Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Thirty-Four

Day Three Hundred Thirty-Four, I Corinthians 1-4

t's important to remember that this letter to the Corinthian church is one that Paul wrote to a group of people that he'd spent a year and a half living among and working with, establishing, encouraging, and strengthening them.  They are a people that he absolutely loves and wants to see live their lives holy and blameless, pleasing to God.  It's important to remember all of this, because when Paul hears about the goings-on in Corinth, he has several harsh things to say to them, some rebukes about the way that they are living.

For a little bit of background, there was a Jew named Apollos who was very knowledgeable of the Scriptures and taught about Jesus, but he only knew the baptism of John.  While Paul was on his third missionary journey, Apollos went to Ephesus (where Paul had left Aquila and Priscilla) and there Aquila and Priscilla taught Apollos the Way "more adequately."  Then, while Paul was in Ephesus, Apollos went to Corinth and taught there.

Paul begins his letter, of course, as he often does, thanking God for the church and encouraging them to remain faithful.  But then he begins to hammer them, so to speak.  He starts off speaking to them about divisions in the church:  "My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this:  One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ.'  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?...For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power."

This message against divisions in the church, and Paul's comment about preaching not with human wisdom, is an excellent segue into his thoughts about godly wisdom versus the wisdom of the world:

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...Where is the wise man?  Where is the scholar?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?...Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified:  a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength."

Paul uses this contrast of man's wisdom and strength versus God's wisdom and power to further humble the people of the Corinthian church.  Rather than boasting in their factions about whom they choose to follow, Paul reminds them that it is God who chose them:

"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things...It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'"

As Paul seems to finish up his diatribe against divisions in the church, he does so by talking about himself and his fellow workers in the gospel, reminding the Corinthian church that they also are mere men, who are only teaching what God would have them to.  Of himself he says, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."

So of the different men working together, he says, "What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow."

Finally, Paul tells the people that as the church, God's Spirit dwells within them, and they are His temple.  Continuing on in divisions will destroy the temple of the Lord.  "So then, no more boasting about men!...You are of Christ, and Christ is of God."

This portion of the letter ends with Paul speaking to the people as dear children, telling them he is sending Timothy to them to teach them and remind them of how they should live, and telling them that he himself will visit them soon.  Though Paul is writing harshly to this group of people, he so desires to be able to come to them in gentleness and in love.

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