1 Corinthians 2: Communication Breakdown

My favorite Chinese restaurant is right around the corner.  I can walk to it.  It is a no-frills kind of place.  You can stay and eat there if you wish, though half the time the air conditioner is broken.  Most people pick up styrofoam containers packed full of General Tsao’s Chicken or Pork Fried Rice and head home to share with family.

They know me there.  They know my voice when I place an order by phone.  They know my favorite menu items.  They greet me by name (I guess that is an indication of the frequency of my visits!)  Recently, when the China-born owner and head cook was studying for his American citizenship test, he would ask me questions about how to pronounce politician’s names or to explain certain things about American life and governance (thankfully never the concept of the electoral college).  Only when he had finally taken the test and earned his citizenship did I break it to him that he had been relying on a non-citizen for answers!  (I am still a Canadian by citizenship, though I have been here over twenty years.)

Though I thoroughly enjoy his effusive presence, talking to my Chinese friend is not easy (and he likely says the same about me).  His accent is strong.  There are whole sounds he doesn’t even know how to pronounce.  His understanding of English grows every year, but just like most of us would experience if we moved to China, it is a daunting task to learn a new language and English is not an easy language to learn (I am sure he is doing better than I would do learning Chinese).  A few days ago it took me five tries to figure out he was saying the phrase “summer break.”  Yes, my summer break as a teacher is sadly coming to an end.  It is not infrequent or surprising that he and I struggle to communicate as well as both of us want to.  We are literally thinking in two different languages.  (Interestingly, two doors down the strip mall is the Italian printer who stamps Bibles with my students’ names and the school crest.  I have the same linguistic experiences with him too!)  I, for one, love a multicultural world!

In today’s short chapter, Paul reminds us that this is somewhat the same experience we will inevitably have with the people around us who have not accepted Christ and are not enlightened by the Holy Spirit:

We do, however, speak wisdom among the mature.  But this isn’t a wisdom of this present world, or of the rulers of this present world. . . . We don’t use words we’ve been taught by human wisdom, but words we’ve been thought by the spirit, interpreting spiritual things to spiritual people.  Someone living at the merely human level doesn’t accept the things of God’s spirit.  They are foolishness to such people, you see, and they can’t understand them because they need to be discerned spiritually. (2:6, 13-14)

It is like we are thinking in two different languages.  Our frame of mind is spiritual.  Our wisdom is spiritual.  Our truth and worldview and value systems are shaped in a fundamentally different way.  It is inevitable that we will not always be understood.  Confused looks will come.  Unspiritual people will naturally feel that their physical and material “language” is superior to our’s and that we should “learn their language.”  Exasperation and maybe even ridicule are destined to come as well.  We should not be surprised by this in the least.

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Categories: 1 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “1 Corinthians 2: Communication Breakdown

  1. Melanie

    The Message reports that passage this way: “We of course, have plenty of wisdom to pass on to you once you get your feet on spiritual ground, but it’s not popular wisdom, the fashionable wisdom of high priced experts that will be out of date in a year or so…We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.
    The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit—God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion.”

    You said it’s like two languages, and it is. It’s two different worlds. I think we often try to keep a foot in each world and then wonder why we feel torn and always out of synch. When we try to be at home in both worlds, we give up the gift of true wisdom that God’s Spirit wants to give us. I pray to be less comfortable in the world and more at home in God’s will.

  2. “The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness.”

    So why do I expect that everyone I speak to about Jesus will get it? Maybe the degree of personal affront I feel shows that I have told myself that they would get it if I say it well. These couple of chapters are good reminders of how wrong this is.

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