10 Nevertheless, brothers, I call on you in the name of our Lord Jesus the Messiah to agree, all of you, in what you say, and not to let yourselves remain split into factions but be restored to having a common mind and a common purpose. 11 For some of Chloe’s people have made it known to me, my brothers, that there are quarrels among you. 12 I say this because one of you says, “I follow Paul”; another says, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Peter”; while still another says, “I follow the Messiah!” 13 Has the Messiah been split in pieces? Was it Paul who was put to death on a stake for you? Were you immersed into the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I didn’t immerse any of you except Crispus and Gaius — 15 otherwise someone might say that you were indeed immersed into my name. 16 (Oh yes, I did also immerse Stephanas and his household; beyond that, I can’t remember whether I immersed anyone else.)
17 For the Messiah did not send me to immerse but to proclaim the Good News — and to do it without relying on wisdom that consists of mere rhetoric, so as not to rob the Messiah’s execution-stake of its power. 18 For the message about the execution-stake is nonsense to those in the process of being destroyed, but to us in the process of being rescued it is the power of God. 19 Indeed, the Bible says,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and the opinion of the pundit I will disregard.”
20 Where does that leave the philosopher, the Torah-teacher, or any of today’s thinkers? Hasn’t God made this world’s wisdom look pretty foolish? 21 For God’s wisdom ordained that the world, using its own wisdom, would not come to know him. Therefore God decided to use the “nonsense” of what we proclaim as his means of saving those who come to trust in it. 22 Precisely because Jews ask for signs and Greeks try to find wisdom, 23 we go on proclaiming a Messiah executed on a stake as a criminal! To Jews this is an obstacle, and to Greeks it is nonsense; 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, this same Messiah is God’s power and God’s wisdom! 25 For God’s nonsense is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Just look at yourselves, brothers — look at those whom God has called! Not many of you are wise by the world’s standards, not many wield power or boast noble birth. 27 But God chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise; God chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the strong; 28 and God chose what the world looks down on as common or regards as nothing in order to bring to nothing what the world considers important; 29 so that no one should boast before God. 30 It is his doing that you are united with the Messiah Jesus. He has become wisdom for us from God, and righteousness and holiness and liberation as well! 31 Therefore — as the Bible says — “Let anyone who wants to boast, boast about the Lord!”
Of Paul we might say, as we do in Scotland, “he disnae mess”; meaning that he gets to the point directly. He has heard about cliques who identify with this or that teacher, and also about people who think they are smarter than the average Christian. So he goes immediately to the very heart of his gospel message, namely the story of the Messiah who has been put to death on the Roman execution stake.This brute fact cannot be made into a polite philosophy or new age religion; anyone wants either of these will set the execution stake aside and move on to something more upwardly mobile, which might offer intellectual pleasure or social advancement. Even “immersion” which Paul honours as a genuine sign of belonging to Jesus, can lead people astray if it tempts them to prefer the leader who immersed them. Paul is not much interested in religion. He has given up a perfectly good religion, Pharisaic Judaism, in order to follow Jesus. He is interested in human transformation through what God has done in his Messiah Jesus, a transformation which is personal and communal.
Behind this passage there lies both Paul’s Jewish faith and his conversion to Jesus Messiah. His Pharisaic study of the Adam and Eve story would have led him to see the human desire for knowledge separate from God as the root of human evil. The kind of knowledge symbolised by the tree does not give true knowledge of God. Then again, Paul came to know in his turning to Messiah Jesus, that even Pharisaic knowledge could be perverted into an arrogant conviction of one’s own righteousness and a warrant for persecuting those who thought differently. The challenge of Paul’s public announcement (“what we proclaim”), is that it refuses to pander to those who like to think they are on the way up, either intellectually or socially. To express this refusal Paul uses some very strong and surprising words: nonsense (The Greek word gives us our word moron); weakness, obstacle (the Greek means literally a device to make an animal or person stumble into a trap). The message of a Messiah put to death on the execution stake( a good translation that avoids the Christian sentimentality of the cross!) is gobbledygook to anyone looking for a decent religion, miserably weak to those who desire power and success, and totally offensive to those who invented the idea of a Messiah who would conquer their enemies and liberate their nation from the power of foreigners. As far as all these are concerned Jesus Messiah is a bad joke, a non-starter.
Those who have responded with trust to “The Public Announcement” about Jesus Messiah are also described by Paul in strong language, they are not wise or powerful or well-born. In fact they are despised as common or non-existent. He certainly wasn’t flattering the Corinthians Assembly. But Paul reminds them that their trust in Jesus Messiah unites them with the One raised up by God to shame the wise, the strong and the powers-that-be. In Him, in the Messiah put to death on the execution stake, those who trust him find wisdom, justice, holiness and liberation.The climax of this presentation of the gospel comes in the last verse. Boasting, that is, self-aggrandisement, the classic human error of Adam and Eve, is utterly ruled out for those who trust in the downwardly mobile Messiah. Honour should be offered to God alone.
Even the modern reader is left gasping by the swiftness, rigour and comprehensiveness of Paul’s thought In a few paragraphs he exposes the proud Corinthian sectarians to the core of Messianic belief and shows them that the humility of God should make them ashamed.
Arrogance and power groups remain common in every era of the church, particularly amongst the clergy. I can only hold up my own hand and plead guilty. Paul’s diagnosis is accurate.