1 Corinthians 1:26-29 ~ 20130310 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
03/10 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 Calling that Excludes Boasting; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130310_1cor1_26-29.mp3
26 Βλέπετε γὰρ τὴν κλῆσιν ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι οὐ πολλοὶ σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα, οὐ πολλοὶ δυνατοί, οὐ πολλοὶ εὐγενεῖς· 27 ἀλλὰ τὰ μωρὰ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός, ἵνα ⸂καταισχύνῃ τοὺς σοφούς⸃, καὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός, ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τὰ ἰσχυρά, 28 καὶ τὰ ἀγενῆ τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὰ ἐξουθενημένα ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός, ⸀τὰ μὴ ὄντα, ἵνα τὰ ὄντα καταργήσῃ, 29 ὅπως μὴ καυχήσηται πᾶσα σὰρξ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ. 30 ἐξ αὐτοῦ δὲ ὑμεῖς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ὃς ἐγενήθη ⸂σοφία ἡμῖν⸃ ἀπὸ θεοῦ, δικαιοσύνη τε καὶ ἁγιασμὸς καὶ ἀπολύτρωσις, 31 ἵνα καθὼς γέγραπται· Ὁ καυχώμενος ἐν κυρίῳ καυχάσθω.
Addressing Problems with the Gospel
Paul is dealing with the problems in the church in Corinth. The first on his list is division. Division is tearing apart the body of Christ, fracturing and splintering the church of God by quarreling, not over serious doctrinal issues, but over personalities and preferences. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, he appeals for unity, that they all agree, or say the same thing, that they be united in the same mind and same judgment. And he applies the good news of the cross to heal these divisions. He reminds them of the gospel that had brought them into this relationship with God and with one another. He takes them back to the cross. We can learn so much from his approach. Problems in the church are often a result of a misunderstanding of or a misapplication of the gospel. If we go back to the gospel and let our crucified Lord shape our thoughts and emotions and words and actions, many of the problems that we face will be resolved.
The Corinthians were seeking status by aligning themselves with a particular teacher or leader within Christianity. Some followed Paul, the one who first brought the gospel to Corinth. Some followed the eloquent and passionate Apollos, the powerful preacher from Egypt. Some followed Cephas, or Peter, the primary spokesman of Jesus' twelve. Some felt they were spiritually beyond the need for any human teacher and claimed they followed Christ directly. All this is rooted in pride and a desire to feel superior to others. Paul undercuts all of this by bringing them back to the clear simplicity of the gospel, that Christ was crucified for you.
This is the simple message he preached, and this simple message divided the world into two groups; those who are perishing and us who are being saved. There are not four or six or eight groups. The cross of Jesus divides all people into only two categories.
Paul confronts their desire to be thought wise by pointing to the fact that it had been God's wise intention all along to frustrate human wisdom and save people through what seemed a foolish, scandalous method. Wonder of wonders, God saves those who believe the foolish message of the cross. Believing by definition is giving up any reliance on self and depending on, trusting in another. Believing is the polar opposite of pride.
Pride is such an insidious disease. It is ironic that even in a group of fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, even among Jesus' own disciples, pride tended to creep in. Who is the greatest? This seemed to be a persistent problem that Jesus had to address on more than one occasion.
Pride is out of place among believers. Believers are those who acknowledge they are helpless, weak, unable to fix their situation and are trusting in another, in humility receiving a gift. You can't even enter God's kingdom unless you enter like that. Jesus prayed like this:
Paul has told us in verses 18-25 that it was God's wise intention to undermine human wisdom by saving people using a foolish message, the message of a crucified Messiah. Now he tells us that God undermines human wisdom by saving foolish people. Make no mistake about it, this is insulting. This is demeaning, degrading, and offensive. And it is meant to be. Paul is intending to strip away the pride of his readers so that we would begin to see the cross more clearly, and to see each other in the light of the cross. And yet, to soften the blow, Paul comes along side us and includes himself in this category. Paul calls us his brothers.
Paul instructs his fellow believers in Corinth to consider your calling. What does it mean to be called? In verse 24 he says that the gospel, the message of Christ crucified is to those who are called, Christ the wisdom of God and the power of God. There he says 'to those who are called'; here he says 'consider your calling'. What is this calling? Do you get a telephone call? Do you hear the dinner bell calling you to dinner? Are you called to a specific job?
Let's see what we can learn from this passage about what Paul means when he says 'called'. First, this calling cuts across ethnic barriers. In verse 23, he says the cross is folly to Gentiles and a stumbling block to Jews, but to the called, both Jews and Greeks, it is power and wisdom. We also see that this calling changes things for the one who is called. What was foolishness and scandalous now becomes the power and wisdom of God. It seems this calling creates a new category. Before, the categories were Jew or Gentile. Now, the categories are 'those who are perishing' and 'us who are being saved'. The ones who are being saved in verse 21 are those who believe, and in verse 24, the same group is referred to as those who are called. So 'the called' and 'those who believe' and 'us who are being saved' are all ways of referring to the same group. If we jump back to the introduction of this letter, verse 2 tells us that the church of God is made up of those who are called to be saints. This calling cuts across ethnic barriers; it creates a new category, 'those who are called' is another way of saying 'us who are being saved' or 'those who believe'.
After inviting the Corinthians to consider their calling, he goes on to describe God's choosing. Not many wise, not many powerful, not many of noble birth, but God chose what is foolish, God chose what is weak; God chose what is low and despised, even the nothings. The calling of the Corinthians is here connected with God's choosing.
Have you ever wondered why in response to the same preaching of the gospel one person is moved to tears, broken over their sins and desperate for a Savior, and they cry out 'what must I do to be saved?' while in the very same room, having heard the very same message, another person walks away totally unmoved. Someone else may walk away angry or offended. What makes the difference? Is it the passion of the preacher? The eloquence of the delivery? The rigor of the logic? No. Is it the upbringing of the hearer? From this and many other passages, it seems the Bible's answer is that God's call makes the difference. As Luke puts it in the book of Acts, “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). In 2 Corinthians, Paul compares this to God's act in creation when he says:
In Romans 8, Paul describes those who love God, those to whom all things work together for good, as those who are called according to his purpose. Then he places this calling at the center of God's saving work, preceded by predestining and foreknowing, and followed by justifying and glorifying. Jesus said 'all that the Father gives me will come to me' (Jn.6:37) and he said to the Jews who did not believe in him “you do not believe because you are not part of my flock' (Jn.10:26). Peter points us to “the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pet.2:9).
Paul invites the Corinthians to consider their own calling as evidence that God destroys the wisdom of the wise and makes foolish the wisdom of the world by saving those who believe.
He says that God did not call many wise or powerful or noble. He does not say 'not any' but 'not many'. There was Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue (Acts 18:8), and Sosthenes, the next ruler of the synagogue (Acts 18:17; 1Cor.1:1). There was Gaius Titius Justus, probably a wealthy Roman, who owned a house next door to the synagogue, and opened his home to host the new church (Acts 18:7; Rom.16:23; 1Cor.1:14), there was Erastus, the city treasurer (Rom.16:23), whose name has been discovered in an inscription on a pavement in Corinth. None were excluded simply because they were wise, powerful or noble. But not many of those believed. The majority of the church in Corinth was made up of former idolaters, sexually immoral, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunks, foul-mouths, and extortioners (1Cor.6:9-11). Many were slaves. Most were from the lower classes. And yet even among them there seemed to be a desire to be thought well of. Paul invites them to look at the purpose of God to confound the wise and then to look around.
James confronts the same kind of problem. The churches he addressed had a tendency to treat with preference those who were rich and well dressed over those who were poor and shabbily clothed. James says:
God has chosen the poor in this world. We see this so clearly in Jesus' ministry. Jesus was frequently criticized by the religious leaders for who he spent time with. Mark records:
Jesus says that he came to call sinners, and sinners came. It seems that Jesus was continually surrounded by the weak, the sick, the outcasts, the demon possessed, the desperate, the despised, the needy, the nobodies of society. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus rebuked the chief priests and elders in the temple, who refused to believe in him.
The religious leaders were rebuked and held accountable for their unbelief, for their rejection of Jesus. Not many were called. Jesus said “how difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Lk.18:24). But he also said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Lk.18:27). Even they were not beyond the reach of God's grace. Even among them, a few humbled themselves, became like little children, acknowledged their sin and their need and received the free gift. The rich man from Arimithea, Joseph, a respected member of the Council (Mt.27:57; Mr.15:43; Lk.23:50; Jn.19:38), and the Pharisee Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews (Jn.3:1; 19:39) became followers of Jesus. Even Paul himself, a Pharisee trained under Gamaliel, God knocked to his knees and called him to follow.
Nothings Nullify Things that Are
God chose the foolish, weak, low and despised, even nothings. God shamed the wise, shamed the strong, brought to nothing the things that are. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). This is the kind of God we worship, a God who can take nothing and make something beautiful out of it.
God brought something out of nothing with his word. And it was very good. The rougher the raw material, the more impressive the accomplishment of the Artist. So God delights to take nothings, zeroes, the low and despised and create trophies of his grace. When Jesus was told that his dear friend Lazarus was ill, he said
Jesus intentionally delayed two days before going (Jn.11:6), and then he tells his disciples:
Jesus waited until his friend had been dead four days so that everyone would see that his voice, his call, creates life in the dead.
We are told in Romans 4 that Abraham,
That is a great definition of faith; being fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised. He believed in the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. He grew strong in his faith and gave glory to God. That is what this is all about. That is what we were created for. We are designed to give glory and honor and praise to our great God. We glorify God because God is the only one worthy of glory.
Ephesians tells us:
The goal of God's call to the nothings, the goal of God's gracious gift of life to those dead, the reason God excludes our works, the reason it pleased God through the folly of what is preached to save those who believe is so that he gets all the glory, so that he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace, or, as Paul concludes here:
When we boast as if we have done something commendable, we rob God of the glory that he alone deserves. To God alone be all the glory!
Consider your calling brothers and sisters. So what do we do with this truth? How do we respond? First, this should create in us a humble amazement. God called me out of darkness and into his marvelous light! Why me?
Remember the context. Paul is dealing with divisions and quarreling. Let this truth shape how you view one another. We naturally categorize people into losers and winners; drop-outs and the educated; well dressed and shabby; rich and poor; those who have it together and those who just can't get it together. Let the good news of the cross shape how you view others. God levels pride and lifts up the downcast. The cross places us all on level ground. Look around you today and wonder at those God has called saints!
This truth should result in humility and boldness. Take heart; no one is beyond the reach of God's grace. The most horrific sinner and the most hardened Pharisee can both be transformed by the call of God. What is impossible with men is possible with God. God calls into existence things that do not exist.
All this is to the glory of God. God is the one who saves, so God gets all the glory. I can take no credit for my own salvation. All glory goes to God alone.
How do You Know?
Consider your calling. Have you been called? How do you know?
Have you felt the weight of your sins? Have you felt the seriousness of your sins before a holy God? The Holy Spirit convicts of sin and righteousness and judgment.
Have your eyes been opened to the light of the glory of the gospel in the face of Jesus Christ?
Have you believed? Have you put your faith only and completely in the finished work of Jesus? If you are feeling the weight of your sin and you see Jesus as your only hope then cry out to him today.
The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are his children. This is the call of God.