10. February 2019

A Word to the Wise

Service Type:

Minister: Revd Dr. Ian Tutton

A Word to the Wise

…Where is the Wise Man…’ (1 Corinthians 1, 20)

Corinth was close to Paul’s heart. He stayed there 18 months or so. It was an important city for many reasons, most particularly in respect of trade and commerce. It was populated mainly by native Greeks, although there was a large number of Romans, mainly connected with the military, and a sizeable Jewish population a consequence of Claudius having expelled Jews from Rome some two years prior to Paul’s arrival, most prominent among whom were Priscilla and Aquila – tent makers like Paul - with whom he stayed during his time in the city. Paul began his ministry by preaching to the Jews in the synagogue, met violent opposition and so chose to reach out to the Gentiles; those schooled in the religion and philosophy of Greece. This presented a wholly different challenge. With the Jews, it was all about persuading them that in Jesus God had fulfilled the promise given to their ancestors and this had been proved by God having raised Jesus from the dead. Thereby just as death is transformed in the light of resurrection so their understanding of the Jewish Law is to be transformed in the light of the Gospel of mercy, forgiveness, grace and love. With the Greeks, Paul was confronting a wholly different thought world one established and sustained according to the whim of the gods; a world in which each was to achieve one’s own ‘salvation’ within one’s own lifetime, because this is what life is, the means to self-understanding. The route to which was either duty – Stoics – or pleasure – Epiucreans. Acquiring wisdom sufficient to be able to make sense of oneself was one’s goal in life. Accordingly…

  • To suggest that ‘God’ might become ‘human’ was an insult to their intelligence…
  • To contend that unless one was prepared to accept that self-understanding is possible only through a relationship with One who became as oneself was absurd…
  •  To argue self-understanding was complete only if described in terms of self-denying, self-giving, self-emptying, self-sacrificing was offensive...

Yet this was Paul’s message to the Greeks: a message already proven to be counter-cultural as far as the Jews were concerned, now to the Greeks counter-intuitive…

  • We know what we know; what can be known is there to be known. We should never despise anyone’s pursuit of knowledge; we should be in awe of those who push back the frontier of knowledge and continue to do so...
  • We can explain what we can explain. We should never frustrate anyone who seeks an explanation for whatever; we should be in awe of those who widen our horizon as far as explaining this that or the other to us...
  • We understand what we understand. We should never thwart anyone who desires to understand how what is, is as it is. We should be in awe of those who deepen our understanding of how things came to be, how they are as they are, how they will be as they will be…

We cannot invest enough in the search for knowledge, the need for explanation, the desire for understanding. No society can afford to turn its back upon such challenges. But; and this is Paul’s challenge to the ‘Greeks’ of any age, including our own, all the knowledge in the world, every explanation in the world, a complete understanding of everything in the world is not enough if we are to be the person we are meant to be. If we are to ‘know’ who we are, to ‘explain’ what makes us who we are, to ‘understand’ what it means to be who we are, we need a wisdom that comes not from ourselves but from God. For the ‘Greeks’ of any age, knowledge + explanation + understanding = wisdom, but wisdom only insofar as it is a product of one’s intellect, one’s imagination, one’s perception. Paul offers a wholly different appreciation of what it means to be ‘wise’. For Paul, anything and everything is defined by and constrained by Cross shaped love, suffering love; realising each of us is loved, that each of us has within us the ability to love ourselves and to love one another. This love is described in terms of knowledge, neither can it be explained, not even understood; all it can be is received, experienced and expressed. It elevates what it means to be human above and beyond the physical, the intellectual, the emotional; it causes us to realise that we are spiritual beings

“Spirituality isn't some quaint stepchild of an intelligent worldview, or the only option for those of us not smart enough to understand the facts of the real world. Spirituality reflects the most sophisticated mindset, and the most powerful force available for the transformation of human suffering.” (Marianne Williamson, Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment).

But it isn’t an escape route into another world, embracing an otherworldliness that allows us to live in ignorance of the reality that is the world in which we live. Rather, it anchor’s us right at its heart

“Personal integrity is about honouring yourself. Shifting from people pleasing and honouring your time, keeping your word to yourself, taking care of your needs, honouring personal and professional boundaries, honouring your goals and commitments that you made to yourself. Staying true to who you really are. Doing the right thing. Being kind and compassionate to others, being kind to you.” (Eileen Anglin)