The most gifted. The most vulnerable.
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
1 Corinthians 1:17 (ESV)
One verse. Sometimes that’s all it takes to stop me dead in my tracks. It’s certainly one I’ve glossed over numerous times in past readings.
I suppose some context would help, though…
Paul wrote this letter (1 Corinthians) to the church in Corinth, where he had ministered for at least 18 months. It was written just prior to Pentecost in AD56, while he was finishing his 3 year ministry in Ephesus. The church in Corinth is what many would consider high-class, extremely gifted, classically educated.
Yet… oral reports were given to Paul of strife within the church related to immoral relationships, observance of the Lord’s Supper, and beliefs about the resurrection of the dead… amongst other moral failings. In short, the church in Corinth was a hot mess. Just a mere 20-25 years removed from Christ’s physical ministry on earth, the wheels had come off one of the most diverse and learned communities of believers.
How did this church sink so low, and why was Paul so effective in his ministry?
Now is about the time to look in a mirror…
We’re not so different, you and I.
Paul exposed the nerve of a seemingly impenetrable facade in just a few brief sentences at the outset of his letter. He rejected his own influence and power. Because he knew…
Eloquence to the eloquent is emptied of its effectiveness. Capability to the capable mirrors the same. Truth out of the mouths of those lacking these traits naturally holds more power than from those who are capable or eloquent. By definition, self-sustaining people are not sustained by God. And, by extension, cannot be sustained by truth.
Your eloquence and capability are sourced in the truth of Christ, and sustained by God. If believed to be generated or sustained in any other way, your witness and your effectiveness will be watered down by false humility and pride. The perceived veil of our physical skills and attributes is thin. We are called in weakness for this reason.
This is true for those ministering and those being ministered to in any capacity.
Do the thing you are called to do. Not the thing you are equipped to do. Not the thing you feel is most aligned to your personality, emotions, mental capacity, professional trade, or education. Not even the thing you have the most energy or passion to do.
Follow. Your. Call.
All other things will be found in the wake of this movement (see Matthew 6:31-34; specifically verse 33).
There is a specific and catastrophic danger in the belief that anything separate from Christ will serve us/others, or be the catalyst that serves us/others. As Paul admonishes at the end of Chapter 1…
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly 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, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (ESV; emphasis mine)
Consider your calling. It’s that simple. Christ fulfills knowledge (wisdom), morality (righteousness), progress (sanctification), and personal atonement (redemption)… all the pillars this world finds worthy. There is nothing remaining in which we can boast! This is a tremendously powerful revelation when it grips our souls. Christ followers are living under the power and authority of God! Any and all personal attributes flow out from that posture.
Paul not only realized this truth, but demonstrated it in his letter to the very ones who would not be convinced any other way. The practical instruction that follows in the letter would have no power or influence outside of this truth.
So unshackle yourself from the burden that the results of your striving rest with you. Conversely, let loose the chains keeping you locked to the sentiment that your intellect must be matched by equal intellect in order to be considered valid. Truth is truth. And its power lies in God’s power, not your own.
The beginning of spiritual wisdom
Where do you land on this issue? Do you consider yourself educated beyond faith in Christ? Do you feel that the only way to reach those you believe to be of a “higher” intellect, capacity, or standing than yourself is by first reaching their standard? I challenge both positions and would encourage you to click this link and read the first 2 chapters of Paul’s letter for yourself.
Christ is relevant to you… right where you sit.
Christ is relevant through you… without additional pre-requisites.
“…lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”