Sixth Sunday after Epiphany February 12, 2023
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
398, 414, 477, 457
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://anchor.fm/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: O Lord, graciously hear the prayers of Your people that we who struggle with sin and its consequences in this world may be mercifully delivered by Your goodness to the glory of Your name. We pray this in His name, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (ESV)
Let me see a show of hands: How many rocket scientists do we have with us here this morning? How many 4-star generals? How many mayors do we have here at church this morning? Governors? Congressmen? Congresswomen? Any members of royalty with us here this morning? None? Apparently, we have something in common with the church that Paul was writing to in Corinth. Most of them were just “ordinary” people like you and me. Paul writes in the first verse of our text, “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.“ (v. 26)
This general observation still holds true today. How many people who control the media in our country, how many movie stars and entertainers, how many billionaire industry leaders, how many world-renowned scholars are Bible-believing, church-going Christians? There are some, no doubt, but like Paul said “not many.” When we take a look at our small Lutheran church body (the CLC) and our small Lutheran congregation, we will quickly realize that there really aren’t many at all among us who are “wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.“ From a worldly perspective this should give us an inferiority complex. But our glory is not our intelligence, might, or nobility in the eyes of the world. We glory in someone and something far greater. Our boast is in the One who by His grace has made us numbered among the wisest and most powerful people ever to walk the face of this earth. The Lord, our creator, redeemer, and comforter is our glory! Therefore, Let us Boast in the LORD! We 1. Boast in the Wisdom of His “Foolishness,” and 2. Boast in the Strength of our “Weakness.”
It is very easy, isn’t it, to fall into the trap of placing too high a value on the “wisdom” of the world. If we don’t have enough degrees hanging on our wall we can feel like no one is going to listen seriously to what we have to say. We can become intimidated by the “intellectuals” of our world who look down upon us as being “simple minded” for trusting in Jesus, and being “closed minded” for following the Words of Scripture as the one source of truth and life. Yet, this is not how the Bible talks about the “wisdom” of the world. There are certainly many things we can learn and be taught by secular teachers that is very useful and important for this life, but that is where this “wisdom” will end—in this life. The only true wisdom that will carry on into eternity is the wisdom of God, the wisdom of Salvation found in Jesus Christ and Him Crucified (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15). Don’t expect the unbelieving world to value this wisdom, however. Paul says just a few verses before our sermon text, “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 since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:18,21 NKJV)
Worldly opinion does not, and cannot, change the value of God’s wisdom of salvation in Christ. One Lutheran scholar once wrote, “Humanity has never saved a single soul; divinity alone can do that. The beauties of art, the discoveries of science, the charms of music, the attractions of the drama, the speculations of philosophy—none of these has ever brought true peace to a single sinner’s soul. Not in all the ages that have passed. Only one thing can do that: the ‘foolishness’ of the preaching of the cross of Christ.” (Lenski, R.C.H., Eisenach Epistle Selections Vol. I, p. 373)
All the wisdom of the world is shown to be “foolishness” in reality, since it cannot even answer the great questions of life that are asked by every soul: “Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going, and how am I going to get there?” Only the Bible can answer these questions with the Truth. This is why Paul says in our text, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.” (v. 27a)
He goes on to say in this same verse, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (v. 27b) This has been God’s chosen method of operation throughout history.
God chose a shepherd boy, David, to kill a mighty giant with a sling and a stone and went on to make him Israel’s mightiest king. Worldly wisdom and common sense would have told David to turn tail and run once he found out Saul’s armor didn’t fit him.
God’s very own Son, Jesus, the One by whom all things were made was born in a cattle barn to a humble young virgin and a lowly carpenter. Worldly wisdom and common sense would have had Jesus born in a palace to the king of Israel, but the king wasn’t even interested in letting this baby Savior live.
In His ministry, Jesus chose His twelve closest followers to be made up of ordinary men, like the Galilean fishermen, and despised men, like Matthew the tax collector. Worldly wisdom and common sense would have had Jesus choose His followers from the Jewish religious leaders, the educated Scribes and Pharisees and the high priest, but they opposed Him and put Him to death.
Even God’s very own Words—they do not come to us written across the sky in blazing flames, but in the “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) of His Scriptures.
And we ourselves, we are few in number, unassuming and ordinary in the eyes of the world. By ourselves we are weak; we are “nobodies.” With Christ, we are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37)! When, and only when we humble ourselves and realize and admit our weakness and helplessness can we be filled with Christ’s might. Then we can become like David, who in faith picked up the sling and the stones; like Mary and Joseph who trusted God’s promises despite the impossible; and like Jesus’ disciples who were filled with the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and zeal after they had witnessed Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Therefore, let us (2) boast in the strength of our “weakness.”
Paul tells us that God has chosen these “foolish” and “weak” things “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (v. 29) No matter how powerful, influential, or intelligent we are or are not, in the eyes of the world, our “glory” and our “boast” can never be in ourselves or in our own flesh. Of ourselves we are sinful, we are lost, and were headed for an eternally dreadful end. But, as Paul reminds us in our text, “because of Him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (v. 30) We can “boast” in God’s wisdom of Salvation which He has given for us through faith in Christ. We can “boast” in the “righteousness” of Christ that we have been clothed with through His shed blood on the cross, which has “sanctified,” made us holy, in God’s sight. We can “boast” that we have been “redeemed,” bought back, from our sure destruction in hell to the loving arms of our heavenly Father.
“You are in Christ Jesus,” Paul reminds us in our text. Dear fellow believers in Christ Jesus, that makes us among the “wisest” most blessed people on this earth. We have God’s wisdom of Salvation to answer the burning questions of life:
“Who am I?”—“I am by nature a condemned sinner, but I am a condemned sinner who has been fully forgiven by the blood of Jesus.”
“Where did I come from?”—“I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14) by my Creator—God Himself!”
“Where am I going and how am I going to get there?”—“Like all people, one day I will die, but after death I am headed for eternal life in heaven thanks to Christ’s perfect life, His innocent death on the cross, and His victorious resurrection from the dead.”
“You are in Christ Jesus.” Dear fellow Christians, that makes us among the most “important” and most “powerful” people on this earth. Through faith in Christ Jesus we are the sons and daughters of God our heavenly Father! He cares for us and loves us as His very own. This also means that as His sons and daughters we bear His name. He wants us to represent His good name among the people of this world. To do so, God has given us His very own words. He has entrusted us “nobodies” with the words that can change lives; words that can melt hearts of stone; words that can give peace; forgiveness, and eternal life to dying souls. There is nothing more powerful than that! If we let our own “wisdom” or “strength” get in the way, we will fail in wielding this power. But when we Boast in the LORD; in His wisdom and in His strength, we can do “all things” (Philippians 4:13)! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.