How easy it is for us to feel we have arrived! I do not refer to physical travel. I refer to our sense of self and place in life. Whether we think it explicitly or simply act as if it were true, we often feel we have arrived in life. We believe and act as if we have no more to learn; we need not or cannot change anymore; we are what we have become, and it is good enough! In short, we have reached the pinnacle of our knowledge, abilities, personality, and character. From now on we will just dwell on the plateau of who and what we are!
Many in the church in Corinth must have felt like this. Paul – when he lived and taught there around 52-53 A.D. – had first given them the good news of Jesus. They welcomed Paul and his ministry on their behalf. However, after Paul left, various factions among the Corinthian Christians came to favor other teachers and leaders. Many began to disparage Paul. In their enthusiasms for this or that teacher or leader, they felt they had grown beyond Paul and what he taught. They had arrived – they thought – at a place of spiritual maturity, with attendant honor and blessing. They no longer needed to pay regard to Paul and his concerns about their faith and life.
Paul, disturbed and pained by their attitudes and behaviors, saw arrogance and complacence rife among them. He reminded them of their spiritual debt to him. He had been their “father in the faith.” They were, in a sense, his children in Jesus. Because of this relationship, in love and humility they ought to hear and heed his instruction, correction, and encouragement.
Yet more, they should hear and heed because the true nature of a follower of Jesus excludes all arrogance and complacence about faith and life. Compare Paul’s description of his life. To the world he appeared foolish, weak, and dishonorable. He endured hunger, poverty, maltreatment, homelessness, hard work, curses, slander, and persecution. And compare this vivid image Paul invoked: “God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle….” The image came from the practice of Roman generals leading their vanquished enemies in triumphant procession through Rome, to enslavement or death. What room is there for arrogance or complacence in this picture?
What about you and me? Do we, explicitly or implicitly, feel and act as if we have arrived spiritually? Does arrogance or complacence characterize our faith and life? Do we think or act as if we have no more to learn, no more to change, no more to become? May we ponder these questions, may we ponder our faith and life, with prayerful humility and passionate desire to grow into the fullness of Christ, in this life and the next!