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Bible Study Guide for Sunday, January 16, 2022

January 12, 2022
  • Isaiah 62:1-5
  • Psalm 36:5-18
  • 1st Corinthians 12:1-11
  • John 2:1-11


            The church in Corinth was wracked by divisions. Corinth was for centuries the most affluent mercantile port in Greece, as a result disparity of wealth and classism has been an essential aspect of life and identity in the polis since at least the 8th century BC, even compared with the other Greek cities.  When the church of Corinth was formed it had inherited many of the divisions inherent in the city.  Mass was celebrated in homes of the more socially elite members of the congregation and could be rather lavish compared to the other early churches.  The desire to feel superior was not contained by the social and economic distinctions in the church though, the Christian converts had mainly come from small mystery cults and this combined with their proclivity for factionalism mean that they especially valued very ecstatic forms of worship.  Speaking in tongues in particular was seen as superior and more exotic than other spiritual gifts and the parishioners that could speak in tongues were contemptuous of their brethren who could not.  The church broke down into cliques with Christians who could perform miracles or speak in tongues both belittling parishioners who couldn’t, and crediting their social group as much for these miracles as the Holy Spirit.

Paul was quite rightly disturbed by this factionalism as well as the impulse to sensationalism over charity. He begins this reading by stating that they were once moved by the pagan cults they abandoned and should be wise enough to know that simply having an extreme emotional reaction is not enough to show an action or a belief's spiritual validity. Rather is it the truth of the doctrine that “Christ is Lord” that shows that The Holy Spirit is active. Next Paul claims that though there is an abundant multiplicity of spiritual gifts there is only one Spirit just as there are many manners of good deed there is only one Lord. Therefore, one has spiritual gifts because one is empowered by the Spirit not by one’s clique. Lastly Paul ranks the spiritual gifts, notice speaking and interpreting tongues are last.  Paul is trying to humble the elitists of the church by suggesting that they were not as special as they thought.  Indeed, the list goes from most practical and universal to more exotic and individual. Wisdom might not be as “exciting” as the others but it is one of the cardinal virtues (usually listed as Prudence but occasionally just as Wisdom) and tends to be rather classless. I think that in addition to the theological point Paul is making here he is trying to comfort various outsiders in the congregation, letting them know that even if they couldn’t do miraculous things their faith was still valid, God still loved them and the Holy Spirit could still act through them.

I feel like there are two simple and apparent lessons in the text, one more sociological and the other more personal. Firstly, material and social schisms in churches tend to produce spiritual and doctrinal schisms.  This is somewhat inevitable but each parish will have a wealth of spiritual, social and physical needs and none of these can be satisfied to the exclusion of the others or the church will become sick, a place of factionalism and resentment rather than worship and fellowship.  Secondly, and the one I have perhaps struggled with most in my life, it is ok not to have exotic spiritual gifts or to always be spiritually ecstatic. God loves you; spiritual gifts do not always have to be visible to be present, and spiritual dryness doesn’t make faith any less valid.  Some of us are just spiritually introverted, but we are just as integral a part of the church and God can and will use us just the same.

–Ben Watts



What inappropriate cultural biases have we imported into the Church? How can we expiate them?

What can we privately or communally do to prevent factionalism, schism and strife?

How can we better involve, interact with and celebrate the more silent members of our spiritual community? 





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