Corinth was the powerful, bustling, and wicked trade center of the Roman province of Achaia. When Paul wrote what we call 1 Corinthians, to the members there, it wasn’t his first letter to them. That one is lost to us in time, but this second letter, that we call first, was motivated in part, by the concerns of a woman named Chloe and her household, who had written him. We’ll tell you why.
Hello. We’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this is Meridian Magazine’s “Come Follow Me “broadcast.
These epistles that Paul wrote to the Corinthians were designed to regulate the Church, clarify doctrine or ideas that had become misunderstood, and re-convert the shaky. You can imagine that when the apostle left, people who were fairly new converts, might try to inject their own thinking and ideas into the pure doctrine of Christ. They didn’t have years of understanding to build upon.
One of the main concerns that had arisen in Corinth was division among the members. Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 1
10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
11 For it hath been declared unto me of ayou, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
The Lord has a design for His people and for ultimately building Zion and that is that they be “of one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18) The Lord’s people are marked by their unity. The Savior’s atonement, which is at the center of our gospel is all about bringing us at-one-ment with our Father. Receiving the gift of the atonement in our lives, also brings us at-one with our families, with our spouses and with each other. When we are sealed as couples in the temple, we kneel across an altar that symbolizes Christ’s sacrifice and atonement. We are made at-one through Him.
So, of course, the very essence of what Satan likes to do is divide us with anger, contention, hurt feelings, damaged pride. One of Satan’s names is Diablo, which in Greek is dia-bolos, “the one who divides.” He is the great Divider and there is no more potent way to accomplish that than with anger and contention, put downs and contempt.
C.S. Lewis wrote a fantasy called The Great Divorce where a busload of people from hell take a field trip to heaven. I have always been intrigued by his description of hell, which he calls “the grey town.” It is a drab and desolate place with miles and miles of abandoned and boarded up buildings. Why? Because people can’t get along with each other, so, offended, they move further and further away until, someone like Napoleon was on the outskirts or town “about 15,000 years of our time” away, where he spends his time pacing back and forth in a huge house muttering that his failed life wasn’t his fault. It is the picture of misery and isolation. Satan would have us divided.
The Apostle Paul asks in Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 26 of the Joseph Smith Translation: “Can ye be angry, and not sin?” When Christ arrives in the New World, among the first things He instructs the people in 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon is this:
“There shall be no disputations among you. …
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
“Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away”(3 Nephi 11: 28-30).
Disputation and anger not only make us miserable, but they can impact the Church.
President Thomas S. Monson said,
“I believe most of us are familiar with the sad account of Thomas B. Marsh and his wife, Elizabeth. Brother Marsh was one of the first modern-day Apostles called after the Church was restored to the earth. He eventually became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“While the Saints were in Far West, Missouri, Elizabeth Marsh, Thomas’s wife, and her friend Sister Harris decided they would exchange milk in order to make more cheese than they otherwise could. To be certain all was done fairly, they agreed that they should not save what were called the strippings, but that the milk and strippings should all go together. Strippings came at the end of the milking and were richer in cream.
“Sister Harris was faithful to the agreement, but Sister Marsh, desiring to make some especially delicious cheese, saved a pint of strippings from each cow and sent Sister Harris the milk without the strippings. This caused the two women to quarrel. When they could not settle their differences, the matter was referred to the home teachers to settle. They found Elizabeth Marsh guilty of failure to keep her agreement. She and her husband were upset with the decision, and the matter was then referred to the bishop for a Church trial. The bishop’s court decided that the strippings were wrongfully saved and that Sister Marsh had violated her covenant with Sister Harris.
“Thomas Marsh appealed to the high council, and the men comprising this council confirmed the bishop’s decision. He then appealed to the First Presidency of the Church. Joseph Smith and his counselors considered the case and upheld the decision of the high council.
“Elder Thomas B. Marsh, who sided with his wife through all of this, became angrier with each successive decision—so angry, in fact, that he went before a magistrate and swore that the Mormons were hostile toward the state of Missouri. His affidavit led to—or at least was a factor in—Governor Lilburn Boggs’s cruel extermination order, which resulted in over 15,000 Saints being driven from their homes, with all the terrible suffering and consequent death that followed. All of this occurred because of a disagreement over the exchange of milk and cream.
“After 19 years of rancor and loss, Thomas B. Marsh made his way to the Salt Lake Valley and asked President Brigham Young for forgiveness. Brother Marsh also wrote to Heber C. Kimball, First Counselor in the First Presidency, of the lesson he had learned. Said Brother Marsh: ‘The Lord could get along very well without me and He … lost nothing by my falling out of the ranks; But O what have I lost?! Riches, greater riches than all this world or many planets like this could afford.’ President Thomas S. Monson, “School, Thy Feelings, O My Brother”, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2009/10/school-thy-feelings-o-my-brother?lang=eng
Just like Paul’s concern in Corinth, people can become offended at Church, divided over so many things. We weren’t noticed. We were misjudged. We were overlooked again and again. Our true worth or our deepest need was never recognized. We cannot let anything divide us from feeling the love of Jesus Christ. One man who had been offended at his stake president said, “I showed him. I didn’t go to the temple for five years.” That really showed him all right. Who was without temple blessings for five years? Not that stake president who may have never even realized that he caused offense. It was the man who chose to be offended.
In our world in general, we live in an angry, divisive time. We hear it on the news as commentators from different camps yell and scream at each other. Names are called. Labels given to those who don’t see the world as you do. People are quick to call each other haters or bigots or evil.
Social media can be a hateful place where only certain viewpoints are tolerated. And since readers can send in anonymous comments to newspapers and periodicals, they can really let it rip. They write things they would never say to another human being they met.
Apart from these more public places, we are not immune from anger creeping into our homes. It’s everywhere.
A most gifted and compassionate mother told me that her children surprise her with their anger and sudden outbursts. Another friend told me she has angry fights with her husband. Still another friend confessed that she didn’t know what was wrong, but she found herself angry often, a weakness that she thought she had long ago overcome. What’s happening to us? Are we and our families absorbing a toxic atmosphere where anger has become the new norm as if it the only way to speak your mind?
We don’t have to go there. In fact, we must not go there. We have to say “no” to anger. By that we don’t mean shove your anger aside, or tuck it away for another day. We have to abandon it altogether. Dante wrote that an inscription marks the gate to Hell that reads, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” It seems that the gate to the Celestial Kingdom would have a sign that said just the reverse. “Abandon all anger, ye who enter here.” When you are angry, you give the best speech you’ll ever live to regret.
Elder Lynn G. Robbins said, “A cunning part of [Satan’s] strategy is to dissociate anger from agency, making us believe that we are victims of an emotion that we cannot control. We hear, ‘I lost my temper.’ Losing one’s temper is an interesting choice of words that has become a widely used idiom. To ‘lose something’ implies ‘not meaning to,’ ‘accidental,’ ‘involuntary,’ ‘not responsible’—careless perhaps but ‘not responsible.’
“’He made me mad.’ This is another phrase we hear, also implying lack of control or agency. This is a myth that must be debunked. No one makes us mad. Others don’t make us angry. There is no force involved. Becoming angry is a conscious choice, a decision; therefore, we can make the choice not to become angry. We choose!” Elder Lynn G. Robbins, “Agency and Anger” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1998/04/agency-and-anger?lang=eng
We note that anger might display itself in other ways besides a raised voice. Contempt. Criticism. Blaming. Belittling. Resenting. Easily taking offense. Acccusing. Assuming superiority. These are all expressions of anger and dislike which the Adversary loves, especially in our homes, because He wants us divided from each other. He delights in our division, and when we dispute or contend, Satan is pleased and the heavens weep for the misery we cause each other.
In fact, we learn from Revelation that Satan is called the Accuser. In Revelation 12:10 we read, ”For the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” What does Satan do? He accuses us day and night, hoping we will be crushed under his blaming and belittling. It sounds terrible—and yet, how often we do that to each other. Too often we are angry and accusing—and we can know that when we are, we are using a tool right out of Satan’s arsenal. We have copied him. Not is not someone we hope to emulate.
While we are dismayed at what an angry society we live in, yet, as
Elder Robbins again said, “[Satan] is waging war on the family. One of his schemes is the subtle and cunning way he has of sneaking behind enemy lines and entering our very homes and lives.
He damages and often destroys families within the walls of their own homes. His strategy is to stir up anger between family members. Satan is the “father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Ne. 11:29; emphasis added). The verb stir sounds like a recipe for disaster: Put tempers on medium heat, stir in a few choice words, and bring to a boil; continue stirring until thick; cool off; let feelings chill for several days; serve cold; lots of leftovers. Elder Lynn G. Robbins, “Agency and Anger” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1998/04/agency-and-anger?lang=eng
Social science researcher John Gottman, has filmed hours and hours of husbands and wives interacting and drawn the conclusion that if a couple exhibits these four qualities in their talk, they will be divorced within five years. Criticism, contempt, defense behavior and stone walling—the latter meaning withdrawing, refusing to communicate, going quiet. All these have to do with anger, hidden or other wise—and what a sad predictive tool. He tells the couples that he counsels that they cannot live in any of these four places if they want their marriage to survive.
Let us also not assume that anger is a useful tool. You don’t treat someone with anger and contempt because you think it will motivate them—and that includes your children. It may motivate them for a minute, but long term you shrink another person with your anger and demands.
Don’t use anger to get your own way. You may get your own way, but destroy or diminish a relationship as a consequence.
Don’t use anger to rev yourself up to accomplish something. Love is a much stronger motivation to get yourself moving forward in life.
Scot and I learned something about abandoning anger years ago that we want to share. It is about defensive behavior. You know when you are being defensive. It happens when you feel criticized or when your ideas are attacked. You feel defensive when it seems your identity is on the line. You feel defensive when a situation or person makes you feel stupid or unworthy, when someone disagrees with your most precious ideas. Usually defensiveness happens when you feel that you are backed into a corner. Dozens of things can put you on the defensive. When you feel you have to defend yourself, you start exhibiting defensive behavior. Sometimes your heart rate increases and your emotions rise. You don’t respond the same as you would under normal conditions. Something has made you or your identity feel threatened, and our usual response to that is to get angry. They say, in fact, that a cornered kitten is a lion.
It’s like if your being or your self were a castle, and all of a sudden the enemy was storming its integrity, you’d send out the defenses. Now, knowing that human beings are prone to get defensive, one of the key ways to avoid anger and strife in your closest relationships, is to consciously choose what you say, so that it won’t put somebody else on the defensive.
Think about this. Will what I am about to say or do put my friend, child or spouse on the defensive?
Will it make them think I am coming from a superior position?
Will it criticize their actions, ideas, looks, or thoughts?
Will it express contempt for them?
Will they read it as putting them down?
Remember if you are hoping to tell someone something that you think is important for their well-being or if you plan to disagree with them, you may ignite defensive behavior. And here’s the bottom line. Once some one feels defensive, learning ceases.
So what are we to do? Let’s take, for example, the thousands of decisions that a couple will make over a life time together. For sure, they won’t always see eye to eye on everything. How do they negotiate their differences without turning to contention or putting each other on the defensive? It’s not as hard as it sounds. You just ask permission to talk to them about something that is important to you. When you ask permission, you are acknowledging the importance of that other person’s point of view. It might go something like this, “Would this be a good time to talk to you about something I’ve been thinking, but you might see differently?” Once someone has granted you their permission, they are also essentially saying that they won’t be defensive. They no longer feel so threatened by what you are about to say.
Sometimes they won’t give you permission to talk to them. They might be too stressed or tired, but maybe they might say, “Can we talk tomorrow about it instead?” Respect that.
Have we used this tool in our marriage? We have. Have we used it in other relationships? Absolutely. It avoids anger.
It is important, too, that often anger is a mask for something else. It is the symptom of a greater cause. Anger may be an expression of unmet needs, of exhaustion, of fear, of feeling threatened, or feeling over looked or unimportant or feeling physically unwell.
As we seek to truly abandon anger as a part of our lives, we do want to examine the source of that disquiet in our minds and hearts. What is the real source of this turmoil? Christ can heal us from anger and does by healing it at its deepest source.
Why does it matter that we heal the root causes of anger in ourselves? Why does it matter that we learn how to give ourselves to the Lord for His healing touch? It is because when we are angry or experience all its manifestations, the Spirit leaves us. The Spirit does not dwell in an angry soul. We drive it away, and, frankly, we just can’t afford to be without this comfort and guidance in our lives.
David Whitmer gives us an insight into this, telling us that Joseph Smith couldn’t translate from the golden plates, when he had contention with Emma. He wrote:
“He [Joseph Smith] was a religious and straightforward man. He had to be; for he was illiterate and he could do nothing of himself. He had to trust in God. He could not translate unless he was humble and possessed the right feelings towards everyone. To illustrate so you can see. One morning when he was getting ready to continue the translation, something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that Emma, his wife, had done. Oliver and I went up stairs and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation, but he could not do anything. He could not translate a single syllable. He went down stairs, out into the orchard, and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour–came back to the house, asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came up stairs where we were and then the translation went on all right. He could do nothing save he was humble and faithful.” http://www.moroni10.com/mormon_history/joseph-apology-emma-translation.html
If we are not feeling the Spirit in our lives as much as we would like, we might want to check our hearts and cleanse ourselves of anger, resentment, blaming, judgment and all those things that drive the Spirit away.
Foolish and the Wise
Now, Paul has much to say about who are the foolish and who are the wise. He writes in 1 Corinthians 1:
20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe ? where is the bdisputer of this cworld? hath not God made foolish the dwisdom of this eworld?
22 For the Jews require a asign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23 But we apreach Christ bcrucified, unto the Jews a cstumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
25 Because the afoolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Throughout history the so-called wise have thrown epithets at the gospel of Jesus Christ, calling it foolish. They have other words for it as well—oppressive, unkind, demanding, wishful thinking. They declare that you are stupid to believe But oh how the world’s wisdom perishes and looks puny before the wisdom of the Lord. If all the wise in the world, all those with powerful, elite educations, all those experts and philsophers, all the Ph.D’s, all the noted geniuses were to line up and proclaim one thing and the Lord proclaimed something else, we choose God.
Duane Boyce wrote:
“There is a vast difference that exists between our perspectives and those of God (Isaiah 55:8–9; 1 Corinthians 1:25–29). God perceives not only every thought and intent of every person’s heart but also foresees the eternal consequences of every person’s choices — and not only the consequences of such choices for themselves but also for all others who are affected by them (2 Nephi 9:20).2 He is also a being of perfect holiness (Moses 6:57; 7:35). He has no moral flaws, no selfish motivations (3 Ne. 12:48; 1 John 1:5). He wants only what is right and pure (Alma 7:20), and His love for us is perfect and unending (1 John 4:8). Not incidentally, His divine purpose is to help each of us become as He is (Moses 1:39).
“It is hard to imagine how mortals could be less like God in these respects (Moses 1:10). Our natural condition limits our perspectives, subjects us to a constant battle with our selfish impulses, taints our love, [Page ix] and bends our purposes toward destructive ends (Mosiah 3:19). We are perfect at nothing (Matthew 19:17).
Boyce continued, “Because of these vast differences, it seems reasonable to expect God to behave and think differently about various matters than we do, and His ways will routinely make little sense to us. As President Spencer W. Kimball reported:
“I have learned that where there is a prayerful heart, a hungering after righteousness, a forsaking of sins, and obedience to the commandments of God, the Lord pours out more and more light until there is finally power to pierce the heavenly veil and to know more than man knows.3
“To know more than man knows.” Precisely. We know immeasurably less than we imagine, and for one who has pierced the veil nothing could be more evident.
So how do we learn? Paul teaches us about that too in 1 Corinthians 2:
We learn things of the Spirit, through the Spirit. How could we learn spiritual things any other way? It is the Spirit that teaches us to know the things of the Spirit and it is the most valuable knowledge we can acquire. President Russell M. Nelson said, “Truth given by revelation can only be understood by revelation.” President Russell M. Nelson, “Living by Spiritual Guidance,” Oct. 2000 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2000/10/living-by-scriptural-guidance?lang=eng
Elder Richard G. Scott also said:
“Humility is essential to the acquiring of spiritual knowledge. To be humble is to be teachable. Humility permits you to be tutored by the Spirit and to be taught from sources inspired by the Lord, such as the scriptures. The seeds of personal growth and understanding germinate and flourish in the fertile soil of humility. Their fruit is spiritual knowledge to guide you here and hereafter.
“A proud individual cannot know the things of the Spirit.” Elder Richard G. Scott, “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Oct. 1993, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1993/10/acquiring-spiritual-knowledge?lang=eng
President Joseph F. Smith said:
“The greatest achievement mankind can make in this world is to familiarize themselves with divine truth, so thoroughly, so perfectly, that the example or conduct of no creature living in the world can ever turn them away from the knowledge that they have obtained. …
“From my boyhood I have desired to learn the principles of the gospel in such a way … that it would matter not to me who might fall from the truth, … my foundation would be … certain in the truths … I have learned” (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, pp. 3–4). See https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1993/10/acquiring-spiritual-knowledge?lang=eng
This comes from soaking yourself thoroughly in the scriptures and the word of the Lord. You can become unshakeable. And is it worth it? Literally more than we have the capacity to imagine while we are here in mortality.
A favorite scripture from Paul that gives us a hint how little we understand what the Lord has for us is this:
1 Corinthians 2
9 But as it is written, aEye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath bprepared for them that love him.
We will say after this lifetime, there is no way that we can deserve what we have been given.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf asked, “What kind of existence can we hope for? Those who come unto Christ, repent of their sins, and live in faith will reside forever in peace. Think of the worth of this eternal gift. Surrounded by those we love, we will know the meaning of ultimate joy as we progress in knowledge and in happiness. No matter how bleak the chapter of our lives may look today, because of the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we may hope and be assured that the ending of the book of our lives will exceed our grandest expectations. “
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf “The Infinite Power of Hope”, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2008/10/the-infinite-power-of-hope?lang=eng
Elder Neal A. Maxwell added: “We are not now ready for all things the Lord has prepared in the City of God for them that love Him. Our present eyes are unready for things which they have not yet seen, and our ears are not prepared for the transcending sounds and music of that city.
The trek will be proving and trying. Faith, patience, and obedience are essential but he who completes the journey successfully will be immeasurably added upon. And he who does not will have subtracted from the sum of his possibilities.
When we arrive home, we shall be weary and bruised. But at last our aching homesicknesses will cease. Meanwhile, our mortal homecomings are but faint foreshadowings of that Homecoming!”
Thank you for being with us today.
Thanks to Paul Cardall for music that begins and ends this podcast. Next week we will talk about “Ye Are the Body of Christ” which is 1 Corinthians 8-13. You can find the transcript for this podcast at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast. See you next week.