Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Churches That Follow God's Wisdom

1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5

Teaching t22252

Introduction

Review setting. We saw last week that Paul compared two antithetical kinds of wisdom that were at work in Corinth. One he calls the “wisdom of the world;” the other he calls the “wisdom of God.” Let’s review this comparison:

The wisdom of the world is man-centered—it focuses on human speculation and achievement. It relies on human diagnosis of our root problems and insists that human accomplishments can solve these problems. The one true God of the Bible is either denied or marginalized or redesigned to facilitate the goals of worldly wisdom.

The wisdom of God is God-centered. More specifically, it is centered on “Christ crucified”—the declaration that Jesus is God’s unique King, and that His death on a Roman cross is the ultimate solution to all human problems. This wisdom humbles humanity’s pride and exalts God’s mercy. It humbles us because it declares that our root problem (our moral guilt before God) is unfixable by us—it requires Jesus’ sacrificial death can forgive us. It exalts God’s mercy, because it shows that God and His Son Jesus were willing to make this unthinkable sacrifice to rescue us.

God meant for the church to be a beacon of His wisdom to a world in darkness. But sometimes (like in Corinth), the wisdom of the world leaks back into the church. This is a perennial danger for all churches, including ours. Paul tells us how to discern this by describing three features of churches that follow God’s wisdom: their social composition, their “boast,” and their communication with non-Christians.

THEIR SOCIAL COMPOSITION: usually don’t attract many “movers & shakers”

Read 1:26. Paul reminds them of the original social composition of their church. Paul proclaimed “Christ crucified” to all strata of Corinthian society—but he didn’t attract many “movers and shakers.” He doesn’t say “not any;” he says “not many.” Evidently the city treasurer of Corinth (Erastus; cf. Rom.16:23) joined them, along with a couple of synagogue rulers (Crispus and Sosthenes; cf. Acts 18:8,17)—but that was about it. The implication is that this is typical of churches that follow God’s wisdom.

Why is this? Not because God doesn’t love people from the upper echelons of society. Christ died for their sins as much as for everyone else’s. Not because they don’t hear about God’s wisdom. The reason lies in the effect that social prominence, wealth and power tend to have on people’s perception of their spiritual need.

Affluence, social prestige and power tend to feed their delusion of self-sufficiency and self-importance. Their wealth and power protects, distracts and anesthetizes them from much of the pain of this broken world. Consequently, they tend to dismiss biblical Christianity as a crutch for losers.

Celsus, an opponent of Christianity, said of early Christians: “We see them in their...houses, wool dressers, cobblers and fullers, the most uneducated and vulgar persons...like a swarm of bats—or ants creeping out of their nests—or frogs holding a symposium round a swamp—or worms in a conventicle in a corner of mud.”

A “mover and shaker” woman who visited one of our Central Teachings kept asking me: “But where are the important people?” When I pointed to the people in the room, she snorted and left, never to return.

By contrast, the working poor, the marginalized, and sometimes even the middle class are often more aware of their sin and brokenness. They are drawn to Jesus who can identify with their poverty and mistreatment, and they more readily admit that they need God’s forgiveness and restoration through Jesus.

Church history certainly confirms this. Christian movements almost always begin with and spread primarily among the poor and working classes and marginalized (EARLY CHURCH; WESLEYAN MOVEMENT; JESUS MOVEMENT; CHINA & INDIA; XENOS TODAY).

The sad thing is that many churches (like the Corinthians) start out this way, but then begin to envy “movers and shakers.” They may focus more on reaching out to them (often claiming that this will impact society more for Jesus), treat them preferentially, soften the Bible’s critique against materialism, urge their children to strive for higher academic, career, and financial standing, etc. All of this signals a departure from God’s wisdom and certain spiritual decline unless they turn back to God’s wisdom. The key to this is “boasting” in the right thing...

THEIR “BOAST”: the Lord & what He has given them

In the Bible, what you “boast” in means what your heart is most excited about, what you regard as your most precious treasure, what you most want to others to know about you.

Read 1:27-29. We’ll come back to 1:27,28 in a minute, but notice that the wisdom of the world always leads to boasting “before God.” The image here is of boasting in God’s presence about something we/humanity has accomplished (e.g., the antichrist in Dan.7:20). Of course, few of us do this blatantly—but since we are always in God’s presence, all such boasting is saying to Him: “Who You are, and what you’ve accomplished through Jesus is unimportant compared to this!”

What does it look like when a church drifts toward the world’s wisdom? It begins to boast before God. I’ve seen two faces of this boasting:

Sometimes, it tends to talk its superiority to other churches—how much bigger it is, how much faster it is growing, how much better its facilities and programs are, etc. It is usually subtle, often mixed with the obligatory phrases like “by God’s grace” and “praise the Lord.” But you get the impression that they are really impressed with themselves. I’ve seen our church boast in this way, and I’m afraid I’ve led the way on this at times. I’m not proud of this, and God had to take me to the woodshed over it.

Sometimes, its members are most excited about their new acquisitions, their career tracks, their favorite sports teams, etc. They still attend Bible studies, pray, etc.—but this is more obligatory, not what they are really excited about.

Conversely, when we’re following the wisdom of God, it always leads us to “boast in the Lord” (read 1:30,31). We may enjoy sports or a good meal or a vacation—but what we really get excited about, what we really want to talk about is the Lord and what He has given us. This is what Jeremiah says in Jer. 9:23,24 (read). Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we are united with Him (1:30), and this union provides unique spiritual resources that are radically changing our lives:

“Righteousness” – Because we are in Christ, we have permanent right standing before God, assurance of His acquittal and acceptance. This gives us a deep stability and security that the world’s wisdom can never give us.

“Sanctification” – Because we are in Christ, His Spirit is transforming our characters to be more like Jesus, especially to make us more genuinely loving. This enables us to (among other things) build much healthier relationships than we ever could through the world’s wisdom.

“Redemption” – Because we are in Christ, God not only forgives us totally; He is also restoring our broken lives to usefulness. No longer must we deny or despair or rage over our bad choices or how people mistreated us. Now we can forgive and move forward with hope to see how God can work even through our brokenness to accomplish His good purpose for our lives.

Through the cross of Christ, we have received treasures that the world’s wisdom can never give. Through the changed lives of those who “boast” in Him, God exposes by positive contrast the emptiness of worldly fame, power, wealth, etc. (1:27,28) and calls others to come to Him. Do you want to be personally united with Christ? Do you want God give you this righteousness and sanctification and redemption? He is ready and willing to give you this today. But you must humble yourself and tell God you need this, and ask Him to give it to you through Jesus and His death on the cross.

THEIR COMMUNICATION WITH NON-CHRISTIANS: humble & confident focus on Jesus

When Christians in a church are “boasting in the Lord,” this affects their communication with non-Christians. Their excitement about Jesus motivates them to tell others about Him rather than themselves. And their confidence in Jesus to change their own lives leads them to share this and urge others to call out to Him.

Churches that are drifting toward the world’s wisdom go south in their communication with non-Christians. Two bad things tend to happen:

Because members do not “boast in the Lord,” they lose their excitement about and confidence in Jesus. So they either stop sharing their faith, or when they do share their faith, they rely too much on argumentation, scripted presentations, etc.

Corporately, the church tries to attract other people by entertaining services, impressive programs, super-star pastors, marketing strategies, etc. Unfortunately, this tends to result mainly in Christian transfer growth (MEGA-CHURCHES GROWING WHILE THE TOTAL NUMBER OF CHRISTIANS IN AMERICA DECLINES) and a fickle consumer audience.

This is evidently what was happening to the Corinthians, so Paul calls them back to God’s wisdom by reminding them of his own example when he first visited them (read 2:1-5).

Greek rhetoreticians sought a following by their impressive physical appearance/dress, flowery and speaking style, mastery of philosophical terminology, etc. They were mainly entertainers who sought public popularity and the perks that came with it.

But Paul wasn’t interested in entertaining people or popularity or the perks. To that end, he rejected WOW communication tactics. He didn’t try to hide his unimpressive physical appearance (bald, uni-brow, big nose, hunchback). He spoke in normal, everyday language. He acknowledged his own weaknesses and inadequacies. He didn’t flatter his audience, but told them about their sin and lostness, and called on them to receive Christ and His death on the cross for their sins. He did this counting on God’s Spirit to convict people of their need for Christ—and that’s what happened!

The most effective preachers are always like Paul in this regard. They don’t look like game show hosts. They don’t have a different tone of voice when they preach or pray. They don’t act like they have it all together. They focus on explaining who Jesus is and what He has done. And God’s Spirit powerfully pierces people’s hearts through their preaching. (D. L. MOODY AT CAMBRIDGE)

We can’t all preach, but we can all share Christ humbly and confidently. That’s how two people shared Christ with me. They refused to get into an argument. They just “boated in the Lord”—they gently insisted that Jesus was really alive and that He had changed their lives. I laughed at them at the time, but when I came to the end of myself, I knew they were right and I knew where to turn. Many/most of you have the same basic story. We can all do this!

Conclusion

SUMMARIZE: This is the kind of church I want to be part of, don’t you? This is the kind of church we are, in part. But we should be more like this. And we can be, if each of us embraces God’s wisdom and boasts in the Lord!

Quoted in William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), p.21.