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Why Did God Choose You?
1 Corinthians 1:26 to 31
We live under the illusion that God needs greatness. Nothing commends you to God. No one can boast before God. You can only boast in Him. So yesterday evening, I logged into Facebook. I thought I’d read through the news feed and see what’s happening.
I read who set up their Christmas tree. I saw whose Christmas lights are up. I learned that a friend went for a run with his dog. I read that a distant cousin went for a wedding dress fitting. I saw many pictures of children. I also saw pregnancy pictures. I saw posts for and against gun control. And I learned a friend’s favorite Starbucks order.
I don’t go on that often, but I think that’s the norm–if you’re online, you see a continual life stream from some people. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Snapchat–they’re the most popular apps. If you’re in an office, you hear a life stream from certain coworkers. If you talk on the phone to family, some of them give way too much information about what’s happening in their life.
We brag about what food we ate and how great it was. We almost boast about how sick we are/were. We talk about how many medications we’re on and how they don’t seem to be working. We complain about how little sleep we got the night before. We talk about the great (or horrible) sense of direction we have. We talk about our vacation and our travels. Everyone, at some level, boasts–they declare what’s good, what’s bad and what makes them unique.
Children will show off how loud they can burp. My 2-year-old boy wants me to see the big poop he did in the toilet. We all naturally want to show off. We want to be liked, we want to be friended, we want to be commented on. We perceive greatness in others by their influence. We value the famous more than the heroes. We notice who has the most friends. We notice the cars that people drive and the clothes they wear. We notice sports abilities. We notice who owns what technology. We want others to see us.
Even the shy want to be recognized. And most people want to receive praise for what they do. We want to hear how good we are at basketball. We want to hear how respected/appreciated/loved we are by others. We want to hear that others say that we bought something cool/useful/unique. We want to be great. We want others to think of us as great. You care about your self-worth far more than you let on. I do too.
Scripture speaks to these feelings. Our passage in 1 Corinthians today speaks directly to us. It speaks to Christians who care what others think. And it speaks to Christians who want to be influencers. It speaks to those who want to be a thought leader, a style leader, a workplace leader. And it’s not always bad to want influence. As Christians, it seems like the more influence we can have, the more we can impact the world.
If we vote, we are hindering the decline of our nation. If we can influence our workplace, business will change. If we can influence our extended family, gatherings will change. We look at certain people and think–if God would save them, amazing things would happen! If Oprah would turn to Jesus . . . if only Obama really loved Jesus . . . if Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian each put their energies into worshipping God. We dream about what it would be like to have the rich, the famous and the powerful turn to Jesus.
We tell ourselves that we would use those things for incredible good on behalf of God. “God, if you let me win the lottery, I promise . . . God, if we get this house, then we will . . . God, if I get this job, then you can have . . . .” We think that what would really make a difference in the world would be people who are known, people who are respected, people who are powerful. I don’t know if you’ve had these thoughts–I have. And Scripture speaks to these feelings.
Our passage in 1 Corinthians speaks directly to this. In Corinth, the church was not looking for the famous to get saved. Much like us, they simply wanted to become famous themselves and got caught up in the quest for popularity and influence. They wanted to be different than they were. They wanted to be more. Like the teenager you once were, they longed for respect and approval. They wanted others to like them and to value them.
In Corinth, they were being mocked and feeling separate from the people around them. They wanted their stock to rise. They wanted to be great. And we know this feeling. We often feel this way. We live under the illusion that God needs greatness. I heard a discussion about a church recently and it was said that its success and future hinged on finding the right preacher to lead it. We think that God needs greatness.
In our church, we often think, “What would happen without Chris preaching and leading? Our church would lose value. We need a great preacher and leader like him.” (Don’t worry, we’re not getting rid of him.) We all tend to think that God needs great men and women in order to do great things. The Corinthians felt this way and Paul speaks directly to it. Paul wants us to know how God works. He wants you to know what God is looking for in people. He’s going to tell you what you should value in yourself.
Let’s read the passage and see what He says. “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:26 to 31).
In a nutshell, we read that God works despite you, not because of you. Who you are, what you bring to the table doesn’t really help God out.
1) Nothing Commends You to God (Verses 26 to 28)
From God’s perspective, Oprah, Obama, Bieber, Kardashian, Shackelford, Mueller and Pleasnick–there’s nothing inherently attractive about them. God doesn’t look at them and think, “Oooh, I could do some great stuff there!” God doesn’t need their influence in order to do great things. That would be like my 2-year-old offering to help paint the Mona Lisa.
Think about this–our God spoke the world into being. He put nature on pause so that the sun would appear to stand still in the sky for a full day. He has made men walk in a furnace without a mark or hint of smoke. He has brought people back from the dead. Jesus Himself has shown His power over death. If any of those are true, and they all are–I really don’t think that He’s in need of someone influential, rich or powerful to help Him. That is what He wants you to realize–He wants you to have a right view of yourself and your worth. There are two main exhortations in this passage.
#1 Consider your calling
Ponder it, give thought to it, reflect on who you are. And to help them, Paul reminds them who they were—not wise, not mighty, not noble. There weren’t a lot of Rhodes Scholars–this wasn’t the AP class. There weren’t a lot of the jocks, not much of the varsity team here. There weren’t a lot of the rich kids–they shopped at thrift stores, not Anthropologie.
Paul says to them, and to us–remember who you are. Consider your calling–not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble. Here’s who you were–you were foolish, you were weak, you were base/despised. Despised—the grammar communicates have been despised and will continue to be.
You remember how you felt in junior high? Some of you are watching your kids go through it. You feel awkward. Things are growing, but not in proportion. So you have the super tall and the short and chubby. Maybe you were the kid with the big feet, or big mouth. Your voice cracked and you felt like your nose, your ears, your hips or some other part of you was disastrously big or way too small. Other kids noticed and picked on you and gave you a nickname–that you still hate. Mine was . . . ha, you thought I was going to say it?!
Some days you felt despised. This was not just junior high though. This is the world’s view of many Christians. Christians are foolish. Christians are ignorant. Christians are haters and bigots. Christians are uneducated. We are still hated and despised–even more now than five years ago. And Paul doesn’t offer the comfort you’d expect. You’d expect him to say, “There, there, God is making you into something better. You were this, but now He’s changing you!”
Many of us were raised on Rocky–a small-time mediocre fighter is converted into a champion. And he fights for it and wins in sequel after sequel. In a movie, you see the conversion from ugly to beautiful, from weak to strong. Rudy, the boy who’s too small, gets to play football at Notre Dame. Lord of the Rings, a mere Hobbit has the mettle to destroy the Ring. Kung Fu Panda, an overweight noodle shop employee becomes a martial arts master. Ant-Man, a convict divorcee becomes a super hero and wins his daughter’s love.
In movies, you get changed and things get better. In the Bible (and in life), there’s no promised conversion. It’s not that everyone is a sleeper, awaiting the chance to rise up and shine. The world may not ever awaken to your true beauty. Paul says that many have been despised and will continue to be.
Here’s what happens–God chose to do His work through people who were, from the human point of view, the most unpromising. So when Paul says, “Consider your calling,” he wants you to remember that nothing commends you to God. You were not called for what God knew of you. Ephesians 2:8 to 9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Then in 2 Timothy 1:9, “God has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.” God’s Word is clear, again and again. He saved us despite us, not because of us. Not as a result of works. Not as a result of who you are, but according to His own purpose and grace.
Even if you were smart or rich or powerful, God saved you in spite of that, not because of that. There is nothing in you that was appealing to God. And even now, what makes you appealing to God is only Jesus. His righteousness in you is what makes you acceptable to God. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When Paul says “not many”, he is saying something. He is implying that there were a few wise, rich, powerful Christians in Corinth. He does sometimes save the rich. Just before the Civil War in America, in the days of Whitefield and Wesley, there was a rich lady, the Countess of Huntingdon, who was a major supporter of their ministries. She also founded 64 small churches.
She used to say that she was saved by an “M”, because she read this passage in 1 Corinthians and noted that Paul doesn’t say “any,” but “many”—“not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble.” There are a few. God does sometimes save the cultural elite. He does sometimes save the professional athletes and business tycoons and movie stars, but not many. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than [what?] for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Most of the wise think the cross is pure foolishness. They think that all their questions must be answered to their satisfaction. The strong think they are powerful enough without God. They are content with what this world offers them. The noble think its degrading to hope in a crucified, criminalized God. Christianity is an egalitarian religion, where all people are treated as one. They are used to being treated differently and have no need of anything.
Revelation 3:17, “You say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Now I don’t know how you think of yourself. Maybe you consider yourself foolish, weak, wretched and miserable. But you’re an American and live in Southern California–most days you probably think of yourself as wise, mighty, noble and somehow influential, whether it’s true or not.
However you think of yourself, no matter what others think of you, whatever your position and intellect, God chose you despite who you are and for a particular purpose. We see it in the text. Verse 27, “God chose the foolish to shame the wise.” Verse 27, “God chose the weak to shame the strong.” Verse 28, “God chose those who are nothing to nullify those who are something.” He particularly chose the unlovely in society (like you and me) so that . . .
2) No One Can Boast Before God (Verse 29)
Sometimes when God starts to work in our life, we begin to think that we are wonderful. I can remember laying on a couch less than two years after being saved, and I was thinking, “I’m so changed from who I was, I can’t think of anywhere else I need to grow.” We forget that the only reason that things have changed is because of Jesus, not because of us. And we get all full of ourselves and proud, and we get defensive when other people attack us or call us foolish.
But the truth is that when God looks down in human history to pick his team, to elect and predestine and choose and call people, He’s looking down thinking, “You know, there’s really not any first-round draft choices here. Oooh, you have a blog. Now look at you, you have a job. Well at least your shoes match.” God is not impressed with us. We’re impressed with ourselves, and we’re maybe a little impressed with other people. But God’s not impressed.
God looks down from Heaven and says, “I made the universe, and you can’t stop the common cold.
I can get stuff done without you. I don’t need you to be on my team, but I’ll choose you for my team because I love you.” And so God chooses a rich person and a bunch of poor people, and sometimes a smart person and often a simple person. And they’re young and old, black, white, brown, homeowners, renters and homeless–God chooses all kinds of people.
But here’s how He describes them in verse 28, “The base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not.” It’s summed up in the description of verse 28, the nothings/the have-nots. Nothings–those who are regarded as if they do not exist. Feeling built up? I’m here for your self-esteem. God has chosen you, the things that are not–literally, those without being. The nothings.
In Paul’s time, who you were was very important. To the Greeks, to be called a nothing–to lack being was the worst insult. Paul wants you to realize who you are before God. You are nothing. There’s nothing that commends you to God. But you see why He did this, right? He says it over and over in verse 27 to 28–to shut the mouth of the world.
He will use fools like me to shame the wise. He will use weak people like you to shame the strong. He will use the low and despised to shame the powerful. Verse 28, “So that no man may boast before God.” The grammar is written in a way to state there is no possibility of boasting. The wise man has nothing more to boast about than the fool. The socially hot has nothing more to boast about than the socially awkward. No one can boast.
In fact, the nothings whom God chooses will nullify (render completely ineffective) the something. Ultimately we will see that. A simple, uneducated, untalented, barely articulate believer who has trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior and who faithfully and humbly follows His Lord is immeasurably wiser than the brilliant Ph.D. who scoffs at the Gospel.
Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Neil deGrasse Tyson are all very smart men. But they know nothing beyond their books, their minds and their experiences. God’s Word says that they see nothing beyond this life and can only be considered foolish. But the simple Christian man in Kansas who’s plowing his field? He only graduated fifth grade, but he knows forgiveness, love, grace, life, hope, God’s Word—God Himself. He can see eternity, and he can boast in God and His lavish love and provision.
You might sometimes stay silent about your faith because you feel like you won’t have all the answers. You might sit in a college class and feel stupid as your professor mocks Christianity. Maybe you’ll go to Balboa Park in San Diego and wander through the museums and feel foolish for believing things that are so contrary to current scientific thought. If you watch TV, you will find yourself portrayed as a hater because of what you believe about homosexuality. You may even find yourself in bankruptcy while atheists around you get richer.
But Christian, your salvation did not include a season pass to worldly success. God is in control. He did not appoint you to cultural relevance. He did not decree that all whom you talk to would repent. He hasn’t promised any of us wealth or comfort. Instead He has made us appear foolish and be weak
and lack power for a reason. He wants you to understand who you are before Him so that you would see how foolish it is to boast in yourself.
You don’t need to improve your self-image. Most of us want to brag. We want to boast of what we’ve done. We all want others to respect and appreciate us. We may show it in weird ways–in marriage, in families, in school, in work, on Facebook, everywhere. But a right view of yourself will shut down all such boasting.
Isaiah 10:15, “Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it?” Isaiah 29:16, “You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, that what is made would say to its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” Such boasting is more than just foolish. Boasting in yourself is hated by God.
Later in Isaiah, God says this. Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another.” When you boast, you are taking God’s glory as praise for yourself. We make much of degrees, jobs, possessions, skills, beauty, friends and networking. God needs none of this and thinks little of it.
Consider this–according to God, the greatest man who ever lived, apart from Jesus, was John the Baptist. He had no formal education, no training in a trade or profession, no money, no military rank, no political position, no social pedigree, no prestige, no impressive appearance or oratory. And Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).
This man fit none of the world’s standards but all of God’s. We often value the wrong things. We want to grow, we want to achieve, we want to have something to boast about. But maybe your kid doesn’t need to go to an Ivy League school. Maybe it’d be better for their heart and their future for them to hit a state school. Or maybe attend a JC or even a trade school.
They don’t have to end up with a better job than you have. Maybe they should work in construction for the duration of their lives. Their job is not the most important thing. Who they marry is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that they orient their whole life towards declaring and displaying God. After all, what did John the Baptist say & do? John 3:30, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” This is the life statement of the greatest man who ever lived–more of Jesus and less of us is what we’re to be about.
Boasting in ourselves is the exact opposite of that. When you brag, when you tell others of something great you did, when you long for the approval of people, when you’re tempted to compare yourself to others, when you are looking at your friend count on Facebook, or how many liked your picture–when you think you’re hot, know that you will appear before God and have nothing to boast about. Why did God choose you then? He chose you, the nothing, so that the great things He does through you will be attributable to God and not man.
3) You Can Only Boast in Him (Verses 30 to 31)
This is the real emphasis on God’s action here. Verses 26 to 28, over and over–“God has chosen.” Now look at verses 30 and 31, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
Here is the whole point of the passage. The reason why you are nothing . . . the reason why God chose you . . . the reason why no man can boast. It is not that we should be silent. It is so that we boast in the Lord, and not ourselves. This is the most urgent command of everything Paul says here–boast in the Lord. The only thing you have worth boasting in is God.
If you compare yourself to others, there’s always someone better. What makes you valuable is not what you do, what you know or what you wear. God is the one who makes you valuable. It is by His doing. He puts you in Christ. He gives you His Son. To be “in Christ” means that you are connected to Jesus in the closest possible sense. And it also carries the significance of being joined to others who are part of the body of Christ.
And that means in and of ourselves we are nothing. We are more sinful than we will ever understand. But in Christ we are more loved and valued than we ever dared to hope. That is the truth we are to boast in and bask in. Paul actually uses a little Greek word here (te) in verse 30 that doesn’t show up in most translations. The NIV does the interpretation for you to get the sense of what’s being said. You are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
Those three terms describe the wisdom we find in Jesus, in contrast to the self-righteousness, lifestyle and entrapment that the world offers. Jesus provides His righteousness, His sanctification, His redemption. Through His death on the cross and resurrection to life, He imparts his perfect life to us. We have His righteousness before God so that when God looks at us, He sees Jesus’ perfect life and not our sins. We have His sanctification so that we are being progressively transformed into the image of the Son–not in appearance but in lifestyle. And this is most manifest in the Church.
We have His redemption so that we have nothing to fear from death, for He absorbed the wrath of God we deserved and removed the sting of death, making us now children of God. This is the wisdom of God, which is foolish to the world. We are given God’s wisdom to replace our own. Instead of cleverness, you have righteousness. Instead of influence, you have sanctification. Instead of nobility, you have redemption.
All of this is given, so that you would boast about God. We tend to think of boasting as wrong. But here we have bragging commanded. Not bragging about ourselves, but bragging about God. If I can reuse an old analogy . . . when you brag about yourself, you are taking a microscope to your life. You are making something small seem much bigger than it really is.
But when you brag about God, you are not using a microscope–you’re not making something super tiny become finally visible. When you brag about God, it’s more like using a telescope. You are taking something huge and distant that we struggle to see, and you are making that huge object just a bit more clear and visible to those who’re looking. Your boasting can never make God bigger or better than He really is. So it should always be a part of who we are.
Paul says it in a way that communicates this boasting is to be continual and habitual. Praise like this is to be a part of who we are. It’s why we exist. Christian, God saved you so that you could make a big deal about who God is. 2 Peter 1:9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
So if I can help you reset how you think–what you have that is good, your family, your friends, your house, your warm clothes, your full stomach. You do not have it because of how great you are. You do not have it because you are particularly faithful to God. You do not have it because God is more pleased with you. You do not have it because of your wise choices. You don’t have it because of who you married. You are blessed despite who you are, not because of it. God gave you the spouse, kids, family, friends, house, clothes, stomach and nose that you have–all so that you would boast about Him.
I love our church. I particularly love the elders and leaders of our church. I love Chris. But we are not blessed personally or as a church because of who’s here. We are blessed despite who is here. We should not boast in our music, our preaching, our pastors, any more than we should boast in our homes, or our cars, or our kids. Just do this one thing. Boast in God. Tell others about what He has done despite us. That type of boasting, God loves.
Jeremiah 9:23 to 24, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.”
Paul says the same thing in Galatians 6:14, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Let your boast be in God alone. And we would beg you, don’t boast in our church. Don’t compare us to others. As a church, we do not get real excited when 900 people show up for Christmas service. And we’re not disappointed when it’s sunny outside and the new visitor coffee is a bust.
Our boast is not going to be in our size or in who shows up. But when we hear of lives being changed by God, in that we rejoice and tell others about. When we hear of being people saved, when we see marriages changed, when we see men and women forsake pornography, when we see parents come to Christ because of their kids, when we see older saints pass from this life with joy and anticipation, when we see young believers stay pure and wait for a godly person to marry, when we hear of the effects of our prison ministry on inmates.
I could say names for each of those things, because they’re real. Those are the kind of things that we will boast about–not to our glory, but to God’s. Those are the things that we want to be excited about. God has chosen you for something far better than talking about yourself. He chose us to brag about Him. Let’s commit to doing that this week. Let’s pray.