For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9
Oh, they knew this grace alright, but they had come to despise the poverty that brought the riches, and then they built their little world around the outward appearance of those riches, and in the process, they forgot there was a relation between the riches of Christ and the living of life, and their lives began to reflect this insanity in every possible way. If our understanding wasn't so hide-bound (that is, in bondage to all our religious connotations and assumptions of the old leather-bound book) we might realize just how much we do understand what happened to these Corinthian believers. You see, their culture may be somewhat different than ours, but their story has played itself out in many ways in many of our gatherings. We misjudge it when we assume that the expressions of insanity always look the same. But the devil simply changed his clothes, and we're too near-sighted to look past the phony disguises. In the letter of First Corinthians, Paul reminded them to
consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29
Two observations: 1) Most of these believers came from the despised sector of society. 2) By this, the false illusions regarding the "elite" were exposed as nothing. Notice, it said NOT MANY wise, mighty, noble, etc were found among this gathering of people - which means there WERE some. This begs the question: WHY would ANY of the elite join themselves to a group they so despised? I see a simple reason found in this:
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. 1 Corinthians 14:24-25
Yes, yes, I know there are many religious arguments stirred up by the context of this verse, but I want you to consider something more obvious. As a group, these people had experienced what Paul described, and such miraculous displays of the power of God among rather insignificant people was having an incredible impact upon this society - attracting even some of the elite. Those who came among them had the pretenses of their hearts exposed, causing them to be filled with awe in God Himself. At the same time they were impacted by the obvious reality that God was among these people. Now, if you follow the whole argument you might realize that Paul was commenting on something that was mostly PAST history. You see, what happened with this group is that in attracting some of the more significant members of society they also attracted more attention from the religious leadership since it was built upon the same principles. Oh, we know how this works. Consider how the Christian community has fallen all over itself each time a "significant" member of society - such as a sports icon, a movie star, a Rock star, or even a politician - "becomes a Christian". We talk about the amazing testimony God receives through such people, but don't you see the irony? These important people do not discover the power of God because of the testimony of other important people. Those who thought they were something have found they are nothing because of the something they found in those they thought were nothing. Important people who discover true importance eventually lose their importance in the world. It is only the religious salesman in us that hopes to capitalize upon such a quickly fading illusion. What happened to the Corinthians? Simply put, they became impressed with themselves. Religious PR men turned their attention TOWARD the incredible displays of God's power working among them and AWAY from the source of that power. These fleshly leaders and teachers isolated, categorized, and capitalized upon the outward manifestations that had been working among the people, creating divisions and levels of importance. Paul made an issue of their unfulfilled pledge because it forced them to reconsider themselves in the grace of Christ who made them rich through His poverty. For them to carry out this former promise was not an issue of guilt or shame, but instead would be a reinforcement of the life of Christ they had forgotten in their insane quest for importance in the world. Paul pushed his point because he wanted to turn their world upside down once again.
And such confidence we have through Christ toward God, not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 2 Corinthians 3:4-5
More to come ...