God calls simple people – 1 Corinthians 1

As Americans who live in the land of opportunity where everyone is said to have the chance to become something great, we love to hear of rags to riches stories. Among some who have gone from bleak circumstances and difficult family situations are such as Jim Carrey, Shania Twain, and J.K. Rowling — each with a compelling story.

But honestly, most of those who have fame and fortune were born into it or have certain rare gifts of intellect, talent or beauty that fast-tracked their success.

Occasionally, people in these categories are folks who know Christ as savior and have a life of faith and gratitude for the grace they have experienced. But more often their confidence is in their portfolios of riches or fame. The world flocks to such people and hangs upon their words, opinions and endorsements. I’ve never understood why I should care whatsoever about what a Hollywood personality thought concerning international politics or leaders; yet many are interested in what they believe.

Not many of us are very famous. Actually, to be quite frank, none of us are very famous whatsoever. Beyond that, we don’t actually even know many very famous people. I one time on a Sunday morning asked people to think of the most famous person they knew who would also know them in return. Then I asked for a show of hands to see who thought they had a significant answer. Honestly, even those who had a famous person who knew them in return, the respondents had to explain to most of the others in the congregation that morning exactly why the person they knew was famous.

So, if we don’t even have any real relationships with people even of moderate fame or influence, what hope is there that the creator-God of the universe should care or even notice us? The Psalmist pondered this very question, saying “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

But the good news is that God has a special love and compassion for simple and humble people. Such are the type that God has used over and over in Scripture and throughout history.

And we see simple people being featured characters in the incarnation story of Christ. What was special about a carpenter or a young woman engaged to this fellow? Nothing, beyond trust and obedience and acceptance of God’s plans to use them.  To the angelic messager, Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.”

Beyond Mary and Joseph, we see other simple people: Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, and the shepherds.

So there is hope for even us. The way Jesus came into the world modelled what his ministry would be like, and what the Gospel message would produce — hope and life for the simple and ordinary people of the world … to those marginalized in society, or at best, those who lived day to day, week to week, and year to year in rather mundane lives.

How did you get to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, an adopted child of the King of Kings? Was it because you were smarter than the masses of people who don’t follow Christ? Is it because you had so much to offer the Kingdom by your great skills? Is it due to your high standing among the elites of America … born into a sort of American royalty?

No, at the end of any analysis as to how it is that Christ set His love upon you, how he opened your eyes and ears and heart’s interest to even hear or research the truth of God’s word, it is all because of what GOD did in your life 100% by grace, and 0% by what you contributed. Even your faith, Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter 2, is a gift of God.

If you find yourself chaffing a bit at this teaching, if you find it to be a bit over the top as excessively degrading, let me tell you what Paul said (in 1 Corinthians 1) about those who are found in Christ …

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. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus.

It was this way from the beginning … from the incarnation of Christ into this sinful world …

Being in the form of God, it says that he “humbled himself to take on human form.”  And the people chosen to be his mother, his earthly father … they were not of the aristocracy and powerful in Israel, but were rather simple working-class people, people who nonetheless would trust and believe and obey in an extraordinary way, even though it might bring them shame by the conventional standards of their world.

And so it is with us. We have heard his calling; we have been chosen and have thereby chosen to follow him. This is good news … unspeakable joyous news. The Gospel message is the story of Christ going from riches to rags, in order that we may go from rags to riches …

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

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You are the pro! (1 Corinthians 1)

Thank you all for putting up with me on Sunday. For the second time this winter, a cold has descended upon me, and I tried to keep a healthy distance from everyone. But the bigger problem was a late-night Saturday computer freeze that would not allow me to get my sermon notes printed, and it affected also the Powerpoint slides and a few other service items. I was up most the night trying to remedy the problem by remembering and hand writing an orderly set of notes of what I wanted to communicate. By noon I was totally exhausted, and then I left my handwritten notes at the office before writing this devotional. The weekend was a disaster, as is my health at the moment.

All to say … sorry this is later than advertised …

There is a gift of evangelism, without doubt. Some people have a unique ability to communicate the Gospel with passion. And those of us who work in the area of “professional” ministry have some measure of advantage, I suppose, in the communication part of it all.

But as a “pro” in this area, I envy you folks who are out in the world daily and have the opportunity to know and interact with people who are yet to trust in Christ. A problem with being a “church-based pro” is that I can go weeks at a time and never have a serious or deep interaction with anyone who is not already a Christian.

Early on in ministry life I realized that this was going to drive me crazy, so I made specific steps to be involved in endeavors beyond the church. In New Jersey before moving here 20 years ago, it was with a running club called “The Mercer Street Striders.”  The club meetings happened to held in a Knights of Columbus building, I actually at one time had a key to it!  Think of that – a local pastor of an independent Baptist Church, and I had a key to the K.O.C. building!

As we have said before and during this weekend of study, we all have a calling to be witnesses of the Gospel. And the big idea of the weekend is to help you understand that the power to find success as such is not to be found in ministry credentials, but in the power of the message of the cross.

In 1 Corinthians 1, as Paul begins writing to the troubled church of people who had fractured themselves into constituent groups around favorite teachers or styles, we read in verse 12 …

What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Paul shoots down this sort of thinking that measured effectiveness by visible evidences of such as who was the best and most eloquent speaker, or who put on the best worship service … concluding that the real power resided elsewhere …

(verse 17) – For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

The real power in the church was not in who spoke, not in how exciting their time together was, but rather was in the life-changing power of the message of the cross.

(1:18-25) For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

How odd to speak of the cross as powerful.

  1. The cross was the ultimately most shameful death imaginable – designed to humiliate both the person hung on it and any who would associate with him.
  2. Secular writers of the early centuries mocked the cross message that was central to the Christian faith – calling it: “a perverse and extravagant superstition” … “a pernicious superstition” … and labelling Christians as people full of “sick delusions.”
  3. The true thinkers were those who reveled in “the wisdom” of the age – as in Corinth at the time of Paul’s writing (wherein was a culture much like our own) would be popularly found in one of several rational Greek philosophies … of the Epicureans, Stoics, Sophists, or Platonists. These were the Ivy Leaguers of the day.

But again, the real power is in the truth of the sacrifice achieved at the cross, and in the spirit-infused message of this truth through the mouthpiece of an ordinary person who possessed an undeniably changed life as a result …

26 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. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 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.”

And finally, three summary points …

  1. The world will never be sufficiently impressed with the gospel from a rational and logical point of view. There is a place for apologetics to give a rational defense, but the ultimate success will never be because it is the most rational message by human standards – there is an issue of faith involved.
  2. The power of the Gospel as evidenced in the changed life of a simple person is not only deniable, it is attractive!
  3. God especially uses the power of the message of the cross through an ordinary person. This is the sort of person God has always used – simple fishermen, converted tax collectors … you know – people like you and me.

Final thought – You are the pro when you have the message of the Gospel.