Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
26 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. 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 might boast in the presence of God. 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.”
Here Paul explains why God is not meeting the expectations of the world (particularly the Greeks and Jews he has broadly discussed in the chapter to this point.) Jumping back to the previous section, we’ll remind you about verse 25 as the lead-in here. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(25) Because.—This introduces the reason why Christ, as being crucified, is the power and wisdom of God, viz., because God’s folly (as they call it) is wiser, not “than the wisdom of men,” as some understand this passage, but than men themselves—embracing in that word all that men can know or hope ever to know; and the weakness of God (as they regard it) is stronger than men.
Now starting in verse 26, also with Ellicott:
(26) For ye see your calling.—Better, imperative (as in 1 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Corinthians 10:18; 1 Corinthians 16:10), For see your calling. The Apostle directs them to look at the facts regarding their own calling to Christianity, as an illustration of the truth of what he has just written, viz., that though there were, perhaps, a few of high birth and education who were called, and responded to that call, yet that these are “not many.” It has been well remarked, “the ancient Christians were, for the greater part, slaves and persons of humble rank; the whole history of the progress of the Church is in fact a gradual triumph of the unlearned over the learned, of the lowly over the great, until the emperor himself cast his crown at the foot of Christ’s cross” (Olshausen); or, as an English writer puts it, “Christianity with the irresistible might of its weakness shook the world.”
You get then an implication that part of the issue for Believes in Corinth is that they are – perhaps unwittingly – trying to use their faith to create status for themselves. Paul reminds them that they are mostly from humble origins and that weakness (in the way that the world might see it) is not a negative at all. Paul adds to this in verse 27 (from the Pulpit Commentaries):
God chose; not, hath chosen out. We may remark, once for all, that there was no reason why the translators of 1611 should thus have turned the Greek aorists of the New Testament into perfects. In this and in many instances the change of tense is unimportant, but sometimes it materially and injuriously affects the sense. The foolish things… the weak things. So, too, the psalmist, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength” (Psalms 8:2); and St. James, “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith?” (James 2:5).
If the Church members in Corinth were using membership to pursue status (and perhaps this motivation undergirds the factionalism mentioned earlier in the chapter) then Paul reminds the Church here that they were chosen for their humble origins to accomplish a purpose. In this context, then, chasing status runs counter to God’s purpose for the Church. Staying in the Pulpit Commentaries, then, in the next verse:
And the base things; literally, low-born, unborn; “those who are sprung kern no one in particular”—nullo patre, nullis majoribus. Nothing could be more ignoble in the eyes of the world than a cross of wood upheld by feeble hands, and yet before it “kings and their armies did flee and were discomfited, and they of the household divided the spoil.” And the things that are not. The not is the Greek subjective negative (μὴ); things of which men conceived as not existing—”nonentities.” It is like the expression of Clement of Rome, “Things accounted as nothing.” Christianity was “the little stone, cut without hands,” which God called into existence. We find the same thought in St. John the Baptist’s sermon (Matthew 3:9).
That no flesh should glory. For the weak instruments of God’s triumphs are so weak that it was impossible for them to ascribe any power or merit to themselves. In contemplating the victory of the cross, the world could only exclaim, “This hath God wrought.” “It is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.”
I remember former NBA player Michael Jordan was so great at the game of basketball that people used to say things like, “he could pick four guys from the crowd and still beat _____.” These verses present a similar idea. God can demonstrate His greatness, vis a vis the world, by using things the world does not value. If we assume that this is true, then a lack of humility by those “weak” people God is using might rightly be viewed as an effort to undermine God’s purpose. Elevating ourselves can be viewed as an attempt to take credit away from God to give it to ourselves. From Ellicott again at verse 30:
(30) But.—So far from boasting in His presence, we all owe all to Him. He is the author of the spiritual life of us who are in union with Christ, “who was (not “is”) made wisdom unto us from God.” The past tense here refers us back to the fact of the Incarnation; in it Christ became to us God’s revelation of Himself, thus giving us a wisdom from the source of all wisdom, which surpasses utterly any wisdom we could have derived from nature or from man. Not only is Christ the source of whatever true wisdom we have, but also (so adds the Apostle) of whatever “righteousness” and “holiness” we have—spiritual gifts, as well as gifts of knowledge, come all from Him—and beyond all that, He is also our redemption, the “ransom” paid for us, by which we are redeemed from the bondage and slavery of sin. (See John 8:34; Romans 6:18; Romans 6:20; Romans 8:21; Romans 8:23; 1 Peter 1:18-19.)
(31) That.—So that it might be as the prophet wrote, “He that boasteth, let him boast in the Lord.” This is not a literal quotation, but only an adaptation and paraphrase from the LXX. of Jeremiah 9:23-24. Our only true boasting before God is that we are in Christ, that all we have we owe entirely to Him; we can only glory in, not ourselves or what we have or are, but in the fact that He is our benefactor. Thus, in St. Chrysostom’s quaint words, Paul “always fasteneth them on with nails to the name of Christ.”
This concludes St. Paul’s general explanation of God’s method, and he then turns to his own conduct, to show how entirely it was in harmony with God’s plan, which he has just explained and vindicated.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 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. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
Paul concludes the chapter by tying his teaching to Scripture from the Old Testament. This is something he does regularly throughout his letters and it makes the point that what he is saying is not new and that it has Scriptural roots. Just as Paul begins the chapter, making an appeal to authority, he ends the chapter making an appeal to authority.