A Call to Selflessness

In the first part of his letter to the Christians living in Corinth, the Apostle Paul writes a provocative statement that is easy to miss if we're not paying attention. 

But we preach a christ crucified . . . (1 Cor. 1:23)

There are two things to keep in mind in order to glean the import of why Paul wrote this the way that he did. First is the fact that "christ" isn't a surname. Here in the 21st century we're accustomed to hearing "Jesus Christ" as a first and last name. But "christ" never was Jesus' last name. It is a translation of the Jewish conception of "messiah," the called redeemer of Israel (see John 1:41 – "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated 'Christ')"). 

The second thing to notice is a bit more interesting. Paul didn't use the definite article here. He didn't write, "But we preach the Christ crucified." You wouldn't think that makes that much of a difference, but it does. By leaving out the definite article, he is writing a descriptive statement about the kind of messiah he is preaching rather than making a specific statement about Jesus himself. 

The question is, why would he do this? There isn't any doubt, after all, that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah who was crucified. So, what is he trying to convey here? Viewed in context, Paul is writing that we preach a messiah who deliberately humiliated himself to the point of crucifixion to fulfill the will of God. In other words, Paul says we preach a messiah who didn't live unto himself, but rather who emptied himself of all self-determination in order to please the One who sent him. 

For Christ didn't please himself, but, as it stands written, "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." —Romans 15:3

Paul's artful statement about a selfless christ is a not-so-subtle hint that we share in that same calling.

Note: There was no punctuation in the original Koine Greek. Consequently, translators and interpreters decide what punctuation to use in translating, including whether or not to capitalize a word. 


GospelPeter Smythe