Over time, words morph in their precise meaning and usage. We might observe such over the course of a lifetime, even seeing words take on an entirely different connotation.
It is interesting to see how the word “privilege” has morphed in the last decade.
The most basic meaning has to do with having an experience that is special or unique, like, “It was a great privilege to meet the Queen.”
Some time ago, the word began to be used of people who were elitist, especially economically. “People of privilege” were those who lived in that one wealthy section that most every town has – where wealth was accumulated, displayed, and passed down to next generations. So to have this sort of “privilege” was to have a descriptive identification that had a bit of a smear associated with it, sort of like being called a “spoiled brat.”
More recently, “privilege” has come into use in racial discussion, often in the context of identification as having “white privilege.” This is confusing to many people, especially those who don’t really see themselves as coming from especially unique or affluent backgrounds. But the word is still directed at a wide swath of white culture, in that this racial identification gave people a head start privilege in every way – especially true in what was handed down over generations of American history and the opportunities presented.
Whereas this “white privilege” designation can be unfairly overplayed and too broadly applied, it is true that many of the historically predominant race in this country are oblivious to the abundance of their blessings, remaining also detached from the complications of being generationally a minority.
I think it is a general truth that most people underestimate their blessings and their privilege. This is especially true when one has grown up around abundance that was not personally earned, but rather inherited in the pervasive environment. Even people who have known a poorer time of life may tend to forget the full extent of the good fortune currently experienced.
As Paul opens his letter to the Corinthians, he reminds his readers of their privilege, while also reminding them of the grace through which this abundance has come to them. The Corinthians were really blessed in a big way, particularly in light of the darkness of the surrounding culture; they were a totally new and different people as a result of being called out of the world by God’s grace. The word for “church” (ekklesia) means to be “called out” … referencing a group of people who are called out to be together.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 … Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Did you see the two components in this opening greeting? Paul is telling them that they are richly blessed in wonderful ways, while reminding them also that this is the wonderful gift of what Christ has done for them and given to them. Yes, it is great stuff with a wonderful future, but it is all by the initiative of God. He is telling them that they are people of privilege.
And yes, we too are people of privilege, coming from God’s grace. It is Christian privilege. It should be something of pleasure in which we revel, yet also fully with the knowledge that is has been a great gift. There should be no pride in it, rather, great humility and a sense of gratitude. Beyond that, it gives us no high ground of judgment, that is, beyond a high understanding of truth. Yet that also should lead us to share the truth humbly with others. We’re merely beggars who were granted knowledge of an unlimited source of food; and now we tell other beggars where it might be found.