A Pauline root canal

It might just as well have been a root canal procedure, even though no audible high-speed metallic whirring from a dentist’s drill could be heard, nor was the prick felt of an anesthetic injection. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul was fully engaged in extracting a throbbing rottenness from the ancient Corinthian church.

Their confidence in human wisdom in those spewing forth perceived profoundness had created a decay erupting in the early stages of divisive sectarianism. To be sure they would have described their mindset differently, as merely a strong confidence in a particular person’s thinking. However, their symptomatic slogans: “I am of Paul;” “I am of Apollos;” “I am of Cephas;” or “I am of Christ” betrayed a growing polarization around dominant personalities (1 Corinthians 1:12-13).

Paul’s surgical techniques were swift and succinct. Human wisdom, Paul wrote, was futile. In fact, if Christ had sent Paul to proclaim the gospel with human profoundness the resulting message would have been useless (1 Corinthians 1:17). Accordingly his message had not been forged in the furnace of human wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1).

The drilling down through the compromised crown continued. Paul reminded them that God often works contrary to human reasoning because his thoughts are higher than our thoughts (1 Corinthians 1:25-29).

At best, those announcing the message are servants of God (1 Corinthians 3:5,7). Rather than creating the standard, preachers are accountable before God who will judge the quality of their ministries (1 Corinthians 3:10-13).

Furthermore, since God’s word provided them guidance, the whole church needed to realize that just because they felt strongly about some personality or new idea being either good or bad did not make it so. They were not to make human judgments (1 Corinthians 4:5). One day the Lord would reveal the truth about all such matters.

Paul unleashed a final surgical stroke against pride in human speculation with the warning: “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6).

If the apostle could hear those who claimed to be followers of Christ today talking about their favorite authors, debating doctrinal speculations with deep convictions, or aligning themselves behind dominant personalities, would he wonder whether we possessed 1 Corinthians?

Would he wonder what had happened to the unifying principle, “Do not go beyond what is written?” (1 Corinthians 4:6).

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They have two boys attending university.

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