In his book, “The Bible and the Pursuit of Happiness: What the Old and New Testaments Teach us about the Good Life,” Brent Strawn notes that the question “What is happiness?” was one of the perennial questions of ancient philosophy. By “happiness,” he doesn’t mean that shifting emotion dependent upon the vagaries of one’s circumstances. He means something closer akin to flourishing. What makes for a flourishing life?
Similarly, Pierre Hadot has built a distinguished career arguing that philosophy in the ancient world was not an ivory tower pursuit reserved for intellectuals, but was very much concerned with how to live. Philosophy as a way of life – what makes for a good and beautiful life?
Christians believe Jesus shows us who God is (John 1.18). But we also believe Jesus shows us what humanity was created to be. The Bible says every person is created in the image of God (Gen. 1.27). Yet, it also says that Jesus is the perfect image of God (Col. 1.15). That is, Jesus embodies the life that God created us, all of us, to live. Jesus lived the good and beautiful life, the life that God intends for every one of us. Jesus is our Savior. But, he’s not only our Savior, He is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1.30). Jesus is God’s wisdom on the way to live our lives.
And yet, Jesus’ life was marked by humility, obscurity, service, suffering, and obedience – obedience even to the point of death. He “made himself of no reputation” (Phil. 2:7 KJV). He chose the path of what Henri Nouwen called, “downward mobility.” Jesus’ whole life was oriented toward a cross (Luke 9:51). For Jesus, this is the way for a human life to flourish: the way of the cross.
And yet, especially among those most prone to invoke his name, very few of us believe that this way – Jesus’ way – is the way to the life we really want. Our lives seem to manifest that we think the path to human flourishing runs along another path: the path of personal glory and reputation building, not the one through a cross.
Over this fall, our church is doing an in-depth study of the book of the New Testament that, if you could only pick one, is perhaps the most applicable to our current moment: 1 Corinthians. (Raymond Brown, one of the most esteemed NT scholars of the last 50 years commented that if you could only study one of Paul’s letters in depth that above Romans or Galatians, you should study 1 Corinthians for its model of applying the gospel to everyday life.)
In Corinth, the Apostle Paul confronts a city very much like modern-day L.A. Paul confronts their notions of power and wisdom and success. He insists not only that God sees things differently, but that God, in his wisdom, chose to expose the folly of our own natural ways (1 Cor. 3:4, 19).
Over these weeks, we have seen that God’s way is a cruciform way. That’s the word we will focus on over this fall: cruciform. Cruciform means “in the shape of a cross.”
God’s way is a cruciform way and that the cruciform way is the way to the good and beautiful life God intends for each one of us.
What does the cross have to tell us about the art of living? What does the cross have to teach us about what it means to live a fully human life? Could it actually be true that the way of the cross is the way to human flourishing?
If that’s what Paul is saying then to follow Christ faithfully in this world calls for nothing less than a conversion of the imagination. I hope you’ll tune in or even better join us in person this fall.
If you missed any of this series sermons, you can check them out here:
- God’s Wisdom and Human Flourishing
- Cruciform Wisdom
- Cruciform Power and Glory
- Revealed by the Spirit – AM Service
- Revealed by the Spirit – PM Service
- The Gift of Self-Forgetfulness