Study Guide

Corinthians Weakness

Weakness

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 1:18-28)

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are. (KJV 1 Corinthians 1:18-28)

This passage is a pretty intense meditation on what Paul thinks Jesus's death means for the world. God's plan for Jesus clearly seems silly to lots of people, but Paul thinks it reveals God's genius. He turns our world upside-down. He reverses our expectations. After all, he came to earth to become a poor, crucified criminal. Paul's whole point is that things that seem weak can actually be very powerful. What kinds of literary techniques is our epistle-writer using in here?

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 2:1-4)

Brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. (KJV 1 Corinthians 2:1-4)

If there's one thing Paul loves to brag about, it's how terrible he is. Certainly, a guy who founded a bunch of churches couldn't have been that bad at public speaking, right? But Paul emphasizes his own weaknesses to play up God's power and might.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 8:7)

There is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. (KJV 1 Corinthians 8:7)

Here, Paul is using the term "weak" in a different sense. Those who have a weak conscience aren't yet aware of the whole truth about God. They think that idols are really gods. Silly rabbits! P.S. Didn't we get this whole conversation over with in the Hebrew Bible already? Exodus, anyone?

To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 9:22)

To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (KJV 1 Corinthians 9:22)

See? Weakness is an asset. All the suffering Paul's gone through makes it easy to relate to others who are suffering, too. A little empathy goes a long way, it seems.

On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 12:22-24)

Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked. (KJV 1 Corinthians 12:22-24)

God totally digs weaklings. He gives them a special place in the body of Christ so that they won't be left behind or thrown aside. If the meek shall inherit the earth, then why didn't God make everyone meek? Seriously, we're asking.

I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 15:9)

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (KJV 1 Corinthians 15:9)

Before his conversion, Paul actually helped persecute Christians… like he's now being persecuted. The circle of life, huh? In any case, God probably should have been pretty ticked at him, but the Lord just loves to bring an underdog into the ring.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body[…] What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 50)

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body[...] Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. (KJV 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 50)

So our physical bodies are weak, but are spiritual bodies are gonna be awesome. Does that mean there are no skinned knees in Heaven? Does Paul give a detailed description of what the Heaven-y bodies will be like? What do you think he's imagining?

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (NRSV 2 Corinthians 8:9)

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. (KJV 2 Corinthians 8:9)

This is pretty much Paul's worldview boiled down: Jesus gave up everything so that we could really know God. Now he wants us to follow in his example.

Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant? […] In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands. (NRSV 2 Corinthians 11:24-29, 32-33)

Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? […] In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands. (KJV 2 Corinthians 11:24-29, 32-33)

Holy crud. People seriously do not like Paul. Would he have less credibility if fewer terrible things had happened to him?

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (NRSV 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (KJV 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Paul hits us with this passage after he gets done explaining how he had a magnificent vision of Paradise. God didn't want him to get all high and mighty, so he took him down a notch with a little illness. When Paul prays for his problem to go away, God responds in the negative. Instead of getting mad, Paul sees it as a sign. Weakness is good. Suffering is good. Getting too full of yourself after seeing a heavenly vision? Bad.

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