Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hot Potato Issues: boasting, sexual immorality and Church Discipline (1 Corinthians 5)... One: On the Road to Unity in 1 Coritnhians (Part 5)

Please note: we had a guest preacher last Sunday looking at 1 Corinthians 4... So if you are following through this series online Sorry about the gap. 

The Nugget Point lighthouse is an iconic place in New Zealand. It is perched high on the cliffs on the wild Catlin’s coastline.  The track out to it goes along the top of this very sharp razor ridge. There are step drop offs and cliffs on either side. When you first see the lighthouse and the track you wonder at how they actually built it out there in the first place. When Kris and I lived in Dunedin we took the kids one day out to nugget point to see the lighthouse, the seal colony and the penguins. 

At the entrance to the track is a warning, that this is dangerous, not only are their cliffs but wind gusts that howl along the coast and over the ridge. So there is a sign which basically says be careful with your children they could get blown off.  The kids were a lot younger then, so we naturally just sent them running on ahead to see what would happen… just kidding…  we held their hands all the way along the track.

Being the new people of God is kind of like walking that track to the lighthouse.  Historically it has meant that we walk between the pit falls of tight hard legalism, wanting moral perfectionism at the cost of relationship and being libertine, misunderstanding our freedom in Christ as meaning anything goes, sacrificing morality for the sake of relationship . Being the church is walking together as the winds blow us towards either one of these drop offs from the path of grace. Joseph Aldrich puts it like this (and I’ve added the lighthouse analogy) we find ourselves seesawing between radical identification with our society where we lose our Christian distinctiveness, the light no longer burns, and radical separation, the light is burning bright, but its hidden under a bushel. 

We are working our way through the book of 1 Corinthians looking at what it means to be the new people of God. How as a diverse group of people from different backgrounds, cultures, socioeconomic grouping, with different moral understandings and theologies, can we be one in Christ. We’ve been looking at Paul dealing with disunity and squabbling in the church and now in the reading we have this morning he turns to look at church discipline and the church needing to deal with a serious moral issue in their midst, and it’s helpful for us to see how Paul deals with it, how he helps them to walk in the way of Christ, holding together both a desire for moral purity and right relationships. 

A serious moral issue had been reported to Paul. Paul didn’t say it was Chloe’s people, like with the division and squabbling. There is a sense here that the issue not being dealt with by the church at Corinth was common knowledge and a matter of concern from all those who heard it.

One of the major issues that faced the early church as it saw gentiles become followers of Jesus was that they had a totally different understanding of what was and wasn’t acceptable than Jewish believers.  The first ever general assembly of the early church, the council of Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15 had to deal with the question of how Jewish did you have to become to be a follower of Jesus, did you have to be circumcised? The resulting decision from the council was that gentiles did not need to be circumcised but were asked to refrain from food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality. The word used for immorality was a very general term and that is where some interpretive problems come up for us.
The issue in Corinthians was straight forward it was one of incest, a man, claiming to be a believer, living in an on-going sexual relationship with his father’s wife, his step-mother.  Something Paul points out that both Jews and Pagans saw as wrong.  The man was claiming to be a believer but continuing in that incestuous relationship, the fact that the women is not mentioned in any of the passage as being subject to church disciple shows that she was probably a non-believer. 

Paul’s main concern was the churches attitude towards this issue and that the church at Corinth was not dealing with it. Three times Paul points to their  arrogance, boastfulness and the puffed up nature of the church.  Paul maybe simply saying that the church had no real reason to be proud of their ‘spirituality’ because not only was their division, but also this issue of immorality, or that the arrogance was that they believed that they were now beyond any moral constraint, that freedom in Christ meant they were free to do whatever. Either way Paul is concerned that they have not dealt with the situation, that the witness of the church in the city was compromised and also that by not dealing with the situation that the man’s relationship with Christ was in danger, he may claim to be a believer but was continual acting in a way that was opposite to that.

Paul tells the church in the power of Christ to remove the man from fellowship. Part of the arrogance of the church may have been that they refused to listen to Paul’s earlier advice on the matter, but Paul tells them that he is very much with them in the spirit, so they should listen to him. 

We are probably not that happy with the idea of turning someone over to Satan, and scholars are torn over what that actually means. There is a sense that they treat him like a nonbeliever, which means removing him from events and activities, like fellowship meals and definitely Communion, but like with any non-believer being willing to share love and the good news of Jesus Christ with him so that he will respond with repentance and belief.  The man was probably in the position of being ostracized by the pagan community as well so his continual acceptance by the church was enabling him to not change his ways.  The purpose of this action is not punitive rather it is in the hope that the man might be restored to faith. Not that he die literally, but that the his worldly desires might die off and he might become alive to the spirit of God again. 

Paul then gives the rationale to why the church needed to do this. He uses the analogy of leaven and the Passover. Paul says that just like a little yeast can infect a whole batch of dough this sin has a way of infecting the whole community of faith. It is like a cancer that will grow.  Immorality, and latter in  v.11 Paul will widen that from sexual immorality to include all sorts of behavior, can damage and destroy a faith community.  

The Jews were to get rid of all the leaven out of their houses at Passover. It was to remember that they didn’t have time as they fled Egypt to make bread using leaven,  but also it was a good health regulation, the Israelites would have use dough left over from previous bread making to leaven  the next batch, start the fermentation process,  after a period of time there was the possibility of the leaven going bad. But the Jews were forced to start fresh each year after Passover. Leaven was also understood metaphorically as sin, that could infect the people of God.  Paul ties this into the fact that Christ was the Passover lamb, sacrificed once and for all for our sins, so in living and celebrating that in how we live we should start afresh and not bring over the standards and sins of our past into the new people of God. More than that Paul actually says that we should continue to celebrate the passover symbolically by keeping using unleavened bread.  We should live out our faith in sincerity and truth, that our lives should reflect the truth of who Christ is and what he has done for us. 

Finally in this section Paul corrects a misunderstanding the church at Corinth has from a previous letter he had written to them, which we do not have a copy of by the way. He had told them not to associate with immoral people. They had taken that to mean people outside the Church, that they should separate themselves from the world around them. But Paul says that’s not the case, in fact if they were to try and do that it would be impossible. You might as well move to another planet, or seal yourself off in some sort of plastic dome.  Paul’s instructions concerned those within the church who continued to live an immoral lifestyle. He mentions people whose behaviour is destructive to the Church, swindlers and people filled with greed, slanderers; those who by what they say would bear false witness against their neighbours. Drunkards, Roman society was a wine culture, alcohol was a regular part of life, and the behaviour here is not simply the consumption of alcohol or alcoholism, but the violent and anti-social behaviour that went along with the over consumption of alcohol. Alcoholism however needs to be addressed in the church, and people helped to see that this addiction is indeed something that stops people growing in their relationship with Christ and can affect the community of faith. 

How does this help us to deal with issues in our own time and place. 

Firstly, Paul says that the way we deal with issues of immorality in the church is not with the holier than thou attitude, nor do we simply ignore them and hope they will go away. Neither are helpful or loving. Paul says our posture should be one of grieving and mourning over sin, aware of our own short comings and the destructive nature of such things. That our attitude and the purpose behind what we say and how we act should be the desire to see people reconciled to Christ and be restored to full fellowship. Warren Wiersbe puts it like this  " Church discipline is not a group of pious policemen out to catch a criminal. Rather, it is a group of broken-hearted brothers and sisters seeking to restore an erring member of the family.” 

Secondly, there is a process involved, in dealing with issues of immorality, sexual and otherwise. Matthew 18: 15-18 outlines a process of dealing with wrongs and problems, starting with a private conversation, conversation with a witness, involving the church leadership and congregation and finally some form of sanctions.  It is only the serious issues that should get to the final stages. Jesus comments in Matthew 18 are in the context of forgiving a brother. We need to have robust and just and compassionate processes to deal with issues.  Craig Bloomfeild says “the whole point is to shock the persons involved by the severity of the churches disapproval that they are stimulated to change their behavior, after less radical action has left them unaffected.” We never stop loving them but can no longer consider them as part of the fellowship. Of course it is hard to see such church discipline being effective in our society where church attendance is simply another consumer choice and we can find another one down the road. Also  we live in an increasingly litigious society where people are willing to take you to court over such matters, and well look at that next week, because it was happening in the Church at Corinth as well. 

Thirdly, when it comes to morals and ethics it is not a matter of how far can we go before we reach the limits of what is acceptable. How far can we go towards the cliff edge before we fall off,  rather the focus for Christian community is on Christ crucified, in ever area of our lives we wrestle with how can we reflect the life of Christ…in our life… towards others, sexually, financially, in the way we speak and act. It means our standards are not to simply reflect the society round us. We are called to be sincere to live out the truth we believe. 

Lastly, Paul says that we are not to judge those outside the church or to separate ourselves from them. Rather we are to show Christ’s love to them and show a valid and authentic kingdom of God alternative. We don’t judge the world, God does that and it resulted in him giving his son to redeem it. We do however have a right and a role of encouraging one another to grow in and live out Christ honouring lives and that means we wrestle with and help each other and when needed be that involves  correcting and disciplining each other in love as a community. 

The nature of the epistles is that they are occasional, they deal with specific situations and because they are God’s word they speak to us through all time. I haven’t tried to tie this scripture into any specific behavior in the Church.  We’ve seen the recent and on-going struggle the churches have had with pedophilia, child and sexual abuse, (it's not just a catholic issue) we need to be strong in dealing with these. There is our continuing wrestling with how as a church are we to understand homosexuality, it’s an area we are going to have to pray and be broken over for a some time to come, I think it will be something that we find ourselves having to resist falling off either steep drop off and cliff, either anything goes or legalistic rejection. And at the moment there is a whole lot of wind pushing in one direction that is hard to withstand.   I am aware that as the church in the west we may have a blind spot in what Paul is saying in the area of greed, we do tend to reflect the values of our society in terms of buildings and wealth and standards of living. It challenges us in how we speak towards the society round us, how do we speak prophetically without demanding adherence to a Christian understanding of morality or being seen as judgmental. 

The encouragement and hope I see is that as we walk this dangerous and difficult path of grace together is that just like the Corinthians we have Paul with us by his words. But more importantly we have the Spirit and the presence of Christ with us as well, as together we wrestle with what it means to be the new people of God. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

It's God that Makes Things Grow (Leaders As Servants in 1 Coritnhains 3).... One: On The Road To Unity in 1 Corinthians (Part 3)

‘Big Bang Theory’ is a favourite sitcom  in our household.  It well written, the dialogue is great, the characters are good and the science is real good as well... so I'm told. One of the characters in the sitcom reminds me of the church at Corinth: Sheldon Cooper. Sheldon is a brilliant theoretical physicist, he’s smart, real smart and he knows it, there is a real sense of arrogance, and he thinks he’s got his world all sorted out. But when it comes to relationships and human interaction he hasn’t got a clue. That’s of course is where a lot of the action and humour of the show comes from.

People at the church at Corinth thought they were wise and spiritual, that they had it made , but Paul says when it comes to the core of the gospel and how that works itself out in being the new people of God they didn’t have a clue. He could prove it by the way they treated each other.

They thought they were spiritual but Paul says with all the division over human wisdom and status that they were just like the non-believers; totally worldly. They all thought of themselves as PHD’s in theology but Paul says I can tell that with all the squabbling that is going on about identifying with this leader and that leaser that in reality you are just like a bunch of toddlers squabbling over who gets to play with the new toy. 

We are looking at the book of 1 Corinthians to help us as God’s new people to wrestle with what it means to be one in Christ, when we come together from different cultures and socioeconomic groupings, with different ethical standards and expectations and even theologies. The chapter we are looking at today has been used in debates over  whether or not you can be worldly Christians, primarily about whether you can lose your salvation once you’ve come to Christ. But for Paul that is neither his focus nor ours, he wants the believers at Corinth to grow and mature in Christ. He wants them to be one in Christ, not tobe wrestling with such things as status and human wisdom. He had told them in the passage we read last week that in the end it was all about God and allabout grace. Now in that context he is going to go on to give teaching on a Christian understanding of leadership, which is diametrically opposed to that of the culture of Corinth and our own.

One of the ways to get ahead in Corinth and in Roman society was to have a Patron, some one of status and wealth and power that would be able to advance your cause. It was like their prestige and position could rub off on you. It was Sort of like getting a celebrity to endorse your product or a royal warrant. They treated the sophists who came with different kinds of philosophies in the same way, by identifying with this well-known and respected person you could be considered to be wise. Maybe in our society we might call it ‘fame by association’ maybe even the cult of personality. But Paul says that the Christian understanding about leaders is totally different, that leaders are first and foremost servants. That would be hard for a city made up of many freed slaves and a community where there were many people who were servants who wanted to get ahead to comprehend and in Roman society as in our own, servants were looked down on.  But as Paul reminds them all the way through this opening portion of  his letter, at the center of the gospel is Christ crucified, is a leader who came not to be served but to serve, who because of love gave up his life, for the sake of you and me, was willing to suffer the pain and indignity of death on the cross.

Paul uses the metaphor of agricultural work to illustrate this. He focuses on Apollos and himself, because they had been to Corinth and worked there. He says that just like servants on a farm, they each have their tasks to perform. They are not the owner of the farm or vineyard, rather they are given a task to do by the master. Paul’s was to plant seeds, he was an apostle, one sent to start and establish churches, an evangelist who proclaimed the gospel, Apollos was like the one who came along and watered the plants. Both are important tasks. Neither are more important than the other. And says Paul, they both complement each other and focus on seeing the harvest ripen mature and be bought in. I’ve done my share of horticultural work and I’ve done various tasks. I worked at one of the biggest plant nurseries in New Zealand and I was part of the weeding team, I spent a whole summer holiday weeding between the various rows of seedlings. I fact my role in the weeding team was to drag the weeds back down the rows and get rid of them. I worked in a hot house complex in Te Puke one summer, so for a couple of weeks my job was doing deep knee bends and stretches, tying 32 thousand tomato plants to the top wire, it seems I was the only one tall enough to reach the top wire. In these places we all did our part so that the crop would grow. No one was more important that the others. Paul's favourite title in his letters is that of a slave of Christ, Christian leaders should be respected because they are called by God to serve his people, but its not about status and importance, it’s about role.

Paul goes on to tell them again and in the end it’s all God and it’s all grace, as it is with crops it’s like with the church, God makes it grow. The people of Corinth would have been familiar with all the vagaries of weather and conditions and the impact that could have on their crops, the majority of them were ex pagans there religious background would have been about appeasing the Gods to get good weather and crops.  So now Paul is able to use this metaphor to focus them back on the one true God, not on human leaders. In the end says Paul why focus on the servant who work in the fields, as the fields and the workers and the crop belongs to God. In the end it’s all God…it’s all grace.

Then Paul changes metaphor, he changes from agriculture to architecture and construction. He turns from looking at the leaders in the past to how the current leaders of the church in Corinth should act. He says that he had laid a foundation for the church in Corinth, that that foundation was the gospel, Christ crucified and now the challenge for the present leadership was what were they going to build with on that foundation. Was it going to be material that was congruent with the gospel or was it going to be inferior material that wouldn’t stand the test of time. The materials that Paul lists  are split into two categories, the first gold, silver and precious stones, come from the  Old Testament and are the materials listed as those Solomon built the temple with, the other three are material that yes you can build with, but are they material that will stand the day of the Lord, are they gospel? 

My sister Christine is an artist, and the last exhibition she had was based on the floor plans of medieval cathedrals: Buildings that were built to worship God in. The classic building shape for these structures was the cross.  You can even go to some of older churches in Auckland today and see they are built in the same way. The architecture sold the story of the theology of what the church as an organism was to be built on and to be built of. Paul warns the present leaders and people of the church to make sure they build on the foundation of Christ crucified and that that is reflected in how and what they build. Not a human structure, not a pail refection of the society round them, with its focus on human wisdom and status, but on Christ and his love, on service and worship of God.

Paul shows how serious this is by pointing to a future judgement. The church in Corinth had what scholars call a highly realised understanding of eschatology, they thought they were basically living in heaven on earth, they had made it, they had arrived, but Paul reminds them that was not the case.  It’s interesting at the moment as a result of the Christchurch earthquake, churches are being asked to review how they have been built, and many churches are finding that they are not up to scratch. They are earthquake prone, they won’t stand up in the face of an earthquake. I wonder if it isn’t a challenge to us all to once again look at where we are and what we are doing and see if we need to re-evaluate what we have built, not just our buildings, on the foundation of the gospel. 

Paul moves on to tell the church at Corinth what type of building they are building. That they are the temple of God in Corinth,  Now Corinth was a city that was dominated by a temple built to Aphrodite, not just architecturally but as we will see when we come to look at food offered to idols culturally as well. But Paul says well actually you are where the one true God dwells now. This passage and the one later in the book have often been used about the way people treat their human body, but again the focus is not on us as individuals but as a people. The new people of God. He does this as a challenge for us to think about how we built this dwelling place of God. The temple in Corinth had been destroyed and was part of the city rebuild so for many in Corinth the destruction of the temple was very relevant and in recent memory.

I am often worried by churches advertising themselves by putting pictures of their pastors in ads and on church buildings. It is I’m told good advertising practise people relate to a person and radially identify with that person and brand. But it worries me because I often hear such Christian leaders talk about it being ‘there church’, there to serve my ministry. It worries me because I fear we an easily fall in to the same trap that the Corinthians were falling into…we can become a ‘cult of personality’. I’ve even heard the words servant of God used like it as an honorific title, this guy, and its usually a guy is worth listening to because he is such a great servant of God. It’s easy for us to get deceived by our celebrity media socked society into placing the same human standards on these people and the church: To see Christian leaders in light of how successful they are… often in terms of ABC attendance, building and Cash flow… not in terms of faithfulness to the gospel. It is a challenge to all in ministry and all who work in the church. One commentator says “that he fears we have a lot of so called Christian leaders who are good at calling crowd not building a church’.

Paul then finishes up this section of his book by tying everything together. He says that they and we should not be deceived and become content with the standards and wisdom of this world. It’s not about status or wisdom or position and power. Rather we should focus again on the foolishness of God, Christ crucified. In the end it’s ridiculous squabbling over human leaders, when they are a gift of God to us. It’s all God it’s all grace. Paul uses the Corinthians own understanding of the gospel to bring this home, why squabble over belonging to these guys when, they belong to you, they are a gift from God and you have been given every good gift in Christ, we are all in Christ and Christ is in God. One commentator puts it like this he says Paul is saying why we are splashing about in this shallow pool like kids, focusing on human standards and human values, when you have the whole vast glittering ocean of God’s love and grace beside you.  Once again it is this focus on Christ that enables us to be built together as one.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Foolishness of God...It's All About Grace (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16)... One: The Road To Unity in 1 Corinthians (Part 2)

Last week we saw how it had been reported to Paul that in the church in Corinth there was squabbling and division: That the church was divided into groupings that identified with one or other Christian leader. Some followed Paul, who Christ had used to originally plant the church at Corinth.  Others followed Apollos, a gifted orator who had come to the city after Paul and helped it grow. Yet others followed Cephas, or Peter, who we have no record of ever visiting Corinth, but whom was a key figure in the early church mainly amongst Jewish believers. Another group simply said they followed Christ, and while we may want to say amen to that, Paul challenged them on this. They were not doing this out of a humble trust in Jesus but rather as a claim of spiritual superiority to those in other factions. And in the passage we had read out to us this morning Paul begins to respond to this situation. In actual fact the first four chapters of this letter deal with this very issue. Paul starts by pointing us back to the grace of God, shown in such a crazy way that for those who are not being saved it is utter foolishness… but it is the foolishness of God, with the power to save.

We are looking at the book of 1 Corinthians to help us come to terms with what it means to the new people of God. In what it means to be One when we are a diverse group drawn together from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic groupings, with different understanding of the world and different ethical understandings and even different theologies. How can we as a group of fallen human beings, with all our differences and all our faults and foibles, be one in Christ.

Paul saw this squabbling and division at Corinth as a symptom of some deeper issues.

 Some cultural issues that had affected the church… The city of Corinth was a city where freed slaves could go and by associating with patrons, rich and powerful people in the city, find status and wealth. It was a city that was part of a culture that valued wisdom, that as a cross roads was a place where ‘sophists’ would come and share their new understanding of the world and people would shop in the market place of ideas and philosophies and choose what they wanted. Some would follow the different sophists and they would debate and argue about which philosophy, which human wisdom was correct and better.  The believers were treating their Christian leaders in the same way. They wanted status and power and to be considered wise, just like the other people in the city. It’s a challenge to believers of all times and places … the challenge of how do we view our success and self-worth is it the same as the world around us, we want to be considered wise and important and valued, or are we to find  those thing solely in trusting in God’s grace, what are we going to boast about? 

There were also some theological and spiritual issues as well…  The believers were treating the gospel as if it were simply human wisdom. They were spiritual and mature enough, they had arrived and got it all together and so they could quantify it, quibble over it, question others grasp of it, quite legitimately say their understanding was better than others. Yes there is a place for correcting false doctrine and countering false teaching, but it is about gracious love and wanting people to know Christ, rather than a grappling for spiritual supremacy, wanting power and prestige. 

Paul challenges there thinking, he refutes the fact that the gospel is human wisdom, he says that in human terms the gospel is foolishness, but it is the foolishness of God which is wiser than any human wisdom. It is the weakness of God but it’s more powerful than human strength.  In fact says Paul God chose to act in this way so that none of us could boast that we had anything to do with our own salvation, with getting it and understanding it, it is all God… it is all grace. 

Firstly he says in the wisdom of the world the message of Christ crucified does not make sense. “It is hard for us in the Christianised west” says Gordon fee, “where the cross for nearly nineteen centuries has been the primary symbol of the faith to appreciate how utterly mad the message of a God who got himself crucified by his enemies must have seemed to the first century Greek or Roman.”

Paul asks where all the wise people in the world who could have come up with that. He focuses on the two groupings within his wold: The Jews who sort signs and the Greeks who look for wisdom. Both he says do not comprehend the cross of Christ. For the Jews it was scandalous to think of a crucified messiah, they were looking for an all-powerful God to come and restore the fortunes of Israel. The messiah was supposed to defeat their enemies not allow them to kill him. In the Old Testament it had said that it was shameful to be hung on a cross, but here it was that God chose this very thing as the means by which he would restore people to himself. For the Greeks, they believed that human understanding was the way in which you made sense of the world; it is the philosophical basis of much of our western thought it lead them and leads us away from more traditional and religious understandings of the world. So salvation coming from an act of God in history was not something they thought wise, let alone putting their trust in a criminal who was executed at the wrong end of the empire. It didn’t make sense it was simply pernicious superstition. Sound familiar. 

But says Paul it’s the power of God for those who are being saved. When this message that Jesus is Lord is proclaimed lives change situations changed, new communities came into being. In all our different human ways of understanding it does not make sense so we can’t boast in our own wisdom, it’s all God, its all grace. 

Paul then challenges the thinking of the Corinthians by inviting them to look at themselves.  

They were seeking prominence and position, status and superior wisdom, but Paul says well actually guys, not many of you were wise, not many of you were of noble birth or wealthy and important, yet God called you to himself in Christ. They wanted to see themselves as someone’s but the amazing thing is that God chose the nobodies to be his people. In Deuteronomy 7 Moses had to remind Israel before they took possession of the land that they were not God’s people because they were the greatest or the most powerful or the most numerous, but rather he had chosen them because of his Love and grace. Paul here has to do the same thing. While there were some from the upper stara of society the reality is God did not call them because they were the best and the brightest, he calls them because of his love and grace. Sometimes I am tempted to thing I’m doing God a favour by being a Christian, But we like the Corinthian need to remember Jesus invitation, blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs isthe Kingdom of God’. Gordon fee again sums it up well by saying “the wisdom of God is that he saves the poor and the weak and those who the affluent tend to write off… he concludes in a very challenging way by saying “this does not sit well with the suburban captivity of the church.”

In the end says Paul it’s all God and it’s all grace, we can’t boast that we are doing God a favour it is the foolishness of God the weakness of God that he calls us and we find our self-value in what Christ has done for us… Paul takes three metaphors about salvation to express that… we are made righteous justified, by Christ’s death on the cross, we are  made holy set aside for God… by Christ’s death… we are redeemed… freed from slavery, by the price Christ paid for us. So if we are going to boast and say what we have confidence in, says Paul we can only place our trust in Christ. In Christ alone.

Then Paul goes on to say that unlike with the sophists with their human wisdom, that he did not come to them with fancy words, or human wisdom, rather he chose to simply preach Christ Crucified. That it was the message not the messenger that had power. One of the reasons behind the various faction in Corinth, and you have to remember that three out of the four were anti Paul was that he wasn’t that impressive. I’m sure from his letters that he was able to put a good argument together, but he wasn’t as good an orator as Apollos. Cephas had status and mana being one of the close friends of Jesus, Paul will later have to defend his apostleship with the Corinthians, in chapter 15 he says that he met Christ risen from the dead, refereeing to his Damascus road experience, but he says it was as if he was one untimely born. He does not have the prestige that they would have looked for. Paul had worked as a tent maker when he first came to Corinth, unlike the sophists who would make a living from their speaking. Despite all these weaknesses about who I am says Paul, the gospel was proclaimed with power, now Some have seen this to mean miracles, we don’t have any mention of that in Acts 18, but it’s more likely Paul is saying that the proof of the gospel’s power was in the fact that the believers in Corinth had responded. Again Paul says it was all God… it was all grace. 

The night I became A Christian I remember thinking that the guy who was preaching was rather boring and long-winded as only a fifteen year old can. But when he gave an altar call at the end God showed up and I know God was real and I had to go forward and give my life to Christ. My mentor Jim Wallace had done some study on the welsh revival, a move of God that swept the world at the beginning of the 19th century, and I asked him one time why had it seeming just run out and stop. He said the main reason was that the preachers began to believe it was because of their preaching that people were getting saved and so the focus became on them and not on Christ.  

Then in the last paragraph we had read to us today. Paul will maintain that it wasn’t human wisdom that enabled them to respond it was the Spirit of God at work in them that enabled them to understand the foolishness and wisdom of God, and come to trust in Jesus Christ.  It is all God and it is all grace.
Some people have seen Pauls message here as a sort of call to anti-intellectualism in Christianity. That’s not the case Paul in his letters is a great example of the use of rhetoric and rigorous intellectual arguments. Paul would have worked hard on his messages to present a persuasive argument for the gospel. There is an important place for such arguments and apologetics has an important place in gospel proclamation that is presenting a logical argument for what we believe. But we need to realise that in the end it is the Holy Spirit working in people’s lives that will bring people to faith. It’s all God… it’s all grace.  

Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians as they look for position and prestige in their society and within the Church is to remind them that we do not get our worth or value from human endeavours and human standards but rather that we get it from the fact that we are loved by God.  It is all the grace of God… shown in the death of Christ on the cross… by the call of God to those who are spiritually poor and… that we have responded to that message because of the spirit at work within us. That all we can do is to put our trust in Jesus Christ, squabbling and divisions come when are tempted to focus on other things, on our own position and our own wisdom rather than the foolishness of God in Christ crucified.