Job 38:1-18, I Corinthians 1:18-31
October 29, 2006
Ok, now this is starting to get ridiculous! “The Power Within Us,” “The Power of Words,” “The Power of Love,” “The Power of Prayer,” and now, “The Source of Our Power.” Is there no end to this stream of “Power” sermons? I guess you’ll just have to come back next week to find out!
Actually, I’ll be interested to find out, too. I’m not sure where God’s taking me on this “journey.” But I like it! And this week, the journey leads us to one of my favorite places in the whole Bible, the first chapter of First Corinthians.
I think this is some of Paul’s greatest writing! And this is different from some of his other letters. In other letters, he begins with a greeting, then an opening prayer, and then some inspirational words about the nature of God and the glory of his salvation in Jesus Christ. At this point in Colossians, for instance, he goes into these wonderful words about Jesus. “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation, for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.”
Here in Corinthians, he starts out by identifying a problem they were having. He starts right in on it. “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Then here’s the problem. “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there has been quarreling among you.” He had heard that this congregation had become divided into these various “factions.” Some claimed he was their leader, some claimed Apollos, some Cephas, others claimed Christ himself as their leader. And Paul recognized that this was a big problem! So he wanted to deal with it right away!
Corinth was an important city in Greece, and one of the most important cities in the world at that time. It had a lot of strong personalities and a lot of strong opinions. Here in this Church, which Paul had started himself, he was concerned with a lot of the issues that seemed to be dividing them. So he spent most of this letter dealing with the problems of this young church. And this wasn’t his only letter to them. He had written to them a number of times. He referred to one of those letters as a “harsh letter” which he says may have “grieved them” for a time. We’re not sure exactly what he was referring to, thought some think he may have been referring to some of the things he said to them in Second Corinthians.
Paul was concerned for these people. He was concerned about the division that was growing among them, and he wanted them to come together as one. And the best way for them to be unified was to understand where they stood in the kingdom of God. He wanted them to see themselves as God saw them.
So he writes, “Where is the wise man? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” It’s hard to know where to stop reading!
He states that God’s love for us in the cross of Christ Jesus is beyond human understanding. And it makes no sense in their world which was full of human pride and the glorification of the self. God’s self sacrificial love was something their world couldn’t understand. And it’s still something our own world doesn’t understand! “Whoever would lose their life will save it. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” Those things are folly to the world!
It’s interesting that he’s using here an example from their world. “Where is the wise man, where is the debater of this age?” In the Greek culture of the time, debate was a big thing! I heard a great talk on this not too many years ago. In that culture, debate had begun to take on the appearance of an Olympic sport. At certain times during the day, the people would gather to watch the various debates. This was like their pro football! Some of the best debaters would be well known by the public, and some would even have their own sponsors! And Paul had developed a reputation as one of the best debaters. So at first they couldn’t wait for him to come to their town. They were ready to take him on!
They seem to have been disappointed, though. Because in chapter 2, he tells them, “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom.” I didn’t come to debate you! “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” And that was probably disappointing to them!
Well, that may have been the attitude he chose while he was there, but now he decided to hit this problem head on using some of the most lofty words he ever wrote! He wanted them to see the true source of power in this world, and that the ultimate power did not lie with humans, but with God. As he said in Second Corinthians, we may have the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God…” “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels – jars of clay (for you Contemporary Christian music fans!) to show that the transcendent power belongs to God not to us.” (II Corinthians 4:7)
Here in First Corinthians, his line of reasoning reaches its conclusion as he nears the end of the chapter. Here, he asks them to consider their own part in this. I think that’s important to do. It’s important not just to talk about this stuff, but to ask you to consider how this “hits home” with you. So here, in one of my favorite passages of Paul’s writing, he says, “Consider your call, brethren, not many of you were wise by 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 the things that are…”
What great writing! But what does it mean? He’s telling them that what the world thinks is wise and strong and powerful are not what God thinks. Paul finishes this thought saying that God chose what he has chosen “so that no human might boast in the presence of God.” Then he told them – and us – that “He [God] is the source of our power and our life…”
Do you believe that? Is God truly the source of the power in your life? The world thinks it’s important to be wise and powerful and important. “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 the things that are…”
God thinks of things differently! And we need to be thinking about how God sees things! And we need to strive to see ourselves as God sees us. If we see ourselves only in terms of this world, or if that worldly thinking is finding its way into our life of faith or into our fellowship – and it’s easy for that to happen – we need to revisit these words again and again!
As Paul says, the word of the cross is folly to those who don’t believe it. It is foolishness to those who don’t want to see it. They choose it to be folly! But to those of us who understand, it is the very power of God! It is wisdom and power that transcends worldly wisdom and worldly power. And without that perspective, if our lives are oriented instead toward that worldly perspective, we may find ourselves wondering why our faith doesn’t seem to “work.”
Too often that’s the reason there’s so much anxiety among God’s people. Whenever we take back that power, whenever we think we can “do it on our own,” whenever we think we don’t need God’s power, and we take back the power to ourselves, that’s when we lose our power for living. That’s when we see problems arise. We need to know that God is the source of our power for living!
Folks, what I’m saying here is not easy! We want to keep the power in ourselves. I know when something goes wrong in my life, it’s hard to let go and to trust someone else to fix it. The tendency for me is to think that I can fix it the best. It’s hard to trust someone else.
I’m really annoying to car mechanics! I can’t let them just do their job! I’m always hanging around saying, “Hey, don’t you think you ought to do it this way?” Sometimes those guys are ready to bop me with a wrench or something! Don’t we sometimes do the same with God. “Oh Lord, please help us with this problem.” And when he begins to help – or even before – we say, “Oh hey Lord, don’t’ you think you ought to do it this way?”
Too often we say we want God’s power in our lives, but then we say we’d rather live our lives our own way. I think we need to remember this passage again and again. We ought to put it up on our refrigerator! “God is the source of our life.” As we start each new day of our lives, we need to remember that. “The cross is the power of God, and God is the source of our power.”
So how about you? Consider your call, my friends. You may not be wise or powerful or important – by worldly standards. Then again, you may be all those things. But that’s not what’s important to God. In fact, God would tell you that those things can sometimes get in the way of seeing God’s true power in your life. Seek God’s power! Strive to see yourself as God sees you!
Eternal God, help us to see ourselves as you see us. Help us to know we are jars of clay, but that you have chosen to live in us. Help us to look to you as the source of power for our lives. Grant us wisdom to know that power and live in the joy of your spirit in our midst and our heart.