2. Alignments and alliances

by Rev. Tommy Williams

Apostle Paul, 7th century carving

Apostle Paul, 7th century carving

Let’s read together I Corinthians 1:11-29:

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human 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, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

After the apostle Paul’s greetings and expressions of confidence in God’s strength for the church, he launches into very specific and targeted concerns. Paul names names. “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you…”  (v. 11). Chloe’s people were likely business persons who had traveled to Corinth and witnessed the church infighting and reported it back to Paul. 

It is obvious the church at Corinth is fighting. They are aligning themselves to various leaders, including Paul himself. Some say, “’I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (v. 12–13).

How does this play out today? The choice always exists to take sides in a struggle. Children take the side of Mom or Dad during family or marital strife. Workplace conflicts produce co-workers who figure out where to align themselves. Political parties compete for allegiance at every level of government and folks compete as to who is most patriotic. As in Corinth, Christian people sometimes place themselves in alliance with or in opposition to one another with respect to their leaders. We do this on social or doctrinal issues as well. 

There are times when taking positions and sides is appropriate even prophetic and necessary. As we will see in the coming chapters, Paul does not dismiss this need but places it within the larger theological framework of the cross of Christ. In verses 20–21, Paul argues that the “wisdom of the world” fails. True Divine wisdom is found in the saving power of the cross. In surrender, sacrifice, solidarity with a suffering world, and trust that, in the mysterious self-giving act of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the power of new life is released into the world. 

With this address, Paul essentially critiques what he sees in Corinth as placing their emphases on certain leaders and certain spiritual gifts (which we will discuss in coming weeks) rather than in God’s saving act in the cross. So then the focus moves away from self, away from self-righteousness, away from other sorts of “signs and wisdom” (v. 21–22) and moves toward God and God’s work in them. 

Paul calls the people back to themselves. “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters, not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose…you…” (v. 26–29). With all of our temptations to align and position ourselves, with all our inclinations to delineate and categorize one another, God still chooses us to be God’s people. 

Diversity is a gift, both in the world and in the Church. Diversity is not an end in itself but serves to give glory to God who created a diverse creation. Let us pray for unity, which has beauty and power precisely because of our diversity.