- Bible Reading: Acts 18:1-4; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
- Free Resources: Prayer Tent (Kids 3rd-6th, NL)
- Unit Theme (April 19—May 10): God Works through Us
- The Point: We are united together by the power of God in Jesus Christ.
In this time after Easter, we have moved from Jesus’ first commission of the apostles, to Peter’s demonstration of the power of Jesus’ name, to the apostle Paul’s first missionary journey. Last week he was in Thessalonica (in Acts 17) and then writing to the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1). In the Acts narrative, he has now moved down the Aegean coast through Beroea and Athens and settled for a while in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth.
The Importance of Context
A look at Corinth here reminds us of the importance of context as we try to understand Scripture. Historically, the ancient Greek city you might have heard of had been destroyed by the Romans, and later rebuilt into a Roman colony, the capital of the Roman province of Achaea.
Geographically, Corinth is on an isthmus between the main bulk of Greece and the Peloponnese. This was a very strategic location, as travelers could either take the long way around the Peloponnese or the shortcut through Corinth. Many merchants took the shortcut. With a lot of trade going through Corinth, many became rich. This same flow of traffic led to intercultural exchange and a diverse religious landscape. Now, diversity in socio-economic status and religion never causes conflict, right?
It is into this context that Paul arrives. Apparently, he feels more comfortable here than in previous places because he sets up shop, both literally and figuratively. [He seems to have worked his trade in Thessalonica as well (1 Thessalonians 2:9), but the writer of Acts didn’t mention it.] He remained in Corinth for a year and a half (Acts 18:11), working beside Aquila and Priscilla as tentmakers and leatherworkers.
As per his custom, he began his mission work in the Jewish synagogue, engaging them in discussion and teaching them about the Messiah from Scripture. After the typical rejection by some, he moved on to preach to the Gentiles, though many Jews came to believe in Jesus.
Conflict & Division
There is no mention in this part of Acts about conflict and division within the church at Corinth, though plenty from the outside. This narrative choice fit the pattern within Acts, so was likely intentional. However peaceful and united the Corinthian church may have been, divisions came to the forefront after Paul left causing “Chloe’s people” to seek him out and ask for his intervention. And so, he wrote this letter.
In the letter, he writes about two types of foolishness, though he only uses the term for one. It appears that one (if not the most important) of the causes for writing the letter is a sense of great division in the Corinthian church. Different factions had arisen in the community, ostensibly over the proper spiritual leader (theology?) of the church. Some loyalists remained with their founder, Paul, while some claimed the influential teacher Apollos, who spent time with them after Paul had left (1 Corinthians 3:6). Others claimed the great apostle Peter (Cephas). Lastly, some claimed the source himself, Jesus.
Paul might have groaned at this. “People!” he might have yelled. “We are all on the same side! Peter, Apollos, and I all follow Jesus. Stop being foolish by making divisions where there shouldn’t be.” He had recently written in a letter to the Galatian church (whom he had called foolish using a different Greek word) instructing them that:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.Galatians 3:28
I’m sure the same sentiment applies here.
Foolishness and the Power of God
Paul then moves into the important part, the actual good news of Jesus. This possibly addressed another conflict within the church, this one in terms of education. The gospel is not about being the most educated or the best philosopher (the purview of the upper classes). The message of Jesus, the cross, is ridiculous. An itinerant teacher from some backwater in the empire, who was demeaned in the worst way by being put to death on a cross, is the savior of the world? That doesn’t make any sense.
“And your point is?” Paul might have asked. “God isn’t bound to the strict categories and logical structures of your philosophy. God chose to work this way, whether you find it wise or foolish, weak or strong.”
It is clear from his writings that Paul is not rejecting logic for some sort of disordered chaos of beliefs. He debated with Jews in the synagogue wherever he went, making logical arguments from Scripture. However, these Jews already knew that God didn’t necessarily play by the rules others set. Their God was not one who chose to be revealed in the most powerful empire with the most superior people but to a fairly random family of screw-ups (and still is revealed in a more numerous company of screw-ups. Thank God for grace!). They likely even agreed with Paul that God had promised to send a Messiah. They just didn’t know/agree that Jesus was this Messiah. The Gentiles didn’t have this background.
What about Us?
The unity and cooperation that seemed to exist between Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla (and presumably the Corinthian church at the beginning) somehow broke. It’s not terribly surprising since the church is made up of humans and humans really like dividing groups between “us” and “them.”
It might be easy (and right) to apply Paul’s wisdom here to our own church conflicts. However, that doesn’t necessarily speak to those not involved in those conflicts. And where is the good news in that? People always need good news, but I think the need is more identifiable for a large number of people now. Our good news comes from the same place it always comes from: Jesus. The cross and empty tomb are the power of God for us as it was to the people of Corinth. It is through Christ that divisions stop having meaning. God’s transforming love is for all, equally. From this good news comes the call to work together for unity in our community.
As we are still staying at home as a loving act for the safety of others (as well as ourselves), we are again providing an activity this week that can be done at home. “Prayer Tent” is an easy activity that springs from the tentmaking mentioned here in Acts. This was written for our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th; NL) curriculum, but it is simple for anyone to do at home. People without kids might feel a bit silly participating, but with a few adaptations, they can participate meaningfully, too.
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
New Blog Series
I have started another brief blog series directed specifically for laypeople, The Church at Home. Through this blog series, we are providing our Living the Word: Sharing God’s Story @ Home devotional bulletin inserts for free, along with a brief blog reflection each week. Please share the weekly link with your congregations.
Our Living the Word (Narrative Lectionary) resources for 2020-2021 are now available to order. On our website, you can find more information for our Year 3 (2020-2021) products and see our current release schedule.
We are also excited to announce that we are introducing our first product for the Revised Common Lectionary, a Cross+Gen Education curriculum inspired by our Narrative Lectionary Cross+Gen Education product. More information coming soon!