I’d like to consider with you our calling. And I’d like to do so through the lens of 1 Corinthians 1. Paul gets at a few things in the text; what does it mean to be a church member? Who do we follow? What do we preach and proclaim as believers? And how does this message we proclaim and the savior we follow align with our various places in society?
The ancient city of Corinth sat at the crossroads of the ancient Roman world. Commerce played a key role in Corinth’s social, political, and cultural environment. Aided by a favorable economic climate, Corinth emerged as a thriving metropolis by the time of Paul and the apostles. One commentator noted, “Perhaps no city in the Empire offered so congenial an atmosphere for individual and corporate advancement.” The potential for advancement brought various groups of people to the city seeking to take advantage of Corinth’s commerce for personal gain. The value of trade, business, and pragmatism in the pursuit of success fed the zeal to attain public status, promote one’s own honor, and secure power.
This passage is in the middle of Paul’s argument about the centrality and foolishness of the cross. It’s a scandal to Jews and folly to Gentiles. Paul turns his focus to the Corinthian believers themselves to illustrate his claim. He first reminds them that not many of them were wise, powerful, or of noble birth. He’s flattening their attempts at self-exaltation and demolishing their boasts in human accomplishments. Their calling actually has the same design as the cross—their salvation shames and nullifies the values in which their society boasts. Therefore, Paul says, no human being can boast in the presence of God except as they boast in the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross. All people are on equal footing when they stand in the shadow of the cross because only weak and foolish people would respond to Paul’s preaching – which was not in wise and persuasive words.
As we deal with others, how often do we show weakness? And I’m not talking about false weakness. I mean true weakness. The insecurities. The stresses. The unrecognized competence and know-how. The fights with your spouse. If you don’t show your weakness, then you’re actually living by worldly standards. You’re really believing or trusting in what the world says of you and not what Christ says of you.
The Corinthians had apparently forgotten their humble estate and, given their culture, they probably didn’t want to remember their weakness. But I think Paul was convinced of this and I’m convinced of this, too: If we forget our brokenness and weakness and neediness, we’ll never respond to the scandal of the cross. We’ll never be truly Christ-like. The Christian life is not about getting education or status, but with marveling at Jesus Christ. One of my professors summarized Paul’s point well, “When they look back on God’s grace, the Corinthians should see an implausible message brought by an unimpressive messenger to a group of unlikely candidates for membership in God’s people.” The Corinthians, though surrounded by a culture riddled with self-glorification, should be characterized by self-sacrifice.
As we deal with others, how do we challenge them? Do we challenge them to be better and try harder or do we challenge them to marvel at Jesus? Power over pornography isn’t rooted in challenge. Authority over anger isn’t found in avoiding difficulty. Command of courage isn’t found in motivation. These things are rooted in our identity and our inheritance in Christ. In him we have wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
Paul roots the life of the Christian outside of himself declaring, “because of [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption…” (1 Cor. 1:30). James K.A. Smith states, “Discipleship is less about erecting an edifice of Christian knowledge than it is a matter of developing a Christian know-how that intuitively ‘understands’ the world in the light of the fullness of the gospel.” The thought of the Corinthians’ boasting in anything but God and God’s work is inappropriate. Salvation came to them because of God’s grace and only his grace.
As we deal with others, what are we encouraging them to boast about? Bible studies, attendance? Good things, no doubt, but if our boast isn’t in the Lord, then we’re missing it. Performing for our identity and inheritance leads not to holiness but to exhaustion, bitterness, and death.
Let’s call each other to a more compelling vision of the Christian life. Let’s call one another to the way of weakness. Let’s all challenge to marvel at Jesus. Let’s boast in the Lord and in his kindness to us. For it is God’s kindness, not God’s challenge that leads us to repentance.