Our Sunday School class has been going through some of 1 Corinthians. The theme recently has been division. Everything we read about and discussed from the Book was relevant to today.
The culture of the city of Corinth was that of a divided economic status. [I think of what I’ve heard of India and the caste system: whatever order you are born into is the order you stay in for life.] The wealthy of Corinth could pretty much do as they pleased (and they did) without concern for losing status. The poor of the same city could do whatever they were able, and never leave their poverty or circumstances. Into whichever level you were born, you expected to stay there always. It was accepted and understood, and no one considered mingling with others of a variant status.
Into this culture walked the apostle Paul, “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2.3). Happily, God had prepared for him some true friends in Aquila and Priscilla, and then also Apollos.
This small group, armed with the Holy Spirit and God’s Word and His direction, set out to change the culture of Corinth and set them free.
Corinth was an important city along a major trade route, with large numbers of sailors and merchants. It was also one of the wickedest cities of ancient times: immorality, scores of pagan practices and heathen religions
It must have been a shocking thing for Corinthians to hear that God created all men equal, that God loves everyone equally. Of course, hatred of God’s Word and violence against Paul’s messages were not new to Paul. It happened in Corinth, too. But in Acts 18.9, 10 God encourages and consoles Paul: “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.” Was Paul surprised to hear that there were many people to be saved in such a city? I think not, as Paul had before seen the miracles of God’s salvation.
Paul shook his raiment when the Jews in the synagogues opposed the Christian group and blasphemed; Paul declared that he would go to the Gentiles.
Not having lived in Corinth at that time, I don’t know if the Jews living there were any more moral or kind or loving than the Gentiles. But God had given Paul a mission, and Paul knew he had the power of God to fulfill it.
I’m visualizing Paul making his tents, talking with people who pass by or want to purchase his wares. I picture him walking around to meet other people, speaking as often as the opportunity presents itself to declare Jesus Christ. He would invite them to hear more.
Christians of course did not have churches then; they met in people’s houses. Perhaps there was a group that met in and around the merchant stall where Paul and his friends had set up their tent-making trade. Can you imagine rich and poor and in-between, sitting together for the first time – no seats reserved for the mighty or the lowly, everyone taking a seat where there was one.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians often touched on the topic of division. He must have witnessed it. Even after he left, he still received ill reports of their behavior.
This is a hard thing to embrace! God thinks I’m just as valuable and loveable as that guy over there?
The rich may think: Impossible! I’m better than anyone else in here.
The poor may think: Impossible! I could never be as important as the rich and mighty.
How about us? Do any of these thoughts barge in, unannounced?
“I’m better than you because I’m married.”
“I’m better than you because I have children / grandchildren.”
“I’m better than you because I’m not poor.”
“I’m better than you because my fingernails aren’t dirty after I scratch my head.”
“I’m better than you because I have healthy foods in my cart.”
“I’m better than you because you’re fatter than I am.”
“I’m better than you because I still have my job / I have a better job / I like my job / I get promoted in my job.”
“I’m better than you because your house is a mess.”
“I’m better than you because my house is bigger / I live in a nicer neighborhood.”
“I’m better than you because I take more medications.”
How many more can you think of?
Philippians 2.3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
What a hard lesson this is! Most of human flesh depends on assuring ourselves that we are good, and the way we look good is by looking better than others around us. We fall into this trap so easily because it’s our weak point. Look at how easily Hitler gathered Aryan followers. Look at how easily advertisers sell their products.
Look at how easily our nation has divided. “I’m better than you because I’m right.”
In a book I’m reading, the author posed the question, Do any of us really understand how much God loves us? I thought, No, only Jesus did.
That’s how Jesus could look on every single person with love. Jesus knew how much God loved Him, because He loved Him equally right back. God’s love is perfect, infinite, true. It is impossible for God to love anyone with anything less than perfect love.
If we are looking upon others with the eyes God gave us, instead of our own, then we will understand that we are, indeed, no better than anyone else on any level.
This is why we are able, in Jesus’s strength and wisdom, to serve others. When we access the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2.16), when we work from the love that God puts within us, we receive special wisdom through the Holy Spirit to look upon others with tender hearts and with understanding. We can see that all other people are on the same level we are: in need of the grace of God.
Will God use you to serve that grace to others?
1 Corinthians 1.10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
Romans 15.5 – 7 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: 6 That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.