As I’ve been working through 1st Corinthians, I’ve been more keenly aware of the context of Paul’s writing. Some of the most famous lines in this book are often taken out of context. For instance, in chapter 11, Paul talks about the Lord’s Supper–a passage I hear read at almost every communion–but, Paul seems to be in the middle of rebuking the Corinthian church when he brings that up. It’s odd, I guess, that even the description of such a beautiful event as the Lord’s Supper could be read as a rebuke about how the Corinthian church was way out of alignment.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.
So much of 1st Corinthians is a response to something that the Corinthians sent Paul. I really wish we had that document. I wish would could see the whole conversation and not just Paul’s side. However, in chapter 12, Paul starts constructing some of the greatest images and ideas so far in this writing that, regardless of the original questions the Corinthians asked, transcend Paul’s original intent.
Paul’s analogy for spiritual gifts is fantastic and ludicrous at the same time. By comparing the many jobs, acts, gifts, and abilities available within a church to various parts of the body, we can see not only a model for efficient church interactions, but excellent interpersonal relationships on any level. The underlying principle: we are all have something valuable to offer, so appreciate what you have and what others have because our system will fall apart if all these pieces aren’t in place. In a church, this means that you have preachers, teachers, greeters, prayers, scholars, and so on, and they are all essential for a church to fully function. This same idea, though, is what keeps society running. We need doctors, lawyers, mechanics, farmers, designers, publishers, sales reps, plumbers, garbage collectors, accountants, and politicians. Paul highlights the idea that what seems to be a more lowly position is likely the most essential and what seems to be the more praiseworthy position is likely the part that we don’t need so much.
What change we would see if we lived these ideas out. If we stopped glorifying the ones with fancy job titles and took more time to appreciate the jobs that actually make our lives move. This is some of the best of Paul’s writing and some of his best philosophy. From chapter 12 on, Paul hits a stride that adresses so many key elements that not only set up valuable and necessary aspects of a Christian life, but elements that are at the heart of a thriving community.