(A) Introduction: the problem Paul addressed. (Read the reference)

It is important not to lose sight of the problem Paul addressed. A spirit of rivalry existed in the Corinthian church; faction leaders existed who were proud of their special insights and distinctive stance. The church was being ruined by opinionated Christians full of themselves and convinced of their own importance.

The sin of pride has been ever present in the church and all of us know of fellowships that have been ravaged by it. Paul's passionate rhetoric on this subject is entirely understandable.

(B) Matter's irrelevant to salvation.

Paul writes: 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. v26.

It may be helpful to substitute the word, 'recruited', for 'called'. I don't think we often use the word 'call' in quite the same way that Paul did.

Points to note:

(1) God is not unfair.
God does not debar intellectuals, celebrities or aristocrats from salvation. Jesus said that it was difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven; he didn't say that it was impossible! Paul writes 'not many' rather than 'not any'. There were some notable men in the early church: Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Sergius Paulus the proconsul of Cyprus (See Acts13v4to12) and Dionysius of the Areopagus in Athens. (See Acts17v34). There have always been men of distinction in the Church of Christ.

(2) Salvation cannot be obtained by being a scholar, becoming a celebrity or through birth into a distinguished family.
We cannot enter the Kingdom of God by passing exams, possessing talent, charm or beauty or by an accident of birth. This may be the way to earthly honour. At the time of writing there is something of a scandal in Britain because rich businessmen have been able to buy themselves a title!

God is not impressed by worldly wisdom, fame or fortune so it is a pity that we are. James upbraided those in the church who kotowed to the rich. He wrote: Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? James2v5.

(3) Salvation is granted solely on the basis of need to those that repent and believe.
This is the message of Jesus. He appeals to hungry, thirsty and blind. "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." Jn6v35. "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." Jn8v12.

(4) There are groups for whom the gospel message does not appeal.
The gospel calls on men and women to repent from their sins and believe in Jesus to become sons of God and joint heirs with Jesus. This does not appeal to:

    (a) The wise. Some eminent scholars are conceited in their learning and delighted by their own cleverness. Recently I read an article in the Daily Telegraph by a leading biologist who reckoned that if he was God he could make a better job of designing the human eye! Let him try!

    It is not easy for highly qualified academics to become as a little child. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Lk18v17.

    Men need to stoop to enter through the NARROW GATE. Many worldly intellectuals have very stiff backs.

    (b) Celebrities. In our day and age celebrities are subjected to much adulation. We have only to consider what pop singers, professional sportsmen, stars of screen and stage and TV presenters are paid to realise this. So many worship at their feet that it is very difficult for them to sit at the feet of Jesus.

    Celebrities are accepted and wanted for their personalities, talents or glamour. Someone like Natasha Kaplinski, the newsreader, can command huge fees for appearing at a function or making an after dinner speech. (I do not begrudge it to her as she cheers me up most days when she smiles at the camera!)

    The famous know their worth. The first step to becoming a Christian is to realise your own unworthiness. How difficult this must be for those who have learned the immense value of their name when it comes to sponsorship and advertising.

    (c) The Honoured. A select few are honoured for their contribution to society - for what they have done and achieved. Awards are made to men and women for services to sport, business, education, entertainment and the like. God does not honour whom the world honours.. . He is not impressed by our works or worldly success. Jesus could not have been clearer when he said: "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." Mark9v35.

(5) Those to whom the gospel does appeal.
The message of salvation is welcomed by those with little to feel pleased about: the poor, disregarded, marginalised, outcasts like the publicans and sinners, all those discriminated against and put down, the disgraced and found out .... . It is a long list!

In the first century women and slaves were particularly attracted to Jesus. In India it was people of the lowest castes - the untouchables - who converted to Christianity. Today the church is growing at a remarkable rate among the poor of Africa, South America and Asia.

One of the consequences of God's policy is that there has always been in the church many weak and foolish. Leon Morris in his commentary on 1 Corinthians writes: God has not chosen only those whom the world counts foolish and weak; he has chosen those who really are foolish and weak in this world.

(C) The means God uses.

Paul indicates with great style the means God uses to recruit men and women for the Kingdom: He chose the lowly things of this 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 to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him. 1Cor1v27to29.

Paul does not write 'lowly people' or 'weak people' but 'lowly things' and 'weak things'. The word 'things' signifies more than just people.

Paul describes how the church grows. It is instructive to examine some of the foolish, weak, lowly and despised things that God uses to ensure its growth.

(1) God's agents.
I have heard Christians in my own small church express a longing for the powerful and influential leaders of our land to speak out for Christian values. Demoralised, dispirited believers are desperate for the eminent and famous to take on the role of defenders of the faith. But as one old commentator put it: 'We can't defend the faith - it is the faith that defends us!'

God does not often use great men to bring others to Christ. It is true he sometimes raises up a particularly gifted evangelist like Billy Graham or John Wesley who is wonderfully used. However, on the whole, God uses the inconsequential, poorly trained and ungifted.

I am reminded of the story of Naaman the leper. It was an Israelite slave girl who said to Naaman's wife: "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." 1Kings5v2. That is so often how it is: the uneducated man who could do little more than repeat his text in the little chapel that C.H. Spurgeon attended one snowy Sunday in Colchester, a mother advising her daughter to ask Jesus for help, a Christian taking a friend to church, teenagers chatting to each other in their tents at Pioneer Camp..... . Nothing illustrates this principle better than William Booth's policy of using new converts to Christianity from the East End of London as evangelists. The men he encouraged to speak at his meetings were vulgar and uneducated with little more than a testimony to tell of how Jesus had rescued them from drunkenness, poverty and crime. These testimonies were wonderfully effective. What better example could there be of God using the lowly things of this world and the despised things - to nullify the things that are .... .

(2) The publicity employed.
There are some who would like the church to adopt the same approach to publicity as Marks and Spencer. A huge publicity campaign with adverts on TV and in newspapers, magazines and on hoardings would surely boost church attendance. Christians need to play the world at its own game and attract the public's attention.

According to Paul this is not God's way. Most evangelism is low key. All Naaman's wife's little maid did was speak a few words to her mistress. That is frequently the case. A few words are spoken and a man or woman is converted and becomes a child of God. My brother Paul became a Christian in response to a question his tent leader asked him at Pioneer Camp. John Roe simply asked Paul, "Are you saved?" David Cordle, an itinerant preacher much enjoyed by our small fellowship, gave his life to the Lord after reading a text on the wall calendar in his mother's kitchen. Augustine of Hippo, the greatest of the Latin fathers, was indebted to the sweet cry from a neighbour's child, "Tolle - legge, tolle - legge" (take, read), for his salvation. Dr C. I. Scofield, author of the once very popular Scofield Bible, might never have become a Christian if a young acquaintance, Tom M'Pheeters, had lacked the nerve to say, "I want to ask you why you are not a Christian?"

I have listened to many testimonies on BBC, 'Songs of Praise', and in most cases the means God uses to turn a life round seem totally inadequate to explain the change that has occurred. God does use what is weak and despised, what is inadequate and inconsequential, to transform sinners and confound the world.

(3) The conditions imposed.
God makes acceptance into his family conditional on two things:

    (a) Repentance. It hardly seems a good idea to attract men and women to Christ by telling them how bad they are. This is a very negative message!

    In May 2006 there was an item on 'Look East' - our local news program - about the success of a headmaster brought in to turn a failing Suffolk High School round. He said that his method of doing so was to use encouragements and rewards. Such a positive approach would be endorsed and applauded by the educational establishment. I have to say that it was not a feature of the grammar school I attended in the 1950's!

    The gospel does not accentuate the good in man! It has an altogether negative message regarding man's goodness. There are no rewards for being good! But there is hope for all those who accept that they are bad, who acknowledge their sin and need of a Saviour.

    (b) Belief in Jesus. If we believe in Jesus we submit to him, depend upon him and obey him.

    This undoubtedly seems too easy for some. There doesn't seem anything to it. Frequently testimonies confirm this impression. All the convert does is to make a very simple request: forgive me, accept me, take me, change me, help me, make me .... . How is it that these insignificant prayers to Jesus make such a huge difference in a person's life - because they do!

    We must beware of being like Naaman the leper. When he finally reached the house of the prophet the Bible records: Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, "Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed."

    But Naaman went away angry and said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy." 2Kings5v10and11.

    It was left to Naaman's servants to give good advice: "My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, "Wash and be cleansed?" v13.

    Pride keeps many men and women from submitting to Jesus and contritely asking to be washed and cleansed.

The story of Dr Scofield's conversion illustrates the necessity of repentance and belief for entry into God's family. After Tom M'Pheeters' question the Michigan lawyer replied, "Doesn't the Bible say something about drunkards having no place in Heaven? And I am a hard drinker, M'Pheeters."

"You have not answered my question, Scofield," the young man said. "I asked, 'Why are you not a Christian?'"

"I have always been a nominal Episcopalian, you know," said Scofield, "but I do not recall ever having been shown, just how to be a Christian. I do not know how."

To this confession of his friend, M'Pheeters had his answer. Drawing his New Testament from his pocket, and taking a chair in the lawyer's office he sat down, and there and then read passage after passage from the Word of God, showing God's way of salvation simply and clearly. Then he put to Scofield the plain and definite question, "Will you accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour?"

"I'm going to think about it", was the answer.

"No, you're not," answered M'Pheeters, "you've been thinking about it all your life. Will you settle it now? Will you believe on Christ now, and be saved?"

Scofield stood silent for a moment in deep thought. Then turning, he looked his friend full in the face and said, "I will."

Scofield dropped to his knees and committed his life to Jesus and then and there, kneeling in his office, he was born of God. He arose a saved man, a new creature in Christ Jesus.

(D) The success of God's means.

God's means always work. When Naaman obeyed the instructions he was so perfunctorily given he was wonderfully healed. His flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. 2Kings5v14.

God's means worked in the ancient world of the Roman Empire. Christianity spread initially among the lower classes. Celsus jeered at the fact that 'wool-workers, cobblers, leather dressers and 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 Romans could not understand a religion where a slave could be a son of God. But, nonetheless, Christianity spread outward and upward - from slave to master, from plebeian to patrician until finally the emperor himself bowed the knee to Jesus.

God achieved success by the same means in the 20th century. Consider the U.S.S.R. under Stalin and the huge power of the state arraigned against Christianity. Churches were closed, priests imprisoned and the Bible banned. State controlled newspapers and broadcasters attacked the church. The education system indoctrinated children against the Faith. Every effort was made to eradicate Christianity. How could it survive?

God used the weak, foolish and despised things of the world to defeat the mighty power of the state. Old folk hid their icons, remembered the liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church and read the great Christian authors Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. It was the old grannies who kept the Faith alive. They told their grandchildren about Jesus - especially of his death and resurrection. The old folk with their icons, stories and prayers defeated the all-powerful state. Communism failed, Christ prevailed. The things that are not, the things the world regard as nothing, of no consequence and trivial, defeated every effort of the worldly wise and powerful to wipe out Christianity. Hallelujah!

(E) Jesus: the Christians only claim to fame.

It is because of him (God) 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.

Tom Wright, in his book, 'Paul for Everyone', has an anecdote about Cosmo Gordon Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1928 to 1942. When Cosmo Lang reached his late 70's and grew increasingly frail he decided, with great reluctance, to retire. He said in anticipation of the event, "Having been a somebody, I shall be a nobody." Sadly, the Archbishop measured his worth by the office he held. But he is not alone! Very, very many dislike retirement for the diminution in status it brings.

In our country there is a terrible hunger for fame. Horrible exploitative TV programs like 'Big Brother' attract entrants desperate to get their faces on 'the box' and fleeting notoriety. They want to be somebodies.

The church is not short of Christians who aim to be somebodies - respected and revered for their abilities, talents, personalities, gifts .... . How hard it is for us to realise that we are nobodies in God's sight until we believe in Jesus. He, in the wisdom of God, makes everyone who trusts in him a somebody. Jesus is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. He is our all in all and we are nothing without him.

It is Jesus who changes our:

(1) Relationship with God. It is Christ who justifies us by his death on the cross and puts us right with God, reconciling us to him.

(2) Usefulness. Only as a man believes in Jesus is he set apart for God's service. If we are faithful servants then we can be sure at last of our reward. It may not be in this life but it is guaranteed in the next.

(3) Status. Believers in Jesus are no longer slaves to sin. Christians are redeeemed - set free - to become sons of God and joint heirs with Jesus.

Instead of glorying in our selves and our own achievements we should glory in all that God has done for us.

          To God be the glory! Great things He hath done:
          So loved He the world that He gave us His Son;
          Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
          And opened the Life-gate that all may go in.

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