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Devotion for Aug. 8, 2010

Beauty pageants, Disney princesses, and Barbie: in recent generations, they’ve fueled the ire of some and sparked cultural debate. The ideal of feminine beauty plastered on magazine covers and media screens seems dangerously unattainable, and considering the power of digital photo enhancement, altogether false.

The standard we use to compare ourselves matters. We judge ourselves by how we look, how smart we are, and how successful we deem ourselves to be.

What about in the church? The point that Paul makes in the final verses of chapter three is that we can’t be too careful when choosing the standard by which we judge ourselves, especially in the area of spiritual maturity.

The Corinthians had imbibed the cultural values of their day. They bought into the lie that what matters most is how eloquently one speaks and how much one knows. What mattered most in Corinthian culture was the so–called wisdom one had attained. This had created a dangerous disunity in the church. Each faction boasted of their superiority, and the church divided into “haves” and the “have–nots.”

Paul’s criticism is clear. Their self–judgment was deluded. They had been deceived. By judging themselves according to false, worldly standards, they had arrived at erroneous conclusions. They were not wise; they were fools. And if they thought themselves to be wise, they needed to cling more closely to the foolish message of the cross and to Jesus Christ, the supreme Fool.

In these final verses of chapter three, Paul inverts a popular saying of Greco–Roman philosophy of that time: “The wise man possesses all things.” It was a way of saying that wisdom, or Sophia, mattered more than anything else. Paul’s argument goes something like this: “All things are yours, but you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” It encapsulates his whole argument of chapter three: everything belongs to God, and this truth unifies the church and defeats human pride.

Apply the Word

It is so easy to judge ourselves by false standards, isn’t it? The world defines our worth by our physical attractiveness, our earning power, and the success of our families. When we judge ourselves by these standards, we can be led falsely into either shame or pride. But the standard Paul sets up throughout the entire letter of 1 Corinthians is radically defined by God: we have the standard of Christ crucified, the foolish wisdom of God who is “our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1:30).

BY Jennifer Michel

Jen Pollock Michel is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog. Her first book, Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith, is published by InterVarsity Press. Jen earned her BA in French from Wheaton College and her MA in Literature from Northwestern University. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and five children, and serves on staff at Grace Toronto Church.

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