• Steven Marsh

Hope–An Appropriate Challenge to Conventional Wisdom: a Reflection on 1 Corinthians 2:1-12

Conventional wisdom is being challenged in the first two weeks of President Trump’s administration. Over twenty Executive Orders have been signed, which fly in the face of how Washington does things. Conventional wisdom manifests itself in those practices that are accepted by the mainstream. There is nothing conventional about President Trump’s leadership.

Whether one approves of the President’s Executive Orders is not the question. There are consequences both intended and unintended. Some of our citizens are experiencing hope for the first time in decades. Others their hopes are dashed. Through it all, however, Christians believe that hope anticipates God to do what God has promised. Are you able to see God in our country’s turmoil?

Generosity is a theme with which our society is wrestling. Martin Thielen writes, “Literally hundreds of options exist for practicing generosity, from random acts of kindness to organized service projects, both short and long term. Perhaps the best way to practice generosity is to do so with your time and your money.”[1] And Paul confirms the impact of generosity when he writes in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Being formed by Jesus in how we respond to the pain many are experiencing necessitates tapping into the generosity of Jesus as seen in the crucifixion. Generosity is a sign that hope is real.

Challenging conventional wisdom is important. For therein lays the application of hope. To apply hope, we trust the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us in the way of the crucified Jesus. Remembering, telling, and living the way of Jesus cannot be manufactured. No one can create faith in the hearer. According to P. Mark Achtemeier, former Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Dubuque Theological Seminary, one’s life bears testimony “to the best of their ability, but it is ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit to write God’s truth upon people’s hearts and bring them to faith.”[2]

The text in 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 makes three points regarding the challenge that is necessary to conventional wisdom. First, our lives testify to others about God. What this means is that our identification with the message of the cross should be our main concern when we place ourselves in worshipping and learning contexts. How we embrace Jesus matters. Second, our lives testify to the Spirit’s power not wise and persuasive words. We must resist the temptation to reduce our spirituality to a mere human reflection on life; happy thoughts about God in other words. And third, our lives testify to things that the Spirit has revealed to us. What others see in us is not our doing, but a work of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is evidence of God’s activity in us. Asserting that we can do the work of the Spirit in our lives is fundamentally flawed. All we can do is be obedient. And obedience is a task worthy of our full consideration.[3]

We cannot bank our hope on human wisdom and persuasive words.  Again, P. Mark Achtemeier writes, “…it is God’s decision that has sown the seeds of faith in people’s hearts and drawn them into the church.”[4] Testifying to others by the way we live, challenges conventional wisdom that wise and persuasive words ultimately matter. Lee Strobel gives this example of the importance of words, but how their meaning can be lost in translation:

I don’t know if you’ve seen the new machines they’ve got—you can do this on the Internet—that will translate English into whatever language you want. Type in a phrase and push a button, and it will translate it into French or Spanish or German or whatever. I’ve always been curious: How do you know the translation is good?

A guy had a similar question and did something fun. He took the song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” typed it into the computer, and translated it into German. Then he translated it back into English to see if anything got lost in the translation. You know the song:

Take me out to the ballgame. Take me out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and Crackerjack. I don’t care if I ever get back.

Let me root, root, root for the home team. If they don’t win, it’s a shame. For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ballgame.

He translated it into German and then back into English. Well, something got lost in the translation. It sounds a little militant…

Execute me to the ball play. Execute me with the masses. Buy me certain groundnuts and crackerstackfusig. I’m not interested if I never receive back.

Let me root, root, root for the main team. If they do not win, it is dishonor. For there are one, two, three impacts on you at the old ball play.[5]

Something got lost in the translation. The same can be true in how we remember, tell, and live the way of Jesus. Hope, believing that God will do what God has promised, demands we take seriously that the testimony of our lives matters more than wise and persuasive words. The crucifixion and its power for our lives cannot be ignored. Again, Achtemeier writes, “This unlikely means of salvation, in which the Son of God suffers and dies an ignominious death for the redemption of humankind, is not something that conventional spiritual wisdom or philosophical reflection could have anticipated.”[6]

Jesus challenged conventional wisdom. Recall Matthew 5:13-20 and Jesus’ words about human being the salt of the earth and light of the world. When we experience the work of God in our lives that blessing beckons us to go deeper in our followership of Jesus. Furthermore, God’s blessing forms the foundation of our relationship with God and others. Moreover, the righteousness of God that was fulfilled in Jesus makes possible human righteousness, since Jesus lives his life in us by the power of the Spirit. Translating God’s activity to others requires hope. And hope is an appropriate challenge to conventional wisdom.

[1]Martin Thielen, Searching For Happiness (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 83.

[2]P. Mark Achtemeier in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 328.

[3]My thinking in this paragraph has been impacted by the writing of Preben Vang, Teach the Text Commentary Series 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2014), 37-38.

[4]P. Mark Achtemeier in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, 328.

[5]Taken from Lee Strobel, Meet the Jesus I Know, (Preaching Today Audio No. 211) as found on http://www.preachingtoday.com.

[6]P. Mark Achtemeier in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, 306.

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