Status in Church and at Work: Friends in Low Places (1 Corinthians 1:18–31)
Paul reminds the congregation in Corinth that most of them do not come from the ranks of the privileged classes. “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1 Cor. 1:26). But the effectiveness of the church did not depend on having people with all the connections, educations, or fortunes. God accomplishes his purposes with ordinary people. We have already seen that the value of our work is based on God’s gifts, not on our credentials. But Paul draws a further point. Because we are nobody special by nature, we can never treat other people as insignificant.
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor. 1:27–29; emphasis added)
Since Paul’s day, many Christians have attained positions of power, wealth, and status. His words remind us that we insult God if we allow these things to make us arrogant, disrespectful, or abusive toward people in lower-status positions. Many workplaces still accord special privileges to higher-ranking workers, bearing no relevance to the actual work at hand. Aside from pay differences, high-status workers may enjoy fancier offices, first-class travel, executive dining rooms, reserved parking, better benefits packages, company-paid club memberships, residences, drivers, personal services, and other perquisites. They may receive special deference—for example, being called “Mr.” or “Ms.” or “Professor”— when others in the organization are called by first names only. In some cases, special treatment may be appropriate, based on the nature of the work performed and organizational responsibilities. But in other cases, such privileges may create unwarranted gradations of human worth and dignity. Paul’s point is that such distinctions have no place among the people of God. If we enjoy—or suffer—such distinctions at work, we might ask ourselves whether they contradict the equal dignity of persons in the presence of God and, if so, what we might do to remedy them.