2014 Lent 8

I Corinthians 2:14—3:15

Before addressing divisions in the Corinthian church directly (cf. 3:3 ff.), Paul rounds out his thoughts regarding the spirit.  If Paul is indeed being sarcastic here, as I suggested yesterday, then the following verse in particular takes on a different meaning than many Christians want it to:

“Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny” (2:15).

Many Christians wear the word spiritual from this verse as a sort of badge of honor.  Their argument goes something like this:

Premise 1: I’ve been at this believer thing for quite a while.

Premise 2: Thus, I am plainly and simply more spiritual than almost everyone else around me.

Conclusion: And so I am subject to no one else’s scrutiny, as Paul states (or at least only to the scrutiny of those more spiritual than I, and there aren’t many).  Hey, it’s biblical!

We’ve all known Christians like this, yeah?  It’s especially problematic when church leaders adopt this mindset.

But read the verse again supposing that Paul is writing with a sarcastic tone:

“Those who are spiritual” (like the deluded Gnostics) “discern all things” (or at least that’s what they think they do, but we all know that they don’t really, for their so-called wisdom is founded on a false foundation; but for the sake of argument let’s humor them), “and” (here’s the real problem with this sort of deluded thinking) “they are themselves subject to no one’s scrutiny.”

If this passage is indeed sarcastic, as I suppose, then Paul is using a logical technique called ad ridiculum to show just how ridiculous this sort of thinking is.

Contextually it makes a lot of sense to me.  For Paul continues, addressing division within the congregation and rebuking the Corinthians for partisan thinking: some of the congregation said they were following Paul, some said they were following Apollos.  But the church is not Roman politics!  Partisan thinking has no place!  If there is to be any personality cult at all, let it be only the cult of Christ!

Looking around today’s church—Lord help us!—things seem not to have changed much in this regard.  “I’m an Episcopalian,” we say; or, “I’m a Baptist,” etc.  And within our individual congregations it’s no better.  “I like traditional worship,” someone says, “so I go to the 11:00 service”; when someone else says, “That’s no place for me; I go to the casual, contemporary, come-as-you-are 10:00 service.”  And, effectively, two congregations have formed within the same church.  (I’m not saying here that it’s bad to have two significantly different types of worship services; just that what people do with this scenario is all too often divisive.)

On the other hand, Paul goes on to say that he planted, Apollos watered, but Christ gave growth.  This idea anticipates Paul’s wonderful words to come later in the epistle about the church being one body made up of many parts.

We each have particular talents, gifts, and skillsets we bring to the community.  Let us therefore put them together, collaboratively, as we strive for unity, not division.  This striving for unity should be especially true of church leaders, yeah?

Get off this competitive kick, then, to be the most spiritual, to be somehow subject to no one else’s scrutiny!

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