Connie and I were in Dallas yesterday. I went to speak at the funeral of a friend, a friend who was in my youth group when I was the Youth Pastor at First Christian Church in Plano, Texas. Big George was 53 years old when he died. He had been in and out of prison for many of his adult years. At the same time, big George was the most likable guy you could ever meet. As big as he was, his personality was even bigger. He never met a stranger, was sharp as he could be, but George just couldn’t keep the train on the tracks.
A few years after Connie and I arrived here at Britton Christian Church, George had just gotten out of prison. He realized he needed a new start. His aunt and uncle have been great friends of ours for a long time and so we talked about George moving to Oklahoma City. I thought it was a good idea…under certain conditions. George would live in one of the little houses in the alley that the church owned. He would get a job. He would meet with me weekly for discipleship, attend Promise Keepers with the guys each week, go to Sunday school, and attend worship. No excuses. George agreed to it all.
George moved to Oklahoma City and the people of BCC wrapped their arms around him. Like I said, he was such a likeable guy. George was here for about one year and I thought everything was going great. He was working at Name Brand Clothing and checking all of the boxes. Then one morning I got a phone call. It was George calling from the County Jail. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. George had been arrested for printing and cashing checks. After I got the phone call I went to his house and it looked like a check cashing store. I couldn’t believe it.
That story, and stories like it, took place again and again throughout George’s life. One bad decision after another. One prison sentence after another. One disappointment after another. Then, in 2015, George was released from prison again… and started over again. He got a job loading trucks and stocking shelves at a store at night. George entered a program for felons and after two years, he graduated from Houston Junior College with an Associates Degree. Things were looking up for George it seemed. He was guaranteed a job through the State of Texas program when he graduated, but then was told there were no openings. George was disappointed, but he didn’t allow it to sidetrack him.
He filled out job applications and was called in to work for Amazon. He filled out all of the new employee paperwork and went to work. On the third day, his supervisor told George he needed to go to HR. George thought he might have some more paperwork to fill out, but he was told that the home office pulled him because of his past record. George was devastated. George was getting down, discouraged, but his aunt and uncle kept urging him to keep trying. Just recently, George got hired at Houston International Airport. George was supposed to begin his new job on a Friday, but he had a stroke on Wednesday and never got to begin his new job.
Such a tragic story isn’t it? When Connie and I gathered with George’s family at the graveside on Saturday morning we told the truth about George’s life, but we also talked about the hope we have in Jesus. George had given his life to Christ again and again. He had made promises to Jesus again and again and broken them again and again. George knew Jesus, but more importantly Jesus knew George. I have no doubt about that, my friend.
In the eyes of this world my friend George was a nobody. He had never lived up to his potential. He was not brilliant, influential, financially affluent, or from some prominent family in Texas. He was nothing more than a felon in the eyes of this world, but Jesus loved George and gave His life for George. I thought about George a lot as I was studying our Scripture for this morning. Let’s read it and then you might understand why. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 and let’s read together.
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things– and the things that are not– to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God– that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians. 1:26-31 NIV)
Corinth was, in many ways, no different than Oklahoma City or any other city of our day, or any other day for that matter. The brilliant were immortalized. The powerful were celebrated. The affluent were spotlighted and catered to. The prominent families of the city were recognized by all of those who dreamed what it would be like to live, just one day, in their shoes. I want us to focus on verse 26 for a moment. Paul writes,
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. (1 Corinthians 1:26 NIV)
Paul says “not many” were wise, influential, or of noble birth. There were a few who fit these descriptions; folks like Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and Erastus, the city’s Director of Public Works, who were prominent city leaders in government and followers of Jesus. There were also a few wealthy people who were followers of Jesus and used their wealth to help support the spread of the Gospel. Phoebe was a wealthy businesswoman who was also a deacon in the church at Cenchreae. There were a few wise, influential, and prominent people who followed Jesus, but they were in the minority.
Paul says the people of Corinth needed to think about what they were when they “were called.” There’s that word again. We’re just getting started in our study of 1 Corinthians and yet we’ve run into the word, “called,” again and again. In the very first verse of 1 Corinthians we read where Paul was “called to be an apostle.” In the second verse we read where the brothers and sisters in Corinth were “called to be his holy people.” Here, in verse 26, Paul encouraged them to think about their situation when God called them to Himself, when He called them from living apart from Jesus to following Jesus. There was nothing about them that caught God’s eye and made Him think, “I’ve got to have that one!” They were called for no other reason than the wondrous grace of God.
This is a great example of how God’s ways are not our ways. We look at prominent athletes like Russell Wilson or Tim Tebow, famous Hollywood stars like Chris Pratt or Denzel Washington, scientists like Dr. Francis Collins and think, “Boy, just think what they can do for God!” Paul lets us know that the prominent are no more important than the nobodies. Take a look at verses 27-29 with me.
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things– and the things that are not– to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 NIV)
Did you notice the phrase that was repeated three times by Paul? Paul says, “God chose…” “God chose the foolish things of the world…” “God chose the weak things of the world…” “God chose the lowly things of this world…” God chose those who nobody would even give the time of day to shine a spotlight on His grace. Why would God choose people that nobody else would choose? That’s a great question and the answer is found in the 31st verse. Take a look at it with me.
31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31 NIV)
There is no room for boasting at the cross. Those who accomplished much, have much, or are greatly admired for their genius, wealth, or fame oftentimes have a tough time with pride. The prideful have a tough time admitting they need the Lord. Afterall, how could someone with so much need anything from anybody?
It does not matter what you have accomplished, what you have, or who you are–when you are confronted with the cross, with the unimaginable, undeserved grace and kindness of God, then anything you might hold up as impressive simply becomes unimportant. Let me explain with an illustration that might help us.
Let’s say when I was in college I played Intramural basketball and my team won the intramural championship. You would not believe how good we were! Cameron University Intramural Champs! Let’s say, hypothetically speaking of course, that one day I get to meet Michael Jordan. I say, “You know Mike, I played a little basketball back in the day.” Michael says, “Oh really?” I say, “Yes, as a matter of fact my team won the intramural championship at Cameron University back in the early 80s!” I know that if that conversation would have actually taken place that Michael would have been so impressed. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve accomplished on the basketball court, if you meet Michael Jordan you might not want to mention your basketball resume.
God didn’t go looking for the most prominent in society. He is not searching for those who have a Mensa IQ. He’s not checking spreadsheets and account balances to determine who might boost His own stock. Do you know, your family may very well appear on the Society page of the newspaper on a regular basis, but that will never get your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?
As Paul writes about those whom God chooses, He is reflecting the very heart of Jesus. Have you thought about that? Have you thought about who Jesus reached out to, who He spent time with, and who found favor with Him while He was ministering for those three years in Israel? Have you ever considered the stories Jesus told to teach spiritual truth? Let me give you an example. First, what kind of people did Jesus spend time with during His time on this earth? Turn with me to Matthew 9:10-13.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13 NIV)
Tax collectors? Sinners? Nobody wanted those folks on their guest list. The Pharisees were puzzled, perplexed, and offended. This is just one example. I could share story after story of the least of these, the nobodies of society who found themselves in Jesus’ presence. Let’s move on. What kind of stories did Jesus tell to teach spiritual truths about righteousness and the grace of God? Turn with me to Luke 18:9-14.
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 NIV)
“To those who were confident of their own righteousness…” Jesus told them a story so that they might know they should have no confidence in their own righteousness. Did it work? Did the self-righteous repent of their sin, renounce their confidence in themselves, and praise God for His grace? Are you kidding me? They killed the Messenger to get rid of the message.
Here’s the thing. Those who were considered foolish, weak, lowly, and despised before they came to know Jesus, will continue to be thought of in the same way by those whose value system is rooted in this world’s way of thinking. John MacArthur makes this abundantly clear when he writes,
It is interesting to note that ‘the despised’ means, in the root form, ‘to be considered as nothing.’ The Greek is in the perfect tense here, indicating that what was once despised will continue to be despised. So people who were thought to be nobodies in society would continue to be thought of as nobodies. The phrase ‘things that are not’ translates the most contemptible expression in the Greek language. ‘Being’ was everything to the Greeks, and to be called a nothing was the worst insult. The phrase may have been used of slaves. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. pg. 51)
It is absolutely true that the world judges us according to what we have, what we’ve accomplished, and who we are, but the problem is that we have allowed this same means of assessing people’s worth or lack thereof to infiltrate the church. This must stop. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. All of us, each and every one of us, is saved solely by the grace of God and not because of anything we have done or because of who we are or what we have. If we allow ourselves to see one another as the world sees us then we will value some among us more than others and we will dismiss the George’s among us as “less than” the rest of us. This was taking place in Corinth and that is why Paul, in 1 Corinthians 4, reminded them,
7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:7 NIV)
It is not about you my friend. I know that is so hard to get through our heads when our whole society is built around it being all about you, but it is not about you, and it is not about them–it is all about Him. In 1 Corinthians 1:30, Paul wrote,
30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God– that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30 NIV)
It is not about you, it is not about them, but it is all about Him. “It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus…” Oh, what a statement! What a revelation! What comfort! What peace! What incredible hope that gives to people like me and George!
I want you to notice something that is truly revolutionary and is found in this verse. Do you remember how, in the opening verses of Paul’s letter he compared the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God? The people of Corinth and our society put the wise, the highly educated, the scholars and authorities on a pedestal. We turn to them for the answers to the questions we can’t answer. The philosophers in Corinth and all of Greece valued intelligence, wisdom, their philosophies of life, purpose, and meaning more than anything. People like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates are still being studied today! Back in verses 20-21, Paul asked,
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:20-21 NIV)
I barely got out of high school and college, but I have learned from God’s Word that “in Christ” there is wisdom available to you and me that the world knows nothing about. Remember what Paul wrote,
30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God– that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30 NIV)
If we are “in Christ,” then Jesus’ wisdom is in us, available to us if we will walk with Him, trust in Him, apply His teaching to our lives instead of seeking the wisdom of the world. Jesus has become for us wisdom from God. He is our righteousness, He is our holiness, and He is our redemption. Wow!
Jesus is our righteousness. What does that even mean? I’m so glad you asked! Remember, the word “righteousness” in Greek means, “right relationship.” Jesus is our “right relationship” with God. We are made right with God through Jesus. Paul wrote,
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: (2 Corinthians 5:17-18 NIV)
Next, Jesus is our holiness. Through Jesus you and I, all of the followers of Jesus have been set apart for God’s purpose. We are set apart to live lives that reflect the heart of Jesus. Our lives are no longer our own, they are to be lived for the glory of God and the proclamation of the Good News. This is impossible apart from Christ in you and me, but it is His work in us for all of those who are “in Christ.”
Last of all, Jesus is our redemption. To redeem means to buy back. It’s a word taken from the slave market. The Bible teaches us that we were slaves to sin before we came to know Jesus, but we’ve been rescued, we’ve been redeemed through Jesus’ death on the cross. Paul wrote in Colossians,
13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14 NIV)
Do you realize that God found you in utter darkness, I didn’t say poverty, addiction, or perversion, I said He found you and me living in utter darkness and He rescued us and brought us into the Kingdom of His Son. What a blessing! What an astounding blessing for all who will believe!
Well, we’ve got to get out of here, but before we do I want to introduce you to one more friend of mine. Another friend who lived in the same house George lived in, before George lived there. The first time I ever met Charles he threatened to kill me. Some friend huh? Charles was a heroin addict and he was abusing his girlfriend when the police came to his house. He blamed me. Long story short, Charles eventually became a follower of Jesus and we became good friends, brothers in Christ. He continued to have his struggles. He battled heroin for as long as he lived. We spent many an hour sitting in my office and talking, reading God’s Word, and praying together. I want you to know that Charles loved Jesus. Charles was a nobody to this world, but here at Britton Christian Church, Charles was loved, cared for, and accepted as family.
Charles came to Promise Keepers off and on. One morning he told the men about his addiction and that he was going to go to rehab. Before we left the room the men gathered around Charles and laid hands on him and prayed. I wish I would have recorded those prayers. Charles was more than a heroin addict to the men in this church, he was their brother in Christ. Why? How could they see a man who was a heroin addict, who had been in and out of prison, as their own brother? I can answer that question for you. It is because Charles was more than a heroin addict to Jesus–He was a precious child of God for whom Jesus died.
I don’t know your story, but I know so many people who have told me, “You don’t know what I’ve done.” I can imagine that there is someone here this morning or someone watching me online this morning who has said the very same thing. You are right, I don’t know what you’ve done, but He does, and He wants me to tell you that you are the very person He came to give His life for my friend. He loves you and calls you His own. Let me be brutally honest. I’m not nearly as concerned for you, regardless of what you have done, as I am for those who think they’ve got it all together and don’t need a thing. I want to invite you this morning to open your heart and confess your need to Jesus. Invite Him to come in and be your Lord and Savior won’t you?
Britton Christian Church
November 1, 2020
1 Corinthians 1:26-31