In a nutshell: Paul lays on some heavy irony for the sake of bringing the Corinthian community down a few notches in humility.
Already you have it all! Already you have become rich! You have become kings without any help from us! … We are made to look like fools for the sake of the Anointed, but you are the Anointed’s wise men; we are weak, but you are strong; you are well thought of, we get no respect.
—1 Corinthians 4:8, 10
In yesterday’s reading I explored how trauma, especially new insights on PTSD, inform Paul’s spiritual and communal vision. I pointed out that Paul thinks a commitment to building a new, unified community (empire or civilization) forms a starting point for wisdom. Anyone who has experienced brutality and violence can appreciate where Paul is coming from here: community is a commitment to be made rather than a given reality.
So that’s where we pick up today in this audioblog: Paul, having undergone an enormous transformation from hating to loving the enemy (God’s Anointed, Jesus), is concerned about the development of factions in Corinth. He wants to convince the people there to first achieve communal unity—which, by the way, he sees as entirely possible and not merely an ideal. This begs the question: in unity for what? What does the civilization Paul would have us rally around actually look like? Along the way I tackle one of the most misapplied Bible verses in the Western culture, “…we are weak but you are strong.” There are other, more appropriate comments about strength in weakness in Paul’s letters, such as 2 Corinthians 12:10: “So, for the sake of God’s Anointed, I accept limitations, insults, calamities, persecutions, difficulties. For when I accept my limitations, then I am empowered.” (More popularly: When I’m weak, then I am strong.)
Questions for the Road:
- Do you ever take an exceptionalist attitude toward certain aspects of your life? Do you make yourself the exception to the rule in certain areas? What would it mean to practice humility in those areas? Is there ever a time (contra Paul) when it is okay to make yourself the exception?
- Who was Paul’s Jesus? What hints of Jesus do you detect in Paul’s language? (This is a question I plan to visit in more detail tomorrow.)
Thanks for reading this entry from the #30DaysofPaul reading challenge. We’re reading the seven undisputed letters of Paul in 30 days: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, Romans. Why not join us? Download the reading plan, which is based on the work of the Westar Paul Seminar as published in The Authentic Letters of Paul.
Cassandra Farrin joined Westar in 2010 and currently serves as the Marketing & Outreach Director. A US-UK Fulbright Scholar, she has an M.A. in Religious Studies from Lancaster University (England) and a B.A. in Religious Studies from Willamette University. She is passionate about books and projects that in some way address the intersection of ethics and early Christian history.