This morning we continue reading along through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, as a matter of fact, the first verse of our text for this morning is the last verse from our text from last week, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (v.18).
In our Epistle lesson, Paul is writing to the Christians at the church in Corinth, and again, I remind you, that at the same time, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is writing to us Christians here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield, January 29, 2023. He is writing to you and me. A few verses before our text Paul express the concern and the fact, that outside of the church, that is, outside of faith in Jesus, the message of the cross is foolishness. Yes, Paul is writing to us today. Today we live in a world where tolerance is key to survival. Now, what that actually means is that is unless you appear to be tolerant, then no one is to be tolerant to you. Or as we in the Christian Church so well know, we are to be tolerant of everyone else, but no one needs to be tolerant of Christians. So much for tolerance. Have you ever noticed how the people who yell for tolerance the most are very often intolerant to those who are unlike them? Today we live in a world where we are encouraged to be our own people, to be original (like everyone else), to be your own person. We are encouraged to believe whatever we want to believe, as a matter of fact, it was not too long ago that an article in a newspaper, in the religious section enthusiastically spoke about people taking bits and pieces from several different religions and made their own religion, and this was presented as a good thing. And so, in our society today we are encouraged to do whatever we want to do, to be ourselves. The problem is, when the Christian, that is when you and I, come into contact with the rest of the world. Jesus tells us, and we believe Him, that He is the only way, the only truth and the only life and that apart from Him and faith in Him there is no salvation. So, when we express this fact to our tolerant society, we are seen as intolerant and foolish. Well, how would it be if the world acknowledged that the Christians were right? That would be devastating for them. No, we are considered foolish because the rest of the world does not want to give up living the way they want to live.
With that said, let us get to our text. In our text, Paul calls us to think about our own existence before we were called to faith. For many of us that was just before our Baptism and right after we were born, but for some that was when you were older. Paul says, that not many of us were wise, at least not by human standards. Today the human standard for wisdom is marked by tolerance and open mindedness. We are not considered wise because we cannot see past our own intolerance and praise others for their open mindedness and diversity. The world looks down on us and thinks, “if only the Christians could see and understand that there is an existence apart from Jesus. If only they could see how there are many paths to the same goal of eternal enlightenment.” Yes, according to the world, we are not considered wise.
Paul also calls us to think about our influence. The real word in our text is the word “power.” By human standards we are not very influential or powerful. Here again the words “tolerance, open mindedness, and diversity” are the words our world likes to hear. The world does not like to hear the words we speak from the Bible, “the (one) way, the (one) truth, the (one) life, eternal life.” And so, according to the world, we are not considered influential or powerful.
Paul calls us to think about our nobility. By human standards we are not noble. I would guess that Paul knew the people to whom he was writing, but even in our world today, there are not many people who are noble or for whom nobility is an issue any more. But, according to the previous standards, because we are not wise nor are we influential or powerful, we certainly could not be considered to be of noble birth.
“But,” Paul continues, and here I am wondering if he had not been reading the Gospel of Matthew, because in his Gospel, and our reading for today, Matthew gives what we call the beatitudes in which Jesus points out the difference in the way God sees things and the way the world sees things. And so, Paul also points out this difference. Paul says that God chose the foolish and weak to humble, that is to shame the wise and strong. First, notice who is doing the work, who is doing the action. As my favorite professor always put it, and as you so often hear me say, “who is running the verbs.” It is not we who are choosing God, but it is God who is choosing us. God has chosen us, those who are, at least according to the world, foolish and weak. In the beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel we would add Jesus words, that God has chosen us who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness. God has chosen those who acknowledge, confess and repent of their sins. As we often confess at the beginning of our services, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we are so high and mighty, if we think more highly of ourselves and believe we have no sins to confess, then we get no forgiveness, because failure to confess is gift refusal. That is how it is with the wise and strong of this world who think they have no sin. And actually this failure to confess is what tolerance is all about. Think about it. No one asks you to be tolerant of their good behavior. No, we are asked to be tolerant of one’s deviant, sinful behavior. Which means there is no confession, thus no forgiveness.
Paul continues by saying that God chose the lowly and despised. Here we are reminded of the difference between the way we and the world look at things and the way that God looks at things. When we and the world look at things we are left to look at the outside. God looks at the inside, at the heart. Very often we have a hard time looking past the exterior of an individual, but God always looks into the heart.
Paul says that God chose the things that are not, the nobodies, to nullify the things that are. Here again we see the difference between the thoughts and wisdom of the world and the thoughts and wisdom of God. God looks into our hearts and sees us dirty, rotten to the core sinners, enemies of Him who are out doing all we can to run away from Him, turn others away from Him and give Him as much grief as possible. Yet, for us there is hope.
However, before we move on, let us put Paul’s words into how we might say this today. Today, Paul might say something like, “You see what happened, fellow Christians, when God called you, not many of you were wise or in positions of power or influence, nor were you famous, nor were you born of special parents, at least not according to the point of view of the world. Instead, God chose the foolish things of this world in order to put those who are worldly wise to shame. God chose the weak things of this world in order to put those who are worldly strong to shame. God chose the lowly things, the despised things, the nothing things and the nobodies of this world in order to do away with those things the world thinks are something.” By ourselves, left to follow the ways of the world, we would reject Jesus and we would be eternally condemned. By ourselves we would have no hope.
Thanks be to God that Paul is not done. He goes on to tell us why God did what He did. In telling us why God did what He did Paul also tells us how we are saved. God did what He did “so that no one may boast before Him.” We cannot boast about our coming to faith in Jesus. We cannot boast about our choosing Jesus as our Savior. We cannot boast about our dedication our lives to the Lord. We cannot boast about how good we are or how good we think we are or how we are good at being the people God would have us to be. We cannot boast about our obedience. All we can boast about is in what the Lord has done for us. We cannot boast because it is by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ that we are saved. It is Jesus who gives us faith and He does that through His means of grace. It is Jesus who calls us to faith through the Word and the Sacraments. It is Jesus, who through the Word and the Sacraments comes to us to gives us His good gifts and blessings. Here we are reminded of the importance of making regular and diligent use, every Sunday and every day, of the means of grace. But Paul is not done yet. Next he outlines the gifts of wisdom which Jesus gives.
Through the means of grace Jesus gives us the gift of righteousness. This is not our righteousness, for apart from Jesus we are left in our sins and we are completely unrighteous. By faith in Jesus, faith given to us, His righteousness, earned by His suffering and death, has become our righteousness. We are justified, that is we are made “just as if I’d never sinned,” in God’s eyes, simply by believing in Jesus and His death for us.
But there is more. By faith in Jesus we are given the gift of holiness. Here we understand that what happens after we are made just and right in God’s eyes is that the Holy Spirit comes into our lives in order to help us to do the good works which God has for us to do, which works are a part of our holiness, our sanctification, our continuing to grow in our Christian faith and life.
And still more, by faith in Jesus we are given the gift of redemption. To redeem something means to trade it. We have talked about the S & H Green stamps of old. You go to the store. For so many purchases you received so many stamps. Once you filled a book of stamps you would take it to the redemption center where you would trade your stamps for some merchandise. It is similar with us. Jesus traded His life, His blood, His suffering and dying for us, for our life, for our eternal life.
So, were is the boasting? There is no boasting. Oh, sure, we may boast, in that we rejoice and give thanks to God for His indescribable gifts. We may boast in the fact that it is God who chose us. It is God who put His name on us. It is God who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. It is God who put His name on us at Holy Baptism. It is God who put faith in our hearts through His means of grace, His Word and His Sacraments. It is God who gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. It is God who gives us the whole lot of His gifts and a whole lot more. Have you been noticing who is running the verbs?
Yes, we can boast but only in the Lord. And as we see, it is easy to boast in the Lord. To boast in the Lord means to take the I and me out of the subject line of all our sentences and to put in the name, Jesus. To boast in the Lord is to point to Him in all aspects of our lives. No matter how foolish to the world, no matter how weak or uninfluential it may seem to the world, no matter how lowly or despised, or anything it may appear to the world, we boast in living our lives through our thoughts our words and our actions, as we are living for the Lord.
Our God is a great and awesome God. Left to ourselves we would be lost in our own sin. We would be foolish, powerless, lowly and despised. But thanks be to God that He has come to us to call us out of the darkness of our sinful lives. He has called us to faith though His means of Grace. He has given us faith and He continues to strengthen and keep us in faith. Yes, we do boast in the Lord. To Him alone be all Glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.