I Corinthians 1

Letters in the ancient Graeco-Roman world came to have a more-or-less standard format, which Paul usually followed with minor adjustments. First, you identify yourself as the sender of the letter (often including your title), then you name the recipient (also with titles as applicable). In 1 Corinthians, the sender info is in 1:1. Paul expands the normal recipient (the church in Corinth and all Christians everywhere) section by including info about how they became the holy people of God and who made them so.

There was usually also a section that invoked a blessing on the recipient, which Paul modifies into “Grace and peace be to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.”

After this blessing, a normal letter would have a section praising the recipient and giving thanks for that person’s patronage or service, Paul first gives thanks that God has given them wisdom, knowledge and spiritual gifts in 1:4-9. He will end up spending a lot of the letter discussing the use and abuse of these three important “gifts” from God.

After this (1:10-17) Paul addresses the presenting problem: division in the church based on preferences of ministry gifting or style of particular people. After describing the factions, he jumps right into one of the subjects in the thanksgiving section: wisdom.

He begins by letting them know that he was there to preach the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, not to be a big-shot leader or pastor. It’s not just that he wasn’t there to show off his wisdom or preaching ability, but rather that God gives specific callings and gifts to the people He sends to do his work. Those gifts do not necessarily match human expectations, but they do accomplish God’s will if used according to God’s will.

In fact, normal human wisdom does not recognize God’s unique wisdom as anything but foolishness. Paul’s preaching about a God who became human and died is just plain insane to Greek philosophers. It is also more than a little blasphemous to a typical descendant of Abraham.

On the other hand, you would think that the God who created the entire universe would have some idea of what He’s doing. Paul understands this, so he just soldiers on passing on his “foolishness” to whoever will listen. All those engaged in working for this God are engaged in different aspects of the same “foolishness,” so there’s no point in getting an exaggerated sense of self-importance from it. It’s far better to just work together, get along, and follow the lead of the Holy Spirit together. There will be no glory until Jesus gets back, so don’t bother trying to be “important” (by following or emulating your favourite leader) in the eyes of other believers.

Instead of using persuasive speech and sound philosophy, God demonstrates His wisdom by His spirit working in power in the lives of believers. The line between human and godly wisdom is drawn between discernment of the Spirit’s work in the life of the church. The spiritual is literally incomprehensible to the natural mind. It should be possible to discern whether arguments are entirely from natural thinking or from spiritual thinking.

For instance, human thinking would show a larger tendency to obey human authority rather than showing loving consideration. Human thinking would show a preference for meeting the needs of an organization than for paying attention to the hurts of a human being within the organization. Human thinking would tend to impose rules and organization than encourage free expression of gifts and experimentation. For instance, a pattern of winning disagreements by imposing authority is usually a good sign of human reasoning.

Spiritual reasoning will usually try to relieve the suffering of hurting people.

Spiritual reasoning will leave the offering by the door in order try to resolve an offense with a hurting brother first.

Spiritual reasoning will leave the 99 sheep in order to find and save the one lost sheep.

We really, really need to learn to tell the difference between human thinking and spiritual thinking. We followers of Jesus Christ have better things to do than feed the egos of power-hungry or recognition-hungry people who will take our blood, sweat and tears to accomplish merely human purposes. If we are following carnal people to do carnal things, is it really Jesus’ will being done?


About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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