Please turn with me in your bibles to 1 Corinthians 1. We’ll continue this evening to see how Paul counsels a church in 1st century Rome that was full of problems. They were divided and factious. They were worldly and sensual. They were proud and judgmental.
Starting in verse 10 of chapter 1, Paul has been urging unity among the Corinthian believers: “I appeal to you brothers that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you,” he says. And then he begins a series of rhetorical questions to illustrate why they should be unified: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” No, of course not, thus you should be unified in the name of Christ.
Then he gets into a discussion of God’s wisdom seen in the cross, and how that wisdom is diametrically opposed to the wisdom of man, wisdom of this world, wisdom of this fleshly age. The cross is foolishness to the natural man, but to those who are called, it is the wisdom and power of God, Paul says.
But then we get to our text, verses 26-31, where Paul takes a slightly different approach to illustrate the same principle. God’s wisdom is not man’s wisdom, and this can be seen by looking at yourselves, he says. The preceding paragraph examined the Jews and Greeks and their reactions to God’s wisdom, but now Paul aims his attention at his listeners, at the believers in Corinth.
His implied argument is this: if you really understood the gospel an what it means, then you’d understand that God’s wisdom is the opposite of man’s wisdom, and you’d quit acting in this divisive way. Or to put it another way, if you truly understood God’s wise plan of redemption, then you’d not be tempted to divide and split over these worldly “virtues.” You’d quite dividing over rhetorical skill, speculative philosophy, or man’s wisdom. If you truly saw what Christ crucified is, what God’s wisdom is, then you’d quit acting in fleshly ways, in divisive ways, in ways that are identical to the world’s wisdom. In short, “he says look at yourselves, you’re acting like the world,” which will always be a temptation for us too in this life.
That’s the high-level overview of what Paul is going to argue in our text. Before we dive in for a closer look, let’s hear Paul’s whole argument in this section. Join with me in reading 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. Hear the word of our Lord:
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, [or according to the flesh, your translation may say] 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[d] might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him[e]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.”
Paul’s first imperative in verse 26, is also my first point: Consider your calling. Consider your calling.
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.
In an effort to further explain his previous statements about the wisdom of God seen in Christ crucified on the cross, Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to consider their calling, their own salvation.
Not many of you were wise according to the flesh, or according to worldly standards. Not many of them were learned philosophers or scholars of good-repute. Not many of them were powerful, or influential. That is, not many of them were the trendsetters, the influencers, the movers and shakers, the industry leaders.
And not many of you were of noble birth, Paul says. Which is a little harder for us to imagine in our current society. But in Paul’s day, and indeed for most of history, your social class was deeply significant. Being upper class opened doors for you, and being lower class shut certain doors. Being noble brought status, clout, prestige, and honor. Being lower class, or even a slave, often came with dishonor, shame, and submission.
The Corinthians knew this. And they knew their own histories. Most of them were not rich, not powerful, not elite, and not nobility. And yet, God chose to call them. The irony of the Corinthians, who were judging people based on worldly virtues of rhetoric and philosophy and fleshly wisdom, is that if God had judged them according to the same standards as the Corinthians are now judging, they would have been excluded themselves! They would not have measured up to the very virtues that they are now demanding of their leaders, they would have fallen short of the very things that they are dividing over.
Why did Paul say “consider your calling?” To point out that when God called you he showed no regard for the things that you are currently valuing: worldly wisdom and fleshly stature. Indeed, when God called you, he mainly chose those that were a living embodiment of the opposite of those values.
That’s significant, so I’ll say it again: when God chooses to call, he primarily chooses those people to save that are the opposite of what the world values. He goes after the broken and the weak. He calls the sick and the sinful, the foolish and the uneducated. He loves the oppressed and the orphans. That’s the wonderful wisdom of God.
He chooses to save those that would have no hope other than him, those that have nothing to contribute to him, those that are hopeless.
The world would say that we should value the strong, the independent thinkers, the self-confident, and the influential. But God primarily calls the weak, the simple, the unsure, and the obscure. In fact, we could say very simply that God loves the nobody’s of this world.
And if you’re a believer here tonight, I challenge you to consider your calling. How were you doing on your own, before Christ came into your life? Were you in control of yourself? Were you pursuing and growing in virtue? Did you have everything together? Or were you a slave to your passions, unable to steer yourself away from your lustful indulgences? Most of us, if we really reflected, would admit that before Christ, we weren’t in control. We were enslaved.
We were enslaved to the praise of men, enslaved to pornography, enslaved to the pursuit of possessions and greed, enslaved to worldly ambition, enslaved to any number of lusts.
But God. But God called. God chose. God effectually and securely lifted you out of the mire. He worked in your heart and lifted you out of the muck of this world. And he didn’t do it because you were so wise and powerful and influential on your own. In fact, he called you in spite of your lack of these things. He called you because you weren’t wise, but foolish. You weren’t influential, but were insignificant in the world. That’s the humbling good news of the gospel.
And if God chooses to call and to set his love primarily upon the insignificant in the world, if God chooses to judge the value of people not according to their fleshly status and flashy skills, then who are we to judge according to the world’s standards? Why would we lower ourselves to the benchmarks set by fallen men.
It happens all the time. Remember the buzz in the evangelical world when a single photo of Justin Bieber shows up holding a bible? Or when Kanye West seems to be saved? People in the church were flocking to such things as if God’s extra special grace had just been revealed. But what was happening is that Christians were acting like the Corinthians. We were judging according to worldly standards.
“If we just had an influential Christian on our team, then maybe Christians wouldn’t be so maligned in culture. If we just had a famous Christian, then we could finally not be seen as foolish and insignificant in the eyes of the world.” Do you see the flawed logic there?
Paul’s point here is exactly the opposite: not only did God not call us according to our worldly stature, he mainly chooses to call people in spite of their lack of stature. Consider your calling, my brothers, for in considering your calling well, you will be able to see what it is that God prioritizes, and why.
But before I get to the why, before I talk about the next few verses that explain why God would choose to call the nobody’s of this world, let’s make a brief comment about Paul’s words.
Paul makes clear three times that God doesn’t always work in predicable ways: not many of you were wise…, not many of you were influential, not many of you were of noble birth. The thrice repeated NOT MANY is significant. “In the days of the great evangelist George Whitefield, the noble Countess of Huntingdon used to say that she was saved by an m: God’s word declares, she said, “not many noble,” instead of, “not any noble.”
God does indeed sometimes save those that have worldly riches, or worldly power, or worldly influence. So no man, no matter how powerful in the world’s eyes, is outside of the scope of God’s calling to save. But, let any person here of influence or wealth or position take note of this: God’s ordinary means of saving sinners is through weakness, not strength; through submission, not domination; through foolishness, rather than worldly wisdom.
If you’re a somebody in the eyes of the world, if you think you’re hot stuff and the world is your friend, then be warned that you are in danger. It is only by becoming a fool to the world, that you truly become wise. Its only by becoming weak in the eyes of the world, that you become truly strong: that is, it’s only by admitting your inability to save yourself, inability to conquer your own sinfulness, inability to clean your own conscience, to love your spouse completely, to be perfect, which is what is required, it is only in admitting your weakness that you can then come to Christ, lay hold of him in faith, and believe that he’s the perfect lamb of God who completely and powerfully saves sinners.
It is only then that you can finally have true strength. Won’t you come to Christ and become a nobody, rather than remaining a somebody to the world, who will end up being a nobody in hell apart from Christ.
Consider your calling, my brothers.
Second, not only does Paul call us to consider our calling, but we should also Consider God’s Plan. Consider God’s plan. Now we begin to get to the WHY of our calling. Why would God choose those that aren’t rich, aren’t powerful, aren’t influential, and aren’t wise according to the flesh? Paul answers in verse 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; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
Having urged the Corinthians to examine the empirical data that proves how God chooses to call, that is, by having them examine their own calling and see how few of them were actually somebody of significance in the world, Paul now moves to have the Corinthians examine the theological data.
The fundamental reason for the greater number of nobodies in the church is because God prefers the nobodies, because when he calls a nobody, it shames the somebodies. When God passes over the big shots in favor of calling the little guys, it actually disgraces the big shots. That’s what he says: he chooses the foolish to shame the wise, chooses the weak to shame the strong, chooses what is low and despised in the world, even things that don’t yet exist, so that he can bring down to nothing those things that do exist.
That’s God’s plan: to humble the proud by calling the lowly; to bring to nothing those things that the world thinks are really something, by calling from nothing something of his own possession.
God makes his called people possessors of a glorious salvation, and by doing so, bestows upon them eternal significance, and thereby judges as worthless the things that he has passed over. And those things that he passes over and brings to nothing, are exactly those things that the world craves and values.
That’s because God’s ultimate reason for the manner of his choosing is verse 29: “so that no man may boast in the presence of God.” So that nobody can boast. God chooses and calls according to his good pleasure and divine wisdom, and not for anything else. Nothing in us, nothing we’ve done, nothing we’ve earned, nothing we’ve accomplished are contributing factors to our calling.
Let me illustrate it this way: If heaven had an immigration department that worked like immigration departments of most countries, then Peter and Paul would be at the pearly gates judging people’s entrance based upon their skills, their education, their wealth, their accomplishments. And that would mean that those that got into heaven would have some reason to boast. They would have some legitimate reason to boast about their contribution to their salvation.
But that’s exactly the flawed logic that Paul is undermining here. Paul is saying that God has taken the action in such a way that NO MAN may boast in his presence. God is the one who calls. God is the one who elects. God predestines the end before the beginning. God is the master architect who crafted this foolish plan of redemption before even the foundation of the world. God sent his own son to be the sacrifice in the place of his people. God’s son fulfilled the law in the place of lawless people. God judged sin and death and the curse on the back of his own son, and God is the one who sent his own son to the grave, and he did it all so that he could redeem a people that had no hope outside of him, and therefore had no grounds of boasting in his presence.
God is a zealous God, he is zealous for his own glory and he will not share it with another through their boasting. “I am the Lord; that is my Name; I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols,” Isaiah 42:8 says. Not only will God not share his glory with another, it would be sinful idolatry for him to do otherwise.
He won’t share his glory with you, with me, with angels, with Satan, and especially not with any man or woman who would dare to boast in his presence. That’s why he chooses to call those that are nobodies in this world:
• because he is God and we are not;
• because he deserves all glory and praise, and we do not;
• because he is the only one to be boasted in, and we are robbed of any possibility of our boasting in our own strength.
Why would God choose to call the foolish and the simple in the world? Because calling nobodies proclaims to creation that God is really somebody. He’s somebody worthy of praise and honor and glory, worthy of our submission and our love. That’s what his plan proclaims.
Have you seen this glory? Have you tasted of the divine grace that is offered to you through the work of Christ on the cross? Christ’s death is the only atonement for sin, and all you need to do is come and believe in the simple foolish message of Christ crucified in your place, and you too can become partakers of his divine grace. Do not delay, do not rely on your own strength, do not count on tomorrow or on your believing later. Today can be the day of salvation.
Turn from your boasting in self, in your pride of life, in your self-sufficient arrogance, and hear how God has robbed you of any ground of your boasting. Instead, come to Christ and see how liberating it can be to boast only in him. That’s God’s plan. Consider the glory of that plan.
Finally, not only should we consider our calling and consider God’s plan, we should also Consider the savior. Consider the savior. Verse 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.”
If you’re in Christ, then Paul doesn’t tell us that we have nothing to boast about. What he’s been arguing is that if you boast in the things that the world boasts about, you’re boasting in the wrong things.
Paul is here quoting a passage from Jeremiah 9, where Jeremiah says, “but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.”
Paul adapts the quotation here to emphasize the specifically Christological element of God’s plan of redemption, an element that has become explicit in the Cross.
The one who boasts, should boast only in Christ, in a crucified Christ, and in the calling of God in our lives. That’s because in our divine calling Christ has become to us many things. Indeed, in Christ we find everything we need, all that a believer could ever desire, is found in Christ.
Paul says that Christ has become:
• our wisdom– He’s become to us the embodiment of all wisdom and learning. He’s the pinnacle wisdom, the prime teacher, and the principal instructor of what true wisdom looks like. But not only that, wisdom is most clearly demonstrated on the cross. True wisdom looks like joyful submission to God’s providential plan, rather than worldly swagger, and grabbing for power and the praise of men, rather than fleshly pride and political posturing. That’s Paul’s point from verse 24: Christ crucified is the Wisdom of God, and in our divine calling, he has become that for us.
• But Paul says Jesus is also our righteousness- This word righteous is a common word in Pauline writing. It is courtroom language that drives home a forensic verdict of not guilty. That is, in the divine cosmic courtroom, and before God as our all-seeing judge, we were born as unrighteous and guilty sinners. But in Christ, we have been declared to be NOT GUILTY because of the work of Christ on the cross. Our sins were counted to him on the cross, and his righteousness has been counted to us, thereby earning for us resurrection and eternal life with God. He has become our righteousness, so we don’t have to struggle to vindicate ourselves and our reputation in the eyes of the world. Rather, we can know that God sees us as righteous, even if the world sees us as wicked and foolish.
• But we’re not only righteous in a forensic way. Paul says that Jesus has also become our sanctification, or we could say he has become our holiness. Our union with Christ, which is received when we come to Jesus by simple faith, is the lifeblood of our holiness. He grants us His very Holy Spirit, who works in our lives to gradually carve away the remaining sins which cling so closely, and to remake us more and more into the image of the Son. And when we reach our final home, we have been promised full holiness, no more sin, no more lusts, no more pride, no more boasting in self. Nothing but holiness as we assume our glorified bodies and enter into our final state.
• And Paul sums up these aspects of salvation by saying Christ is one final thing to us: our redemption. Redemption is a word highlighting the liberation aspect of our salvation. Christ is our freedom, our liberator, he looses our bonds, he breaks our chains. We’re no longer bound as slaves to sin. We’re no longer pawns under the control of the devil. In Christ we’ve been given a new name, a new master, a new leader. We’ve been brought by a new and greater Moses out of the Egypt of sin, and even though we may feel like we are wandering in the desert of this world, we have to remember that in the cross he has already judged the enemy. He’s defeated Satan, he’s secured his defeat. The war is over, even though we may feel the frequent tug of remaining sin. We’re no longer bound to sin. Our depravity no longer dominates us. We’re free and able to overcome, through the power of Christ and his redemption. That’s good news.
Christ has become everything we need. Nothing is left for us to earn, no part of our redemption remains incomplete. He’s given us what we need, provided what we lacked, and done it all because of his grace alone.
That’s why we have to be on guard of falling into the same temptations that the Corinthians were in. We can be tempted to prize the things that the world prizes, to boast in human strength and erudition, to seek the influential and strong, and neglect the poor and the weak.
Every time you have a thought like: if we just had someone like him at our church, then we’d be set. If we just had a couple of doctors or lawyers, or if we could just get the mayor or somebody big, then we’d be set.
That’s how the world thinks. Christ prioritizes the least of these, the servants, the weak, the last, the poor, the homeless, the addicts, the immigrants, the orphans, the widows. That’s who Christ delights to call in his kingdom, and we must not let the temptation for fleshly values to creep into our thought.
Rather, we are called to boast in the Lord, and only in the Lord. But what does boasting mean? What does it mean to boast in the Lord? Well, the boast word group is used 59 times in the NT, 55 of which are in the writings of Paul. He uses the term negatively (that is, like someone bragging in themselves), and he uses it positively, as in here. There are several aspects to the word, but here are a few.
To boast in Christ means that we will put confidence in him, and not in ourselves or anything else. That means I’ll trust that he’s the strength I need, he’s the wisdom I need. He’s the power I need. He’s able to bring about everything that he promises in His word, and he’s going to keep me safe all the way home. Or to look at it from the other direction, whenever I am afraid, or anxious, or worried, it’s probably because I’m putting my confidence in myself and boasting in my strength, rather than boasting in his strength. For me to boast in Christ means that I will put my confidence in him, and not in anything else.
Boasting in the Lord also means that I will not boast in myself. Every time my pride rears its head, when I get into an unnecessary argument, when I am impatient, when I am irritable or annoyed by someone, when I am easily offended, each of these times I am revealing a bit of pride that has remained in my heart, and I am boasting in my wisdom, boasting in the value of my opinion, in the value of my time, of my importance, rather than boasting in the lord. To boast in the Lord means that I will not boast in myself.
Finally, and I will close with this, to boast in the Lord means that I will speak of him more than I will speak of myself. If God really has done everything in Christ, if he has called, if he has chosen, if he has redeemed, if he has justified, if he has sanctified, and done all of this in spite of your sinful behaviors, then why would you not want to tell people about that? What have you done that gives you reason to boast? What have you accomplished apart from Divine grace that merits you any significance?
• If you’ve grown in holiness, it’s all because of his grace.
• If you’ve beaten some sin, it’s all because of his grace.
• If you’ve turned your life around, it’s all because of his grace.
• If you have any sort of spiritual gifts, it’s all because of his grace.
• If you have any sort of natural talents, it’s all because of his grace.
• If you’ve had a prayer answered, it’s all because of his grace.
It’s all grace, start to finish, so that no man may boast in his presence. If you’re foolish enough to believe that you can work your way into heaven or into righteousness, then hear the words of Paul, renounce your foolishness and see instead the Christ crucified in the place of sinners.
Know that you can become a child of God this very night, and trade in your worldly, exhausting self-boasting, for the foolish, weak, and liberating boasting in the Lord.
 D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2012), 28.