leaders reveals our fascination with following. We are in desperate need of a healthy dose of what Paul dishes out to the Corinthian believers in 1 Corinthians 3:1-15.

Three Truths To Embrace

Your hero’s faith is not your own

This, in fact, is the main point of this Paul’s concern. For everything that follows addresses this problem: immaturity was rampant in the Corinthian church. Two of the most obvious fruits of spiritual immaturity are jealousy and strife. In general, both of these condition can be traced back to any number of things, but in this case it can be traced back to which pedestal the people gathered under. For some bizarre reason, the Corinthians were creating groups that drew their self-worth and identity from who they followed. They, for some infantile reason, believed that one person was better than another on the basis of who they identified with. Surely that is a first century problem, right? That could never happen today, right? I don’t think you need me to tell you just how wrong that assumption is.

Our entire society is obsessed with ‘following’ the right people, as though all the things we value and admire in that person will somehow advance my position in the world as well. The church is not immune from this foolish simplification either. The absolute garbage that gets passed off as ‘debate’ or ‘conversation’ between people who profess to be children of God, that has at its heart, this same problem is astonishing. Whoever your favourite author is, your favourite preacher is, your favourite blogger is—their faith is theirs, and your faith is yours. You are neither better off before Christ or others because you claim their name, or deny it. In fact, there is only one name we stand on, one faith we cling to, and one hope which will carry us home—and that is Christ. Look at how Paul closes this chapter, “So let no one boast in men. 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 are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” — 1 Corinthians 3:21-23

You are in fact a gardener or a builder, not a spectator

Paul doesn’t base his argument on the fact that you can choose to get in one this ‘gardening’ or ‘building’ work. Whether you realise it or not, you are already working in God’s fields — you are already building in God’s house. This is not a motivational speech designed to get people off their backsides and get involved. This is an exhortation to not waste your life on chipping around the edges and be left with nothing but ashes in your hands on the day when Jesus weighs your life work. For make no mistake, while we rejoice in Christ that we are now no longer under condemnation (Romans 8:1), every one of use will still stand before the judge of this universe and give an account for our lives. Do something worthwhile with the new life God has given you in Christ, don’t just bury it in the ground and then pull it back out when the Master comes back to call his servants to account. God’s household is not a resort where you go to have a holiday; his family isn’t some entitled upperclass home with waitstaff to serve your every desire. Your life is planting something here, it’s building something here — the question is, what are you planting, what are you building?

Now let me clarify something important here. You may be reading this and have one of two different reactions: You may be angry, thinking that I am trying to shame you into signing up to a roster or ministry team. Or you may be inspired, intending to redouble your efforts and fill your schedule with church stuff this year. I have neither of those goals in mind. This is not intended for you to feel shame and sign up to something, nor is it for you to feel inspired to work harder. This is meant as a reminder of what you have been brought into by the gospel of grace found in Christ. Recall for a moment the story Jesus told of the young man who desired what his Father had, but without the hassle of a relationship with him. Your Bible will probably list this story as ‘The Prodigal Son’. The son wanted all the benefits of the inheritance, but he did not want a relationship with his dad. We are all prone to live like that. We want the crown without the cross. We want the benefit without the bowing. So, like one son, we turn from worshiping a loving Father in order to worship another God — our own desires and pleasures. Or, like the other son, we stay out of duty in an attempt to impress God with our service. How does the story end? The boy who ran till he came to the end of himself eventually returns and says, “I want to be your servant”, but the Father says, “I just want you to be my son”. The boy who stayed said, “I have been your servant”, but again the Father says, “Come in and celebrate with us, I just want you to be my son.” Both sons had still missed the point, and I don’t want you to miss mine: The first and primary way we respond to being workers in God’s garden, or builders in God’s house, is to see that it is God’s garden and God’s house, and we have been invited in firstly as sons and daughters. You have no debt to pay off, you have no faithfulness to prove. Christ is enough for both.

There is reward and ruin, but Christ is still mighty to save

I want to reinforce a point already made. Everything you accomplish in this lifetime, even what you have achieved by sitting still and unengaged with the world around you, every private or public moment, will be tested and tried by fire.

“Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” — 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

This is not said to frighten us, but to prepare us. The remains of this lifetime will yield either reward or ruin, there is nothing clearer than this truth, but Christ himself is greater still. The gospel does not rest on the reward or ruin of your life, the gospel preaches a better word than that. The grace of God rests not on what our feeble hands can achieve, but on the strong arm of his own salvation in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the foundation that secures our hope, and any merit or failure on our behalf does nothing to weaken the victory already accomplished for us at the Cross of Calvary.

One Caution To Heed

I have heard it said, “I follow none but Christ!” And maybe, from what I’ve cover thus far, you may have come to the conclusion that that is wise, that we should listen to no one, follow after no one, and submit to no one, apart from Jesus. But to come to that conclusion is to foolishly miss the point entirely. In fact, to come to that conclusion is not only foolish, but also disobedient to the Scriptures itself. Listen to what Paul says, to these very same people, only a chapter later:

“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” — 1 Corinthians 4:14-16

Then, a little later on in the same book:

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” — 1 Corinthians 11:1

The issue is not that you follow people, plainly, Paul encouraged people to imitate him. The issue is why you follow people. Paul saw the demonstration of the gospel in his life as an aspect of his 'fatherhood' of the Corinthian believers. Paul knew people would need more than 'guides', men who would point the way, instead we would need 'fathers', men who would show us the way.

So by all means, subscribe to that podcast, or that blog, or that online ministry — but only if it shows you the way to Christ, only if Jesus is the hero in its story. Don’t tune in to make you feel better about yourself, or better than other people, or more theologically literate than those losers who believe something different. Tune in to see more of Jesus. But as good as they may be, there is a better way.

Don’t substitute real-life engagement for online following. Matt Chandler can’t gently put his hand on your shoulder and show you how to love Jesus better in your particular season of life, unless of course you are reading this in Flower Mound, and are a member of the Village Church. Engage with Christians you respect and who can draw alongside you in real life to show you what it looks like to faithfully follow after Jesus. Then aspire to be the same for someone else.

A Parting Exhortation

The year in front of you is filled with mysterious wonder. What will it hold? What can be accomplished in the garden where God makes fruit grow? What can be built for the kingdom on the foundation of Christ? What depths can be experienced in your friendship with the Father? Who can you learn from and grow in grace with? Who can you embrace and invite to follow you as you follow Jesus?

Time will tell.

This post is an adaptation of a sermon I gave at Raymond Terrace Community Church. If you would prefer to listen, you can find it here.

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