The Good Life

Searching for something more than the world’s definition of success and happiness? Join us this Sunday as we uncover the secret to the real “good life.” Explore the ancient city of Corinth and discover how a low-status tentmaker named Paul, and his message of a crucified carpenter named Jesus, challenge our culture’s pursuit of wealth, status, and self-sufficiency.

Today I want to talk about “The good life.”

The good life is a phrase I didn’t run into when I was growing up in Chicago.

But I’ve heard it a lot since I moved to the Bay Area.


The good life, if you look online, means having a ripped body, a cool fashion style, career success, a high level of achievement, going on envy-producing vacations, having fabulous hair, and immense personal charm.


Everyone in the Bay Area wants the good life.

Even in church, people want the good life.


About 500 years ago, there was a son of a rich man. He was a soldier and kind of a womanizer.

His name was Ignatius, and he was wounded in the legs in a battle by a cannonball.

His legs were set badly, and they looked crooked.

That prevented him from living the good life.

He was concerned he might not be able to attract really beautiful women if his legs didn’t look good.

So in an era with no anesthesia, Ignatius had his legs deliberately broken again, not once but twice, and reset so he could live the good life.


A strange thing happened while he was healing.

He described himself as a man given over to the vanities of the world — a great and vain desirer of winning glory.

When he would dream about a military conquest or a romantic conquest, it would make him feel great. But that feeling would fade, and he’d feel kind of hollow inside.


When he read about people who did noble things for God and imagined doing something compassionate or being generous, he found that when he revisited that thought later the joy didn’t fade, and the delight lasted.


This sense when God calls us to something that it produces a lasting stream of life within us, and the ability to discern what is from God and what is not from God, and what is noble and what is shallow —

It’s at the heart of what came to be known as Ignatian spirituality. A great gift that’s part of the Christian tradition.


I believe people need this now more than ever.


Because the pursuit of the good life ends up involving a whole lot of pressure. We all know about this.

I compare other people’s beautiful Instagram life with my real, dull, ordinary life.

Are my kids a reflection of the good life?
Are my abs a reflection of the good life?
Is my hair?
Is my resume?
Is my vacation? Vacations are turning into a competitive sport.


Plus, the problem with the good life is there’s always someone who looks like they’re living a better life.

So you have to live a better life than everyone around you in order to live the good life.

And this lead to overwork, addictions, and envy.

We all know about this.


Anxiety, depression, isolation, exhaustion, feelings of worthlessness, feelings of failure.


I read not long ago an article by a 25-year-old woman who said she feels like a failure because she’s not yet the CEO of a tremendously successful startup.

She’s 25 years old!


The good life isn’t doing it. In fact, the pursuit of the good life is killing us.


So I want to take you to the city where they kind of invented the good life.


But then they learned one day about another way to live.

And we can, and we will, too.


The city is called Corinth.


A little secret — we’re actually going to spend the better part of this year looking at these letters written to the church in this city of Corinth by a man named Paul.


What I want to do today is to look at the dynamics of Corinth.

It will take a little patience.

I want to walk through the history of Corinth at some length so we can all see the incredible relevance of this book for your life, and for our church, and for where we live.


So here we go.


Corinth, located in Greece, is actually on an isthmus — a narrow strip of land that connects two larger areas of land.

On one side is a harbor that leads to Asia. On the other side is a harbor that leads to Italy and Europe.

This is an unbelievably little strategic piece of land.

If commerce is going to happen and if trade is going to happen, it was the strategic trade route.


The city of Corinth had been destroyed by Rome about 150 years before Christ.

But now Roman peace, the Pax Romana, meant global trade was available on an unprecedented scale, and that would mean unbelievable wealth.

A city built on this site was clearly going to be a goldmine, and that’s why Julius Caesar rebuilt Corinth basically from scratch just a few decades before Jesus.


In other words, to use our language — Corinth was a startup with all of the dynamics and culture of a startup.


Caesar populated it mostly with ex-soldiers and freed men (ex-slaves), so there was no landed aristocracy or nobility.

That meant this was just a mob of hungry, scrappy, highly ambitious risk takers who were dissatisfied with old ways, and old traditions, and driven to leverage new opportunities.

This, in turn, attracted entrepreneurs from Greece and Italy and Egypt.


Infusions of new capital began to generate wealth until by Paul’s day many Corinthians had very serious fortunes that were quite new.


This, in turn, meant the real estate market in Corinth went crazy.

One ancient petitioner asked the oracle at Delphi, “How may I get rich, son of Zeus?”

And the oracle of Delphi answered, “By acquiring what lies between Corinth and Sicyon.”

In other words — Corinthian real estate.

“Buy property. Flip houses. And you will be rich.”


Also, Corinth was a center of innovation.

Because it was new, it was designed by Rome’s best city planners.

One ancient writer said that it had the most sophisticated water distribution system in the ancient world.

In the Mediterranean world, water is always a big issue. This, in turn, reinforced their belief that human ingenuity and technology could solve any problem people faced.


They were intensely proud of where they lived.

They were very self-sufficient.

They cherished the story that their city had divine origins. It had a divine founder named Corinthus.


The first travel guide in history was written a little after Paul’s time by an ancient writer who was kind of the Rick Steves of the ancient world, and a big chunk of this travel guide is devoted to Corinth because it’s such a magical, fabulous place.

And he included this observation:

The idea that Corinthus, founder of Corinth, was a son of Zeus I have never heard anyone say seriously except a majority of Corinthians.

“We live in this magical, divine place.”


Also, partly because the population that was so transient with lots and lot of sailors and lots and lots of money, Corinth developed a reputation for a kind of anything-goes attitude toward sexual expression.

Aphrodite was, of course, the goddess of love and beauty and fertility in the Greek pantheon, and the temple to Aphrodite was in Corinth.


One ancient writer before Paul’s time said, “The old temple had more than 1,000 temple prostitutes,” as part of the way the cult worked.

Another Greek writer named Aristophanes said:

Promiscuous sex was so associated with Corinth he made up a word (Corinthianize) as a euphemism for sexual activity.


Plato used the phrase, a woman of Corinth, as a euphemism to mean prostitute.

Corinth is like the home of the original summer of love — “What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth.”


It was religiously extremely pluralistic. Archaeologists have found temples to over 26 different gods.

Then, of course, emperor worship flourished there.

It was founded by the emperor Julius Caesar.

Of course, all of these immigrants would be bringing their religions and their gods into it, including some from this little nation of Israel who worshiped the God of Israel.


By Paul’s day, Corinth was the future, very clearly.

This was so true that when that part of Greece was made a colony of Rome, it was Corinth, not ancient historic Athens, that was made the capital.

Athens’ best days were behind it. Corinth’s best days were all in front of it.

Athens versus Corinth was like the tired, aging past versus the vibrant, vigorous future.

It was like Harvard versus Stanford. It was like New York versus California.

We’re the future, baby.


There was ceaseless building going on, and every project and every monument had inscriptions designed to promote the status of the builder, because it was really all about status, wealth, possessions, and education.

It was an honor-versus-shame, status-obsessed society.


I’ll tell you about one of those inscriptions.

A man named Baebius had a fountain built in Corinth as a monument to himself. He wrote on it:

Baebius paid for this monument out of his own wealth and approved it by his own authority as a city magistrate.

Just to make sure no one missed it, he had the inscription chiseled on it twice.

You’re living the good life, Baebius!


The number of such inscriptions in Corinth was quite staggering.

One author writes:

Corinth was a city where public boasting and self-promotion had become an art form.


What a weird society where people would publicly post their accomplishments, honors, experiences and possessions in order to be seen and liked by other people! What a weird place that must have been!


A number of authors have noted — inscriptions were to Corinthians what social media is to us. Who you are is who other people think you are.


Paul is going to have a lot to say (we’re going to look at this) about boasting, and reputation, and weakness, and shame, and where life really lies.

Over these next weeks and months we’re going to look at all of this because these are real people like you and me, and they want the good life, and it seems like wealth and status and honor and reputation and security and being beautiful and being healthy will bring it.


As you might expect given the contest for wealth, Corinth quickly gained a reputation for being the most competitive city in the ancient world, financially and in other areas.

The Isthmian Games were held there along with the Olympics. They were the most famous games or competitions in the ancient world.

They featured not only athletic events like wrestling and racing and so on but also music and poetry and oration where people would make lots of money if they won.


Tourists from all over the ancient world came to Corinth to see this.

Of course, they brought lots of tourist dollars with them.


A writer named Apuleius said:

Corinth was a city of unprincipled profit-takers who would stop at nothing to outdo [out-gain, and out-earn] their rivals.

Is this sounding at all like any place you know?


It was so cutthroat that another ancient proverb said:

Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth.

It got expressed another way:

In Corinth, only the tough survive.

They valued toughness so much it was the first city in all of Greece to host the gladiator games.

But if you dug a little beneath the surface of that great city, you found a strange kind of vulnerability.

You would hear faint echoes of a strange kind of despair.


By legend or by myth, the first king of Corinth was a man named Sisyphus, a name that might ring a bell.

The temple of Sisyphus was still around in Paul’s day. You could go there. You could worship there.

Sisyphus, by myth, was an innovator in navigation and commerce. He was wealthy, and in his hubris he believed he was the smartest guy in the room.

He believed he could outsmart even death, so that when he died, he had his wife throw his body into the river but without any funeral dues, which you would always have in your body when you died, so that when death came for him Sisyphus would be able to say to death, “I don’t have any money to pay for the crossing of the river Styx. Wait here for a moment. I’ll run home, get change, and then come back.”

He went home, but he didn’t come back. He stayed and lived to a ripe, old age.

He outsmarted even death.

But when he was old, eventually death came for him, and this time death assigned him a task so that he could not run away again.

He was condemned to roll a huge boulder up a giant hill, and every time he got that enormous boulder with tremendous strain almost to the top of the hill, it would slip from his grasp and roll all of the way back down, and he would have to trudge back down and roll it up again. This goes on through all of eternity.

This story captivated writers and artists. It still does.


Albert Camus wrote The Myth of Sisyphus, an amazing expression of the power of despair in a meaningless world where life is just exhaustion, and effort, and empty.

It was into this great city of unprecedented wealth, uber-competitive, hyper-sexualized, status-obsessed, religiously pluralistic, un-tethered from tradition, proud, self-sufficient, striving, anxious, and spiritually empty — that one day came a tentmaker named Paul and the alternative to the good life.


We read about his coming to Corinth first in the book of Acts where it says:

After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.

Anti-Semitism has a very, very long history.

Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. (Acts 18:1-3)


The fact that Paul was a tentmaker is going to be real important to this story, and to this letter, and what we’ll learn.


Tent making (to be bent over sewing leather or canvas tents, or fixing a harness or a sandal or something) was considered to be a menial, slavish, low-status occupation.

And that’s Paul.

He stayed with tentmakers. He lived in their home which would have doubled as their shop.


You have to picture him teaching while he’s doing this.

People will sometimes think about Paul at leisurely walking around dropping these gems.

No. He was multi-tasking. He would have been working at his craft and trying to teach people while he was doing that.


When tourists came for the Isthmian Games, Paul, this brilliant thinker and speaker, was not one of the orators competing with others for lots of money.

That will be real important in this story.

He was slaving away like some kind of menial craftsman making tents for the tourists to stay in.


Here’s the thing —

This is what kind of started to turn everything upside down and disorient the Corinthians.

Paul didn’t have to do this. Paul had an education. He had a brilliant mind. He was deeply literate not just in the Hebrew Scriptures but in ancient writings.

He was a Roman citizen, for crying out loud.

Paul could have come as a brilliant lecturer supported by wealthy patrons, teaching a superior philosophy, and we’ll find out there were people who were trying to give him money, but he refused them.

Instead, he comes as a low-status, tent-making slave, and proclaims a carpenter killed on a cross.


Paul was a man of considerable “status inconsistency” (a wonderful phrase) telling the story of another man of considerable status inconsistency named Jesus who, although he was in the very nature God, took on the likeness of a human being and became a servant and humbled himself to even death on a cross.


Here’s how Paul starts this letter:

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:1-3)


What jumps right out at you is how the names Christ or Jesus or Lord are found 11 times in just these three verses.

Paul is preoccupied with this man.


Now, how weird is this?

Paul is writing to Corinth and his hero is a carpenter who died the shameful death of a person marginalized from society as a despised criminal, a failure by every conventional standard.

He is convinced Jesus is not only the revelation of who God is (if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus) but that Jesus is also actually the expression of a flourishing human life — the good life.

If you want to know what it’s like to be really human, look at Jesus.

We all want to know this. In fact, later on in this letter when Paul is talking about humanity, he talks about Adam. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Adam is the first man.

Then, Paul will call Jesus the last Adam and the second man. That’s fascinating language.


On the cross, Jesus is putting to death sin and guilt and hell and mortality that have destroyed the human race.

Then, they put Jesus in a tomb, and they roll a stone in front of the tomb.

The Corinthians know all about heroes with big stones, but unlike Sisyphus, Jesus just moved the stone one time and when Jesus moved the stone it stayed moved, so Paul says, “Jesus is not just the last Adam; he is the second man.” He’s the beginning of a new way of life.

He’s another shot at the human race. In his resurrection, he’s starting a new way to be human.


You see, the pathway to the good life is not through accumulation, and wealth, and success, and status, and self-sufficiency.

But through surrender to this God, and humility, and generosity, and loneliness, with carpenters and tentmakers and slaves, for God’s sake, in this community of status inconsistency.

Slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female, rich and poor.

Paul is kind of a poster boy for this, even just starting with his name here in this letter.

“Paul” was a Greek name, but he used to be named Saul. Saul was a name that would have had a lot of meaning for him.

Saul was the first king of Israel — a name of great pride.

And Paul gives up that name and gives up his old pride, his old ethnocentrism to identify with people he once despised.

“Paul” now — in order to embrace the whole world of people Jesus loves.



He does mention he’s an apostle.

In Corinth, they would at least expect him to mention he’s not just an apostle but he’s the greatest of all of the apostles.

He’s Paul, for crying out loud. He wrote more books in the New Testament than anyone else.

But he doesn’t promote his apostleship.


It’s not an accident that in this very letter Paul would write:

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle… But by the grace of God I am what I am… (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)

Paul is living the good life.


Then, he includes this guy, our brother Sosthenes. Maybe Sosthenes was a really successful guy.

Sosthenes is also mentioned in Acts 18, in Corinth, when Paul is in trouble for talking about Jesus before a Roman official named Gallio. This happens in Corinth.

We’re told:

Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever. (Acts 18:17)


We sometimes think it’s a challenge to follow Jesus in the Bay Area because Christianity might be considered unfashionable by some or unlikely by some.

Paul talks about our brother Sosthenes who gets beaten by a crowd, and the government doesn’t care at all. Still, he stands with Paul to love Corinth.

Sosthenes is living the good life.


What a strange community!

Tentmakers and carpenters and slaves and guys getting beaten up. Really? In Corinth?


Paul starts teaching the Corinthians. This is kind of subtle, but it starts right away.

There is no book like the Bible. This is going to be so much fun for us to go through this.

To the church of God in Corinth … together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours… (1 Corinthians 1:2)

This is somewhat unique not just to the church of God in Corinth but to everyone else, too.

In other words, “Hey, Corinth! You’re not all that. You’re not the only pebble on the beach.”


What actually matters is not that you are in Corinth but that somehow, somehow Christ is in you.


You see, there’s a reason why this letter has been around 2,000 years. It’s unbelievable!


Last year around this time we were immersed in the Sermon on the Mount, the most influential sermon ever given — this strange teaching that the spiritual is real, that the kingdom is here.

Therefore, blessed are you who the world says are not blessed.


According to Jesus, the good life is about turning the other cheek, going the second mile, being anxious for nothing, and asking, seeking and knocking.


And for Paul, it’s like he’s so captivated by this Jesus and his teachings that he examines them all now in light of the cross and the resurrection and makes it available not just for little Israel but for the whole world.


I want to invite you today to sign on for this adventure.

Begin to immerse yourself in this book, the book of 1 Corinthians.

If you don’t have a Bible, I would encourage you to get the Bible app on your phone. You can read a number of different translations for free.

You can start a verse by verse reading plan in 1 Corinthians, with reminders each day.


If you don’t have a paperback bible and want one, let me know. I’d love to help you find the right bible for you.


Start reading this book of 1 Corinthians and take your time and think about it and reflect on it.

Imagine what it was like to write it. Imagine what it was like to read it.

Ask questions about it. Talk with a friend about it.

Invite someone who’s living the good life to be part of this series with you. And study 1 Corinthians with them.

Pray about what God might teach you. Or how he might change you.

Try actually doing some of the stuff Paul says.


People think the Bible is this ancient irrelevant book.

Paul grapples in this letter with —

religious pluralism
human divisiveness
a fractured society
extreme sexual activity and scandal
the Holy Spirit
speaking in tongues
gender roles — how men and women are to relate in the church and how they are to relate in the home.
the reality of the spiritual realm
how to pursue spiritual growth
how to not quarrel
how to not grumble
how to not be greedy

It has the greatest chapter ever written on spiritual gifts.

It has the greatest chapter and the greatest words ever written on love — words that have been read at more weddings than any other words in the history of the human race.

It has the greatest chapter ever written on hope.


Now, you should know with most of this letter Paul is taking the church in Corinth to the woodshed. They are mostly terrible Christians. They are like spiritual knuckleheads.


When I was a kid, if my brother or sister got in trouble, I always enjoyed listening to my mom talk to them, because I was like, “I’m not the one in trouble.”

Reading this book is kind of that way.


But Paul doesn’t start there.

He starts with, “Grace to you. Hey, Corinth. Hey, crazy, ladder-climbing, status-obsessed, money-making, self-promoting, self-aggrandizing and self-sufficient — Grace to you.”

In correspondence with one another, Greek letters would always start with the word charin, which meant greetings in Greek.

Paul just changes it ever so slightly to charis — grace.


Then, he would add to it from the wonderful history of Israel — shalom, peace.

Flourishing would be our word for it.


Grace has come to Corinth.

You didn’t earn it. You didn’t acquire it. You didn’t trade for it. You didn’t compete for it. You just need it.


Sometimes when you live in Corinth, you forget that. You forget there’s a basic helplessness for Sisyphus.


In 2010 in Chile, you may remember this story.

There were 33 miners trapped 2,000 feet below the ground for 69 days. Their need drove them to God because they couldn’t do it themselves.

They actually asked a Christian who was in their midst, José Henríquez, who they knew well for his faith, to lead them in a daily Bible study. It was quite well attended. Does anyone want to guess how many people went to that daily Bible study?

33. They had nothing better to do.

He got down on his knees the first time and started to pray. “Lord, we’re not the best of men, but have pity on us.”

Then, he got more specific. “Lord, Victor Segovia over here knows he drinks too much.”

You’d think Victor might object at that point, but when you’re desperate you tend to get real.


No one had ever lived that low that long and survived to tell about it until now.

It was a massive rescue operation. The government had to drill two holes a half mile deep into the earth to get supplies in. It took weeks and weeks.

When they finally got them out, they came out one at a time, and with every man was this unbelievable celebration.

And the whole world exploded. But on the sight — Oh, my gosh! They went crazy.

Mario Sepúlveda was the second guy out, and he was just dancing, jumping up and down, and high-fiving all of his rescuers.

The whole nation was charmed by this guy.

Then, came a great-grandfather. Then, came a 19-year-old boy. Then, Victor Segovia.

Every one of them had a story and not one of them was perfect.


Yonni Barrios was rescued. He actually had two women waiting for him above the ground. One was his wife; one was his mistress. The first woman did not know about the second woman, which may be why he was one of the last men to come out of the mine.


It’s kind of interesting. These are big, tough miners. Not one of them said, “I don’t need any help.”

Not one of them said, “I can rescue myself. No thanks.”

They all knew if someone up there did not come down here — they had no hope. They were not going to save themselves. They were not going to roll that boulder up the hill.

Grace comes to a mine in Chile, to a city called Corinth, to a church called Blue Oaks — so this week, as we begin this journey together, just live in grace.

Just humble yourself. Confess your sin. Ask God for help.

Let go of the need to prove yourself, or advance yourself, or promote yourself, or save yourself, and just let grace come.


This is the beginning of Paul’s message, and for Paul, all of this message and all that Jesus did and taught is expressed in one single idea, one single image, one expression of divine love that is so mysterious and powerful that it has become the greatest force for life change in human history.

It has transformed individuals and marriages and families and even whole cultures with unbelievable power, and it can change yours, and this is what we’re going to talk about next week.

Alright, let me pray for you.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA