The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
February 2, 2020
I Corinthians 1:26-31
Now That’s a Reason to Boast!
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Picture this: You are at a Super Bowl party with a few dozen of your closest family, friends and neighbors. Not surprisingly there are a variety of conversations going on all at the same time. This neighbor is boasting to everyone all about the fact that their child won the spelling bee— again. Another neighbor starts boasting how their grandchild’s sports team— of which their grandchild was unanimously elected captain— just won their conference title. As these little conversations continue you notice that one of your friends is just sitting there sipping coffee with a little smirk on their face. They motion you to go over to the side of the room where they tell you that their spouse— the one that some people call a “geek”— just patented a software program that Microsoft absolutely adores! In fact, they are in Redmond, WA, right now signing a multi-million dollar deal with Bill Gates himself! The thought might easily go through your mind— Now that’s a reason to boast!
The sermon text that we have before us this morning, my friends, addresses the topic of “boasting.” With that in mind I would like us to study this text under the theme: Now That’s a Reason to Boast! We’ll look at two things today. First we’ll see what we are not to boast about. Then we’ll see what we are to boast about.
The ancient city of Corinth was a very cosmopolitan city. Its 200,000 citizens included Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Asians, Egyptians, Jews and a host of others working as soldiers, government officials, businessmen and sailors. There were an additional 500,000 slaves living in Corinth. Corinth was an industrial and shipbuilding mecca. It was the major hub of north-south trade in Greece. It was a showplace of Greek athletics. Every other year the Isthmian Games were hosted by the city of Corinth. Overlooking the city was the temple of Aphrodite with over 1,000 priestesses— which was just another name for temple prostitutes. In Paul’s day and age Corinth was the fourth largest city in the entire Roman Empire. Humanly speaking, the city of Corinth and the people of Corinth felt that they had a great number of reasons to “boast.”
In this thriving, luxurious and thoroughly corrupt city the apostle Paul spent eighteen months establishing a Christian congregation— a congregation that was both richly blessed and greatly troubled. (See Acts 18) And from this portion of Paul’s first letter to these Corinthian Christians it seems that one of the things that was causing trouble in this congregation was the outward contrast between the things the world boasts about and the things God’s children boast about. In the verses which precede our text we hear a number of rhetorical questions as well as a number of powerful proclamations. In verse 20 Paul asks, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? In verses 22-23 Paul proclaims, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
To highlight the night and day difference between the things the world boasts about and the things we Christians boast about Paul then says to the Corinthians in the opening verses of our text, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things— and the things that are not— to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
These inspired words of our God have applied to every congregation I have served— including ours. As we look around at our brothers and sisters who gather here with us in God’s house week after week we will have to admit that not many of us would be considered “wise” by human standards. Not many of us would be considered “influential” by human standards. Not many of us would be considered of “noble birth” by human standards. And yet, my friends, I would be willing to say that most if not all of us here today have the “wisdom” to answer correctly the three main questions that the philosophers of this world have been debating for centuries: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? I would rather have the spiritual strength of any one of our shut-ins than the physical strength of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I would rather be the lowliest, most politically incorrect person on the face of this earth— despised and considered worthless by the unbelieving world— than to think that I have some innate reason to stand before the Lord God Almighty and “boast” about who I am, what I have done or what I have accumulated as I journeyed through this world. No, my friends, the wisdom of this world, the power of this world, the riches of this world— in the end they are all utterly worthless because in the end they all pass away! (See I Corinthians 7:31; I John 2:17)
Is there anything that continues on? Is there anything that we want to make sure that we hang on to for “dear life”? Yes there is! Look at verse 30 of our text. Paul writes, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God— that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
It is purely by the grace and power of God alone that we have been brought into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as our only Savior from sin. Through the power of God the Holy Spirit working in Word and Sacraments we have not only come to understand the “wisdom of God,” but we are continually growing in that wisdom! True wisdom, the wisdom that impacts our eternity centers on the three words that Paul highlights here in our text: “righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
The Greek word that is translated here as “righteousness” emphasizes being in a “right relationship” with God. This requires that we do what is “right, pleasing and acceptable” to God while at the same time refusing to do what God abhors. Now there are only two ways to obtain this “righteousness.” We can work very very hard to both please and appease the Almighty God. Or, we can trust in the “righteousness” that Christ won for us right there on the cross (Pointing to the cross), a “righteousness” that He freely gives to us purely by His grace. Now tell me, which of those two ways is “wiser”?
The Greek word that is translated here as “holiness” could also be translated as “sanctification.” The God of heaven and earth expects that we will live “sanctified” “holy” and God-leasing lives that are dedicated to Him. Where do we get the strength to do that? How do we gauge whether or not our lives are pleasing to God? Do we go by how we “feel” concerning the things that we do or do not do? Do we look deep inside of ourselves searching for our “inner good” or our “inner strength” as so many people propose today? I, of course, can’t speak for you, but when I look inside of myself I see only what Paul writes about in his letter to the Romans, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do— this I keep on doing…What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:19, 24) No, my friends, the “wisdom” that comes to us from God through our Savior Jesus Christ reveals to us that both the power and the motivation to live truly sanctified God-pleasing lives comes to us only through the cross. (Pointing to the cross) The cross on Calvary’s hill reminds us that through faith in what Jesus has done for us, His perfect, holy, sanctified life has now been credited to us. The cross on Calvary’s hill now motivates us and empowers us to repent of our sins and strive to live a holy sanctified life as a way of saying “Thank-you!” to Jesus for what He has done for us.
And finally, the Greek word that is translated here as “redemption” very literally means, “set free, deliver, release.” The prevailing “wisdom” of the world says that it doesn’t make any difference what you believe or who you call god, it doesn’t make any difference what kind of lifestyle you choose to lead because in the end we all go to “heaven”! After all, according to the prevailing “wisdom” of this world there is no such place as “hell.” Satan snickers every time he sees someone trapped in that web of lies. True “wisdom,” my friends, the “wisdom” that comes to us from God through Jesus Christ reveals to us that the only way to be set free from Satan’s web of lies, the only way to be delivered from death and damnation is through faith in the complete and ultimate victory that God’s Son accomplished for us on the cross of Calvary’s hill! (Pointing to the cross)
As we think all of this through it is not difficult for us to see how all three of those words help us to understand what we are to boast about as Christians! We can “boast” about the fact that the Lord our God is the God who loves us so very much that He gave us a beautiful “robe of righteousness”— the robe that guarantees us entrance into His eternal heavenly Home! This robe was freely given to us when God the Holy Spirit brought us to faith in Jesus Christ as our only Savior from sin. For most of us that robe was given to us when we were baptized as a baby. For others that robe was given to us when the Holy Spirit used the power of His holy Word to create the gift of saving faith in our heart. Because of what God the Holy Spirit has done for us, because of what God the Holy Spirit has given to us we can and do “boast”— “boast in the Lord”!
We can also “boast” about the fact that the Lord our God is the God who loves us so very much that He gives us the strength to live a “holy, sanctified” life. Does this mean that we never sin? No, Paul has already reminded us of the fact that we sin against the God of heaven each and every single day of our life. However, in His grace God has given us the faith and the strength to confess our sin, to repent of our sin to turn away from our sin and to trust in Jesus for forgiveness. That ability to live a “holy, sanctified” life is yet another reason we can and do “boast”— “boast in the Lord”!
And finally, we can boast about the fact that the Lord our God is the God loves us so very much that He did everything that was necessary to “redeem” us, to “set us free” from the power of sin, death and the devil. He came into this world as our true flesh-and-blood Brother to live a perfect life in our place and then innocently suffer and die on the cross (Pointing to the cross) to completely pay for all of our sins. As we stay focused on His cross how can we not “boast”— “boast in the Lord”!
Whether it is at a Super Bowl party or in the break-room at work, the cafeteria at school or the living rooms of our own homes we are going to come into contact with all different kinds of people who are boasting about all different kinds of things. My prayer is that we don’t get so caught up in the “wisdom” and in the “power” and in the “influence” of this world that we lose sight of what Paul proclaims to us here in our ext for today: “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’” Now that’s a reason to boast! (Pointing to the cross)
To God be the glory!