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Verse 7: “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.”

While in college, I took care of my grandmother’s yard. Among all the different plants and bushes (potted or rooted), she had a hydrangea bush that wasn’t doing too well. It often got knocked into or broken, and even got run over by the lawn mower (I don’t recall it being me!). She was ready to give up on it. I asked her to let me take a try at “saving” it. First thing I did was make a border of big rocks around it to protect it. I’d water it, especially during the hot summer days. Slowly but surely over the next few years, it made a comeback and developed back into a nice sized bush that blossomed some beautiful flowers.

Now, for the rhetorical question: did I cause the plant to grow? Of course not. Did I help care for it and water it? Yes. But the actual growth was caused by…God (of course!)

This is what Paul is trying to drill into the Corinthian church. All argument about who brought someone to saving grace through Christ Jesus (whether Paul, Apollos, or someone else) doesn’t matter in the importance of things. What matters is that Jesus saved them! It is only through Him that we are saved. Paul couldn’t get them into Heaven; neither could Apollos. They were tools in the hands of God to spread the Gospel. The verses go on to mention that those who helped plant and water would “receive his own reward according to his labor.”

Remember what a wonderful feeling it is to be used by God!

Something to think about.

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Verse 1: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.”

Reed Richards awakened in a predicament. He and his family in the Fantastic Four had defeated their enemies, the Frightful Four, despite the fact that Reed had lost his stretching powers. But in a brazen move, the Brute dragged Reed into the Negative Zone chamber of their Baxter Building headquarters, knocked him out, took on his costume, and cast him into the Negative Zone. You see, the Brute was really the Reed Richards of Counter-Earth, who had been rendered evil by a concussion when he received his brutish form and strength via cosmic rays. He had stolen Reed’s costume to impersonate him on this Earth, since he could change back to his lookalike appearance (this took place in the Marvel comic Fantastic Four, Vol. 1, issue 179, the synopsis can be found at http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_179)

Fear and panic begin to grip Reed, but he snapped out of it, calling on his military survival training. Making his way to a floating asteroid, he managed to start a fire with some flint-like stones. Attracting some of the flying bat-like creatures of the zone with the fire light, Reed was able to use a rock to knock one down, kill it, and cook it on the fire. As he surmised, now that he had taken care of basic needs like food, warmth, and protection by the fire, he could now train his great intellect on what had happened…and how he could escape his predicament.

You see, in order to tackle more difficult topics, Reed Richards had to take care of basic needs first. The word carnal has several definitions, but the basic one has to do with things of the physical body.

Paul was explaining here that he truly wished to speak with the Corinthian church on spiritual matters and issues, but they weren’t mature enough yet. He called them carnal, like spiritual babes. Even though he had brought them to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, they were still too carnal, too not-ready, to receive Paul’s teachings on spiritual things. They still were behaving with “envy, strife, and divisions”…thus were they still carnal. He repeated the point that some still argued their allegiances to him and others to Apollos, instead of to Christ. You might say he was telling them, “you haven’t graduated yet!”

You see, in order to tackle more spiritual teaching, Paul had to get the church past the carnal stage.

As we begin this new year of 2019, I pray that you all (myself included) would seek God and His wisdom to grow in Him, and graduate from church kindergarten, so to speak.

Something to think about.

Verses 14-15: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”

When I was in college, I was in the drama team of our Baptist Student Union (called the Zoo Troupe). Once we acted out a skit called “The Owl Who Was God”. (I found out just this week that the skit must’ve been based on the fable in James Thurber’s book Fables for Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated (New York, 1940), pp. 35-36. I reread the story at the following link: https://www.k-state.edu/english/baker/english320/Thurber-The_Owl_Who_Was_God.htm). The story (condensed here) is that the other animals asked the owl to be their leader because he could see in the dark and answer any question (although his answers to most questions were “Who”, “Two”, “To wit”, and “To Woo”…mostly owl-speak!). After chasing away a few animals who wanted to ask “Can he see in the daytime?”, the other animals asked the owl to be their leader. Appearing at high noon, walking slowly with wide eyes (since he couldn’t see in the daytime), the other animals, impressed by his seeming stature, began to cry “He’s God!” They began to follow him, even when he started walking down a highway. They were still crying “He’s God”…when most of them, including the owl, were killed by a truck which ran into them. The moral was: You can fool too many of the people too much of the time.

Paul here is contrasting the natural man, using natural wisdom, with the spiritual man, who uses the wisdom given through the Holy Spirit. The spiritual man can discern and judge many things through the wisdom God gives; the natural man cannot discern those same things, because natural wisdom cannot divine the deep things of God. It would be like above, when the animals thought the owl was wise, when it reality, he was limited…just like the natural man is limited.

So for wisdom that lasts, do you want the natural sands to build your house on? Or do want your foundation to be the wisdom of the Rock?

Something to think about.

Verses 4-5: “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.”

There is no better feeling than when you are used by God, and through His power, not your own.

Our church choir recently performed our annual Christmas program. We are blessed with a very knowledgeable, talented, and experienced music minister (blessed by God), who often picks out various pieces of different styles for our choir to sing. We finished the program with a magnificent operatic arrangement of Christ is Born; the lead solos were 4 men, and the music minister had asked me to be the 2nd tenor solo in this piece. Now, without bragging, I’ve sung solos before and I believe I have a pretty good voice; but nothing in my experience had prepared me for the challenge of this solo. Our music minister (bless his heart) worked with me and drilled me a lot on operatic style of belting out this solo, from pronunciation to breathing techniques. Come performance night, I was anxious. What’s more, the Christ is Born piece was at the END of a 40-minute program. I had some water hidden under my chair and took sips when I could. Come time to walk down, I bent over to grab one last sip…and turned over the cup! (not to worry, it didn’t spill through the lid). However, I had no time to get one more swig of water.

It was at that point, that I prayed quickly, “ok, Lord, it’s all on You, because I can’t sing this with my voice this tired on my own.” It’s funny, it felt almost like God said back to me, “I’ve got this, I’m all you need.” I went out and sang with all my heart; God blessed my efforts. I had several compliments from folks and my music minister later told my wife that I did great! All glory to God! (oh, and by the way, God had me again that night when we sang a 2nd performance of this same program not more than one hour later!)

I tell you all this to remind you what Paul was doing. I have always admired Paul for his eloquence of argument and his speaking abilities, but I forgot (until I read this passage) that he was relying on the Lord to give him the power to address the Corinthian congregation here. That church was starting to slip back into relying on human wisdom, and Paul reminded them that the real power, the real wisdom, comes from the Holy Spirit!

Just remember an old adage I’ve heard before and is appropriate here: let go and let God!

Something to think about.

Verse 27: “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;”

A car racer, Cliff Steele, has a freak accident and his brain is surgically placed in a nigh invulnerable robot body.
A test pilot, Larry Trainor, has a freak accident, requiring him to be wrapped in radiation-proof bandages to contain the alien being that has bonded with him.
A talented, athletic, beautiful actress named Rita Farr has a freak accident with strange volcanic gases, giving her size changing abilities.

All of them considered freaks; but Niles Caulder bonds them together into a team to protect the world…a team called…the Doom Patrol.

5 teenagers with various mutations are recruited to the Charles Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. One has wings, one has optic blast vision, one can form ice, one has beast-like strength and agility, and one has telekinesis. Feared by the world, these mutants will become mankind’s protectors…the X-Men.

In both instances, DC Comics and Marvel Comics created magazines about outcasts; these outcasts became unlikely heroes and the reading public loved them. Even today, some of these heroes exist now on the big screen of movies. But if you were to pick some type of superheroes to be easily accepted and popular, would you have picked these? Even a young Stan Lee had to convince his bosses when he was first starting out to give him a chance with a teenager who wasn’t a sidekick…a teenager who would become Spider-Man!

Paul is reminding the Corinthian church that God has picked the least likely choices (by man’s standards) to spread the Gospel, to show The Way. Think about Jesus’s disciples: were they all-star teams of leaders with great talent sets? Were they the Justice League or the Avengers?

No, their occupations were:
Fishermen
Tax Collector
Zealot
Tradesmen
And some we don’t even know what they did…they were just called by Jesus.
(Found this info at https://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/occupations-of-the-12-disciples-faq.htm)

The world would look at them and say “They’re going to help change the world?” Jesus looked at them and said, “Come, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Something to think about.

Verse 18-19: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.””

Amanda Marie McCoy, a scientist in the employ of billionaire industrialist Lex Luthor, had collated all the data she could on Superman and his friends and acquaintances. Luthor was trying to find out more about the newly revealed Man of Steel. McCoy was explaining to Luthor how there was an incredible amount of connections between Clark Kent and Superman; Luthor wanted to know what that relationship was. Feeding the information into Lexcorp’s computer system, the result appeared on the monitor: “Clark Kent is Superman”.

McCoy was astounded, but found the conclusion logical. Lex, however, didn’t share her reaction:

“Logical. Is it? To a machine perhaps. Yes…A soulless machine might make that deduction. But not Lex Luthor! I know better! I know that no man with the power of Superman would ever pretend to be a mere human! Such power is to be constantly exploited. Such power is to be used!!”

McCoy tried to reason the data’s reliability, but Lex wouldn’t hear it. He angrily ordered her to remove the data from his computers, and then remove herself from his employ. His last words of that issue are interesting: “I have no place in my organization for people who cannot see the obvious!”

(The above was found in the last pages of Superman Vol. 2, issue 2, by DC Comics. John Byrne was writing this new revamp of the Man of Steel in the 1980’s. I reference the comic page image at https://www.bleedingcool.com/2014/05/21/lex-luthors-big-surprise-from-forever-evil-7-spoilers/)

This to me, is a good parallel to today’s verse from Paul. He quotes Is 29:14 in relaying to the Corinthian church how the so-called religious leaders and “wise” people did not understand the message of the cross and what Jesus Christ did to redeem us. They didn’t want to hear it either; it was foolish to them! Just like arrogant Lex Luthor, who couldn’t understand that Clark Kent (raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent and instilled with their values) was Superman and used his powers to help people. To Luthor’s smug wisdom, it wouldn’t dawn on him to acknowledge that those with power should help others. Just like the religious leaders of Paul’s day…they couldn’t believe Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and would pay our sin debt through His death on the cross and His resurrection. To those who believe and are saved, it truly is the power of God!

Something to think about.

Verse 13: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

The college conference that my alma mater belongs to is the SEC – Southeastern Conference. Each member school is proud of its standing, accomplishments, and strengths. You can hear it especially when any teams from any two of the schools play each other. But come college playoff / post-season bowl time, if a member team is up against a member of another conference (especially one that thinks that they’re better than the SEC), the conference pride comes out, and you might well hear the cheers of “S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!” No matter the intra-conference college rivalries, the conference usually stands together.

That is somewhat a loose analogy as to what should be happening in Corinth. Paul is dismayed to discover that, although the church was founded on Jesus Christ, personality divisions have begun taking over: “I am of Paul…I am of Apollos…I am of Cephas…” and some still would say “I am of Christ”. Paul wanted them ALL to say “I am of Christ”! He is reminding them that Jesus Christ is the One who died for their sins, rose again, and lives that we may live in Him! It was not important how they came to Christ…only that they came to Christ! Or, to put it colloquially, Paul wanted to remind them to keep the main thing, the main thing!

Do you belong to the Savior? The introduction is surely not as important as the conversation.

Something to think about.