Contention Over the Chosen

One man wrote, “Not from the world’s ‘beautiful people,’ but for the most part from the lower classes, the ‘nobodies,’ God chose those who would make up God’s new people” (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, 82). Early on in church history, Christianity was deemed the religion of slaves, women, and children. Many unbelieving people today look at Christians as weak-minded, not willing to face the cold, brutal world in front of them.

On the other hand, when I watch American believers politically interact, I see them moving toward the same direction as the early Christians in Corinth. The irony is that the Corinthians were ‘nobodies’ when God called and chose them. But now they want to be the ‘somebodies’ who are rejecting them (and God).

1 Corinthians 18-25 emphasized contention among three groups of people. The Jews sought for power, the Greeks sought for wisdom, and believers found a true understanding of power and wisdom in Christ crucified. The cross of Christ was a curse and an instrument of shame for the Jews. It was utter foolishness to the Greeks. Therefore, both groups are perishing. However, for those being saved, we see the wisdom of God and the power of God in the contention among all three groups at the cross. This contention still exists today.

1 Corinthians 1.26-31 focuses on the people who find refuge in the cross. If the cross and its message proclaiming Christ crucified seems weak and foolish in our world, what can we say of the people who identify with it? What kind of people will God choose?

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26–31

God has not chosen many wise, mighty, or noble people to fill the church at Corinth. Instead, God has chosen the weak, base, and despised. These are described as “the things which are not,” the ‘nobodies’ of the world. They are not the ‘beautiful’ people. Right at the end of our passage, we find out why God has made such a contentious choice. Paul partially quotes from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD. – Jeremiah 9:23–24

He who glories, let him glory in the Lord!

So, where is our self-worth as believers once we better understand God’s contentious choice? Hopefully we conclude that it is shattered and broken. What makes Christianity such a contentious message in our world today is that it accurately describes the human condition as utterly lost in total darkness and sin. Contention peaks because we want to hold onto autonomy. We desire a far-rosier outlook of the human condition. But God will not allow for this. Once we acknowledge a need for a Savior, we are admitting something about ourselves. We don’t just need God to help us get up because we’ve been knocked down. We are absolutely wrecked, dead in our trespasses and sins. Then comes the Good News!

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” – 1 Corinthians 1.30-31

Photo: Sue Oesterwind

Those prepositions in verse 30 are important. God is choosing in verse 28. We are in Christ Jesus because of the action of God in v. 30. God the Father gives true wisdom or salvation in Christ crucified, namely righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. God chose us in Christ. The only person who ever lived that deserved to be chosen by the Father is Jesus Christ the Son, God’s Elect One.

So, this is how this 1 Corinthians 1.26-31 progress:

  1. Most called are not wise, mighty, and noble (26).
  2. Instead, God has chosen the foolish, weak, and base to put to shame the wise and mighty (27-28).
  3. God does this so that no one would glory in His presence (29).
  4. God made Christ to become true wisdom for us in that salvation is all from Him and expressed by three theological terms: righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (30).
  5. This is the death-knell of human boasting and self-sufficiency. It leads to complete trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ (31).

Christ became for us true wisdom from God. But this true wisdom is not about a burgeoning intellect, a high social status, or persuasive rhetorical skills. These appealed to the Corinthians and many people in our day. This is what makes God’s choice contentious. God makes sinners whole, and He doesn’t need their help. Those who are well need no physician. So, only the sick come to Jesus. Are you willing to be number among those infected by the pandemic of sin? There is only one true ground found for boasting and it’s not found in the people who cling to the cross. It’s found in the Savior who went to the cross to die for our sins.

What does this say about us as believers today?

Overall, it says that we were groping around in the darkness, ignorant of true wisdom. What can we really know when we are separated from Christ? Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked.

  • “There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God” (Romans 3.11).
  • “God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside; they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Psalm 52.2-3).
  • Christ became for us wisdom from God because God was in none of our thoughts (Psalm 10.4).

What did we really know of the depths of our sin and the beauty of His holiness? We saw ourselves as rich, wealthy, and in need of nothing. He saw us as we are: wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (see Revelation 3.17). We need righteousness, sanctification, and redemption because we are condemned, defiled, and enslaved.

  1. We are condemned. We are found guilty before God. Remember, we are lawbreakers. “We know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3.19).
  2. We are defiled. We refuse to conform to the will of God. We pursue pleasure and sensuality at every turn. “We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just at the others” (Ephesians 2.3).
  3. We are enslaved. This is why we must come to our senses “and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2.26). We have no power of our own to break free from our bondage.

Yes, we need true wisdom from God. We need righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. We cannot get this wisdom on our own or find it in the world. God gives real wisdom.

  • “From His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2.6).
  • The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of our understanding. He enlightens us (Ephesians 1.18).
  • Paul will say in 1 Corinthians 2.14: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.”
  • Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 3.19, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their own craftiness.’”

Why are we so needy?

  1. We cannot remove our guilt. We cannot remove the scars of our sin with self-righteous religion. We cannot produce sorrow and tears that will wash away sin. We can’t even stop sinning. So we compound our guilt before God. The very best works we produce in this world are stench in the nostrils of God. Even our repentance needs to be repented of. Trust God’s Word when He says that we do not want to be found in our own righteousness.
  2. We cannot remove the stain of our defilement. Can you put to death all of the illicit passions of your flesh? Can you remove every ounce of your love for this present world? Can you transform yourself into God’s image in righteousness and true holiness? You will create something from nothing before you will be able to produce a life of holiness (sanctification).
  3. We cannot remove the chains of our bondage. Right up until the day we die, we will cry out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Romans 7.24)? Only Christ can set us free! He alone has purchased our redemption.

“But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (v. 30).

Wisdom Is Salvation

Christ Jesus became for us wisdom from God. Through such wisdom we are “able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and the length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3.18-19).

  • “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5.5).
  • God commanded light to shine out of darkness. That light penetrates our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4.6).

Wisdom and Full Salvation

  1. We have righteousness. It comes through Christ. We are pronounced guiltless because we are robed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We are holy and without blemish as the bride of Christ. The righteousness of God belongs to all who believe (Romans 3.22). There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1). Not guilty!
  2. We have sanctification. It comes through Christ. We “put off, concerning [our] former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and [we are] renewed in the spirit of [our] mind, and …[we] put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4.22-24). When we see Christ, the God of peace will have sanctified us completely at His coming (1 Thessalonians 5.23). The Holy Spirit is working even now to bring us from one level of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3.18). We are set apart for God!
  3. We have redemption. It comes through Christ. He alone delivers us from the bondage of corruption and brings us into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. If Jesus makes us free, we are free indeed. We are free to be right and live right. We are free to know Christ and live an eternal quality of life. The Scriptures open for us. The avenue of prayer is given to us. We are loosed!

Are you safely in Christ Jesus? Do you have an accurate self-image? Do you see yourself as utterly incapable of pleasing God with self-produced righteousness through moralism and religion? If so, then you are in a position to receive the righteousness of God through the work of Jesus Christ (grace) by faith alone. Undeserving and unmerited favor from God is always received by faith. If you die without wisdom from God, void of Christ’s righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, it would be better if you had never been born.

If you are safely in Christ Jesus, know that He alone is God’s Elect One. This is God’s contentious choice. No one else could do the saving. No one deserves to be saved. God’s choice is contentious because man wants autonomy and glory. Instead, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” (1.31) God forbid that any of us should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (see Galatians 6.14)!

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