“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
Today’s scripture in our Lutheran churches was 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.
Ironically, the conventional wisdom among American Christians is to use this passage to indignantly boast about how we’re right and the rest of the world is wrong; about evolution, climate-change, gay marriage, abortion, etc. etc. You name it. Or perhaps it is tied with John 14:6 where Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” to reinforce that all other world religions are wrong wrong wrong.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe what Jesus says about Himself in John 14:6. I’m not a universalist, but I also believe that God doesn’t want ANYONE to perish (2 Peter 3:9) that’s WHY He sent His Son (John 3:16).
But I wonder if we Christians are missing the point God is trying to make to us through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when we presume to use this passage to support our theological, philosophical, cultural and political biases. Especially when you consider who/what/when/where the early church was compared to who/what we are today.
Of course 1st century Jews wanted a sign, some kind of proof that this upstart sect were following the true messiah. They had been God’s chosen people for thousands of years already. Of course the gentiles are going to scrutinize a group who worships someone who allowed Himself to be crucified. Why would that make sense? Their philosophy, technology, jurisprudence, economy, and military might had conquered and civilized the known world at the time.
Sure, its great to think of yourself as special, exceptional, and best of all “right” when the rest of the world is out of control, confusing, complicated, rapidly changing, even insane. But I contend that this passage is not about us. It’s not about Christians. It’s not about being right or being wise or being ridiculed or persecuted or made fun of or marginalized. It’s not about these things, because it’s not about us. It’s about God.
God is Love- “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8 And “LOVE is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
How often do we pine to be proved right, to be vindicated. To win an argument with the unsaved world by having God walk up behind us and corroborate our correctness. We want to win. Win the culture wars, win the elections, win the battle for the most ratings, win win win. But stop and think about how Jesus won our salvation.
Yeah, by giving up His sovereignty, His glory, His authority, His comfort, His safety, security and tranquility. He won us, He once and for all brought about peace and cessation of hostilities between ourselves and God the Father by allowing Himself to be spat on, tortured, and executed unjustly.
Jesus is completely counterintuitive. We want to have the world punished and banished. He wants to love THEM and gather THEM under His wings.
Are we like the resentful older brother in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 or the workers hired first in the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 20? Like Jonah, are we going to be mad as Hell if/when God doesn’t go ahead and smite Nineveh after all?
What if when we read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, instead of assuming that it’s about Christianity, what if we read it through the filter of the Cross and Christ crucified? When I think about God using foolish things (verses 27-28), I don’t think of a mighty prophet like Jonah, so much as a humble worm that ate Jonah’s shade (Jonah 4:7).
When I consider Christ, I don’t think of crusades or defending the faith, or maintaining traditions. I think of compassion. Welcoming little children, healing the sick, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans, providing justice for the stranger and alien, stilling the storm. Sitting with tax collectors and prostitutes, not condemning the adulteress, and chasing the money-changers from His Father’s house, so that it might be a house of prayer.
If you want control, influence, or authority, you probably aren’t going to pursue altruism, humility, servanthood, mercy, patience, kindness, vulnerability or trust. But if you want relationships, you really should consider all of those things, but be prepared to surrender control, influence, and authority.
Understandably, many Christians are impatient with our government for not lowering more shock and awe onto the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria which call them selves the “Islamic State (ISIS).” But before we start thumping the drums of war, we should remember 2 Corinthians 10:3 “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” How does Jesus wage war? In Matthew 5:44 Jesus tells us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He tells us in Romans 12:20 and Proverbs 25 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Love, prayer, kindness and generosity are our weapons if we’re genuinely following Christ’s command, not money, propaganda, or drone strikes- love.
Paul tells us in Philippians 2 just how Jesus waged war-
“6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
That’s NUTS? Jesus must be some kind of a NUT!
But what if more non-Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists encountered this truly Christ-like attitude among those of us who call ourselves “Christian?”
I bet they’d be confused. WOuld they be as afraid of us as we seem to be of them?
“18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 4:18-21
Christians often see Romans, chapter 1 as an indictment of the “world” & it’s self indulgent sinfulness. Conservative Christians like to wield this chapter as proof that homosexuality is wrong.
I just read the second chapter of Romans and I have to say that I see it as a pretty clear indictment of the judgementalness, hypocrisy & myopic sense of arrogant superiority & entitled “tribalism” of many of us “Christians.”
Paul’s warning against being a Jew in name but not at heart applies to us today too. Aren’t we also quick to judge non-Christians, meanwhile deluded about ourselves because we’ll go so far as to oppose the very things Christ did & would have us do as well? Self-righteous about our “family values” and being “true Americans,” but apathetic about injustice, strangers, orphans, widows, and the poor?
Don’t we make our own opinions, ideologies, comfort, convenience, security & above all our pride into our false idols, even as we judge others for doing the same?
How often do we look down at those who use drugs but can’t wait to have some drinks after work or on the weekend? Pose gay marriage but on our second divorce? Indignant about people living together, but spend plenty of time looking at porn? Appalled by burglary, but look for every way possible to avoid paying taxes? Offended by profanity but can’t get enough gossip? Horrified by neopaganism yet check our horoscopes frequently?
I think if we’re serious about following Jesus,we’ll read, review, and reflect on Romans chapter 2 frequently. If we do, we’ll see ourselves very differently. We’ll also see “the world;” humanists, agnostics, skeptics, secularists, non believers, and members of other faiths dramatically different too.
Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 Do not be overrighteous,neither be overwise—why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool—why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.
I ran across ti passage in college and have always been intrigued by it. I don’t think it means that we shouldn’t take sides or that we should remain Luke-warm about important issues, but I do think God wants us to seek a certain balance.
Today I got involved in a sticky discussion on a Facebook group for progressive Christians. Someone asked if you had to believe in the resurrection to be a Christian. I sited 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 where it says that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, our faith is in vain. Someone came back at me with something along the lines of, yeah well, that’s just Paul’s opinion, which he’s entitled to, but I’m just as entitled to mine.
Blew me away.
For years now, I’ve been the liberal in a red state made to feel unclean because Obama is the antichrist and voting for Democrats puts my very soul in eternal peril. Meanwhile lying us into an unprovoked war, obscene wealth disparity, religious adherence to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, denying civil rights and promoting anti-intellectualism is okay?
Now suddenly I’m seen as the backward bully for espousing orthodoxy and adhering to the ecumenical creeds?
Isn’t it possible to both believe in Jesus teachings and example of love, acceptance, grace, mercy, forgiveness and social justice AND also accept Him as my Lord and Savior, the only begotten son of the Living God who was crucified, died and rose again to forgive me for my sins?
Can’t I read BOTH Dorothy Day AND Karl Barth?
Seems that both extremes of universalism and fundamentalism are dangerous. Guess what? Absolutism is every bit as dangerous as relativism. Although, I’ll concede that relativism is pretty dumb.
Just like the Pharisees, conservative Christians must resist becoming heartless moralists, judging and demanding more from others than themselves, presuming to have a monopoly on God’s revealed truth and His favor.
Be that as it may, progressive Christians should also resist becoming modern day Sadducees, assuming that there is no mysticism, no miracles, no spiritual realm, no sin that separates us from God and no resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.
You’re both wrong. How can you be opposed to helping the poor and for tax cuts for the rich and paying CEOs 300x as much as their employees and call yourself a Christian? But at the same time, how can you not believe that Jesus is the Christ, the resurrected son of God, king of the universe and call yourself a Christian?
Call me a hypocrite, call me a heretic, call me a contradiction, but I believe that “It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.” The Jesus I encounter in the Bible is the third way- indeed He IS “the Way.”
Sorry conservative friends, I will continue to be the prophetic voice, demanding reflection and stirring up cognitive dissonance. And sorry liberal friends, I still believe that God is the creator and not just some sociological construct that civilizations have created in their own images.
If this makes me an outcast in both communities, so be it. Here I stand, I can do no other.