Recently, some Christian colleges loosened rules for how students dress and spend their leisure time. One reversed its no–dancing policy for students and no–drinking policy for faculty and staff—a long overdue decision, some supporters argued; a harbinger of moral laxity, opponents disputed.
Centuries after the church in Corinth, groups still use different criteria to evaluate spirituality. How do we preserve moral standards and a spiritual climate in our Christian communities? Some denominations value the manifestation of certain spiritual gifts to show that someone is spiritually mature. In other churches, the mastery of biblical knowledge is highly prized. For still other churches or denominations, someone is judged by how moral he is and how well he avoids certain highly visible sins.
The Corinthians judged one another by worldly standards of wisdom and eloquence and classified one another by these false categories. As Paul had argued, their standards were informed by the values of the culture, not the values of the cross. The result was factional in–fighting and attitudes of haughty superiority. Many within the church believed that they had attained a superior wisdom and spiritual standing, and this inflated their sense of self–importance.
Paul takes direct aim at their pride in the opening verses of chapter three. For those who take pride in their supposed spiritual maturity, he calls them worldly and infantile. In fact, he notes that he cannot even address them spiritually when they don’t have the spiritual maturity to understand or embrace what he says?
Paul radically redefines worldliness here. It isn’t the absence of spiritual knowledge (as the Corinthians might have thought) or moral laxity (as we tend to think). Worldliness is stubborn willfulness and inflated self–importance when it comes to matters of opinion. This attitude of pride and superiority leads to division and to jealousy. Haughty arrogance and self–certainty destroys the health of a Christian community. This is in direct contrast to the attitude of our Savior (see Phil. 2:5–11).