In his First Letter to the Church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul spoke about many issues this immature group of believers were facing. The very first problem he mentioned, and presumably the most important, was their tendency to line up behind one or another of the influential leaders who had helped establish their church, thus forming divisions in the congregation. Paul saw this as potentially disastrous, and he told them so.

Paul addressed this problem in a straightforward way, actually naming names:

“One of you says, ‘I belong to Paul; another of you says, ‘I belong to Apollos’; another ‘I belong to Peter’; still another, ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? . . . Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” (1 Corinthians1:12-13, 17)

Soon after this group of believers had become one in Christ, they began to establish a spiritual pecking order based on the leaders they identified with.

Paul returned to this subject later in his letter, where he again mentions the two major factions by name:

“As long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and believing according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe.” (1 Corinthians 3:3-5)

 “Servants through whom you came to believe.”
Bags to carry your food home from the grocery store.

 “Paper or plastic?” Remember when the checkout person at the supermarket routinely asked that question? It always made me feel as if I was on trial morally. If I asked for plastic, I imagined that all the eco-friendly people nearby were scowling at me for personally causing all the world’s pollution. But if I opted for paper, I felt a bit pretentious, because I was never sure it was that clear an issue. Then new information began to come out: it turns out that using paper bags is also harmful to the environment. They require the cutting of trees in our fragile forest system, and they actually result in far more trash by volume than plastic bags do. What to do, what to do?

Pasadena and other progressive cities have come up with the solution: no longer allow supermarkets to provide free bags, either paper or plastic and, in this way, strongly encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. It’s amazing how easily people have adapted to this over the past couple of years. Regular shoppers may have grumbled a bit at first, but they quickly got into a a new behavior pattern that included carrying their empty bags with them when they go into a supermarket. It’s been harder for occasional shoppers, like me. I still find myself running into the store for a couple of things totally bag-less and exposed. The checkout person, of course, offers to sell me a bag, but there’s NO WAY I’m going to pay for a bag. I’d rather walk out juggling my few items freestyle. I’m thinking maybe I ought to start wearing baggy pants with really big pockets just for such shopping emergencies.

So here’s the point: Paper or plastic? Paul or Apollos?

They are all just containers. It’s what’s inside the bag that counts. When you’re enjoying a great Thanksgiving dinner, do you ever think to ask whether the food items were brought home in paper or plastic bags? How silly! Well, it’s just as silly to make a big deal out of what great preacher said the words that led to you accepting Christ, as if that gave you a more impressive spiritual resume than someone else. Whether it was a great preacher or a humble friend, whether it was through this or that church, whether you were reading a book or browsing on line. They’re just the bags the food came in. What kind of a meal are you going to make of it now? That’s the question.

— Pastor George Van Alstine