From Paul’s perspective, the arguments among the Corinthians might just as well have been about a preference for Coke over Pepsi or of Adidas over Nike. These are, as Paul sees it, cultural, social and personal preference issues; and, by way of explanation, Paul goes on to talk about the foolish and the wise, the weak and the strong, the lowly and the powerful.
In that context, the issues that were then disruptive of the Corinthians’ faith were matters that pertained to human affairs.
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By Steve Hall
Sometimes it seems that Paul can be downright insulting:
You are not wise . . . not powerful . . . not one of the makers and shakers . . . not among the ruling class . . .
But rather, he says, you are among the foolish . . . , the weak . . . , the lowly and despised . . . , you are among those who count for nothing.
In a culture where we are regularly admonished to “Just do it” and “Have it your way”, in an environment that tells us to “Think big” because “Impossible is nothing”, in a social milieu where we are told “Yes we can” and that “[some product] gives you wings”, in a persistent heritage that advises
“I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!” It’s hard to take Paul’s words seriously and some may, in fact, feel insulted. If such is the case, it’s probably because our reading begins subsequent to what has provoked this teaching.
Apparently the newly Baptized in Corinth had been arguing about which teacher they should follow. This would have been within the normal parameters of a Jewish culture in which it was not uncommon for people to associate themselves with and define themselves by the teachings of a specific rabbi. Consequently there disputes arose among different groups: those who ‘followed’ Ce’phas, those who ‘followed’ Paul and those who ‘followed’ Apol’los.
From Paul’s perspective, the arguments among the Corinthians might just as well have been about a preference for Coke over Pepsi or of Adidas over Nike. These are, as Paul sees it, cultural, social and personal preference issues; and, by way of explanation, Paul goes on to talk about the foolish and the wise, the weak and the strong, the lowly and the powerful. In that context, the issues that were then disruptive of the Corinthians’ faith were matters that pertained to human affairs.
In the world of men it is expected that we will look for the most logical argument, the most interesting story, the most promising plan, the most charismatic speaker or just the guy who appears able to get things done. It is not surprising, therefore, that similar judgments are made in the Church; and such characteristics were evident even among the Fathers of the early Church.
In the spiritual realm, however, such is not the case. There it is not a matter of who is most eloquent, who can gather the most followers, who has the most experience in the field or who is best able to get things done. God makes his selection according to his own criteria. Human wisdom, power, honor, wealth and every other human criteria take a back seat. Thus, the foolish, the weak and the lowly can be brought to the fore in the divine selection. That is true and necessary first because it thereby becomes evident that the power behind the human-thus-chosen is nothing less than the active presence of God. But likewise, it is also true and necessary because of our human readiness to claim personal accomplishment for what is, in fact, the work of the Spirit.
As guided by the Spirit, the Church has always been cautious about stating with certitude what is and is not a matter of faith. That is essential in a divine/human institution where men must speak as guided by God. We see that restraint carefully exercised in the Church’s response to various apparitions. None have been accepted as authentic without careful investigation. None have been accepted without supporting evidence.
The core of our faith is relatively small when compared to the two thousand years of argumentation and elaboration which have accumulated. So, like Paul, we should only boast in the Lord. We have neither the wisdom nor the power nor the strength to bring ourselves to faith. Only through the relentless pursuit of God have we come to be “in Christ Jesus.”