An individual's worth and consequently his respect in the community was dependent on the status he was able to project.... It was a time when everyone yearned for an admiring public. The pursuit of the upward mobility thus turned into a quest for applause and esteem.... When people turned to evaluate their contemporaries they looked for the same evidence of personal worth and glory that they prized for themselves. This is a description of society. And if the shoe fits, I suppose we could wear it. The only problem here is that it's a very old shoe — like a 2,000 year-old shoe. The leading quotation is from Tim Savage's book, Power Through Weakness, where he digs into the first-century context of the Corinthian church — a context that sounds eerily similar to our own.
Corinth, a boom city of diverse inhabitants, was the perfect mesh of Greek and Roman culture. The Late Hellenism influence, according to Savage, introduced a staunch individualism that stressed a person's ability to determine his or her own worth. Then, thrown into this mix, "the Roman emphasis on social stratification" gave citizens a chart to measure that worth. In other words, Corinth was home to a crowd of self-motivated platform-builders and a social setting that encouraged celebrity comparisons. It was a city of me-monsters who loved to rank one another, and who especially snubbed those who appeared pathetic.
[Read the rest of the article at Desiring God.]