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. 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; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
The imperative given to the Corinthian church by the apostle is to consider the circumstances surrounding their call to Christ, to take a honest look at themselves with respect to the world around them. If they were to do that, they would see that they were collectively the bottom of the barrel when compared with rest of the world. This is not to say that there were not persons among them who were wise, strong, and noble by earthly standards, but it is to say that by-and-large they were comprised of fools, weaklings, and bottom-dwellers. And despite the few among them who weren’t, their association with them did not bring up their esteem in the sight of the world, but rather it brought down the esteem of those who would otherwise be esteemed apart from Christ. In other words, the wise among them became fools by their association with them.
This imperative given to the Corinthians has not changed for us in our day, rather only the cast has changed. Instead of the Greeks, we have philosophers and scientists, and, instead of the Jews, we have the religious elite. These together scoff at our “call” to Christ through imputed faith and righteousness and consider us fools for our “simple-mindedness” and our “poor philosophy and theology.” It is among these that we are instructed to consider our calling and how poorly we appear in their sight.
The question remains: “Why are we to consider our lack of respect in the world?” The reason, as Paul says, is ultimately so that we might boast only in the Lord (cf. 1Cor. 1:31). And I don’t think he is talking about boasting in our salvation here as he does in other passages. Of course we are to boast only in the Lord in that. Rather I believe, granting the context, he is speaking of our boasting of ourselves among men, among the worldly for the sake of worldly recognition. For I have been around long enough to see Christians obsessed with their perception in the world. Whether they seek to obtain it through philosophy, science, good works, etc. or by putting down and discrediting their “foolish” brothers, their chief end is to be both Christian and respected, to be called and not despised. They seek this all the while not realizing that what they desire it is unobtainable in this age, essentially disbelieving the words penned by the apostle which contradict their strivings.
And this is distinguished from Christ’s exhortation: “[L]et your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). It is distinguished because the ones who let their light shine before men are seeking the glory and approval of the Father, not the glory and approval of men. For if we seek the glory of approval of men, we will find neither, but if we seek the glory and approval of God, we will find that our good deeds cause others to glorify God, not us. We must boast only in God in all things, or else we will find ourselves compromising the Faith given to us by God to win the approval of those in the world, not realizing that in doing so we lose the approval of our Lord without gaining the approval of men that we (for some reason) so desperately desire.
If we seek the glory and approval of men, we will find neither
Questions for Application
What are your motivations for what you do?
Do you seek after the glory of God in what you do, or do you seek to recognized and esteemed by those in the world?
Do you find yourself criticizing other Christians before unbelievers, not because they are doctrinally false, but because you feel that they make you and other Christians look “bad”?