Style Versus Substance

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 2.1-7
1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. 

6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

Reflection: Style Versus Substance
By John Tillman

Paul was an eloquent speaker and writer. His poem on love in 1 Corinthians 13 is studied in literature classes simply for its beauty.

Paul was a wise thinker and debater. His letter to the church in Rome is a masterwork of argumentation and theology and his personal letter to Philemon is lovingly and carefully persuasive.

Paul was knowledgeable, especially about the scriptures. As a “Hebrew of Hebrews” and a Pharisee (Philippians 3.5), Paul would have known the entire catalog of Jewish scriptures and would probably have memorized many passages or even entire books. He also was knowledgeable about the culture, and able to quote their philosophers and sayings back to them.

When Paul says that he did not come with eloquence, wisdom, or knowledge…what exactly is he saying? Don’t we need to know more than “Christ and him crucified”? Maybe how to balance a checkbook? Our voting rights under our federal and local governments?

This is one case in scripture where “plain reading” fails us if we don’t put what Paul is saying in context. Paul didn’t mean that when he was last in Corinth he spoke poorly, abandoned using rhetoric, eschewed wisdom, and forgot all his knowledge. He is using hyperbole to emphasize something.

The Corinthians, like many of us, were immature but thought they were wise. They were impulsive and addicted to pleasures, yet thought they were in control. They were swayed by knowledge, yet gained no wisdom. They were wowed by rhetoric, yet missed the point. They were charmed by eloquence, yet missed the beauty of the gospel. They were divided and deceived, yet considered themselves wise. 

The Corinthians had become divided between Paul and Apollos. Apollos was another eloquent, wise, and knowledgeable speaker, trained by Paul’s ministry partners, Priscilla and Aquilla. Apollos would not have taught contrary to Paul, but the Corinthians became divided between them.

Often when we first grasp the basics of something we too quickly think we are experts. Often when we like the way someone speaks we can become swayed by style rather than substantive truth.

Paul was telling the Corinthians, and telling us, that the gospel does not depend on eloquence, wisdom, and knowledge. Paul shuts down Corinthian pride, encouraging humility and a return to basics. He might say the same to us.

Let us not be swayed by style but cling to the substance of the gospel.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you. — Psalm 69.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 28 (Listen 3:51)
1 Corinthians 2 (Listen 2:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 29 (Listen 5:05), 1 Corinthians 3 (Listen 3:05)
Numbers 30 (Listen 2:20), 1 Corinthians 4 (Listen 3:15)

Read more about Unhurried Wisdom
Job also utilized opposing statements to reveal the complexity of life and necessity of wisdom.

Read more about Here Comes the Sun
If the Lord allows us to enjoy a moment, accept the gift… Wisdom balances pain and joy.

A Discipline for the Anxious :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Melissa from Texas
Praying in this way has helped me. I really appreciate the comparison of meditation to inoculation rather than an antidote. 

Scripture Focus: Psalm 77.2-3
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.

Reflection: A Discipline for the Anxious :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published September 25th, 2018
By John Tillman

We live in distressing times. If there are corners of our world not touched by division, aggression, worry, and angst, you probably can’t get email there.

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues are on the rise—especially among younger adults. National Survey of Children’s Health researchers found a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety among children ages 6 to 17, between 2007 and 2012. The American College Health Association found that anxiety, rather than depression, is the most common reason college students seek counseling services and that in 2016, 62 percent of undergraduates reported “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous year. (An increase from 50 percent in 2011.)

Studying this, science is discovering things that are not exactly new under the sun. A recent Harvard study found that church attendance paired with spiritual disciplines such as meditation and prayer have a beneficial effect on mental health. In a Forbes article, study author Ying Chen noted that being raised religiously, “can powerfully affect [children’s] health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.”

The psalmists would not express surprise at these findings. Though we think of our society as facing pressures unknown to humanity until now, we would be mistaken to think of ancient times as idyllic and calm.

David and the other psalmists certainly knew what it was like to live under threat, under financial pressure, under the constant weight of political instability and the wavering loyalty of an unpredictable government.

Amidst such pressures, they had a safe haven. Their help for the stresses of life was meditation and prayer.*

The psalmist writes of being “too troubled to speak,” yet he cries to God. He writes of insomnia, yet he rests in God. He writes of doubts and of feeling that God has rejected him, that his love has vanished, that he had forgotten to be merciful. Yet in the midst of doubts and fears, he remembers God’s faithfulness in the past. He meditates on these memories in the heated moment of stress.

Although the benefits of meditation can help in a crisis, meditation is not a quick fix. It is not a fast-acting antidote for the world’s venom, but an inoculation to be taken ahead of time.
When beginning (or returning to) meditative prayer, start small and short. Use the prayer provided at the end of this devotional (Psalm 119.147) as a start. Spend two to five minutes simply re-reading the prayer with an expectant heart, asking God to be with you.

*We are in no way implying that meditation should be pursued in lieu of proper medical treatment. If you are in need of counseling and professional services, please consider the following resources:

Mental Health Grace Alliance
Not A Day Promised Resource Page
Life Recovered (Resources for Ministers)
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 20 (Listen – 6:42) 
1 Corinthians 2 (Listen – 2:26)

Thank You!
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Read more about The Practice of Meditation :: Running
One way of thinking of meditative prayer is exercise to expand your spiritual lung capacity, allowing you to breathe in God’s spirit more naturally at any time—including during a crisis.

Read more about The Practice of Meditation :: Tea
Allow the scripture to soak in your mind, repetitively dip it in your thoughts as you would a tea bag into warm water.