Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Faith muscle memory

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February 5, 2023

Second Reading
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Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]

Throughout the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul is addressing the quarreling and division among the Christians in Corinth. In chapter 2, he begins to reflect at a higher theological level on the gospel logic of his plain speech, and apparently “maturity” in Christ. The focus turns to the Spirit of Christ through whom power is demonstrated and wisdom cultivated.  

As in the last three weeks, we will reflect on this passage through four themes.

Called to be saints together

Paul uses the collective “you” to speak of the call of the Corinthian Christians and at the beginning of chapter 2 speaks of the way he came to “you, brothers and sister,” siblings, in Christ. 

The theme of “called to be saints together” is emphasized again as Paul asserts he did not come with lofty words of wisdom precisely so that we would not rely on human wisdom. This is an explicit counterpoint to the claim or boast of wisdom among the followers of particular Corinthian teachers and the resulting divisions. Any quality in their preacher or teacher, or any practices that developed among their individual house churches, cannot separate them from one another. While many were not of noble birth, we know that the house churches represented a broad spectrum of social class. The cross of Christ binds all together. It is the singular reality that undergirds not only the entire letter of 1 Corinthians, but all of Paul’s gospel message. The bold claim in 2:16b that “we have the mind of Christ” is both confidence in the Spirit of God and a prayer.

Together we lack no spiritual gift

It is through the Spirit of God that we understand, comprehend, apprehend, and exercise the gifts bestowed on us by God. Paul’s shift in 2:6 to wisdom among the mature is therefore confusing until it is identified as irony.1 Our pursuit for mature wisdom will be fruitless until we understand Paul’s strategy of using the Corinthians’ interest in human wisdom against them. You want wisdom? I’ll give you wisdom! The secret wisdom which some might seek to attain is none other than the crucified Jesus, the message of the cross, pure foolishness. 

Just when some in Corinth then, or some here and now, begin to think we have achieved mature wisdom, Paul will spring on us in 3:1 our continued foolishness. We are infants. That together we lack no spiritual gift as we await the return of Christ relies entirely on recognizing the gifts of the other and the power of God to bestow gifts as God pleases. It is only the Spirit of God that knows the mind of God, only the Spirit of God who fully understands the foolishness of God that is wiser than human wisdom. Therefore, only in the Spirit of God can we recognize gifts in the other and unite to exercise those gifts so that we may be prepared for the return of Christ. There is no room here for right or wrong or prioritizing according to human wisdom. The rulers of this world and those who follow them are not doomed to perish as punishment, but because faith in them is misdirected, and apart from God we are nothing.

It’s not about you …

The crucified Christ is a constant reminder that our attempts, however subtle, to achieve notoriety or success are misdirected. It must be the greatest challenge for the people of God, no matter our station in life, occupation, or vocation, to constantly frame and reframe life in terms of God’s call upon us and the reverse logic of the gospel. Paul’s challenge is excruciatingly clear. Any attempt to rely upon human facility to justify ourselves or seek a measure of success, or gain human advantage is precisely an “old age” practice. Just about the time we think we have achieved a measure of wisdom or maturity, or our experience or life path is authoritative over another’s, we find ourselves caught in Paul’s trap. The only certitude that counts is absolute confidence in the cross of Christ. The only wisdom that counts is the secret hidden for all ages, God’s grace revealed in the cross of Christ. The only glory that matters is the glory of God. 

God is faithful

Of course we seek our own success and our own security. Of course we disagree, sometimes vehemently, with the ways others practice the Christian faith or what others say in the name of Jesus Christ. Of course we are divided by differing interpretations of the gospel message. If only it was as easy as recognizing that we can order our worship differently and still be faithful. We are, it seems, hopelessly divided. Except that God is faithful. The theme established in 1:8-9, that the God who called us will strengthen us to the end that we may be found blameless, is unbelievable, literally unbelievable, until we believe that God is faithful. The Spirit of God is bestowed on us in the discreet gifts given to each follower. In this we have the mind of Christ that serves as the constant counterweight to our human impulses. Preaching the absolute faithfulness of God, reviewing and rehearsing God’s faithfulness in the past, claiming God’s faithfulness now and for the future, no matter how frightening that future might seem, is to develop the faith muscle memory that leads us to lean on the cross of Christ, and not on human wisdom and effort.

It is, in part, Paul’s uncompromising confidence in the cross of Christ and the faithfulness of God that makes preaching from Paul’s epistles difficult. Paul is simply not embarrassed by the gospel and his confidence that nothing can separate us from the love of God extends to a confidence that in the body of Christor the mind of Christwe cannot be separated from one another.


  1.  Richard B. Hays. First Corinthians; Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching. John Knox Press: Louisville, 1997, pp. 39ff.