The Way of the World…And the Way of God
27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29
No scripture quite annihilates the patterns of this world – and sadly modern Christianity – as powerfully and as comprehensively as 1 Corinthians 1:17 – 2:5. In that passage, which I will quote in full below, Paul expounds, in clear and incisive language, on how exactly God chose and chooses to influence this world. It is a direct indictment of every earthly institution – including the modern church. He does not use the rich, the eloquent, the beautiful and the powerful. Instead, God chooses the weak and the foolish and the broken. He chooses empty things and lonely things, and things that are not to nullify the things that are so that no one…may boast before him.
17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
The world, including, in very large part, our churches and Christian organizations, send us the message that we are to admire and follow the lead of successful businessmen, “Christian” politicians, the talented, the athletic, the wealthy and the beautiful. We are taught, in word and by example, to uphold those with obvious temporal gifts, and leaders are chosen accordingly. Why do we do this when it is contrary to everything we see in the scriptures? The Apostle John tells us “flesh gives birth to flesh and spirit to spirit.” (John 3:6). Yet time and time again, we as believers choose the temporal, the flesh, over the spiritual, when it comes to those we follow and admire.
Jesus was born to teenage parents…in a barn. He spent most of his life performing manual labor as a carpenter. Isaiah 53 makes it clear that he was not physically attractive so that people would not be drawn to his outward appearance – but to his spirit. During his time of ministry Jesus said that, even foxes and birds have holes and dens in which to live, yet He had no place to rest his head. The Living God did not even have a place to call home in while on this earth. The Apostle Paul, among others, followed this example and traveled the known world on foot and by cargo ship, seeking, not to gain wealth or temporal power but only to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that perhaps, some might be saved…for Paul was looking to an eternal kingdom, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the city of the living God. (Hebrews 12:22).
Jesus chose his disciples from among the uneducated and the despised. He chose fishermen and a tax collector to become the preeminent leaders in the kingdom of God. He chose men who were nothing in this world, to sit in judgment over the twelve tribes of Israel at the end of the age. Why didn’t Jesus choose successful merchants, political leaders – or even priests and military officers to be his disciples? Because such men were already full – full of pretense, and power, wealth and the admiration of men – just like the wealthy and the powerful today.
Jesus makes it abundantly clear that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven…very difficult. Why? Because their reputations and hopes are built on worldly achievements that have earned them, temporarily, financial security, the respect of men, and earthly power. Flesh truly does give birth to more flesh, and absent great brokenness and great humility, wealth and power are very difficult fates to escape.
In my experience I have rarely, if ever, seen a successful businessman or an influential person in the temporal sense, truly become a disciple of Christ – counting everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, for whose sake Paul gladly lost all things. (Philippians 3:7-14) I have seen such men engage in church meetings and Bible studies, building friendships and gaining knowledge – and even tipping a little of the pride and wealth out of their full cup. But typically it seems that the purpose of this activity is to have better relationships with family, learn new principles of leadership and gain new friends – and even business partners – rather to than to learn what it means to fall face down in humility and repentance before the consuming fire who is the Living God.
Even in our churches, it is the beautiful and the hip who take center stage leading worship and often preaching. The deacon and elder boards are filled with successful businessmen who contribute financially to the church and thus, have more control than any man deserves…not because of their character in Jesus Christ, but because of money and standing in the community. The eloquent and the clever speak and teach…yet Paul came in weakness and fear and with much trembling so that his message and his teaching would not rest on his wisdom…but on God’s power. Unfortunately, the western church may have gained much of the world by embracing its culture and methods…but it has also perhaps, forfeited its soul. May we not do the same.