I've been trundling along reading the New Testament in recent weeks, passing on from Romans to 1 Corinthians. Chapter 2 is holding my attention, and I find myself squirming at the implications.
Paul confides that when he started preaching in Corinth he felt weak and afraid. I think I can understand why. Paul was an educated man. His writing testifies to his eloquence and the subtlety of his mind. I have to imagine he was well at home in the realm of philosophy and religious discourse, chasing ideas and finding clear ways to express them.
So I can well imagine him feeling afraid when he started preaching in Corinth, because this is what he did:
"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling...."
Paul deliberately laid aside his eloquence and cleverness with words. He tossed out what looked like the best cards in his hand and went all in with the leftovers. I can imagine he trembled. But he has more to say.
"...My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom but on God's power." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Paul was smart enough to know what his most valuable cards really were. Not his abilities, but Christ's actions. And the final deal backed him up. The Spirit moved in power, and the Corinthian church came into being in the way it should: believing and trusting in God, not persuaded by some clever guy. Paul got rid of the lesser cards in his hand, making room for God to deal him something much greater in value. Even though those lesser cards were probably ones which he liked and really wanted to depend on.
It's a vivid little patch of story for me, after spending a couple of days pondering it. And my response can be boiled down to a single, heartfelt word.
Here's the part where I need to lay my own hand on the table. I like being clever. I take pride in my smart brain and my subtle way with words. I'm good at finding new ways to say needful and encouraging things.
Okay, sometimes I'm good with words. What did I say? This is about pride.
I know full well why this section of the Corinthian letters is hanging on my attention. Because I want people to read what I write and hear what I say and think that I'm clever. I want to be accepted and approved of because of my eloquence and the quality of my ideas. And this desire makes me edit what I say out loud and what I choose to write about. It shuts me up sometimes when I ought to speak and it changes my mind about what I post here. It makes me throw away stronger cards in favor of weaker ones which I like better.
The world needs less of my cleverness than it does to hear more about Jesus Christ, and him crucified. This is the foundation of a winning hand. Nothing beats it and nothing can. My brain and my skill with words, whether great or small in human terms, are nothing compared with that.
Am I wise to say this, or simply bonkers? My kind readers must make their own decisions on that score. This is the hand I'm playing with today. I call.