At the risk of understatement, the Corinthian church had issues. But, the church had issues because it was made up of sinners. One of the problems that they had was a penchant for exalting people and then identifying with them (to give them a sense of status). Even in the church there arose various personality cults (1 Cor 3:1-6). One says, “I am of Apollos.” Another says, “I am of Paul.” Someone else boasts, “I am of Cephas.”
Can you see what a problem this would be? After all, the church is supposed to be united together under a common savior, common mission, and saluting the same gospel flag. Instead they were acting like fanboys of their favorite pop icons.
This immaturity brought about the fleshly fruit of jealousy, arguments, and bitterness (1 Cor. 3:3). Many in the church were producing this bad fruit. And as is always the case, those governed by the flesh are drawn to controversy like undeterrable fruit flies.
The church exists to glorify God by helping people to know and follow Jesus. We do this by means of the ministry of the Word of God. The result of this, by God’s grace, is that people grow and look more and more like Christ. We become conformed to his image (Eph. 4:11-15). But what are we being “deconformed” from (if I can use that term) as we are being conformed to Christ? It is self. Sadly, in Corinth the very thing that the church endeavors to cultivate was being seditiously undermined by a dangerous knockoff. Instead of cultivating contentment in their Creator through the gospel they were pursuing contentment in creation through personality cults.
What was their chief issue? They had bad memories. They had something of a gospel amnesia that brought about Christian apathy. They had forgotten who Christ is and what he had done (1 Cor. 1:29-31). But they had also forgotten who they were. In effort to remind them of both of these things in one fell swoop the Apostle lovingly reminds them,
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31)
Did you catch what Paul did there?
He is accenting the greatness of Christ by reminding the Corinthians that they really aren’t very impressive. Christ’s awesomeness, when rightly perceived, has an uncanny ability to remind us that we are not very awesome. At the same time, he does not diminish the church. It is, after all, the church that is the means by which the gospel goes forth.
To put it another way, the beauty of the church is seen in the preciousness of the gospel she preaches and the weakness of those who preach it. It is as if Paul is saying, “You didn’t get into this by being great and impressive. You got in because God is rich in mercy to those who are not very great nor impressive.” Praise God for this.
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