Story of the New Testament - Lesson 10

By Curt Niccum

The Life of the Cross

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student can describe how the death of Christ shapes the life of the Christian.
  2. The student will be able to identify the cross as Paul's solution to a number of problems found in 1 Corinthians.
  3. The student will be motivated to live a life of the cross.


  1. Each student will need to have a New Testament.
  2. The teacher may want to distribute a handout (provided below) or keep notes on the chalkboard as the class studies 1 Corinthians.
  3. The teacher may want to supply slips of paper with some of the important passages written on them to have distributed in advance for students to read in class (provided below).


Since Christians are created in the true image of God, that of Jesus Christ, it follows then that our lives should model Jesus' life. That includes taking up our crosses and following him. This lesson shows how the cross should shape our lives by looking at practical examples found in Paul's letters, primarily 1 Corinthians.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (10 minutes)

  1. Organizational matters (taking roll, etc.)
  2. Evaluation of previous lesson.
    1. Have the students list traits they have inherited from their heavenly Father.
    2. Have the students list spiritual characteristics in older members of the church that they have either learned to model or would like to model because of their influence.
  3. Prayer and/or song: Songs like "I've Been Crucified with Christ," "Give Me the Heart of a Servant," or "Make Me a Servant" would be appropriate to the theme. The prayer should include requests for us to be more Christlike, especially to have the mind of Christ so that our lives will be examples of self-sacrifice.

Learning Experiences: (about 20 minutes)

  1. Read Philippians 2:1-8.
    1. Point out that Paul wants us to have the same attitude as Christ. (In the Greek, we are actually encouraged to think the same way as Christ.) Have the students discuss what attitude(s) Christ had based on verses 5-8.
    2. Now, looking again at verses 1-4, have the students discuss how Christ's attitude relates to Paul's exhortations. (For example: Q: How does "being one in spirit and purpose" have anything to do with Christ's attitude on the cross? A: Christ focused on what was best for others, and when we do so, we will not be the cause of division. There was no greater chasm between two people than that between God and humanity. There was no way that humans could span that gulf, so God had to do it because he desired to have fellowship with people, thus bringing about reconciliation (unity) through the cross.)
  2. The letter of 1 Corinthians provides an excellent opportunity to see how the attitude of Christ on the cross can be applied to real life situations. The Corinthian church was having a number of different types of problems, from incest to abuse of the Lord's Supper. The bulk of the class period will be taken up by surveying this book to see how Paul finds "Christ crucified" to be the answer to almost every problem.
    1. 1 Corinthians 1-4: The Corinthian church was dividing over which leader was the best (see 1:11-12). The context of Paul's discussion in chapters 1-4 suggests that church leaders were being rated based on their amount of knowledge and wisdom and on their rhetorical abilities (who was the best speaker/ entertainer). If the church was divided evenly (which is unlikely), only 25% of the congregation would have been interested in Paul's teaching in this letter (the others would have listened only to Cephas, Apollos, or Christ). In the first four chapters, Paul makes it clear that every person is nothing when confronted with the living God. On the other hand, through Jesus Christ all believers become something (see 1:26-31). All Christians now play extremely important roles in the kingdom of God, even though those roles may be different.
      1. Q: What is Paul's answer to this problem of division and pride? A: It is the cross, Christ's humility. Read 2:2; 3:11; and 4:11-13.
      2. Having the attitude of Christ provides unity (1:13).
    2. 1 Corinthians 5: The church in Corinth was permitting a member of the church to live with his (presumably dead) father's wife. Perhaps some members disapproved, but nothing seems to have been done about it. In fact, some Christians seem to have viewed this as an opportunity to show their tolerance of alternate lifestyles (5:2).
      1. Q: What is Paul's answer to this problem of sexual immorality and arrogance? A: It is the cross; Christ's blood removes sin. Read 5:4-6.
      2. Having the attitude of Christ provides purity (5:7-8).
    3. 1 Corinthians 6:1-11: The Roman legal system was not about fairness. The goal of the judiciary was to preserve the status quo, to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. Thus, typically only the rich took people to court because they were almost certainly guaranteed to win. Thus, one of the issues related to lawsuits in the sixth chapter has to do with the manipulation of the system for cheating others (see 6:8). Another issue is assuming that godless people have greater ability to solve problems than the godly.
      1. Q: What is Paul's answer to this problem of lawsuits? A: It is the cross; Christ suffered without saying a word, although innocent. Read 6:7.
      2. Having the attitude of Christ provides righteousness (6:9-11).
    4. 1 Corinthians 6:12-7:40: Paul has a lengthy discussion about relationships. In all of this, Paul's main concern is that people remain focused on God and His will (6:19; 7:5, 19, 22, 32, 34 and especially 35).
      1. Q: What is Paul's answer to this problem of relationships? A: It is the cross; God rescued all believers from death through Christ on the cross, therefore they are indebted to God alone. Read 6:20 and 7:23.
      2. Having the attitude of Christ provides full devotion to God.
    5. 1 Corinthians 8:1-10:33: In Corinth some were eating meat sacrificed to idols. (There would have been a lot of social pressures placed upon the Corinthian Christians to eat meals at local temples. For influential people, "power lunches" were held at the temples and many elite social gatherings centered around pagan temples. Thus, those Christians who were rich and powerful [and there were some, like Erastus] would have been tempted to find reasons to continue these practices.) Although correct that idols really were empty and worthless and therefore food sacrificed to them remained just food, this practice was a faith issue for other members in the congregation. Paul basically concludes that people are more important than things. As proof, Paul offers himself as an example in chapter nine. Paul, for the sake of people, lives a life of self-sacrifice. 1 Corinthians 9:22 sums up Paul's practice. When he says he becomes all things to all people, he is not stating that he somehow becomes a chameleon and changes completely depending upon which group he is with. No, Paul states that he has voluntarily placed restrictions on his lifestyle so that he might become the least offensive to any one group. In other words, he has reduced his lifestyle to the smallest common denominator. He does not switch from being Jew to Gentile when the occasion requires it, rather he does what might be acceptable to both groups as much as possible. This requires placing strict limits on one's life. Paul is free because of Christ, but for the same reason he enslaves himself to the people around him (9:19).
      1. Q: What is Paul's answer to this problem of idol meat and the larger problem of disregarding the weaker Christian? A: It is the cross; Christ severely limited himself for the good of others. Read 8:12-13 and 9:22-23.
      2. Having the attitude of Christ provides full devotion to God's people (10:16-17 and 24).
    6. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 : The Corinthians were abusing the Lord's Supper by not waiting for the poor to arrive. (In the first century, slaves did not get the weekends off. Therefore, most churches met late at night because the slaves needed to finish their duties before they were free for their religious activities.) The richer members at Corinth appear to have used the Lord's Supper as a means to distinguish themselves from the lower classes. As a result, most of the food and drink (and certainly that of the best quality) was consumed before the poor arrived. The rich got drunk; the poor went away hungry; and their so-called Lord's Supper further introduced divisions into the church (11:18-22).
      1. Q: What is Paul's answer to this problem of abusing the Lord's Supper? A: It is the cross; Christ died for the unloved, the marginal, those on the fringes of society. Read 11:28-29 and 33-34. (The teacher may need to explain that "the body of the Lord" in verse 29 refers to the church and not Christ's body on the cross. Misinterpretations of this verse in some churches have resulted in the error of the Corinthians being continued today rather than stopped. For example, as people were coming to church one Sunday, a bit of road rage in the parking lot resulted in a piece of paper inscribed "Learn how to park stupid!" in large letters being placed on a car's windshield. Because many have made the Lord's Supper primarily an individual, retrospective activity rather than a community one, the person who wrote that note probably had no problems celebrating the "Lord's Supper" because he or she was focusing on Jesus' body on the cross rather than Jesus' body gathered together in worship at that particular moment. The sinful attitude against a fellow Christian, however, is what Paul condemns in Corinth.)
      2. Having the attitude of Christ provides compassion for the underprivileged and the oppressed (11:26).
    7. 1 Corinthians 12-14: As with so many other things, the Corinthians introduced divisions into the church based on spiritual gifts. Since speaking in tongues was the only gift that could be easily identified as miraculous (all of the others were not that remarkable in nature), this gift became elevated above all the others because it marked people as special. It was their tangible proof of one's "favored status" with God. Paul, on the other hand, shows that it is the least valuable of all the gifts because it provides no benefit to others. For Paul, the standard of spiritual value is service toward others. Chapter 13 shows that without the exercise of love, every spiritual gift is worthless.
      1. Q: What is Paul's answer to this problem with spiritual gifts? A: It is the cross; Christ died to help others, not himself. Read 12:7 and 14:12 and 26.
      2. Having the attitude of Christ provides that which builds up the church (12:12-13 and 25-27).
    8. 1 Corinthians 15: Some Christians, apparently believing that the fullness of spiritual life was theirs at baptism, denied the resurrection of the dead. Surprisingly this resulted in sinful activity, although the precise nature of the sin is not spelled out. (One possibility is that the distinction between the flesh as evil and the Spirit as good produced in some the idea that one could let the flesh live out a fleshly life so long as the mind was focused on the spiritual, cf. 6:13. Another possibility is that some of those who had been baptized swore off all "fleshly activity" as not in keeping with their new, spiritual nature, thus some wives had stopped having sexual relations with their husbands, cf. 7:5.) Of course, this belief also took away the hope that is central to the Good News.
      1. Q: What is Paul's answer to this problem with the resurrection? A: It is the cross; Christ died not for the sake of death, but for the sake of eternal life. Read 15:30-34 and 58.
      2. Having the attitude of Christ provides hope in heaven (15:20-22, 45-49 and 56-57).
  3. Now read Philippians 2:9-11. Note God's reward for Christ. We will participate in that reward if we also have the attitude of Christ.

Applications: (about 20 minutes)

  1. Review the various things the attitude of Christ produces according to Paul in 1 Corinthians: unity, purity, righteousness, full devotion to God, full devotion to God's people, compassion, edification, and hope in heaven. (This list, by the way, is not exhaustive. Other applications can be found elsewhere in Paul's letters and the rest of the New Testament.)
  2. Have the class discuss how living out the life of the cross in these areas might make a difference today. In other words, what might Paul have written to your church or youth group based on his understanding of the attitude of Christ? (You might consider breaking the class into smaller groups and having each group work on one specific topic, then each group could make a brief presentation summarizing their discussions or conclusions.)
  3. Challenge the class to live the life of the cross, to have the attitude of Christ.

Assignment: (about 1 minute)

Have the students consciously attempt to live the life of the cross this next week. Tell them you will be interested in hearing about specific examples at the next class meeting.

Evaluation: (next class meeting)

Further Resources:

An excellent source for additional material would be Gordon Fee's, "Toward a Theology of 1 Corinthians," in Society of Biblical Literature 1989 Seminar Papers (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989) 265-281.

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