(By Pastor Tim Redfield)
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 – Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
God doesn’t use the same set of standards that we see in our society. He is not impressed by the credentials or accolades of the world. He doesn’t look for the most powerful government leaders or the most intelligent scholars when he calls people to be part of his family of believers. It’s not that those kinds of people cannot be saved. They certainly could believe the true gospel. However, it is not always easy for those who are successful in this world to accept the message of forgiveness. Quite often, they see the message of Jesus as foolishness. Sometimes the intellectuals of our world even refer to religion as a “crutch for the weak.”
God knows that the accomplished people of the world have a tough time with his message. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Many successful people have a tough time with the message of the cross. The message of the cross can only be understood if there is faith in our hearts. The great people of this world don’t like the cross because it doesn’t agree with their idea that their own hard work will be rewarded. That is not how God works. He doesn’t reward us because we put in lots of hard work.
God’s plan for saving people is all about what he has done for us. It is not about what we can do for him. It is not as though our accomplishments will in some way add to his glory. He doesn’t need the billionaires on his side. He doesn’t need the world class athletes. He isn’t impressed by the leaders of empires. Our talents and abilities are not the reason that God decided to pick us for his family. Listen again to verse 26, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” He didn’t pick us because we were the smartest or most popular or because we were from the “right” family.
He chose us for different reasons. He chose us for reasons that we can’t always understand. He chose us because of his love. He decided that he wanted us even though we have sinned against him repeatedly. He knew that we were not the best and the brightest in comparison to others in this world. That didn’t bother him. That’s what makes it so fantastic. That’s what makes it so special. We couldn’t do anything to impress him. And yet, he loves us. We can come back to the question about why he chose us but it always leaves us looking to him and not to ourselves. He wanted to love us even though we were in many ways unlovable.
God is the one who gives us real, lasting, eternal value. We should not strive after the greatness of this world. There is the temptation to want to have success in this world. But think about how that can be detrimental to our faith. We might strive after higher education. We may want to have power and status. Perhaps we want people to see us as leaders. But then we may pursue worldly power and wisdom so much that we begin to sacrifice the truth of God’s Word. We may think that our social status is the most important thing and we may start looking to our accomplishments rather than looking to God.
Then we may start to take pride in ourselves. The danger here is to let sinful pride tell us that God choose us because we are so great – which is the opposite of what Paul is emphasizing. Even though God tells us that he chooses the weak, the foolish, the lower class, and so on, our sinful nature wants to look to ourselves and puff ourselves up. We congratulate ourselves for not committing the terrible sins of the world around us. We judge others for their sins. We think that certain kinds of people aren’t worthy of being part of the family of believers. Before we know it, we have elevated ourselves and we have changed our thinking from the way that God thinks.
We need to continually crush that sinful pride inside of us. We have to acknowledge that we can’t win the victory on our own. When those desires come up to strive after the power and wisdom of this world, take a step back and focus on what is truly important. Don’t boast about those who have earthly success. Don’t boast about your own power and wisdom. Don’t think that you are somehow doing God a favor by being part of his church. Don’t think that God must really be overjoyed that he could ever have someone like you in his family. We are not that great. We are contaminated by sin. Don’t let sinful pride get the better of you. If you are going to boast about anything, boast about the Lord.
Paul reminds us that God can humiliate the great people of this world. Verses 27-29 say, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” The gospel message fits this description very well. Everything about Jesus was against human wisdom. He did not come like a powerful, wise leader, at least not from an earthly perspective. Jesus was not exalted by the powerful in society.
Many of the Jews were looking for a warrior king who would fight earthly battles and drive off the Roman Empire. Jesus was not that kind of king. He wasn’t going to fight with a sword. Rather he was going to speak the Word of God. He was lowly. He didn’t accumulate great wealth. He traveled from city to city on foot. He was a man of the common people. He was despised by many. He was even more despised on Good Friday when many were demanding his crucifixion. He died in the most shameful way possible. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals. And yet, he used that lowly form of execution to win the greatest battle. He won our salvation.
We need to keep that focus on what God has done for us. We need to humbly remember that we do not deserve his grace. We know that he has a plan to prosper us and work things for our good. That doesn’t mean that we are going to always experience earthly success. But it does mean that he is going to bless us in many ways. Think about those times that he has preserved you from harm or helped you recover from an illness. Think about those times when he helped you out of a financial crisis. Think of how he has provided for your family. Think about how he has taken care of you and led you to this point in your life.
Always remember the spiritual blessings. He worked faith in your heart. He shows you what Jesus did to save you from your sins. He strengthens your faith. Boast in the Lord and what he has done. Spread the good news. That is how Jesus is going to help others see the light of his salvation. God uses us to spread the Word. Think about how refreshing it is that we don’t have to promote ourselves when we talk about our faith. We proclaim what Christ has done and the Holy Spirit works through the Word.