“I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” 1 Corinthians 1:14-17
The Corinthian church had a problem. They actually had many problems; most churches do. But the first problem Paul addresses is about quarreling. The Corinthians were attaching themselves to certain leaders in the church, thinking that gave them some sort of significance, a kind of worldly cache. They were measuring their worth according to who baptized them. This led to strife and jealousy.
Paul doesn’t care about who baptized who. In verse 16, he admits he doesn’t know exactly who he baptized. He wasn’t counting. The most important evangelist in church history didn’t care to keep a record of who he baptized. That wasn’t his goal. Think about that.
Paul’s goal has nothing to do with numbers of followers or building a spiritual resume. His goal is the proclamation of the message – Jesus Christ and him crucified. (See 1 Corinthians 2:1-5) He takes pains to direct the Corinthians away from the worldly wisdom that’s been influencing them and causing jealousy and strife. In 1 Corinthians 3 he again rebukes them for attaching themselves to the men through whom they believed. Paul says, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” The wisdom they have been following, the sophisticated thinking of Corinth, is foolishness to God. Why boast in men when Christ has purchased all things for you?
In 2 Corinthians, Paul continues to struggle against the same problem. The Corinthians still wish to boast in the flesh and the church is in danger from false apostles who seek to denigrate him. He feels compelled to detail his spiritual resume and his sufferings for them in order to counteract the accusations of these false apostles. But in chapter 11 he implores them to bear with this kind of foolish talk.
How often are we dominated by the same worldly wisdom? We attach ourselves to popular teachers, preachers and ministries. We name drop our affiliations and make haste to add our ‘likes’ to whoever is trending. Why do we think attaching ourselves to a mere human means anything! Human beings are fallible. Paul emphasizes the message – Jesus Christ and him crucified. That message is infallible. Those who proclaim it are merely servants.
Self promotion is a dangerous business. But everywhere it is encouraged, especially social media. I feel the pressure myself, even as I seek to encourage and edify in my tiny little corner of the Internet. How do I gain more readers? How can I promote my content? What can that kind of thinking do to a soul?
Attention does not necessarily equal faithfulness. And more troubling, popularity doesn’t make holiness easier. In fact, it probably makes it harder. Holiness is about being set apart for God, living a life that pleases him. But in the drive to gain attention and popularity you can be drawn away from your first love and toward the ever elusive goal of pleasing man.
Obscurity has its temptations as well. If no one is paying attention, you may be tempted to change what you’re doing in order to make a mark. But with popularity or obscurity, the problem is still the same – we’re gauging success by worldly standards. Are we even supposed to measure these things?
Ponder Paul’s words again in 1 Corinthians 1:
“I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
Paul’s goal wasn’t to impress or to count numbers or to worry about optics. His goal was to preach Christ and him crucified. He left the rest up to God.