A sermon by Harry Goodhew
Good morning. Good to be with you.
Here’s a piece of apostolic encouragement as you begin your day. It’s designed to inspire confidence, and to encourage humility and gratitude – all very healthy conditions of mind and spirit:
“Brothers (and sisters), consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. 27 Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. 28 God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world —what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, 29 so that no one can boast in His presence. 30 But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord.” (1 Co 1:26–31).
The Christian house meetings that made up the church in Corinth to which Paul wrote were not without their difficulties.
Roman Corinth in the time of Paul was a bustling commercial centre. It had more than an average share of people making money and experiencing the flush that comes with newly acquired wealth. There were people who, for their support, dispensed philosophy in the public square and others who sought recognition by benefactions to the life of the City and its people and were not beyond boasting about their generous actions. There was an array of religious cults and practices shipped in from various parts of the world as well as from Rome itself. Nor did it lack for those who offered satisfaction for the sexual needs of both travellers and residents.
Not all who had been baptised into Christ had fully escaped the influences of the City in which they lived. As a consequence they were not always moral, often seriously divided, and, in some cases, still involved in the life of the local pagan temples. Some maintained an antipathy to Paul for what they saw as his unwillingness to speak and behave like the admired speakers and teachers who visited or resided in Corinth.
As Paul begins his approach to them and their issues in the opening chapter of First Corinthians he touches on two matters in particular; their divisiveness and factions, and their infatuation with those who offered ‘wisdom’ in attractive speech and in acceptable patterns approved by local culture. Hear him again.
“Brothers (and sisters), consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. 27 Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. 28 God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world —what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, 29 so that no one can boast in His presence.”
Paul is deeply conscious, as we also need to be that the Infinite, Unknowable God, the Creator and Sustainer of all, chose to display his immense and immeasurable redeeming and saving power in the weakness of a human life and in the ignominy of death by crucifixion.
The wisdom of God was and is very different from human wisdom. It accomplishes its great work by means that appear weak and foolish to those without understanding. It does it for those who have learned that they are truly weak, very poor, and hopelessly sullied and degraded in the sight of the Most High Lord of all.
What I find personally encouraging in that extract from Paul is, initially, his encouragement to his friends to ‘consider’ or to ‘look’ at their calling.
Not all of them were ‘great ones’: indeed he suggests that few of them were in that category. They were in fact ordinary people, simply Corinthians bearing all the marks of their estrangement from God. Yet, God had seen fit to call them to himself through the gospel Paul had preached. He wrote:
28 God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world —what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, 29 so that no one can boast in His presence. 30 But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord.” (1 Co 1:26–31).
The wonderful phrase in this quotation, worth memorising and turning over in one’s mind continually are the words, “But it is from Him”.
The heart that has embraced Christ proclaimed in the gospel message, is a heart in which God has done a marvellous thing: He has called it into an eternal relationship with Himself.
There it is: “out of Him” or “from Him”, (that is from God Himself) you are in the Messiah, the Messiah who is Jesus, the One in whom God has located all his blessings.
That loving, sovereign, undeserved, goodness of God has formed the most intimate and unbreakable bond between the one who believes and the One in whom all the promises of God have had their fulfilment.
Inserted in the Messiah, into Christ Jesus, we discover him to be our perfect and complete wisdom. In him we have righteousness, that is, the Divine acquittal that declares that we are in the right with the Judge of all. As our sanctification, he has brought us near to God, consecrated us as His possession, and as our redemption, he has liberated us from our slavery to sin and death. He has set us free.
Who then would want to boast in anything else? To have been placed in Christ by God himself, through the God-inspired movement of our hearts to embrace Christ; this is grace – all grace
Paul was steeped in the Old Testament so I think the words of Jeremiah 9 were sounding in his head:
“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,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NIV))
Why has God called us to himself? The Letter to the Romans says that it is that Christ might be the first-born among many brothers and sisters who will bear a family likeness to him.
God is creating his “Israel”, his Jew/Gentile Israel, his own true people, those whom he is creating as true human beings, like Jesus, through faith in Jesus.
Many of the Corinthians were quite a long distance off from that final goal, something that is also true for us too. But God is in the business of re-creating, remaking, and refashioning what has been pulled out of shape by rebellion and self-centeredness.
Being now in Christ by the action of God, how does his re-creating process go forward, how does it operate?
Well there is a real sense in which it is complete now. In a later letter to the same church Paul will write that if anyone is in Christ there is new creation – the great new creation work has happened.
But in another sense that new creation needs to come to ever clearer and more obvious expression in the daily life of the one who has been made new.
God does his reshaping work by his Spirit through many different means.
One powerful tool he uses is contemplation, the contemplation of, or the pondering over, God’s word. Whatever word is used to describe the activity it consists of paying close and prayerful attention to something God has said, or revealed about himself.
For example, if we take the words “But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus” we could first thank God for this fact and seriously believe and embrace it as being the foundation of our life in God.
Then we might, in a thoughtful and prayerful manner, ask God a question like, “Why O Lord did you do this?” “What do you want me to be and do as a result of this?”
We could also ask: “Lord will you please help me to demonstrate in my character and my actions that I belong to Jesus and that you have put me in him. What changes do I need to make with your help?”
To spend time attending to a word from God in this way requires that we are also prepared to “listen” for what God might say to us as his response, speaking to us in our mind or conscience.
If such a response comes we need to make our reply to God’s address to us, seeking his assistance to do whatever he would have us do.
God is fashioning his new people just as he will one day bring into being a totally new creation. Sin, evil, sorrow, and despair will be gone. There will be a totally new reality.
It is our privilege to have been drawn into that great Divine purpose by the grace of God himself. Caused by God’s Spirit to embrace Jesus as Lord, King, and Saviour, we are his children.
It is our duty and our privilege and joy not only to be his children but to live now as his children. Our character and behaviour is, more and more, to be like his.
Being reshaped is a lifelong process of learning, of correction, of looking to God, of confessing failures, and of getting up and going on. But remember it is “of Him” that we are in Christ Jesus and his works are perfect.