The theology of the chocolate sampler [Studies in 1 Corinthians]

One day you bring me a large, beautiful box of chocolates. There are all kinds, too, every type imaginable: some with nuts or cookies or caramel; some with raisins or cherries or other fruits; some with dark or light or white chocolate or a mixture. It’s the wide variety that makes it so impressive – and probably expensive – gift.

But what do I do? I bite into one at a time, and not finding what I like I look for another. Not only that, but I’m rude enough to spit the candy into the trash can while you watch, and make a face of disgust. I don’t even bother tasting the white ones before throwing them away. I only like the ones with dark chocolate, I say, glaring as if I blame you for not giving me just those. Chocolate dribbles down from my mouth as I spit out one after another of the expensive candies. I make loud satisfied noises when I gobble up the kind that I like.

I have a suspicion that we do the same thing with God’s gifts. He sends our way a wide variety of his servants. He sends a pastor who is not a deep preacher but whose specialty is visiting the sick and helping the needy. He sends other people who write all sorts of good books. He sends us teachers, all of them different. I am not speaking here, of course, of false teachers or deceivers, but of the various true servants of God.

One of the ways American culture resembles the era of the early church is that we are enthralled by the “cult of personality”. I am of Stanley; I am of Piper; I am of Mars Hill; I am of the other Mars Hill. Is it possible that we identify ourselves with personalities to make ourselves feel a little taller, a little better than the masses? Such a “cult of personality” is a cultural value that distorts our Christianity – it is “worldliness”.

The Corinthians were choosing up teams: I am of Paul; I am of Apollos, etc. But the truth is that the God who gave Paul to the church of Corinth also gave Apollos and Cephas (i. e., Peter) and others (1 Cor 3:22); to reject one of God’s faithful servants was to reject the gift of God. This was the sin of Diotrophes in 3 John 9-10: he discriminated against sound teachers who were not part of his power circle, apparently because it pleased him to exercise his authority and increase his own status. How foolish for the Corinthians to focus on Apollos and to depreciate the two apostles that God has sent them. The fans of Paul too should be sitting at the feet of Cephas and Apollos and thus enjoying the full richness of God’s gifts. Those who delight in the seed planter should affirm the waterer too, or rather, honor the Master who has sent both planter and waterer. As Paul said:

So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Cor 3:21-23).

Of course, in our experience not everyone is a Paul, a Peter or an Apollos. There are plenty of unpleasant teachers and poor writers and neglectful pastors. But let us make very sure that we show appreciation for all the things God gifts us by intentionally enjoying each of them as much as is possible.

This is not just true for one congregation, but from church to church and from denomination to denomination. If we are Baptists, let us also learn as much as we can from our brothers in the Assemblies. If we are Pentecostal, let us also avail ourselves of those famous Presbyterian theologians. If we are independent congregations, let us appreciate denominations, and vice versa. Let’s not be so proud that we cannot admit that others might have God’s Spirit too. “So then, no more boasting about human beings! Let us open our hearts to all of God’s gifts to us, not just the ones that meet our refined personal standards.

Related posts and a free full-length commentary:

Studies in 1 Corinthians by Gary Shogren

“The theology of the chocolate sampler,” by Gary Shogren, PhD., Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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26 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This reminded me of the way we shop for churches the same we do for clothes or shoes. Finding a “fit” that makes me “comfortable”. Testing out the climate before jumping in. 😉

    • And there is never a “perfect fit” – oh, it may look like it at first glance, but it never is!

  2. I found this post via Chief of the Least and I’m so glad I did. It is far too easy to find Christians online militantly defending their particular preference in spiritual chocolates and condemning the selection of others. Your defense of the entire box is rare and much appreciated by one who prays constantly to see the church live in the provision of John 17.

    • Melanie, a pleasure to meet you!

      I was just reading that passage in John 17 yesterday – “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” It struck me as I read it how we kill it with a thousand qualifications:

      Well, harrumph, it certainly doesn’t mean we should, you know, and of course there are, harrumph, satanic versions of unity, and, well, let’s remember that we don’t have to have visible unity, so long as we have it, you know, deep down, etc. etc.

      Okay, but having weighed the risks and avoided the false versions, when do we actually get around to saying, “Right then, our Lord, on the night he was betrayed, prayed that his people live in unity – now what are we going to do about it?”

      • If only we could wake up and realize that Christ intends the unity of believers to be the clearest witness of the gospel for the world. The verse you quoted shows definitively that Christ’s prayer and provision for unity is for here and now. I grow so weary of hearing people say we can only experience true unity in heaven. Thus they refuse to accept the Lord’s plan for displaying His glory to the lost and dying world. I know we are called to be separate from the world, but I pray we will soon learn that we are not meant to be separate from each other.

    • By the way, the “chocolate sampler” is part of my commentary on 1 Corinthians – it is written for the Latin American church and will be published in Spanish. However, in a week or so, I’ll be electronically publishing and giving away free the English version. If you or anyone wants a copy, let me know.

      There are several blogs that I adapted from the book, including ““Dear Paul: We are sorry, but you are unqualified to be our apostle…”, see http://justinofnablus.com/2011/11/01/dear-paul-we-are-sorry-but-you-are-unqualified-to-be-our-apostle%e2%80%a6-studies-in-1-corinthians/

  3. Great article, thanks for sharing. We need more teaching like this.

  4. Here’s what I was thinking based on just the title: Even tough you had free will to choose each piece of chocolate, the contents were predestined when the box was packaged.

  5. HA

    • whoops let me finish… HA! Great post !! This reminds me of the time I wrote down a song that God had given me in the middle of the night. I sent it to one of those “prophetic websites.” Crickets. Since no one ‘knew’ me because I was not famous (yet) they ignored me. A week later, the DAUGHTER of the pastor wrote a poem very very similar to what I had sent in. They posted it with great accolades!! Sadly, we are all still human at the end of theday.

      • Sorry to hear about that situation! Yeah, the human nature follows us around, closer than a brother.

  6. Great blog Gary! I think unity in the Body of Christ is one of the most lacking elements of the 21st century Church. I hope more of us come to think along these lines.

    • Thanks Curtis! Unfortunately for some, “unity” means “let’s all do it my way”.

  7. This was a terrific post. It’s sometimes hard to see how delicious God’s gifts are, but they all, in fact, are! Thanks for the reminder, and peace be with you — Kelly

    • Thanks Kelly, tell your friends! Most of our blogs are non-chocolate related, but there’s something for everyone.

      • Thanks, Gary! I shared it to Facebook, and also used it as a sort of coda to my own blog post this morning. Thank you for being so generous with your invitation to share!

  8. Gary,
    Nice post.
    We definitely are living in a popularity crazed, political correctness, American Idolistic culture.

    Margaret Thatcher said, “It used to be about doing something. Now its about being someone. ”

    But you point that out very well.
    Indecently, that is one reason I blog anonymously, though Christ’s example of making no reputation for Himself is the main reason.
    Its about Jesus.

  9. Now I’ll look upon those milk chocolate and white chocolates with a more accepting eye… Good points. We’ve recently moved to a new town and are visiting churches in hopes of finding one that “fits”. We previously attended a non-denominational church and last Sunday we visited a Baptist church. This Sunday, the Methodist church. We’ll sample all (well, we are excluding the errr… cults) the chocolates in the box!

    • Thanks Joy! If I can be of any service in church selection, please let me know. Gary

  10. Great message! I agree! Thank you!

  11. Reblogged this on Chief of the least.

  12. Ha! You got me; when I read the first paragraph, I thought it was about smorgasbord spirituality, but it was a different message, and a good one. Thanks.


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