Summary: Paul teaches us that we have something better to boast about than worldly wealth or smarts. We have Jesus!
The post-game interview was all the talk among football fans. Even in a league known for brash and swaggering athletes his words stopped viewers in mid-chew of their chicken wings to ask one another: “Did he just really say that?” I’m talking about the interview given by Richard Sherman, a Seattle Seahawk cornerback. Seconds after tipping the ball away from the opponent in the end zone to secure a trip to the Super Bowl, Sherman boasted of being the best cornerback in the league. Fine. We’ve heard those boasts before, but what shocked many was how Sherman went on to belittle his opponent. Last week Sherman acknowledged that he had gone too far, but explained that the emotions of the game had gotten the best of him. Well of course they had. No one would want to admit that they are really that tactless on purpose.
But here’s the thing, Sherman only said what countless others have wanted to say in his situation. Admit it; you’ve been there too. When the right-hand turn your husband made 10 km back turned out to be the wrong one, you wanted to say “I told you so,”…and more. When you were the first in the class to finish and ace yet another math test, you felt like standing on top of your teacher’s desk to face your classmates and crow, “Who’s the smartest? Certainly not you, Suzy!” So is this a sermon about how we ought not to boast? Not at all! Today the Apostle Paul is actually going to teach us how to become a better boaster.
Our text comes from Paul’s letter to the Christian church in the Greek city of Corinth. Corinth itself had a reputation for brashness. People who lived there felt sorry for those who didn’t – the way Calgarians feel sorry of Edmontonians. Unfortunately this arrogance had also spilled over into the church. Some in the Corinthian congregation were well to do. They were proud of this fact and made a show of their wealth even at church. Other members liked to brag about how much of the Bible they knew and understood while looking down on others who were just learning the basics. To put matters into perspective for these braggarts, however, the Apostle Paul said: “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” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
The fact was not many of the members in Corinth had much to boast about in the world outside the church. Most were not rich. They were not the movers and shakers in society or the trendsetters. Instead they were slaves or blue collar workers. Not many had much of an education. Doesn’t that sound a bit like our congregation? I haven’t seen any of you interviewed in the newspaper because some journalist thought that our city would be interested in your views. Sure, you live in decent houses, but nothing a magazine would want a picture of. And look where we are worshipping right now: a junior high school cafeteria! Oh sure it’s only temporary while we build our new church, but if this congregation was really influential and powerful, wouldn’t we have been able to afford a more high profile place to worship like in the fancy ballroom of the best hotel in town?
Perhaps this has actually always bothered you about Christianity. Why aren’t more famous and powerful people Christians? Why don’t we have any PhDs as members of St. Peter’s? The capital region must be crawling with them considering the number of universities there are. Instead academics, politicians, and entertainers love to make fun of Christians. “You believe God created the world in six days? You really think Jesus was born of a virgin? You say he rose from the dead and is coming again? Go ahead and hold on to those superstitions if you have to. Smart and self-made people like us don’t need such a crutch.”
What can Christians offer as a response? Only the truth that Paul shared with us today. God intentionally chose “lowly” people to be members of his family. He did this lest we be tempted to boast that the reason God chose us is because he needed our smarts or our money and influence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just look at the men Jesus chose to be his twelve disciples as an example. Out of the twelve, Matthew was probably the only CEO type who had business smarts. But as a tax collector he would have been reviled by the people as a cheat and a traitor for working for the Romans. No, Jesus didn’t choose the disciples because he needed them, they needed Jesus! And so do you and so do I. Paul makes that point when he said: “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’” (1 Corinthians 1:30, 31).