Summary: How could uses the weak of the world to demonstrate his wisdom.
Can you remember the theme of our missions conference? It was “Ordinary People/Extraordinary God.” The apostle Paul would have liked that slogan, and, indeed, it could have been the title of this passage he wrote.
Let’s review where we are in the letter. Paul is addressing his first issue among many that he is raising with the Corinth believers in their church. There is division in the church. Parties are being formed, or at least people are identifying themselves under the names of church leaders. Interestingly enough, Paul seems to get off track. He admonishes them to be united and rebukes them for daring to put himself and other leaders on the same level as Christ. He mentions baptism, then notes his role was to preach. That makes him note what he preaches, which is the cross. Then he starts talking about the cross. He seems to be like a rambling teacher who, as he talks, moves from one subject to another based on how the last word triggers his thoughts.
What he is really doing is getting to the real problem of the Corinth Church that underscores all of their divisions and troubles – pride. These are a people proud of their gifts and abilities, especially in the area of knowledge. As Paul himself noted earlier in his thanksgiving, they were enriched in Christ in all speech and all knowledge. Pride in oneself will always lead to division, because for a person’s pride to be nourished, he must distinguish himself from others. It was inevitable for the Corinthians to form into their parties and boast of whom they followed. And if knowledge and wisdom were the values they prized the most, it was also inevitable that they would boast of the superiority of their religion and their own gifts over against their pagan neighbors.
Their attitude would be like this. I preached last on the wisdom and power of the cross for believers. I hoped you respond in this way. “Oh, how marvelous is our God and his ways! How merciful he is to save someone like me!” The Corinthian response would have been this way. “Don’t we have a great religion! Those dumb pagans are clueless. They can’t see what we can see.” It is this attitude that Paul is addressing in his discourse all the way through chapter 4.
Paul’s subject is the glory of God displayed by overturning the wisdom and power of the world. First, God overturns the tables through his means of salvation – Christ’s death on the cross. What seems utterly foolish and powerless to the world is the real wisdom and power that saves the world. The second way in which he flip-flops conventional wisdom is through the people whom he calls to be his church.
The Corinthians probably liked what Paul said about the cross. Like I said, they would be thinking how dumb their pagan neighbors were to reject it and how smart they were to see through the surface to the deep wisdom and power. The next statement might have made them pause. 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.