“Despite Who We Are”

By Tim Thorpe, MBA, Associate Professor of Business, Sterling College

Read I Corinthians 1:26-31 here

Listen here:

I would like to share with you this morning, a list of people from the Bible and a brief description about each of them:

  • David- adulterer and murderer
  • Jacob- liar and a cheat
  • Elijah- moody, possibly depressed/suicidal
  • Gideon- insecure, kept questioning God
  • Jonah- prejudiced
  • Rahab- prostitute
  • Moses- speech impediment and a murderer
  • Noah- drunkard
  • Abraham- used the excuse that he was too old
  • Joseph- daydreamer, prison record
  • Samson- womanizer, naive or dumb
  • Job- went bankrupt
  • Naomi- widower
  • Martha- a worrier
  • Zacchaeus- short
  • Peter- coward, & had a temper
  • Woman at the well- divorced 5x
  • The rich young ruler- loved money
  • Miriam- was a gossip
  • Sara- was impatient
  • Thomas- was a doubter
  • John Mark- abandoned his friends (Acts 15:36-38)
  • James and John- had big egos, they had the audacity to ask to sit a Jesus’s side when he ascended to the throne.
  • Timothy- had stomach ulcers
  • Paul- religious fanatic
  • Lazarus- well, he died

I am willing to bet that each of us in this room is able to identify with at least 1 person on that list!

So this morning I would like to talk with you about two things, 1) the types of people that God chooses and 2) the reason that he chooses them.  Look again at v26. “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. 

First, Paul tells us that God does not, only, choose the “wise.” Thank God you do not have to have a certain I.Q. or have an advanced college degree, in order to serve Jesus.  V26 says, not many, not that there are none. There are some very intelligent and educated people who have been believers. Take C. S. Lewis as an example.  He was one of the most intellectual men of the 20th century, a man who had been an ardent atheist, who became a strong defender of Christianity. Most of us can be thankful that God does not choose only those who are brilliant.

Secondly, Paul tells us that God does not only choose the “mighty.” “Mighty” has to do with power, over people or nations. God does not choose men, as men would choose men. Look at the example of how Israel chose its first king. Israel decided that since all the nations around them had a king, they needed a king as well. However, that was not God’s plan.  Still, Israel continued to plead with God to give them a king. In 1 Samuel 9:2 we see who Israel chose to be their first king.  “Saul, there was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel,….he was taller than any of the people.” The people looked at Saul and said, “There is a man who looks like a king should look” but scripture shows us that he was disaster. The next time a king was chosen, even before Saul had relinquished the throne, God chose his replacement. God sent his prophet to house of Jesse to pick out the new king (1 Sam 16:1). Each of Jesse’s sons was brought before the prophet and the prophet was once again tempted to choose according to outward appearance and so God said to him, (1 Sam 16:7) “Do not look at his appearance or his physical stature…for man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” The youngest son, David would not have been the prophet’s choice, but he was God’s choice. You and I have been chosen by God because God can look beyond what we were and even what we are to what we can be.  He chooses us despite who we are.

Third, Paul tells us that God does not only choose the “noble.” Again it does not say that God does not choose any but that God does not choose many. “A woman of noble birth once remarked to John Wesley that she was saved by the letter “m.” When Wesley asked for an explanation, she pointed him to 1 Corinthians 1:26, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” “God did not say ‘Not any noble are called,” she explained, “but ‘Not many noble.’ Were it not for that letter, I might be lost.”

We are told in James chapter 2 that God chooses those who are poor in the eyes of the world.  He has chosen them to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom.  Who are the poor in the eyes of the world…not the wise…not the influential…not the noble.

Next, beginning in v27 we see three things that God uses to get his work done.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,” (v27a)

Two of the world’s greatest evangelists of the past were not men of education nor known for their polish and poise. These two men were D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday. “Billy Sunday was responsible for bringing one million souls to Jesus in the days before radio. But some who knew him said, he was God’s joke on the ministry. He murdered the King’s English and he never had a course on homiletics or Bible interpretation. He was so unpredictable that he [once] tugged on a man’s flowing white beard and went ‘honk, honk’ right in the middle of the invitation.”

A story is told of when D.L Moody spoke at Cambridge University.  It was said that the whole University was outraged that this backwoods American preacher would dare to appear and speak in the center of culture of the English world. They well knew that he “murdered” the King’s English. (Somebody once said that D. L. Moody was the only man he ever heard who could pronounce Jerusalem in one syllable!) A group of classmates who were not Christians were determined that when Moody spoke in the chapel at Cambridge they would “hoot” him off the platform.

As Moody stepped to the edge of the platform and looking directly at the students who were gathered there, he said these remarkable words, “Young gentlemen, don’t ever think God don’t love you, for he do!” The students were dumbfounded by that beginning. Moody went on and in a few minutes he again said, “Don’t ever think God don’t love you, for he do!” Something about the very ungrammatical structure of these words captured them. The intense earnestness of this man spoke right to their hearts, beyond all the superficial, external things. A great awakening came to Cambridge University at the hands of that humble servant of God.”

2) God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (v. 27b)

The word translated “weak” here means “sickly, or feeble or impotent.” One such person was a lady named Fanny Crosby. “The hymn writer Fanny Crosby gave us more than 8,000 Gospel songs. Although blinded at the age of six weeks, she never held any bitterness in her heart because of it. Once a preacher sympathetically remarked, I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when He showered so many other gifts upon you. She quickly replied, ‘Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been to be born blind.’ “Why,’ asked the surprised preacher, ‘Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”

3) God Uses the Things that are Despised (v. 28)

The word translated “despised” means contemptible. When we think of someone who God uses who was ‘despised” I think of the story of David and Goliath.  As the story is told in 1 Samuel 17, Israel and the nation of the Philistines were at war and the two armies are arrayed on opposite hillsides. Each morning Goliath came out and challenged the army of Israel to select a man to fight with him and whoever won the battle his army would be considered the winner.  No one seemed anxious to die at the hands of the nine ft. nine tall giant. Finally, David, just a young man at the time, goes out to fight Goliath. When Goliath saw David he despised him and he said, “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks. And Goliath cursed David…” (1 Sam 17:43). God uses that which was despised to win a victory.

So why does God choose the foolish, the weak, the despised? Why would he use the broken, the addicted, the sinful, the, “poor in the eyes of the earth?  The answer is simple.  Look at v29.  “So that no one may boast before him.”  In Ephesians 2:8-9 the Apostle Paul writes, “For by grace have you been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. (9) not of works lest anyone should boast.”

 Dwight Moody once said, “It is well that man cannot save himself; for if a man could only work his way to heaven, you would never hear the last of it.  Why, if a man happens to get a little ahead of his fellows and scrapes a few thousand dollars together, you’ll hear him boast of being a self-made man.  I’ve heard so much of this sort of talk that I am sick and tired of the whole business; and I am glad that through all eternity in heaven we will never hear anyone bragging of how he worked his way to get there.”

St. Augustine, was asked what were the three most important virtues, he replied, “Humility, humility, humility.”19 Truly, that is God’s heart for you and me. He wants us to daily recognize that we have nothing to brag about before Him.  We are totally dependent upon Him.  God uses us despite our foolishness.  He uses us despite our weakness.  He uses us despite who we are.

‘ Gladys Aylward was a missionary to China more than 50 years ago. (You may remember her story – they made a movie about it called “The Inn of the 6th Happiness”).  She was forced to flee when the Japanese invaded Yangcheng, but she would not abandon the orphans that she had been caring for. With just one assistant, Gladys Aylward led more than 100 children over the treacherous mountains toward Free China. Along the harrowing journey she grappled with despair and, at times, a feeling of utter hopelessness. After one particularly difficult night, a 13 year old girl reminded her of Moses and how he had led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. To which Gladys replied: “But I am not Moses”. Then the little girl said, “Of course you aren’t, BUT JEHOVAH IS STILL GOD!”

Are you beginning to see a pattern in how God works in our world? He doesn’t need the wise, the mighty, or the rich to accomplish His will.  He uses the exact opposite to prove his point.  God used trumpets to bring down the walls of Jericho. He used torches to rout the armies of Midian (Judges 7). God used an ox goad in the hand of Shamgar to defeat the Philistines (Judges 3). With the jawbone of a donkey He enabled Samson to defeat a whole army (Judges 15). And Jesus fed over 5,000 with nothing more than a few loaves and fish.  In each of these stories there is nothing we can boast about.  For we are nothing and we contribute little, but God uses us despite who we are.

boast-in-the-lordBut, if we are to boast.  There is one thing to boast about.  Look at v30, “because of Him we are in Christ Jesus.”  That is why we should boast.  The prophet Jeremiah wrote (9:23-24) “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches,24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:  that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.

Paul closes 1 Corinthians chapter one with these words: (verses 30-31), “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.” It is “because of Him” that you are “in Christ Jesus.” He is both the source and the cause of us being in Christ.  The believer is described here very simply as one who is “in Christ.” You can’t be much closer to something than “in it.” That’s our position as born again believers.  God the Father sees you and me as a part of His Son, we are in Him.

May our boast be not in what we do for Christ but in what Christ does for us. When it comes to salvation we contribute nothing but the sin that makes it necessary to be saved. God does the rest. God chooses whom He pleases, and He does so by choosing those whom the world overlooks. The reason God does what He does is to demonstrate that He alone is the source of our salvation. Thus, if we believe what this passage teaches it will change the way we look at ourselves, and it will change the way we talk about ourselves.

If you think you are too small, too young, too old, not trained enough, not educated enough, not talented enough, not polished enough, I want to assure you that it is not a problem for God.  If you feel average, weak, and foolish, God can and will use you. Because God chooses us despite who we are.  So brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s time to boast and brag, so brag away!  But don’t boast in your wisdom, your strength, or your riches, because on your own you are nothing!  Instead, boast in the Lord! Boast that by his grace, he has given you Christ, your righteousness, your holiness, and your redemption.  And know that you can boast because God can and will use you despite who you are.

For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom cfrop

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