Good morning! Today we start the first of two letters from Paul to the Christian church that he started and others led after he left. From Paul’s letters and the broader history of Corinth (a trading city with a cosmopolitan, worldly culture), we get a sense of the Corinthian church as diverse and graced with many spiritual gifts. However, the Corinthian church’s diversity has also led to divisions around allegiance, status, and abilities. There are many cooks in the Corinthian kitchen, and because they’re all distracted by debate over the “top chef”, abundant skills and opinions remain unproductive, spoiling the Corinthian soup.
Paul compliments the Corinthian diversity as he opens: “in every way you have been enriched in [Christ], in speech and knowledge of every kind…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1:5-7). Yet he moves almost immediately to critique the way these various gifts and loyalties have led to factions in the Corinthian church. The faithful separate themselves out by whose wisdom they follow and which charismatic person they’re most drawn to: Paul, Apollos (rumored to be a great preacher), Cephas (aka Peter), or none of the above except Christ.
A large part of Paul’s counsel in these first chapters is to rethink what counts as wisdom worthy of allegiance. He emphasizes the “foolishness” of Christian faith in the eyes of many, including in Corinth. Paul doesn’t try to argue here for the greater reasonability of Christianity, but contends that for “insiders” Christ holds a power and wisdom unimaginable to those “outside”. This effectively forms a sense of coherence among those on the “inside”, skillfully suggesting that division (if it must exist) be recognized as separation from those beyond the community rather than contentiousness among those within it. Paul then slyly calls them to humility by reminding them that they’re not brilliant or powerful nobles either—foolishness suits them! Yet Christ chooses that which is foolish and works unforeseen wisdom through it for the sake of the world.
Out of this discussion, Paul reprimands the Corinthians for persisting in their haughty divisions, rather than aligning with the “foolishness” of God. By dividing themselves according to which apostle reached them, the church overlooks the importance of Christ alone. Only Christ matters to Paul—all the others and himself are sources by which the wisdom of Christ has found the people of this community. Whatever the “builders” do on the foundation of Christ is for the glory of God, and will be tested in the Day of the Lord, which Paul expected was Christ’s imminent return. Because he believes Christ is returning soon, Paul has little patience for squabbles that impede the gospel’s reach into non-Christian communities. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 1 Corinthians 4-7. Thanks for reading!