Our preaching text for this Sunday, February 5, is I Corinthians 12: 1-12. It is written for Corinthian Christians who are looking to worldly standards for validation. Of particular concern to Paul is the Corinthian penchant for “wisdom.” While we might think of this as a broad category, I think the modern-day corollary might be self-help literature. “You Are a Badass,” “The Power of Habit,” and “Mastering Your Mean Girl” are some current titles.
The Christian equivalent are people like Paula White, the “prosperity Gospel” preacher Donald Trump had at his inaugural. Her theology, which was seen in previous preachers like Norman Vincent Peale (President Trump’s pastor growing up), is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and deeply unbiblical. Yet it makes promises about who you can be and what you can get if you just pray right, believe right, live right, etc. “And look at me,” they conclude, pointing to their big sanctuaries, nice clothes, well-coiffed hair and awfully nice cars. “Jesus wants this for you.”
Jesus says nothing of the sort. In fact, as Paul notes, the way of Jesus led to crucifixion. Which might be why Paul speaks of coming to the Corinthians with fear and trembling, knowing that people wanted success on all levels and a God who showed it and promised it. Instead Paul comes talking about a convicted criminal who died a shameful death on a cross. That same man told his disciples that his fate might be theirs. About him, Paul asks, “Who’s with Jesus?”
Paul himself was nothing to look at or believe. He is described as short, with perhaps a speech impediment. He has been thrown in jail, run out of town, betrayed by friends and said to be a liar. Ouch! “But trust me,” Paul says, “this is what it looks like to follow Jesus.”
And some people did trust Paul. And they did follow Jesus. Consequently their world turned upside down and they started hanging out with people unlike them and living lives of purpose and strength. This, Paul says, is God’s power. Not my words and not my wisdom, but God’s Word in Jesus and the foolishness to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and gives life to people who live as though they are dead.
I’m not sure where I am taking that this weekend. But it is a lot to chew on. I hope the preachers and prayers at the National Prayer Breakfast tomorrow represent this Gospel to the Washington elite. Imagine what it would be like if they led humble, servant lives?