Welcome to a new book! Paul's first letter to the Corinthian Church is a true classic - full of deeply practical advice as well as a soaring rhapsody on the supremacy of love, with healthy doses of teaching on spiritual gifts and the resurrection thrown in for good measure as well. In chapter 1, Paul zeroes in on two issues of immediate import for his audience: sects in the church and the "foolishness" of his proclamation.
It doesn't take a lot of experience as a Christian to discover that there are fissures and divisions and even - gasp! - politics within most congregations. Although Jesus prayed for the Church to be one, we are still waiting for this prayer to be answered positively. And it's not just on the scale of denominations, where certain congregations say by their label: "I follow Martin Luther!" or "I follow John Wesley!" or "I follow the Pope!" or "I follow Jon Truax!" (OK, maybe there are no denominations that say that last one!) Even within local church bodies, there are forces at work that threaten to divide the body of Christ.
Speaking as a pastor, it is incredibly frustrating to serve a church that insists on being led by personalities rather than God. A dead giveaway that this is happening is when people wait to see who takes what side of an issue before deciding how they themselves feel about it. "Bob Smith is for it? Then I'm agin it!...Oh wait, he's actually against it? Then I'm for it!" You may laugh and think that's ridiculous, but I've seen some things not far off.
Paul appeals to the Corinthian Church for unity, to be of one mind and one purpose. Sometimes there will naturally be disagreements as a congregation decides what path to follow (Paul certainly had his share of arguments with other saints!) But unity comes as the Holy Spirit is allowed to take control and honest decisions are reached in trying to follow Christ. If a church could just try and work together and view itself more as a team, a community, and a family, it would go a long way toward reducing the divisions and politics that sometimes take place within congregations.
In the last half of this chapter, Paul reflects on his message and how it is perceived. He realizes that many consider it to be "foolishness" or a "stumbling block." Paul takes no shame in this fact, but exults in its meaning - that even the foolishness of God is wiser than the intelligence of man, and even the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of man. And isn't it just like God to use something that strikes us as foolishness in our salvation?
Sometimes you will hear people make a sweeping argument against Christianity: that the smartest people in the world are all atheists. Or, they may say, college-educated people reject the Bible. Ask for the statistics. I strongly believe these kinds of statements to be untrue.* The quality of faith is extremely difficult to measure scientifically, to say nothing of intelligence.
I have known and read incredibly intelligent people. Some of them are atheists. Some of them are committed Christians. The same is true for the most ignorant people I have met. Faith is not a matter of intelligence. We are saved by grace through faith, not via intelligence.
What does this mean? The kingdom of God isn't reserved for only the most intelligent or the strongest - it's open to everyone! I hope you find that to be good news - I know I do!
*This is a hot topic. Some studies indicate that the higher IQ, the greater chance one will be an atheist. But keep in mind these considerations:
Even at the scale of the individual, IQ may not directly cause more disbelief in God. Dr David Hardman of London Metropolitan University says: "It is very difficult to conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief." He adds that other studies do nevertheless correlate IQ with being willing or able to question beliefs.
Researcher Gregory S. Paul's findings suggest that economic development has a closer relationship with religiosity. He argues that once any "nation's population becomes prosperous and secure, for example through economic security and universal health care, much of the population loses interest in seeking the aid and protection of supernatural entities." Other studies have shown that increased wealth is correlated with a decline in religious beliefs. Indeed, the majority of the nations that showed a strong relationship between low religiosity and high IQ in the 2008 study were developed nations.
(From the wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religiosity_and_intelligence )