1 Corinthians 1:26-31
For you see your calling, brothers, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:…
The apostle has shown, in the previous section, flint the cross of Christ, which men count foolish and weak, is really the wisdom and the power of God. In proof of this he now calls their attention to the social status of the converts at Corinth. For the most part they were of no account in the world's esteem; but, though nobodies according to the flesh, they were raised to true dignity in Christ.
I. THE CHRISTIAN CALLING DOES NOT PROCEED ON THE PRINCIPLES OF THIS WORLD. "For behold your calling, brethren," etc. The Church at Corinth was composed chiefly of the poor and the illiterate. The philosophers and the rich merchants, the high born and those who occupied positions of influence, had but few representatives among the disciples of Jesus. They were drawn in great part from those whom the world reckoned foolish, weak, base, and of no importance. And the case of Corinth was not singular. It is characteristic of Christianity to begin low down. The Lord Jesus himself was not born in a royal palace or nursed among the lordly of the earth. His birthplace was a stable, his home the simple dwelling of Joseph, his training school the carpenter's workshop, his disciples were derived mainly from the labouring classes. One or two of the twelve may have been in easy circumstances, but none of them appears to have been of high birth; and outside this circle his followers, with the exception of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, were almost entirely of the same class. From the beginning, therefore, the gospel found acceptance, not in the high places of the land, nor among the representatives of the learning and religion of the time, but among the plain, unschooled, unsophisticated people. "The poor have good tidings preached to them" (Luke 7:22). Beyond the bounds of Palestine it was the same. The pride of wisdom and station closed the ear against the story of the cross. It did not flatter the wise or the great. It spoke to all alike as sinners needing a common salvation, and summoned all to repentance and faith. The result may be illustrated by comparing the reception of the gospel at Athens and at Corinth. In the metropolis of philosophy and art only a few were converted (Acts 17:16-34); in the capital of trade a large Church was formed. So also at Rome. The first and chief successes of the gospel were among the lower classes of society; and this was urged as an objection against it. Celsus jeers at the fact that "wool workers, cobblers, leather dressers, the most illiterate and clownish of men, were zealous preachers of the gospel, and particularly that they addressed themselves, in the first instance, to women and children." The rend Roman could not understand a religion which treated the slave as a man, and addressed itself equally to all. But the leaven thus put into the mass spread not only outwards but upwards. From slave to master, from plebeian to patrician, did the blessed influence pass, till at last the emperor himself was constrained to do homage to Jesus Christ. To a large extent the course of the gospel is the same still. In our own country the profession of Christianity is not confined to any class in society; but a living godliness is a plant of rarer growth. Among our men of science, our philosophers and poets, and our hereditary nobility, there are to be found eminent Christians, whose lives evince the power of the gospel over the finest intellects and the most exalted station; yet it is mainly among those less privileged that the Church is strongest. The greatest number of her members are to be found among the humbler classes, especially among those who have neither riches nor poverty, and who know the meaning of honest work. Illustrate also from the history of modern missions to the heathen.
II. REASONS FOR THE DIVINE METHOD. When men inaugurate any new scheme or system, they seek the patronage of great names in order to recommend it to the people; but the gospel of salvation was not proclaimed to the world under the auspices of kings and philosophers. This is referred to the purpose of God (vers. 27, 28), according to which all things proceed. More particularly the end in view is:
1. The humiliation of human pride. "That no flesh should glory before God" (ver. 29). Human wisdom and power are of small account in this matter. Salvation is all of God. Had he chosen the wise and the great, pride might have boasted itself before him; but in choosing the foolish and the weak, all ground of glorying is removed. This does not imply that the one class is of more value in God's sight than the other; nor does it put a premium upon ignorance and weakness. It means that the wise man will not be saved because of his wisdom, nor the nobleman because of his high birth, nor the rich man because of his wealth. All trust in these things must be put to shame, as is done when they that are destitute of them enter the kingdom of heaven more readily. In the eye of the gospel all men arc equal, which means that some must be humbled, while others are exalted. It is always our Father's way to "hide these things from the wise and understanding, and to reveal them unto babes" (Matthew 11:25). Pride is at once insulting to God and hurtful to man; and it is in mercy that he requires us to "become as little children" (Matthew 18:3). In like manner, the advance of the gospel in the earth is not to be promoted by an arm of flesh ("not by might, nor by power," etc., Zechariah 4:6). Christian work must not be undertaken for the aggrandizement of persons, or parties, or sects. The flesh must not be elevated to the dishonour of God.
2. The advancement of the Divine glory. Human pride is to be humbled, that the honour of salvation may belong to God alone. It is the prerogative of the Almighty to make his own glory the chief end of all he does. No created being can do so. For man and angel, happiness consists in seeking the glory of our Father in heaven. A life with self as the centre, self as the aim, must be a life of misery. Does not this explain the misery of Satan? "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven!" It is otherwise with the Most High. To seek his own glory is simply to desire truth and reality. In the nature of things all praise is due to him alone who is the Alpha and the Omega of existence. Hence the glory of God coincides with the greatest happiness of men, in the matter of salvation as in other things. "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."
III. THE RICHES IN CHRIST. Salvation is due entirely to God. It is of him that we are in Christ Jesus. The believer's union with Christ has been brought about by God Himself, who has given us all things in his Son.
1. Wisdom. "In him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden" (Colossians 2:3). He reveals to us God - his nature and his will, his purpose and plan of grace. In the person and work of Christ; in his incarnation, life, teaching, atonement, - the wisdom of God shines out conspicuously. And in union with Christ we become truly wise. In him we have the key which opens all mysteries. We learn to know God and to know ourselves; and in him the broken fellowship between God and us is restored. The quest for wisdom, alike in its speculative and in its practical form, is satisfied only in him.
2. Righteousness. He is "Jehovah our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6). To be righteous is to be in entire consistence with the mind and Law of God; and this Jesus, as our Representative, was. He bore the penalty of our sins, and met the positive requirements of the Law; and thus wrought out a righteousness for us (2 Corinthians 5:12; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24). When by faith we accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour, his work is reckoned to us, and we are received as righteous for his sake.
3. Sanctification. This includes the whole of the process by which we are restored to the image of God. Not only is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, the character of Christ must also be reproduced in us; and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is his to illuminate, regenerate, purify; and the whole man thus renewed is consecrated to God. Every part of the nature - spirit, soul, body; every activity of thought, affection, desire, purpose; all are transformed and devoted to the noblest service. Justification and sanctification are the two sides of one whole, never to be separated.
4. Redemption. This denotes deliverance from all evil, enemies, afflictions, death. Soul and body shall be completely emancipated, and presented at last without blemish (Romans 8:23; Ephesians 5:26, 27).
1. To be emptied of self is a necessary condition of God's working in us and by us.
2. Give God all the glory of salvation.
3. Christ is the Source of all blessings. "In him ye are made full" (Colossians 2:10). - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: