Paul’s Use of the Cross Narrative


In the last post, Gorman’s formula of the Pauline narrative of the cross was noted. Paul’s foundational story was the cross, and it completely informed his life and teaching.

The formula looked like this:
Although [status],
Not [selfishness]
But [self-abasement/slavery].

The controlling story begins with Christ and after Paul applies this to himself, he encourages other Christians to live the narrative of the cross. It is the essential story of every disciple.

Phil. 2:6-11:
Although [in the form of God]
He did not [count equality with God a thing to be grasped]
but [emptied himself…humbled himself].

Having come to understand the character of the cross, Paul’s life was transformed. Paul sought to live out the narrative of the cross, and he imbibed its fundamental concepts. Notice a couple of examples in 1 Cor. 9 and Phil. 1.

1 Cor. 9:19:
Although [free with respect to all]
Not [exercising apostolic rights] (derived from 9:12, 15-18)
But [made a slave to all].

Notice that this formula is not intended to portray a literal exactness with the words used (since the middle line is derived above), but the prevalent concepts in Paul’s writings.

Phil. 1:21:
Although [preference to die (to be with God)]
I will not [choose death]
But [life, because that is better for the kingdom].

Paul uses the narrative of the cross in his instruction to other believers as well. The cross was not reserved for “super-Christians.” It was the prescription for every disciple.

Gal. 5:13:
Although [you were called to freedom]
Do not [use freedom as an opportunity to fulfill the flesh]
But [through love, serve one another].

Multiple examples can be found in the Corithian letter, Paul’s attempt to settle many disputes that had arisen in that church. The theme of the book and its relationship to ethical instruction lends itself to this formulaic response.

In 1 Corinthians 6, the question of taking a brother to court surfaced. After instructing the Corinthians to forgo their right to a Roman court but find a judge within the community, he takes the argument a step further.

1 Cor. 6:1-11:
Although [you have right to a judge within the community]
Do not [pursue the judgment upon another]
But [rather suffer the wrong and be defrauded].

Paul’s instruction to married couples serves as another example.

1 Cor. 7:1-5:
Although [you have right to withhold sexual relations]
Do not [selfishly withhold this relationship]
But [give your spouse their “conjugal rights”].

In chapter 8-9, Paul deals with the dispute over diet.

1 Cor. 8:1-13
Although [you have knowledge and right to eat meat]
Do not [exercise this right if it causes a brother to stumble]
But [forgo meat under these circumstances].

Paul continues this discussion in a general way into chapter 10.

1 Cor. 10:23-24, 32-33:
Although [you have right to engage in a lawful activity]
Do not [seek personal advantage]
But [forgo lawful activity for good of neighbor].

Paul’s reference in 11:1 reinforces the point. Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Paul recognized the essential elements of the cross. He sought to live out the narrative of the cross in his own life, and he urged the Corinthians to follow his example. Paul is not urging others to follow some kind of generic example. He is specifically referencing the discussion in chapter 10.

In chapter 11, Paul addresses disunity caused in selfish practices at the Lord’s Supper.

1 Cor. 11:17-34:
Although [social status and convention attained in meals in society]
Do not [overeat and overdrink]
But [wait for one another to partake the Lord’s Supper together].

A final example from 1 Corithians involves the dispute over spiritual gifts.

1 Cor. 14:26-33 (context in chapters 12-14):
Although [given spiritual gifts]
Do not [use gifts to attain personal notoriety]
But [use gifts for edification of all].

See the next post on The Narrative of the Cross and Church Unity.

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2 Responses to Paul’s Use of the Cross Narrative

  1. Pingback: The Narrative of the Cross | Theological Sweets

  2. Pingback: Narrative of Cross and Church Unity | Theological Sweets

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