Today’s Readings for the Daily Office
Psalm 80 (Morning)
Psalm 77,  (Evening)
2 Kings 5:1-19
1 Cor. 4:8-21
Paul wrote a long time ago, but he deals with a couple of situations most of us recognize. He is writing, to use one of my favorite southern phrases, to “talk sharp” to his brethren in Corinth. (He says he does not mean to shame them, but of course that’s exactly what he is doing.) As for the first situation, the Corinthians are having problems. They are arguing and apparently playing one-upmanship; one is misbehaving in his sex life; some are backsliding, reviving some of their earlier reverence toward false gods. As Paul admonishes them, he refers to the second situation—this time his own. You Corinthians are prosperous and safe, he writes, but look at me and my friends! We are penniless and hungry, ridiculed and insulted. And yet we keep on with the good work.
The first situation should ring true. In our safe and secure lives, including in our churches, exactly because we are safe and secure we sometimes needlessly divide among ourselves over this or that. As probably in Corinth, it’s usually a matter of egos bumping against each other. We sure know about slipping back toward false gods. Ours are not some first century deity but job promotions, the stock market and retirement funds, flatteries and confirmations of various sorts. Invitations to Oxford (mea culpa) or Ole Miss football (sorry, Lowell). As for the second situation, none of us have known anything remotely approaching the persecution of early Christians. But there is something akin to it—an unintended condescension and genuine bafflement toward us as Christians, even from some who are close to us. Eugene Peterson in his vernacular Bible, The Message, has Paul here feeling as if he “is on stage in a theater in which no one wants to buy a ticket.” Does that feel familiar? Some of my closest and dearest friends in academia look on my faith as if I’ve committed my life to collecting Beanie Babies.
Paul’s answer to both situations is the same: Chill out. To the Corinthians: You already have all you want and need! God is with you, and with all of us, irrevocably. What’s your problem? Nothing, as he would write to the Romans, not death or life or fears of today or worries about tomorrow, can separate us from God’s love, as shown walking among us as Jesus. It’s a reminder I try to hold onto day by day.
Written by Elliott West
Elliott teaches history at the University of Arkansas and has been a member of St. Paul’s since 1990.