The root problem of the troubles of the Corinthian Church was pride, and a surprising kind of pride at that: They were proud of being super Christians; and that was what was causing the divisions. We don’t get the full details at the beginning, but we can deduce what was going on: Someone saying, “I am a better Christian than you are because I follow Peter; and he walked with Jesus, you know.” To which someone else could say: “Well, how many churches has Peter planted? Now take Paul… there’s someone to follow; he plants churches left and right.”
And it got much worse than just boasting. For, later on we find that some thought they were such powerful Christians that they were beyond sin. It is small wonder that by the time Paul writes the 2nd Epistle he has to deal squarely with so-called super-apostles.
Paul has to deal with this pride up front because it is utterly dangerous to the Christian walk. John the disciple warned us about it too:
1 John 2:15-16 Love not the world, nor the things in the world. If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
The pride of life, or as the Holman Christian Standard Bible translates it “pride in one’s own lifestyle,” is a hallmark of the world. It has been so since the very beginning. When the serpent tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit, it told her…
Genesis 3:4,5 … Ye will not certainly die; but God knows that in the day ye eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and ye will be as God, knowing good and evil.
Since then, every one of us faces the same choice: Either we obey God, who – by definition – Knows what is Good and what is Evil OR we become gods ourselves and invent our own definitions of knowledge, our own definitions of good and evil. The two kingdoms have existed since then.
But what happens when our definitions of good and evil conflict with God’s? What happens when we sin? The natural reaction, built into our spirits is to feel guilt:
2 Corinthians 7:10 For grief according to God works repentance to salvation, never to be regretted; but the grief of the world works death.
That guilt, designed by God, is meant to bring us back to Him. But we don’t like that feeling. We don’t like being wrong. And, so, the same voice that seduced Eve speaks in our ears and reminds us that, since we are gods, then there is no place for grief or guilt in our lives. On the contrary, we should feel proud that we acted according to the dictates of our own hearts.
Do you see how that works?
To keep the guilt away, we turn it into pride. To justify rejecting what God calls good, we call it mean, oppressive, antiquated. And what He calls evil, we call good, open-minded, progress.
We try to drown the voice of God, by filling our ears with our own “truths”. And eventually those truths become the opposite of God’s Truth. They have to. Because if there is any overlap between our truth and God’s Truth, our spirits are liable to recognize it and, in so doing, remember God’s voice.
Isaiah 5:20-21 Woe unto them who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and intelligent in their own esteem!
We live in a “mirror” world
If it has ever seemed to you that the values of the world are upside down, it is because they are. Even when the world declares some things as virtues, and uses the same words we use in the Kingdom of God, they are not the same. Sometimes the differences are subtle; sometimes they are blatant. Paul warned Timothy about this:
2 Timothy 3:1-5 But this know, that in [the] last days difficult times shall be there; for men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, evil speakers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, profane, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, of unsubdued passions, savage, having no love for what is good, traitors, headlong, of vain pretensions, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; having a form of piety but denying the power of it: and from these turn away.
Given that we are stuck living in the world, bombarded with its multiplicity of voices, how can we get anyone to listen instead to God’s voice? This is not a trivial problem because God will never try to seduce us into believing His voice, but to the world anything and everything is fair game in its effort to keep us enslaved to its ways.
God will tell it to you as it is: no hype, no cajoling, no bribing. But to the world, we are all a captive audience, ideal for non-stop infomercials. The world will scream, the world will dance; if you call within the next 10 minutes, the world will offer you a bonus. You want riches? You can have them. You want power and position? You can have them. You want to dictate what is right and what is wrong? You can do it. You want to redefine the meaning of words? Go right ahead. Whatever I want, I can have because, after all, this is MY world… I am my own a god.
How do you compete?
By being different.. so different that it proves to the casual observer that there is another way to live.
If you think about it, that was God’s strategy with the coming of the Messiah. His coming was a Promise, it was a Truth. But that didn’t keep the world from trying to appropriate it and twist it for its own purposes. Self-proclaimed Messiahs before and around the time of Jesus were focused on overturning the Roman yoke. They focused on the worldly power associated with some of the prophecies and sought the violent destruction of their worldly enemies.
But to do that, they had to ignore the prophecies about the Suffering Servant in Isaiah: a man who would die for the sins of the nation, and not only for the nation of Israel but for the whole world.
Isaiah 42:1-7 Behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect [in whom] my soul delighteth! I will put my Spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the nations. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment according to truth. He shall not faint nor be in haste, till he have set justice in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.
Thus saith God, Jehovah, he that created the heavens and stretched them out, he that spread forth the earth and its productions, he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: I, Jehovah, have called thee in righteousness, and will take hold of thy hand; and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations, to open the blind eyes, to bring forth the prisoner from the prison, them that sit in darkness out of the house of restraint.
These were not obscure passages. They were understood as Messianic, yet it is impossible to miss the message of salvation to all people, even those living in the faraway “isles”. But if you give the world the choice between a warrior-king Messiah and a self-sacrificing Messiah, which one do you think it will choose?
Therefore, when God chose to send Jesus, he had him born in a small town of Judah; actually born in a stable not in a palace. He was born to poor parents not rich (the only offering they could bring to the Temple were the two small birds). He was born into scandal not renown (his mother was pregnant before she married Joseph.) He grew as a laborer, son of a carpenter; never educated formally like the Pharisees were.
So, Jesus used the same strategy: The followers he chose were common people just like him: fishermen, social pariahs like Matthew the tax collector, and rabble rousers like Simon the zealot. Many of the people he attracted were on the fringes of their society: prostitutes, sinners, and more tax collectors.
If anything, Jesus was purposefully avoiding power and position, to such a degree that Nicodemus, a well-to-do and important Pharisee, came to talk to him at night when his friends were not likely to see him “slumming.”
What the Pharisees thought of Jesus’ choices is clear from passages like the following, where they are talking to the Temple soldiers that they had sent to get Jesus:
John 7:45-49 The officers therefore came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, Why have ye not brought him? The officers answered, Never man spoke thus, as this man [speaks]. The Pharisees therefore answered them, Are ye also deceived? Has any one of the rulers believed on him, or of the Pharisees? But this crowd, which does not know the law, are accursed.
A whisper impossible to ignore
Coming in humility, gentleness, and love made Jesus unique, impossible to miss… like the whisper that brings a room full of chatter to silence. That is God’s strategy: To disregard, even reject, all that the world claims is important, and simply present His Truth.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 For consider your calling, brethren, that [there are] not many wise according to flesh, not many powerful, not many high-born. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world, that he may put to shame the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world, that he may put to shame the strong things; and the ignoble things of the world, and the despised, has God chosen, [and] things that are not, that he may annul the things that are; so that no flesh should boast before God.
The point is to shock us into realizing that all that the world prizes, all that the world uses to try to keep us in its grasp, is, in reality, worthless.
It is worthless because it cannot last. Only God can create a Universe. Only God is the author of all things. The world offers us things it doesn’t own and pretends to tell us that they will make us happy. But God, by refusing to bargain on the same terms, demonstrates that none of that is required to achieve true happiness; we need none of it to fulfill our full potential as His children.
1 Corinthians 1:30-31 But of him are *ye* in Christ Jesus, who has been made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and holiness, and redemption; that according as it is written, He that boasts, let him boast in [the] Lord.
My Father in Heaven is enough for me.
Once we accept that, the allure of being our own god loses all its power and becomes ridiculous. (I mean, really, have you tried to create a Universe lately?)
This is why Paul chose that same strategy when he had to confront the problems of the Corinthian Church.
1 Corinthians 2:1-2 And *I*, when I came to you, brethren, came not in excellency of word, or wisdom, announcing to you the testimony of God. For I did not judge [it well] to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and *him* crucified.1 Corinthians 2:3-5 And *I* was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling; and my word and my preaching, not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of [the] Spirit and of power; that your faith might not stand in men’s wisdom, but in God’s power.