1 Corinthians is where we are in our daily reading plan, and I’m not super-thrilled about that.
As I’ve repeatedly stated, I respect all the books of the Bible, regarding each of them as 100% inspired by God and thus “good” in the sense of being valuable and necessary.
But as I have also repeatedly stated, I can’t help preferring some books of the Bible over others. There are some that are not (or at least do not immediately seem to be) good in the sense of being attractive and enjoyable. At least, there are some that are not good in this sense to me. There are some that I am not instantly attracted to, some that I don’t gravitate to as easily as others.=
An Unattractive Book
1 Corinthians is one of those. Unlike Romans, which is incredibly attractive to me, 1 Corinthians is grossly unattractive. While Romans is a systematic presentation of the Gospel, 1 Corinthians is a systematic attack on human foolishness and/or sinfulness. While Romans does not contain any direct reference to chronic sins or misunderstandings in the church, 1 Corinthians is almost nothing other than direct references to chronic sins and misunderstandings in the church. Romans is like a conversation with a professor, but 1 Corinthians is like a parent’s diatribe. A warranted parent’s diatribe; Paul was right to write this book. But a parent’s diatribe nonetheless.
I don’t really care for that. Yes, there are some passages here I love as much as any in the Bible, especially chapters 3, 13, and 15. But I don’t care for the situation which produces those chapters or any of the other chapters of this book. That is, I don’t care for the craziness of the Corinthian Christians. The Corinthian Christians were crazy. They were crazy in a sick, sinful way. And that craziness is what forced Paul to write this parental diatribe. That craziness which permeates the entire book.
And that craziness turns me off the book. I do not feel the attraction to this book that I feel for Romans. I feel unattracted to it.
But there is a reason this book is so unattractive, a reason I saw during this year’s reading. The craziness of the Corinthians Christians which creates the unattractiveness of this parental diatribe is due to one very powerful factor: cultural influence. That is, a bad cultural influence, an unnoticed and unacknowledged but very real worldliness which crept into the church from the surrounding secular society.
I became aware of this factor as I read The Message’s introduction to 1 Corinthians. There, I found this statement
As we are told there, the craziness of the Corinthian Christians was simply a reflection of the Corinthian society. The surrounding Corinthian society was carnal, and so the Corinthian Christians, influenced by that surrounding society in which they lived, shopped, and worker, were also carnal.
That, then, is the real problem. It is not just that the Corinthian Christians were “crazy”, as I’ve labeled them. It is that they were infected with a craziness which came from their surroundings. They were crazy in a way they likely couldn’t see or detect. Craziness made sense to them, and so craziness came right into the church with them. That craziness was brought into the church and into their lives via this cultural influence.
The Continuing Craziness
And we Christians today are at the very least open to this kind of craziness if not already infected with it ourselves. Cultural influence is as powerful a force for us as it was for them.
I know it is because I have felt it myself. One example (of many) comes from my teenage reaction to passages of Scripture that talked about taking up our cross and/or living for Jesus (i.e., Galatians 2:19, Luke 9:23, et al). I distinctly remember rejecting those teachings as a teenager. Not directly, of course; I didn’t overtly say, “I’m not going to do that.” But I said it covertly. I had no real intention of giving God that much of me. I also distinctly remember why I rejected those teachings. It was because my society was telling me I needed to live for myself. My culture was influencing me in an opposite way God was influencing me, and the result was that I either rejected God’s teachings completely or tried to dilute them enough to agree with society’s influence.
We can find this same phenomenon in many of God’s other teachings. Consider how we react to teachings like these:
- Monogamy and/or sexual purity
- Being generous with or sharing our wealth
- Forgiving others
- Practicing love rather than violence
And on and on I could go. If you experience a “knee-jerk reaction” to any of these teachings, that is, if you hear them and say, “That’s crazy,” or, “That’s a little extreme,” or, “I’m not doing that,” or any of the similar things I said when I heard them as a teenager, it is likely because you have been influenced by our society.
The Root of the Craziness
So our society, which is itself crazy with carnality, is making us think God’s spiritual ways are crazy. And that in itself is crazy. We have a whole lot of craziness going on here.
1 Corinthians is clearly touching upon and directed toward that craziness. More than that, though, it is attempting to get to the root of the craziness. While Paul does directly attack some of the symptoms of the craziness, he also gets to the root of it. He is trying to expose the cultural influence, thus killing it, and replace it with God’s influence.
So is 1 Corinthians unattractive? Yes, in some ways it is. But cultural battles are usually unattractive. This is true even when they are “good fights”, when they are wars that must be waged and won. God’s war against cultural influence is such a war, and 1 Corinthians is a major front in that war. That makes it good in every sense of the word. That makes it good even if it isn’t all that attractive.