“there are contentions among you”
1 Corinthians 1:11
Did you watch the Republican debates last week? I love politics ~ both my party and the other one ~ so I’m always up for a good debate about the issues. We went to my folks’ house (‘cause what’s more fun than pizza and politics??) which made it interesting to have a few discussions between three generations with varying degrees of interest in the process.
I learned a bit more about all of the candidates last week, and about how they feel about certain important issues facing our country, but I keep finding myself thinking about the debates, even a week later, because of the Bible. Well, because of Bible study, really.
We’re studying Corinthians this year, and twice, when I read Paul’s words, I find myself applying them to real life, because of the debates.
The first time was 1 Corinthians 1:11-12. Paul said, “there are contentions among you… Each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” As my family and I sat watching the debate, we discussed our differing opinions of the candidates. Generally speaking, we all want the same thing for our country, but we didn’t necessarily agree on who we want to follow as we get where we all want to go. There was no arguing among us, but there was sometimes surprise that someone agreed with so-and-so, when he seemed too strident to someone else. Or too soft-spoken. Or too argumentative. Or too conservative or too liberal.
All of us ~ humans, that is ~ want to get behind someone we respect or admire. We want to be in a group, accomplishing something, making our neighborhood or our world a better place, and we want to be proud of the person leading us. But there’s danger in that. No one is without flaws, and the more we admire someone ~ or the more someones we admire ~ the greater the chance we are disappointed in what we learn about them over time.
Paul knew this. Being both deeply flawed but also followed, he knew the danger in people thinking you’re the “everything”. But he also knew that divisions over details can be deadly to unity. And that includes ~ maybe especially ~ divisions over leaders. Emotions can run high when the issues are serious. Like religion and politics. Christ is our beliefs. He is the reason and the source of our faith. Everything else is just details.
The second reason the debates came back to my mind was 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. “I… did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
The debates are all about words, right? What he thinks, what she’s going to do. They communicate their priorities and their plans for the country, and we decide whether we agree or not, right?
Well, yes and no. In addition to the words, there are the looks. The gestures, the eye rolls, the tone of voice and intonation. And there is posture and the smiling (or not) and the ever-popular interrupting. So there’s a lot of judging and deciding going on, on the part of the viewer. Was he rude? Was he whiny? Did he interrupt too much? (I’m just gonna avoid the feminine pronoun entirely here so you can draw your own conclusions without thinking I’m pointing at anyone in particular.)
The message can get lost in that. We can pay so much attention to much to the messenger, that we’re not really hearing the message. I’m sure I was that way more than once during the two debates. One of the men running is someone whose career I have followed for years. I’m a fan of his, so I’m interested in hearing his viewpoint, and trying to decide what kind of president he’d be. (It’s not who you think.) But I kept getting distracted. He was interrupting more than I thought was appropriate, and a couple of times, in one particular back-and-forth, I felt like he was getting impatient with another candidate. And it was distracting me from really listening to him.
Paul is saying, in chapter 2, that he was never about eloquence or his own confidence. He always wanted to be about the message: “Christ, and Christ crucified.” And that goal works two ways: “Don’t admire me too much, you’re only going to be disappointed.” And “I know I’m not the greatest man in the world, but that’s okay because it’s not about me. It’s about Him.”
God doesn’t use extraordinary people. There are no extraordinary people. He uses ordinary people. What’s extraordinary, is Him.
The lesson? Simply this: pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Hear the words.