What do you do if people start idolizing you or your preaching? “I wouldn’t mind some of that!” you retort. Well, okay, maybe it won’t happen to many of us on a large scale. And most of us have the opposite problem. But, if even one person starts to “follow” you or your sermons excessively (and that can happen in the smallest of congregations), how should you respond?
The Apostle Paul’s answer to preacher-idolatry was, “All things are yours" (1 Cor. 3:21). I was first stunned by this verse 17 years ago when Don Carson lectured on 1 Corinthians 1-3 at the Free Church College in Edinburgh. It began a revolution in my worldview that continues to expand and develop to this day. All things are mine! It's almost unbelievable, isn't it? I think Paul knew that too. That's why in the next verse he expands and underlines it. “Whether Paul or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours.” No wriggle room there is there. He covers everything. But why does Paul introduce this huge truth here? He is primarily addressing the Corinthian problem of idolizing preachers. He begins, “Let no one glory in man, for all things are yours.” The Corinthians had turned godly servants - Paul, Cephas, Apollos - into ungodly masters. By giving exclusive attention and loyalty to one gifted and godly preacher, they were not only enslaving themselves to a man, they were also robbing themselves of the great riches God had distributed throughout His Church and His servants.
Imagine entering your newly-built home for the first time. The builder wants to show you all he has done for you. But you go straight to the kitchen, put your head under the sink, and say again and again, “I love this pipework.” “OK….But….eh…do you not want to see the rest of the house?” “Oh no, I just want to stay here and admire the way this washer fits.”
“All things are yours,” says Paul. In effect he’s saying, “Don’t cut yourself off from God’s riches by only listening to, reading, or following me. Honor me as your pastor, of course, but use all faithful preachers for your spiritual enrichment, because God has scattered his gifts and knowledge throughout the church. Don’t get stuck under the sink when God has given you a whole house to enjoy!”
But Paul doesn’t stop with just “all preachers are yours.” “All things” means “all things.” It includes the church and the world, life and death, present things and future things. But in what sense are all these things ours?
First, all things are for our profit – Every thing, every person, every place, every time, every event is for our benefit and promotes our ultimate interests.
Second, all things are for our pleasure. The Christian can enjoy the little that he owns in a way that the non-Christian millionaire cannot, because the Christian tastes mercy and grace in the smallest crumb and drop that God gives him. But the Christian can even enjoy things that others own in a way the owners themselves cannot! I can wander through the mall and admire the beauty and creativity of the clothes and gadgets even if I will never own them. I can see and enjoy the speed of fast cars, the elegance of sleek yachts, and the architecture of expensive houses in a way that those who own them cannot. I can see God’s wise, beautiful and powerful creativity behind every good thing.
Third, all things will be our possession. People like to say things belong to them. They put their names on buildings and parks and pieces of land. But, ultimately, the meek shall inherit the earth. The land registrar in the new heavens and earth will say, “All things are yours.” Now, all things are mine by promise. Then it shall be possession.
“All things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:22-23).
David P. Murray is professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Murray blogs regularly at Head, Heart, Hand: Leadership for Servants.