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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, February 10, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Corinthians 3:1–9

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. (NRSV)

If this portion of Paul’s letter to the young Corinthian church contained only the words of verse 9, I would like it a lot more. “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” It’s a bit careless with the metaphors (which is it: field or building?), but who can argue with such a sentiment of church unity?

But that’s not all there is. There’s also Paul’s stern characterization of these believers as “merely human.” Unlike the ’80s English electro-pop synth band The Human League, Paul employs that latter term as an accusation, not a justification. It’s very scoldy. Also, it’s hard to square with the incarnation. That, in Jesus, God was “born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7) is a central claim of the gospel, and it’s not qualified by any “mere” adjective. The incarnation seems to elevate and dignify being human. So why does 1 Corinthians denigrate it?

Maybe “mere” is a matter of degree. Maybe there are different ways of performing our humanity, and the “mere” variety Paul is chastising here is only the worst. If that’s the case, then we should never shrug our shoulders to say we’re “only human” whenever jealousy and backbiting get the better of us, because we are created and called to be better than that. In our humanity lies our potential, not our limitations. As a church, we are called to be human in the way Jesus is human, that is, primarily, humbly.

Of flesh and blood we are made, yes. Paul seems to expect the Corinthians—and us—to live up to those ingredients of creation, not down.

Make us spiritual people, O God. Feed us with the solid food of truth, and unite us with all your people in the humanity of Jesus, that we might be built up for your service. In the name of Jesus, the human one. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

Reflection and Prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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