The church at Corinth was divided over which individuals they had attached themselves to. With what criteria had the Corinthians rated these men—Paul, Peter and Apollos—to determine if they were worthy of their allegiance? As strange as it seems, it was their communication abilities. Paul attempted to reunite these believers by explaining that this way of thinking was faulty; that the bringing of the gospel to people was not about how accomplished the speaker was. It was not Paul’s aim that the Corinthians should rally around his speaking-induced leadership. Right after the famous passage about how God chooses “what is low and despised in the world,” so that “no human being might boast in the presence of God,” he wrote in the beginning of the next chapter,

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

In other words, what God was doing, in His power, was not about people and their abilities. God chooses what is foolish and weak, not what is strong, by worldly standards, which would include the ability to speak in front of people with erudition and oratorical skill. Paul told the Corinthians that he didn’t want their faith to be in the wisdom of his preaching. They were transformed by the power of God, not by his impressive speaking ability.

The culturally relevant and acceptable means of communication for the Corinthian church and the Greek world in Paul’s day was the use of “lofty speech or wisdom” and “plausible words of wisdom.” It was the fashion of that day for a speaker to employ grand, soaring oratory and make reference to popular philosophers when he presented his message. This was so far off course that Paul told the Corinthians that because they had gathered themselves around and allied themselves with certain strong leaders for these reasons they were still “infants” (3:1) and were actually in danger of destroying God’s temple—the Corinthian believers themselves (3:17).

The believers at Corinth were using an erroneous standard to determine what effective ministry was and around whom they were to be gathering.