Day 1: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Day 2: 1 Corinthians 3:10-17
Day 3: 1 Corinthians 3:18-23
Day 4: 1 Corinthians 4:1-13
Day 5: 1 Corinthians 4:14-21
Questions to consider as you read each day's passage...
- Are there ways I see "earthly" or "immature" attitudes and behaviours being couched in "sophisticaed" or "wise-sounding" or "virtuous" language?
- Are there ways that I see more weight put on the messenger than on the message?
- Are there ways that I see cliques or favouritism at play in our community?
- What ways do I sometimes contribute to all of the above? How can I invite the Spirit to do a deeper work in me and in our community?
Well, if you’ve followed along in the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians last week, then you’ve no doubt picked up on a few key words and ideas that Paul has wasted no time jumping right into. It’s clear that this Jesus-Community (a.k.a. church) in Corinth had issues. There were insiders and outsiders. There was competition and quarreling. There was probably a palpable sense of tension in the room whenever the group gathered to worship. And at least some of their tension revolved around these issues...
This was a sophisticated community – quite literally. It was a common practice in which cities like Corinth would invite “sophists” – men with a reputation as philosophers, intellectuals, and teachers of wisdom – to come share their ideas and instruct others in their philosophy. It was trendy, and people would attend these gatherings and then engage in their own discussions about whose ideas were most intriguing and influential. We do this same kind of thing with our favourite authors and musicians and movies.
You’ve probably picked up on a few different names that Paul has mentioned – Apollos, Cephas (the Apostle Peter), and of course, Paul himself. It seems that each one of these men had some influence on this community, and had probably personally visited at least once. But problems were surfacing because the church was treating these men, and their teaching, like they would with any other “sophist” that might come to town. They were name dropping. They were comparing and contrasting. And they were setting themselves up into camps based on the teacher with whom they most resonated. It even seems that there were some in the community who played the “super-spiritual” card, and dropped Jesus’ name to trump all the others (1:12)!
Spirit and Power.
These two words come up over and over again in this letter. There is definitely a power struggle going on in this community. It takes all sorts of forms. And in these opening chapters, Paul is taking them to task on this. He tells them they’re acting like children, worldly, and not spiritually mature – because even though they’re using the trendy and sophisticated ideas and language of the day, they’re just using it as a thin mask over all their gossip, favouritism, judgementalism and cliques. There was all sorts of posturing for power in this community. And even though it was under the guise of these “spiritual greats”, it was really just the same old ways that every other work-place or family power-struggle works out. Merely human. There was nothing spiritual about it.
So, in this week’s readings, Paul continues to sort these things out with this pretentious and power-hungry people.
Paul challenges their “wise” thinking on this. Why are you pitting one teacher against the other? That may be the way it works in the rest of the world, but not in the church! These teachers are building together, not over and against one another. So why would you pit one against the other? In doing that, all you’re doing is cutting yourself off from some of the gift that God wants to give you. Both Paul and Apollos have been given to you. They have both brought you the one thing that truly is powerful and wise – the message of Jesus. The messengers are not actually what any of this is meant to be about. Rather they are “only servants” (3:5, 4:1-2) – waiters, who bring food to the table. They aren’t the main meal. They just deliver it. So why cut yourself off from part of the feast that God has given you? Why refuse to receive some of the spread, just because of who brought it to the table? The message is what matters most, not the messenger.
Paul was saying, the way you’ve been thinking about all this is the human way. It’s the way we all revert to when we allow our own inner impulses to drive the train. Power struggle all you want by competing and comparing, by bad-talking, boasting, and bullying. God’s wisdom doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t use words to manipulate. It doesn’t put people on pedastals, or create camps of insiders and outsiders. But the message of Jesus carries its own power. It’s a wisdom that is revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit. And this works out in entirely different ways. Paul was saying, the very fact that you’re still operating this way shows you’ve got a lot of growing up to do (3:1).
Paul tells it like it is: You’re “indulging in personality cults, as though you were merely another bunch of squabbling sophists, when the entire cosmos and all its truth, mystery and wisdom were yours for the exploring!” (Wright, Tom. Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians).
These Corinthian Christ-followers thought they were being wise, but really they were being fools.
“There is only one pedestal in the kingdom of God, and only one person to be put on it. But it isn’t a statue to be put up as a monument in a town square. It is a cross; and the Messiah who hung and died on it passed judgment on all human fame, celebrity, popularity and reputation. That is the message Paul wants above all to get across.” (Wright, Tom. Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians).
This was the “big idea” that Paul longed for the Spirit to bring in power for this community. It was one that would lift them out of their “human” squabbling, and into a whole new way of being human. One that put Jesus in His rightful place. One that opened up a whole new space for the Spirit to work. One that revealed the beautiful wisdom of God.
As you read through chapters 3 and 4 this week, consider how the Spirit might want to direct Paul’s words to you, and to our church community. It shouldn’t take you too long to see that there are no shortage of connections between us and them. A community with multiple teachers and leaders. A community in a culture that loves to be infatuated with whatever is latest and greatest. A community wrestling with wisdom in a time when truth and authority are more ambiguous than ever. A community longing for glimpses of the true power of God. Allow these words to shine light on your own attitudes and approaches as you consider what Spirit-filled life in community is actually meant to look like.