Summary: In today's lesson we are urged to remember our condition when God first called us, and that from the world's point of view, we have been utterly foolish to believe in Christ as the way of salvation.
Today we continue studying The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
Christians in the church at Corinth had misunderstood the nature of wisdom with regard to salvation. From Paul’s perspective human wisdom opposes God’s wisdom that is revealed in the gospel. Human wisdom is based on human knowledge and leads to destruction. God’s wisdom is based on the gospel and leads to eternal life. Let’s see how Paul expresses the difference between human wisdom and the wisdom of the gospel with respect to its recipients in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31)
Almost twenty years ago I interviewed for the position of pastor at the Oakwood Presbyterian Church in State College, PA. I can still remember meeting with the Pulpit Committee and Session on a Saturday morning at the church. They asked me the usual questions that one would expect to be asked as a candidate. Then, at one point, someone made the observation that State College was the home of Penn State University. In fact, Penn State was by far the largest employer in the region, and I think that something like 1 in 3 people in State College were either students, faculty, staff, or somehow connected to the university.
I was asked, “Because of the presence of Penn State, our church has a large number of intellectuals who attend our church. How do you feel about that?”
I vividly remember walking into the adult Sunday school class the next day, and of the twenty people in attendance, twelve of them either had Ph.D. degrees or were working on their Ph.D.s!
I answered the question that had been put to me as follows, “First, the ground at the foot of the cross is level. In other words, all people come to salvation in the same way—through the cross of Christ. Second, having worked in the area of evangelism for several years at the University of Cape Town, I can assure you that intellectuals have no advantage over so-called “non-intellectuals” when it comes to understanding the gospel. And the reason is that God by his grace gives faith to whomever he pleases, whether they are intellectual or not.”
The Pulpit Committee and Session must have been satisfied with my answer because they recommended me to the congregation, and I was subsequently elected to be their pastor, and served there for eleven years.
Sometimes educated people have a certain arrogance about spiritual things. And frankly, we who are Reformed in our doctrine, can be especially prone to that because we love accurate and carefully articulated theology. Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood. Every Christian ought to strive for an accurate understanding of theology. However, we must not think that because we have a growing and deepening understanding of theology that we are somehow better than others who are not as far along as we are.
And this is something of the challenge that the apostle Paul faced at Corinth.
Let me briefly review what we have covered so far in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.
After the introductory salutation (1:1-3) and thanksgiving (1:4-9) of the letter, Paul immediately addressed the issue of divisions in the church in Corinth (1:10-17). Paul urged the Christians in Corinth to heal the divisions in the church because they are contrary to the unity that exists in Christ’s body.
The reason for the division in the church at Corinth was due to a misunderstanding of human wisdom versus the wisdom of the gospel. In a series of three paragraphs, Paul shows how utterly incompatible human wisdom is in relation to the gospel.
First, he says in effect, “So you think the gospel is a form of wisdom? How foolish can you get? Look at its message; it is based on the story of a crucified Christ. Who in the name of wisdom would have dreamed that up? Only God is so wise as to be so foolish” (1:18-25).