Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (5)

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Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (5)

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Broadcast: December 14, 1997; Message Number 1450

Last week we saw that Paul compares the wisdom of God with the so-called wisdom of the world. God's wisdom is supremely revealed in the message of the cross, but this divine wisdom is not recognized by the natural man. For the Jews the cross is a stumbling block; for the Greeks it represents the height of foolishness. But, says Paul, for us who believe and are saved by this message, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

To support his argument that the Gospel he preached is fundamentally different from what the world thinks, Paul turns from the content of the Gospel to the recipients of it, namely the believers in Corinth. "For ye see your calling, brethren," he says, "how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called."( 1Cor.1:26). The apostle wants to drive home the point that it is not only the Gospel message itself that seems foolish to the world, but that also those who are saved by it are thought of as fools.

As Paul went over the membership list of the Corinthian church in his mind, he realized that the majority of his fellow believers were very ordinary people. With few exceptions, they were members of the lower class of society. He reminds them of this fact when he says, brothers, just look at the make-up of your congregation. When God called you, not many of you were wise men by human standards; not many were men of power and influence, not many were of noble ancestry.

The early church consisted mainly of people without any claim to fame. True, there were some men and women of importance among them. Paul does not say that there were not any wise, but not many wise are called. God did call some of these types of people, but relatively few.

When Paul says, not many wise men after the flesh, he means that God seldom brings great men of intellect into His kingdom. Not that Christianity is anti-intellectual per se. Some of the most brilliant minds have been devoted followers of Christ. Think of Paul himself and St. Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and many others. But the fact remains that most of the Lord's servants are not chosen from the intellectual class. In Matthew 11:25, Jesus says, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." The same is true of the mighty and the noble. Apart from a few kings, princes and other high-ranking individuals who have been recruited for service in God's church and kingdom, the Lord has always shown a decided preference for members of the lower classes. Not because the poor and disadvantaged are by nature any more inclined to receive the Gospel than the rich and powerful.

Comparatively speaking, it is easier for common people to be won to the Gospel than for V.I.P's. Didn't our Lord say that it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? The rich, the wise, the noble and powerful are at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding and appreciating the blessings of the Gospel. Why? Because pride is often a big obstacle for these people. They cannot enter in because they rely on their own possessions, resources and achievements. That is why God's saving work usually takes place among the disadvantaged and unpretentious. A simple, plain, uneducated person who believes in Christ as his Saviour and who faithfully and humbly serves his Lord is much wiser than the brilliant Nobel prize winner in physics who scoffs at the Gospel. "God chooses the foolish things of the world," Paul says, "to shame the wise, and the weak things of the world to shame the strong, and the insignificant and despised things, and things that are not-to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being might be able to boast in the sight of God."

One reason why Christianity was despised in New Testament times was that it counted among its adherents a large number of slaves. The Roman empire contained some 60 million slaves. These unfortunate victims of conquests were regarded with utter contempt by their owners. In the eyes of the law, a slave was a "living tool," a thing and not even a person. A master could fling out an old slave as he would discard an old shovel or hoe. He could inflict corporal punishment at will. He could even kill them. For slaves there was no such thing as marriage; even their children belonged to the master.

It was the glory of Christianity that it made people who were things into real men and women, yes, into sons and daughters of God. It gave those who had no respect whatever, self-respect; it gave those who had no life, eternal life; it told men that even if they did not matter to their superiors, they mattered a great deal to God. It told men who in the eyes of the world were worthless, that in the eyes of God they were of great value, so great, in fact, that they were worth dying for, so that He sent His Son to the cross for them. Christianity was, and still is, literally the most uplifting thing in the whole universe. Dr. James D. Kennedy, in his book entitled What if Jesus had never been born? lists among the many positive contributions Christianity has made through the centuries the following:

1. first the better treatment and eventually the abolition of slavery;

2. the elevation of women;

3. the improvement of social conditions and justice for the poor;

4. high regard for human life;

5. the civilizing of barbarian and primitive cultures;

6. literacy and education for the masses;

7. hospitals and other institutions of mercy.

Indeed, God's wisdom as manifested in His choice of the poor and despised things of the world has confounded or put to shame the things so highly valued by the world, and for this reason: that no flesh should glory in His presence. What Paul means is this: the one basic sin of man is self-assertion or the desire for recognition. Salvation, therefore, begins when we realize that we can do nothing and that we are nothing, but that God can and will do everything if only we trust and obey Him. Yes, this is the amazing thing, that people who realize their own weakness and lack of wisdom, their own helplessness and powerlessness, in the end turn out to be strong and wise. On the other hand, those who think they can take on life by themselves will end up making shipwreck of their lives. As Isaiah testifies, "God gives power to the faint; and to those who have no might He increases strength."

It is through human weakness that divine strength is made manifest. That's why God often accomplishes great things through lowly people. Mighty Goliaths are defeated by insignificant Davids. Why does God use nobodies like David, the Corinthians and us? Paul tells us, that no flesh should glory in his presence. The Corinthians were guilty of this. They were glorying in men, in their leaders and in their gifts. Such boasting is wrong; it is sinful. If we glory in men--even godly men like Peter, Paul and Apollos--we are robbing God of the glory that He alone deserves.

It was this sinful attitude of pride and self-glorying that was causing division in the church. That's why Paul had reminded them of their humble origin. You were nobodies when God called you out of your pagan environment, not just in the eyes of the world, but in God's eyes too. You were lost in sin, depraved, involved in all sorts of perversions (think of what the apostle says in chapter 6)

Additional Info

  • Audio: 122803162155
  • Speaker: Rev. C. Pronk
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