God chooses the ‘weak’ to shame the ‘strong’

Posted on 21 May 2017, Pastor: Rev Hans Vaatstra

Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services

Reading: Jeremiah 9:12-24
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
God chooses the ‘weak’ to shame the ‘strong’

Jeremiah 9:23-24 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

23 Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

26 For [a]consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to [b]the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no [c]man may boast before God. 30 But [d]by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, [e]and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Manuscript of this sermon:

God chooses the weak to shame the strong

Reading: Jeremiah 9 12-24, Text: 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31

In the previous passage we looked at how the cross of Christ divides the human race. There are those who reject the cross of Christ and are perishing. Those who accept it are being saved.
The question which our text answers todays is what are these two categories of people like; those who are perishing and being saved? Well answer that in three parts first their character, secondly God’s choice and thirdly the Christian’s boast.
Their character. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul asked the members of the congregation to think about their station in life when they were called into the church. Not many were wise mighty or noble. Paul had in mind their situation when they converted to Christianity and to make his point he drew on the prophet Jeremiah who wrote, “Thus says the Lord, let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, or the strong man boast of his strength, or the rich man boast of his riches.”
Here Jeremiah regarded the Israelites fascination with wisdom, power and wealth as idolatrous and foolish because these things had become their main goals in life and a hindrance to their well-being . According to the prophet Jeremiah their well-being depended on them putting God first in their lives and seeking love, justice and righteousness, rather than chasing what the unbelieving nations around them thought was important, namely power and wealth and worldly wisdom. During his 40 days temptation in the wilderness Jesus rebuked Satan when he tried to tempt Jesus with instant power and personal glory. Jesus said “man does not live on bread alone but on the living word of God.” Power, wealth and worldly wisdom earn no credits with God.

The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians that few of the members in that church came from the ranks of the educated, wealthy or the nobility. What did Paul mean by that?

Some have tried to misinterpret these words of Paul to mean that only the ignorant and foolish become Christians or the weak who need that crutch of faith. You only need to read the opinion pages of the daily papers to see the comments of those who try to convey the impression that Christians are fools who believe in superstition and have blind faith in their ‘god of the gaps’. The god they invented because scientists have yet to answer the really hard questions such as ‘how did life begin?”
But that’s not what Paul meant. He didn’t say there were no people in the church of noble birth but not many. One of the comments I read on this passage mentions a woman named the Countess of Huntingdon who supported the 18th century evangelist George Whitfield and who used to say that she was saved by an M. Not many are of noble birth,…. not,… not any are of noble birth.
In the Corinthian church along-side a majority of poor, ill-educated, slaves and illiterates where Synagogue rulers , people who owned houses large enough to accommodate church meetings, city treasurers business people and slave owners; people like Gaius, Crispus, Erastus, Lydia and Philemon, not to mention intellectuals like Paul and physicians like Luke. But then the church is quite unique like that. It was the only organisation in the whole Roman empire which brought together slave and free,. rich and poor, Jew and gentile, male and female. God’s grace does not discriminate.

What Paul meant to say was that being wealthy, of noble birth or well regarded in the community is of no advantage when it comes to your standing with God. It wasn’t in Jeremiah’s day or Paul’s day and is of no advantage today. God is not impressed with political clout, higher education and the extravagant wealth that people of the world admire if anyone thinks that gives them an advantage with God.

Verse 27 reinforces that where it says that God chose the foolish things, the weak things, the base things, the despised things and the things that are not in the world’s eyes. Those are the things which God has chosen.

In other words the character God approves is the person who whether rich or poor, highly educated or not, recognises that fact that they are foolish, weak, base and not,….. before God. Now it may be true that in Paul’s day in Corinth most folk who ended up in the church came from the poorer echelons of society rather than the well educated and rich. However that’s not longer the case today. Over the centuries it has become evident that the influence of Christianity elevates people not just spiritually but also with physical and material blessings. Now none of us could be regarded as poor now.

What is important is what Jesus describes in the beatitudes, blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. That describes an attitude of humility before God well put in Mary’s song in Luke 1:52, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones and exalted those who were humble.” What this means is that anyone who thinks that a superior education, nobility, standing in the community makes him or her a more likely candidate for God’s favour is foolish.

“No man should boast before God” says Paul. We have nothing to boast about because we are the product of God’s mind. David wrote “you formed my inward parts and put me together in my mother’s womb… and “all the days of my life were written in your book before they began” . Who ever we are what ever we can do is nothing to boast about but only to give thanks and glory to God as David said “I give thanks for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. And Paul let him who boasts boast in the Lord.

Getting back to the main point the character of those who are perishing is that they think they have no need of God, like to believe they are mighty good and self made success stories. They like to parade their intellects and achievements assess each another on the basis of their respective holdings. However all these things that “are” as Paul puts it, that is the things which appear to have substance and are highly valued by the world; all that money, the glamour, the popular appeal all of these things are written off as having no eternal significance. God chooses the things that are not. And so the character of those who are being saved is one of recognising that we have no merit of our own and are not worthy to come into God’s kingdom, apart from God’s grace in Christ. We acknowledge with the beatitudes that we are sinful and poor in spirit, spiritually needy and dependant on God’s grace, which takes me to my second point;

God is the one who chooses. The text doesn’t allow us to overlook that fact. It is mentioned three times in these verse. God has chosen the foolish things. God has chosen the weak things. God has chosen the base things. In case anyone thinks that God chooses because he can see in those he chose the pre-requisite faith and humility you only need to look at passages like Deuteronomy 7:7 “God did not choose the Israelites because they were great, they were small in number compared to the other nations he chose them out of love.” There is also Ephesians 1:4 God chose us from before the foundation of the world, and 2 Thessalonians 2:13 God chose you from the beginning for salvation. “
He had to because sinful fallen creatures which is what all of us by nature are would not of our own accord choose God. If that were possible; if people could reason their way to God and overcome the effects of sin in their own strength the churches would be full of worshippers.

But God did what sinful beings cannot do. In love He acted to redeem fallen men and women because he is gracious and for no other reason. He doesn’t owe anyone forgiveness or eternal life and he certainly doesn’t grant these priceless gifts on the basis of an immigration department formula as if to say; the more education, job skills, money you have, the more chance you have of getting in. If that was the case with God we’d have some reason to boast, but God is the one who chooses therefore no one can boast, Isaiah 42:8 says speaking for God, “I am the Lord that is my name , I will not give my glory to another or praise to idols.”

In fact Paul and the Corinthian church are proof that salvation is God’s choice. Before his miraculous conversion Paul would not have become an evangelist. He hated Christians. Crispus the synagogue ruler would not have join Paul’s church unless the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power moved him to do so. Erastus the city treasurer would not have wanted to have anything to do with low born and slaves, Jews would not have worshipped together with Gentiles unless God chose them and moved them to do so.

You and I wouldn’t be here in this church worshipping God together or regarding the death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion as a triumphant act of God shaming the strong unless God first chose us.

Our belonging to the church is only possible because of the miracle of conversion and before that the work of the Holy Spirit in calling us into the church, and before that the gracious act of God in election. So the character of those who are not perishing but are being saved is one of humility before God we know we are not worthy of being saved, we are poor in spirit because of our sin. We only have that character because God has revealed the truth to us about ourselves and himself through the cross of Christ and because he chose us therefore and this is my third point we do not boast about our own achievements but as Paul says let him who boasts boast in the Lord.
The Christians boast. They used to say that all roads lead to Rome but they go through Corinth. Corinth was a newer city which being on one of the world’s busiest land and sea trade routes has become wealthy. Athens had plenty of ‘old money’ but Corinth was full of the new rich and the problem in Corinth therefore was the Corinthians addiction to power prestige and pride in it being a new rich city with new Greek philosophical ideas and its emphasis on the glory of human wisdom and its attainment of a luxurious and flamboyant lifestyle for at least some of its wealthier citizens. There was plenty to boast about in Corinth. But it didn’t last. As Jesus once said “man does not live by bread alone but by the very word of God.” The city of orinth would soon become ruined city; by an earthquake in the 4th Century AD and shortly after that by Alarics invasion (396AD)

Paul isn’t saying that the Christian has nothing to boast about. He is saying if we boast about the things the world boasts about then we are boasting about the wrong things. Rather, “let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” Paul has already provided several reasons for this in verse 30 which says “By his doing you are in Jesus Christ who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

We boast in God because of the kind of God he is. According to Jeremiah 9 he is the God who exercises justice and righteousness on earth and in the gospels and especially the death of Jesus Christ we see just how God has been kind and just towards sinners at the same time. It is because of Christ’s death on the cross. This was was an act of abject weakness to those who do not know God and who are perishing , but to those God has chosen and who are being saved it is the power of God. And so countless men and women whom God has chosen and who know the extent of God’s love are in Jesus Christ as Paul put it in verse 30.

To be in Jesus Christ is to be reconciled with God. It is to be declared righteous by God. And it is to to be sanctified which means to be set apart for God’s own possession; set apart from the world to make a difference to the world for God. To be in Christ means to be redeemed from a hopeless life of sin and guilt into a new life of knowing God and serving Him for eternity.

And so the church then in the first century and now is unassailable proof that God’s power and wisdom are vastly different from the world’s be that enormous wealth or military might which cannot save. Salvation is God’s free gift secured for us by the cross of Christ his death a stench to those who reject him is God’s most dazzlingly powerful deed which trashes all human pretensions. By the cross of Christ and only by that cross are we saved . and behind the cross is God grace in election a grace which is received not by the rich and powerful, or by the beautiful people according to the world’s standards but by those who are poor in spirit, humble and who trust in God. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Therefore let him who boasts boast in the Lord.
Amen