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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:God surprises with his calling of the nobodies in this world
Text:1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's gathering work
 
Preached:2012
Added:2012-12-28
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 34:1,2,7
Psalm 102:1-3 (after the law)
Hymn 13
Psalm 72:1,2,7,10
Psalm 140:1,2,7

Scripture reading:  1 Corinthians 1
Text:  1 Corinthians 1:26-31
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Where were you when the Twin Towers fell?  That question gets asked every year as the world remembers the terror attacks of 9/11.  Most people remember that September day from 2001.  I can tell you in detail what I was doing that day.  I will never forget.  Such a thing makes a deep impression on your heart and mind. 

But now what if you were to be asked a different question:  where were you when you were called by God to faith in Jesus Christ?  What were you like before?  A few of us were not raised in Christian homes.  Some of us can tell exactly what life was like without Christ.  But most of us had the blessing of growing up in the covenant of grace, in Christian families.  We were brought up as Christians and never thought of ourselves as anything else but Christians.  Some of us can trace a line of Christian faith back through several generations.  Incredible, isn’t it? 

Yet somewhere back in those generations you’d find family who were unbelievers.  All of us here today have unbelievers somewhere back in our family tree.  At some point or other, the gospel came to them and they first heard the message of the forgiveness of sins in Christ.  The Holy Spirit worked faith in their hearts so that they believed the message.  That man or that woman (your great-great-great grandfather or grandmother) became a Christian, believed the news of salvation in Jesus.  What do you think they were like before that? 

Many of us trace our roots to the Netherlands.  If you go far enough back, the Netherlands was a completely pagan country.  The ancient inhabitants of what we call the Netherlands worshipped several different gods.  There are reports of child sacrifices made to some of these gods.  Eventually Christianity came to the Netherlands, but it took many, many years for the Dutch to embrace the gospel.  It may be a surprise to some of you, but the Dutch were stubborn.  And they made up a mission field just as spiritually needy as the tropical jungles of Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.   

I’m telling you all this because people have a tendency to forget their roots and origins.  This is especially dangerous when it comes to how we came to Christ, however that happened.  If we forget who we were and who our families were before Christ, we’re easily in danger of falling into the pride pit.  When you fall in the pride pit, others around you will suffer.  Other believers in the church will get hurt by you.  New believers who are coming into the church might get hurt by you.  Unbelievers who are just hearing the gospel for the first time might get bruised because you don’t remember your own humble past.  The Holy Spirit has given us our text to address these dangers.  Our God wants his people to constantly be in a state of humble awe for what he has done in their lives through the gospel.  With that kind of awe ingrained in us, we will increasingly reflect our Saviour as we interact with others both inside and outside the church.

This morning, I preach the Word of God to you.  We’ll see how God surprises with his calling of the nobodies in this world.  We’ll consider how he does this to: 

1.      Shame the wise and the strong

2.      Stop all boasting except in the Lord

Corinth was an important city in the Roman Empire.  Not only was it one of the largest cities, it was also a center of trade and culture.  Yes, it also had that famous reputation for being a wild party place.  It was sort of a cross between the modern day New York and Las Vegas.  Corinth was not some country back water, but a city of status, a famous city. 

Paul brought the gospel to Corinth on his second missionary journey.  You can read about that in Acts 18.  He spent about eighteen months there.  When he preached the gospel, Luke tells us that “many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.”  The Bible tells us some of their names.  There was Crispus, the ruler of the Jewish synagogue.  There was Erastus, a Christian who held the prestigious post of city treasurer.  But there were many others whose names have long been forgotten.                 

Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians as a response to reports he was hearing about the congregation there.  Verse 11 of chapter 1 says it, “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.”  Members of the Corinthian church were at odds with one another.  There were divisions.  Some claimed to be followers of Paul, while others claimed allegiance to Apollos or Peter.  Some were more pious and claimed to follow Christ.   But there was no unity in the congregation and people were not merely indifferent to one another – there was outright antagonism. 

That was disastrous for the life of the church.  How can brothers and sisters grow together in Christ when they are at each other’s throats and have no love for one another?  But it also negatively impacted the witness of the church.  Unbelievers would quickly notice the disconnect between what the Christians were saying and how they were living.  Of course.  How could they not notice?  Even worldly people can pick up on when people don’t even like being with each other.  That damages the credibility of the gospel message with which we’re entrusted.

Now with that situation in mind, we can get a handle on what Paul is getting at in our text.  He begins by telling them to reflect on their calling:  “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.”  It’s important to note one thing right from the start.  Paul is not writing here about the Corinthian believers as such, not about them all on their own.  Everything here is connected with the activities of God.  That’s what we find right at the beginning too.  “When you were called” – that implies that someone called them.  That someone, of course, was God.  God ensured that gospel preachers like Paul were sent to them to call them to faith in Christ.  But then God also worked in their hearts with his Spirit so that they would respond to the call to faith.  He gave the gift of faith so that they would rest and trust in Christ alone.  That’s what Paul wants them to think about as he tries to restore peace and unity in the Corinthian church.

Now when they were called, some of them had status in Corinthian society.  There were people like Crispus and Erastus – men of reputation.  But they were definitely in the minority.  Most of those whom God called were nobodies in society.  They were not people with wisdom – they didn’t have high academic qualifications.  Most of them were not today’s equivalent of PhDs.  They were not people with influence or power – they weren’t middle class or upper class.  Most of them were the cast offs of society, slaves and servants.  The Corinthian church members were mostly not cut out of noble cloth.  They didn’t have social status, no blue bloods there, no aristocracy or royalty in the family.  It’s possible that some of the first Christians in Corinth didn’t even know who their fathers were.  They couldn’t boast about their fine upbringing. 

Elsewhere in First Corinthians, we discover more about the make-up of the Corinthian church and their history.  In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says that some of them had been idolaters, others had been involved in adulterous relationships.  Perhaps some had been prostitutes.  Some had definitely been homosexuals.  Others had been thieves.  Still others were drunkards and con artists.  The Corinthian church was made up of people with what we might call colourful backgrounds.   

They had been people looked down at by the world – and probably still were.  They were considered to be the fools, the weak, the things that are not – the nobodies.  The Corinthians have to remember this.  Like Israel in times of old, God did not choose them because they were so lovable or so obedient or because they had everything together.  No, he sought out the foolish and weak and undesirables intentionally because he had a plan to display his power in them.  You could also think of how Jesus called his first disciples.  Did he go out and find the best and brightest in the land?  Did he search for men with wealth and status?  Jesus could have gone to the Pharisees and picked some of them to be his disciples.  They were men with credentials and respect.  But instead he chose the lowly.  He chose fishermen and tax collectors, the lowest of the low. 

God is sovereign and he is free to choose whomever he wills.  And it so happens that he freely chooses the broken and despised.  If you’d never read the Bible before, this might be surprising.  Even if you have read the Bible, it may be remarkable.  After all, he is the Almighty and exalted God.  He is a great and glorious King.  Yet, he freely chooses to call the losers.  Moreover, he has freely chosen to reveal the reason why he does this.  He has allowed us to have a peek at his purposes.

One of his purposes has to do with shaming the wise and the strong.  God wants to nullify the things that are, says Paul.  That’s in verse 28 and what it means is that God wants to show that in his scheme, the somebodies don’t get preferential standing.  Academic achievements don’t get God’s attention.  Money can’t buy God’s love.  Being born into a reputable family means nothing in the sight of God when it comes to his calling.  He disregards all of those things.  For the wise and the strong, for the somebodies in the world, this is a slap in the face.  It’s like the celebrity who goes to a restaurant and gets treated like everyone else or maybe worse.  He accosts the waiter and says, “Don’t you know who I am?”  You see, to the unregenerate people of repute in the world, God’s approach is an affront.  They think whatever it is that makes them special in the eyes of people should make them special in the eyes of God and when they discover that this is not the case, they will feel that they have been shamed and insulted.  They’re not used to being treated this way.

This part of our text is a warning for us, loved ones.  Truth be told, we live in a time when many people have academic achievements of one sort or another.  Even if it’s just a high school diploma, you’ve still got more education than the vast majority of people who’ve ever lived on the earth.  The wealth that we have or have access to would astonish most of the world’s population if they could see it.  Canada’s standard of living is one of the highest on the globe.  All things considered, most of us live quite comfortably.  True, noble birth is probably not something to which many (or maybe any) of us can lay claim.  But yet, we do have families in our communities who have built up something of a good name for themselves for various reasons.  Now our text warns us not to place any lasting value on any of these things.  Why not?  Because God doesn’t.  Regardless of our educational, economic, or social status, he wants us to turn to Christ in repentance and faith, and find our identity in him.  God’s calling does not weigh our status.  And in the age to come, your status here in this age will not matter.  What will matter is God’s calling.  What will matter is that we believed in Jesus Christ and followed him. 

What it means to follow him in this connection is worked out from verses 29 to 31.  It has to do with boasting.  God’s purpose in calling the nobodies is to stop boasting before him.  That means that no one can stand up and proudly say that they are Christians because of anything they have done of themselves.  No can say that eternal life is the result of their being such great people with such great abilities or characteristics.  When it comes to salvation, there is to be no praising of human beings – and certainly no praising of oneself.

Verse 30 expands on why that is.  Paul says that it is because of God that the Corinthians (and us too) are in Christ.  He’s writing here about union with Jesus.  Paul writes frequently in his letters about being in Christ.  That’s typically referring to our being joined to him.  We are his body and therefore have a close personal relationship with him.  That relationship comes into existence through the faith worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  And Paul says here our union with Christ has its source and origin entirely with God.  We are in Christ because of God’s gracious election before the creation of the world.  We are in Christ because the Holy Spirit has graciously given us faith so that we can embrace all the benefits and merits of Christ.

Paul outlines what some of those benefits and merits are.  He does so by describing Christ as being our wisdom from God.  What that means is worked out with three words telling us what Christ has done for us:  righteousness, holiness, and redemption. 

Christ is our righteousness.  Before the throne of God, we have no righteousness of our own.  Think of the well-known words of Scripture about our righteousness:  all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  We need Christ to put us in a good and right standing with God.  We need him to take all our sins on himself.  We need him to give us all his righteousness.  The gospel tells us that this is the very thing Christ has done for those who believe in him.  Think of what Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  God made Christ to be what he was not (sin), so that we could become what we are not (righteousness).  This is the joyous exchange, the sweet swap.  Christ is our righteousness and therefore we are no longer at odds with the holy judge of heaven and earth.  But the key thing to grasp here is that we are not right with God because of us or anything in us.  It’s only through Christ.  God’s wisdom is that we would look outside of ourselves for righteousness, look to Christ alone. 

Then Paul writes that Christ is our holiness.  In Christ, God sees people who are holy, set apart from the world and sin.  Apart from Christ, we have no holiness because we are stained with sin, we love sin and live in it.  We wallow in it like pigs in the muck.  Regeneration changes that.  When you become a Christian, you start to struggle with sin.  Sometimes there will be love for sin in a Christian’s life.  It shouldn’t be there, but it is.  But the difference is that Christians do also hate sin and fight against it and they do that more and more.  So not only is there holiness in the eyes of God, but also increasingly there is holiness in the lives of believers here and now on this earth.  And that process that we call sanctification is also first the work of Christ through his Holy Spirit.  Yes, we do have a calling to live holy lives and we have to exert ourselves to that end.  But apart from Christ, we would never be able to do so.  Our strength to hate sin and fight against it doesn’t come from our own resources, but from the Holy Spirit of Christ.  Thus, God’s wisdom is that we realize that our holiness is also entirely rooted in our gracious Saviour. 

Last of all, Paul says that Christ is our redemption.  Redemption means buying back, having a price paid to get someone back.  Christ has paid the price for our redemption with his blood offered on the cross.  Through his precious blood, we have been “redeemed from the empty way of life” (1 Peter 1:18).  Because of Christ we can be confident that on the last day, we will be with Christ and all his people.  Again, we don’t have redemption because of anything in us.  It’s all in Christ alone.  God’s wisdom is that we humbly acknowledge that our salvation is by grace from first to last.  God doesn’t save us because we have taken x number of steps towards him, or because we’ve demonstrated that we are worth saving.  It is all grace, brothers and sisters.  We should never forget that.  

Here we see more of God’s surprising work in this world.  All other world religions are based on human works and human effort.  But the Christian faith proclaims the unique and surprising message of salvation by grace alone.  We deserve nothing, but in Christ receive everything.  We deserve eternal punishment, but we receive the opposite in Christ – eternal life.  That’s good news and we ought never to take it for granted. 

That brings Paul to his conclusion in verse 31, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  He’s paraphrasing what the Bible says in Jeremiah 9:24.  Literally, Paul says that the one who boasts MUST boast in the Lord.  “Let him who boasts” could be misunderstood to be something less than a command.   But it is a command.  You must boast in the Lord and not in anyone else.  All glory must be given to the Lord.  By the “Lord,” Paul means Christ.  In Jeremiah 9, the prophet was speaking about Yahweh, the LORD in all capital letters.  Paul takes those words and applies them to Christ – which, by the way, is another way of saying that Jesus is God.  Paul takes what is said about God in Jeremiah and says that it’s also true for Christ.  The one who boasts MUST boast not in himself, but in Christ and in Christ alone.  All glory has to be directed upward.

The Corinthian believers needed this message in their day.  Their young church was being destroyed from within.  The in-fighting and pride in their midst was corroding their fellowship.  They were in serious danger because they had lost sight of some key gospel teachings.  They were swelling up with pride and treating each other poorly because they forgot that God’s grace made them who they were in Christ.  Of course, as I mentioned earlier, this undoubtedly impacted their witness to the unbelieving world.  They had been compromised by their pride.

The Corinthians needed to be reminded that salvation is entirely by grace – and today, brothers and sisters, we continue to need the same message.  We might want to think that we are somebodies – people of education, wealth, and prestige.  But the gospel teaches us to think differently – the gospel directs our attention outside of ourselves to Christ and to him alone.  The worth we now have in the eyes of God is entirely by his grace.  That should make us humble people.  That should impact how we treat one another in our church family.  We ought to be patient with one another’s weaknesses and shortcomings, be loving and gracious towards one another – just as God has been with us.  That should also affect how we interact with unbelievers and especially with those who are the nobodies in our society.  Having been saved by grace alone, we want to be gracious people with big hearts for those who are broken and downtrodden.   We want to be compassionate and sympathetic.  Think of what Paul writes in Romans 12:16, “Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.”  In other words, don’t think that you’re too good for some people. 

Brothers and sisters, the gospel gives us a counter-cultural message.  Our culture teaches us to think highly of ourselves and to look down our noses at the people whose lives are messed up.  When our lives are messed up, the culture says we’re to still look down on those who are even worse off than we are.  Of course, you can always find people who are worse than you.  The gospel teaches us that of ourselves we’re all screw ups.  Of ourselves, we’re all messed up and have no hope.  Of ourselves, we’re sinners and we have no way to pull ourselves out of the mess we’ve made.  If you don’t understand that, then you really don’t understand your need for Christ.  But if you do, then the gospel goes on to teach us that, in his grace, God has given a Saviour.  Through our Lord Jesus, we are made clean and new, restored, washed, healed, forgiven.  Then because of that message of gospel grace, we are being transformed into people who are gracious and merciful to everyone around us, both Christians and non-Christians. 

Don’t we want to be a church family where during the week people can sense that we are just beggars telling other beggars where to find bread?  Don’t we want to be that kind of church where people can come in off the street with all their baggage and they can sense that we genuinely care about them as people?  Yes, anyone who comes into a Reformed worship service for the first time will probably feel out of place.  Biblical worship will always appear unusual to unbelievers and sometimes even to Christians not accustomed to it.  We cannot change that nor should we want to.   But we should strive to be better at welcoming the broken and lowly of the world, reflecting the union that we have with our gracious Saviour.  He ate and drank with people we might feel really uncomfortable with.  It’s going to take a lot of prayer and careful thought, but we can grow in reflecting his image.  Isn’t that what we all want for us as individuals, as families, and together as a church family?  And as we grow in that direction, more praise and honour are sent upwards to the God who saves sinners.  That’s why the church is here.  She’s placed here to be a witness for the world to the glory of God.  May God bless our desire to fulfill that purpose.  AMEN. 

Prayer:

Our great God and Father in heaven,

We are so rich with the gospel of salvation.  We thank you for Christ Jesus, who is our wisdom.  We rejoice that in him we have righteousness, holiness, and redemption.  Father, we recognize that our salvation is entirely of grace.  So we will not boast except in the Lord.  We give you all the praise and glory.  We pray that you would continue working in our hearts with your Holy Spirit.  Please teach us humility.  Give us hearts that are kind and gracious to everyone around us, whether in the church or in the world.  Help us to show the same grace that you have shown to us.  Help us to live in harmony and peace with all people.  Please bless us as we aim to be a church that cares for the broken and downtrodden.  We pray that you would use our witness to bring more to yourself in true faith.  We ask that out of love for our neighbours and because we also want to see your Name praised.   




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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