Lost in Affluence (1 Corinthians)
The Corinthians had it all. Many were wealthy in this thriving seaport, and with this affluence came the arrogance that so often accompanies possessions in this world. Jesus warned the rich, saying, “It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:23–24). John counseled, “Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. … And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever” (1 John 2:15, 17).
Paul often began his letters with an opening greeting and a thanksgiving section. In 1 Thessalonians, for example, he rejoiced that these believers had become an example in the entire region (1 Thess 1:2–10). In 1 Corinthians, however, the only thing Paul can thank God for is that God has blessed the Corinthians with every spiritual gift (1 Cor 1:5–7)! What he cannot thank God for is the way in which they exercised these gifts. As becomes clear later in the letter, too often chaos reigned, and the most important ingredient—charity—was conspicuously absent in the life of the church (1 Cor 13).
So Paul felt compelled to write:
Brothers, consider your calling: not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen the world’s foolish things to shame the wise, and God has chosen the world’s weak things to shame the strong. God has chosen the world’s insignificant and despised things—the things viewed as nothing—so he might bring to nothing the things that are viewed as something, so that no one can boast in his presence. But from him you are in Christ Jesus, who for us became wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: “The one who boasts must boast in the Lord.”
Most assuredly, this is a prophetic word that has in no way lost its relevance in the Western church, where affluence has significantly eroded the NT teaching of the church as the body of Christ, where its various members work together for the glory of God. May God help us in our performance orientation and shallow lip-service to Christianity. If we keep Christ at arm’s length, we will remain “babies in Christ” (1 Cor 3:1) rather than growing up into mature spiritual adulthood. And tragically, we will not be the salt and light of the earth by which people will see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matt 5:16).