Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Foolishness: 1 Corinthians 1
1 Corinthians opens with the standard greeting of a letter from the Apostle Paul. He tells who he is with (Sosthenes) and who he is writing to. In this case, that is the “church of God that is in Corinth.” He further specifies that this church is made up of those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints.
He then expresses the blessing/greeting of “grace and peace” from God. From there, Paul reflects on his initial involvement with the Corinthian people and the beginning of the church. After that, though, there are problems to deal with and Paul is not hesitant to address them. He begins by addressing the division within the church. Apparently, the church had split into factions, some of which were drawn to various personalities who had led the church in times past. There is no firm evidence, or even a suggestion, that Paul, Cephas, Apollos, or anyone else had asked for a faction in their name. Further, the “I follow Christ” faction may not have been any less divisive than the others—just as today there are some who would exalt the “red-letters” of Scripture against the rest of God’s Word.
Paul addresses this, first by distancing himself from the faction and second by pointing to the true unification of the church: the Cross of Christ. 1 Corinthians 1 highlights that the community of Jesus, the Christian church, is not based on earthly wisdom or high birth. It is unified around a foolish thing, an unwise moment—the God who chose to die.
1 Corinthians 1:18 draws our attention for this installment. Take a look at the grand contrast surrounding the Cross: depending on where one stands with God, it is either foolishness or the great demonstration of the power of God. Christianity, with its message of surrender and a God who died, was not really an easy to market idea in the Roman world. After all, this was an empire of power and dominance. The gods that most people served were gods of heritage or convenience, whereas what Paul and his fellow Christians preached was that there was one God to worship and serve, and one God who also loved enough to die for all people.
That sounded foolish. Compared to gaining wisdom or living a stoic life, it does not seem like a great idea. And with the deferral of pleasure in exchange for sacrifice and devotion, it was not going to pass muster over many of the live-for-the-moment ideas that were in vogue.
Except that, to Paul and the Christians, it was more than just a life-altering idea. It was a life-saving evidence of the power of God. The Cross is the evidence that God in His power has not abandoned His love, and that He will save us from that the greatest danger we have: His own justice. It does not always make sense.
That does not make it untrue.
Here in the practical section is where I should tell you that we do not have to be wise or anything else in the world’s eyes. There’s some truth to that. But then again, we tend to get carried away and not bother with logic or learning….and then it makes it hard to show the love of God because we have not loved people enough to communicate with them.
First, though, the basic truth: Christianity does not make sense when compared to other belief systems. If you do it right, then you come closest to living and speaking like one who was perfect and did no one any wrong, and was killed for it. That is the direction in which our lives should be oriented: we are aimed toward sacrifice. Not toward achieving for ourselves. Nor does it work as a means to a different end but that—you cannot fake self-sacrifice for your own benefit. People will fall for it. God will not.
Second, though, consider this: Christianity does not have to fit the mold of the current trends of philosophy. In fact, it shouldn’t. There are bases of evidence and internal consistency that should be clear.
Now, remember this, though: we’re talking about foolishness in the eyes of world philosophy. Not foolishness as in does clearly dumb things and then expects no consequences. For example, the Cross is foolishness to the world but truly the power of God. That does not equal “we don’t need doctors we have God’s power” or “we don’t need education, we have the Bible only.” This is the hinge of our beliefs: the Cross and the Empty Tomb.
Because the Cross is the power of God because Jesus did not stay dead.
I’m going to be a lazy nerd and not deal with the authorship question. It says “Paul.” I’ll take Paul.
I would advise you to look at Ben Witherington’s A Week in the Life of Corinth historical fiction novel.
The main nerd point: 1 Corinthians 1:2. “Called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….”(ESV, mainly). Paul’s statement here highlights that there is a local church but also the church which expands to include all who call upon Jesus.
And then there’s the local church question: one per town? Perhaps so. New Testament descriptions seem to deal with the church of a city or the church of the whole world, with little regard for national boundaries. Just some food for thought.
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