Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth (1 Cor. 1:26).
My children stopped asking me for help with their math years ago.
Back then I was still capable of tutoring them as they worked through whatever it was that had them stumped. However, the effort it required of me was a clue to my kids that math was never my academic strength. They take their math questions to Marnie.
As lacking as I may be in math skills, I can follow Paul’s mathematical reasoning with the Christians in Corinth. This is basic arithmetic, made simpler by the fact that Paul doesn’t actually use numbers. He speaks in generalities. Three times Paul makes his point by use of the phrase ‘not many.’
If you take away the ‘not many’ that leaves a few. A few were wise. A few were influential. A few were of noble birth. But most of them were not. ‘All’ minus ‘a few’ leaves ‘most.’ Most were lacking in wisdom, lacking in social standing, lacking in pedigree. It’s basic math.
For some reason, our minds often do not function according to Paul’s mathematical formula. When we look around a room we are prone to think that most of the people we see have it all together. Along with this we silently carry the weight of being the ‘only one.’
If we’re struggling with a financial crisis we think that most are managing fine while we worry about getting through the month. If our children won’t talk to us we think that everyone else’s families are perfect while wonder what we did wrong. If we’re suffocating in loneliness we look around and think every person we see is surrounded by friends.
Paul would tell us to do the math differently. Yes, in any place where crowds gather you’ll find a few who have it all together. There may even be several. But it is not ‘all.’ You are never the only one in the room struggling with something in your life that you’d rather keep quiet about.
Let’s go one step further. Every person you see has a story, even if they are among the wise and influential and well connected. Even the most well put-together lives have a place where things aren’t tightly nailed down. Again, do the math. You are never the only one on the room covering a wound.
Paul explains why this is so. God is not glorified in our boasting. When we live as if we are sufficient for whatever life brings to us, God remains small and marginal. There is always a point of need. Our boasting is silenced and God’s grace is large and real to us. In what area of your life do you sense your deepest need? In what way are you most dependent on God today?
This is how God works in every story. Look around the room . . . and do the math.
Meet us today, O God, in the place of our deep need. Glorify yourself in our limitations and weakness. And make us mindful of every soul that surrounds us, knowing that all of us have a story. Extend your grace through us, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.