May 5, 2024

Boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2023-2024) Topic: One Lord: No One Like You Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:26–31


Children's Lesson (click here)

I. A Boasting Problem

Of the many problems that plagued the young church in Corinth, the first issue the Apostle Paul tackles in the letter we call 1 Corinthians was their problem with... boasting. While the English word boasting is almost always used in a negative sense, the Greek word here can also used in a positive sense, even by Paul (e.g., in Romans 5:2, “...we rejoice [or boast] in hope of the glory of God” (or of their readiness to give in II-9:2). But in 1 Cor. 3:21, 4:7, and 5:6, it's abundantly clear that the boasting of these disciples was not at all positive (except being positively fleshly).

Listen for example to the first half of 3:21. Paul writes, “So let no one boast in men.” What does he mean there? How were these believers boasting “in men”? Well, as Paul described earlier, in the first half of chapter 1, “...each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1:12). In the verse before this one Paul labels this behavior as “quarreling” (1:11); it's the very reason why in the verse before that verse, Paul appeals to these disciples, “that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you” (1:10).

And when we arrive at 3:4, Paul continues by explaining to them that, “...when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?” (i.e. fleshly, worldly). So when the Apostle says in 3:21, “...let no one boast in men”, he's addressing a situation in which various groups of people were bragging about a particular leader that they 'rightly' recognized as superior (apparently, some even said they followed Christ, and yet said this with that same divisive attitude). But where was this attitude coming from, and what was feeding it? And if this very word translated “boasting” can be used in a positive sense, what does that look like for a devoted follower of Jesus? Let's tackle these questions by looking together at 1:26-31.

II. The Passage: “So That No Human Being Might Boast” (1:26-31)

Now normally, we would want to know something about the context of this passage before reading through it. But let's read through the passage first, and then pull in the context as we think through the different ideas Paul touches on here. Listen to what he tells them, starting in 1:26...

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. [27] 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; [28] God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, [29] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. [30] And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, [31] so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Okay. Did you see how one of our initial questions was answered here, in a really big way? I asked a moment ago, “If this very word translated 'boasting' can be used in a positive sense, what does that look like for a devoted follower of Jesus?” And that's precisely where Paul ends up in the final verse of chapter 1. Look back at verse 31. Notice that Paul is quoting there from the Old Testament (or summarizing). He says, “as it is written”. Written where? In Jeremiah 9:24. I think it's worth going back and reading that verse. The prophet Jeremiah declares [starting 9:23],

Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in hs riches, [24] but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD."

Could there be a more positive use of the word “boasting” than what the prophet Jeremiah and the apostle Paul describe in these verses? To “boast in the Lord”! But we can go deeper than that, can't we? We should go deeper and ask, “Why... why should we boast in the Lord and not in ourselves or any other person?” Of course, the Bible is full of answers to that question. We might even say that the whole testimony of Scripture speaks directly to that question. But let's think about how our main passage for this morning (along with its context) informs this critical question, “Why boast in (glory in) the Lord?”. Let me offer a few ideas, taken right from the text:

First, we should boast in the Lord and not ourselves because human wisdom is not really wise. To be clear, people can be wise, and they can say and do wise things. That's not what Paul is talking about here. He's talking about wisdom that justifies a particular kind of boasting: not boasting in the Lord, but, if you can believe it, boasting before the Lord. But there is no wisdom that enables this, so that, in reality, (v. 29) “no human being might boast in the presence of God”.

You see, if we were to go back and consider Paul's argument leading up to our main passage, we would discover yet another answer to one of our earlier questions: “...Where was this [boastful] attitude coming from, and what was feeding it?” In chapter 1, Paul clearly identifies what was informing this fleshly boasting: it's what he describes in verse 20 as “the wisdom of this world”. In 2:5 it's called “the wisdom of men”, and in 2:6 it's referred to as “the wisdom of this age”. How was this worldly wisdom leading to worldly boasting? By providing a different set of standards, standards by which various Christian leaders were being judged. But again, as Paul makes clear in v. 26, these were “worldly standards”. And we find evidence identifying these standards sprinkled throughout the opening chapters of this book: for example the Corinthians were exalting things like “eloquent” or “lofty” or “clever” speech (1:17; 2:1, 4); they were exalting things like being “powerful” (1:26) and being “strong” (1:27), but again, according to worldly standards.

But Paul's argument in chapter 1 exposes the fact that human wisdom isn't really wise. How do we know this? Look at 1:21. Human wisdom really isn't wise, because, “the world did not know God through wisdom [i.e., through its wisdom]”. Jump over to 2:8. There we read that, “None of the rulers of this age [i.e., the 'wise' and 'powerful' rulers] understood this [i.e., God's wisdom], for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” You see, this wisdom of the world is proven to be ultimately bankrupt when it comes to ultimate truth, for it shows itself to be diametrically opposed to and useless in leading us to the source of true wisdom: to God himself.

But look at how Paul builds on this point by, second, describing how God chose 'foolish' things to expose worldly wisdom. This is exactly what Paul is detailing in verses 26-28. Did God call to himself the “wise” men of the world, and “the debater[s] of this age” (1:20)? Did he call to himself the politically “powerful” and those of “noble birth” (1:26)? Paul tells us here that in most cases the answer was no. 1:27-28... “But God chose what is foolish in the world [i.e., by worldly standards] 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...” And the ultimate example of this fact is emphasized, starting in v. 17. The central reality to their identity as Christians, the very thing that makes it possible for them to even know God, is the very best example Paul can offer. Look at v.18: “For the word of the cross is folly [by worldly standards] to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

What could be more 'foolish' and objectionable by worldly standards, for both Jews and Greeks, than a crucified Savior? A condemned and humiliated King? And Paul acknowledges this, but also refutes this. In 1:23-24. Listen to what he writes to those seduced by worldly power and worldly 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.”

Finally, third, we should boast in the Lord and not ourselves because God chose us, and not the other way around. Since human wisdom will never lead a person to God, we desperately needed divine wisdom. But as we read last week in 2:14, the “natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him”. So how can natural(ly fallen) people like us discover and embrace God's wisdom? 2:10 answers that: “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” And we find evidence of this same sovereign grace all over our main passage: verse 26 speaks of God's “calling”, and verses 27-28 speak of God's choice. And in verse 30, Paul makes the same point this way, “And because of him [i.e. God] you are in Christ Jesus”. And what does it mean to be “in Christ Jesus”, by grace through faith? It means that God has made Jesus our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and redemption. That's everything single thing we needed for new life with Him; and all of it, the very work of God; the very gift of God. As Paul asks in 4:7... “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” How could we not boast in the Lord?!

III. His Counterintuitive Call

And so we come back (each of us must come back) to that key question, “Why should we (why should I) boast in the Lord and not in ourselves or any other person?” What has God revealed to us through Paul this morning? We boast in the Lord because there is nothing in me, or out there, that can ever accomplish anything that is ultimately worth boasting about; any-thing of eternal value. And if something comes to mind that might be the exception to that rule, I guarantee that if you dig a littler deeper, you will find God behind that so-called exception. And that points us to an even better answer: we boast in the Lord because he's not only exposed the foolishness of our wisdom and power, but wonderfully, he's also given us true wisdom and power by giving us Jesus (better still, by putting us in Jesus). In light of this, it's no wonder that in another letter Paul declares, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. 6:14)

Are we guilty of the same kind of boasting as the Corinthians? Undoubtedly; in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Their boasting was not simply sinful boasting out there. It was within the church. It was warping their faith. So anytime we believe our theology or our methods or our values or our outlook or our positions as Christians on this or that issue, anytime we believe these make us superior to others, even other Christians, we too are in the grip of fleshly boasting. That shouldn't deter me from seeking the very best in terms of theology and practice. But it should drive me to be all the more vigilant about how worldly wisdom may be affecting my attitude; specifically, how I think about myself and others; specifically, how I treat myself and others.

You see, there are so many worldly principles that find their way into our hearts and minds, so many that we want to deny, but nevertheless, so many that we still feed through our daily choices. But God wants to expose those this morning in light of his unrivaled greatness and grace; in light of the cross of Christ, and the counterintuitive call of Jesus: a call to die, that you might live; to lose, that you might win; to be scorned, that you might be blessed; to stop, that you might go forward; to humility, that you might boast, that you might brag about, the God who has done all things well; the God who has made alive those who were spiritually dead. If He saved us thru (of all things) a cross, then how could we not daily boast in him and his wonderfully upending grace?