Further revealing the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, Pastor David Boone of New Covenant Fellowship in Georgetown Tx explains the message of Christ through Paul’s words in 1st Corinthians. While the message of Christ seems folly to the world, it is actually the most powerful message in human history.
Part 22: When I am Weak then I am Strong
Exactly one year ago we began discussing the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, the community or territory over which Christ reigns as King. As of late we have been discussing what it means for you and I to be citizens of the Kingdom. How should we see things, what should our paradigm look like? How shall we conduct ourselves?
The past couple of weeks we have been discussing the upside down nature of the Kingdom; in many ways for citizens of the Kingdom our paradigm, our worldview will be in opposition to the natural way of seeing things.
We looked at Jesus’ words that in the Kingdom the last are first and the first are last. Whoever wants to be great in the Kingdom will be the servant of all. Therefore, in the KOH our definition of great is not he who has the most servants but he who is the most like a servant. The best serve the rest.
Last week, we looked at Jesus’ words in Mark 8 in which he said that whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for Jesus would save it. Very upside down sounding. We found that following Jesus was about to get difficult for his disciples and they must be prepared to lose their life for following him because they would soon face tribulation and persecution. If they denied Jesus in order to save their life and avoid an untimely death, they would lose out on eternal life because Jesus is the only way to the father; he is the gate through which one enters the Kingdom. But, those who were not ashamed of Him but willingly lost their life for him, following him to the cross, he was not ashamed of them before His father. Though they lost their physical life, they would have eternal life. Eternity is a lot longer than the short time we spend on earth.
This morning we will continue to discuss the upside down nature of the Kingdom in terms of strength and weakness.
Our sermon text this morning is found in 1 Cor 1:18ff. Go ahead and turn there and I will set the context for you.
Recall last week when we looked at Jesus’ words that things were about to get difficult for those who would follow him because of the persecution they would face and the probability of death for such commitment. In the book of Acts we find one man who made this threat very real. A man named Saul was notorious for persecuting Christians. He said in Acts 26:9-11 9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.
But one day, this Saul had a transforming encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. We know him as Paul. Jesus commissioned him to go and bring the message of the gospel to those outside of Israel and invite those known as gentiles into the Kingdom through faith in Jesus. He established churches all throughout the Roman Empire. Much of our New Testament is made up of letters that this Paul wrote to those churches to teach them theology about Jesus and how to conduct themselves as citizens in the Kingdom.
One of those churches established by Paul is the church in Corinth and we are about to look at his words to those first century followers.
Text 1 Cor 1:18ff 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
26 Brothers and sisters, 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. 27 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. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 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. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Naturally, humanity tends to think: when I am strong I am strong. My strength, my power depends on my own personal achievements, what I generate, what I can bring to the table. I am somebody because of my intellect, what I know, what I have done, or because of who I am. If I am strong, it is because of who I have made myself to be. In short: My power lies in me. But in the KOH it is upside down: when I am weak that is when I am strong; power is made perfect in weakness.
Paul begins by discussing the concept of wisdom and the power of one’s intellect.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.19 For it is written [in the OT]: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
The Kingdom turns the world’s concept of wisdom upside down. He says that God has made foolish the wisdom of the world. We discussed this word translated as world last week. It comes from the Greek word cosmos and it means a world order or system. Here Paul points out that the gospel turns upside down not only the concept of wisdom according to the Jewish world but also to the Greco-Roman world. Where is the teacher of the Law? Those who were religious leaders in the OC world of Judaism prided themselves on their level of knowledge of the Scriptures – how well they knew the Law and the Prophets. They considered themselves wise because of the information they knew.
The Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day had been heavily influenced by the Greek philosophers like Plato and Socrates. Paul points out that both the Jewish concept of wisdom and the Greco-Roman concept of wisdom through philosophy have been rendered foolish by the message of the Cross of Christ.
This is a timeless precept not restricted to the first century. The wisdom of any world system, no matter how sophisticated, no matter how wise, is foolish compared to the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our world in twenty first century post enlightenment America is no different.
Children go to elementary school to learn basic, simple stuff. But then they go beyond elementary school and onto bigger and better things. No longer arithmetic, but algebra and geometry and trig and calculus, growing ever stronger and more powerful in their intellect, gaining wisdom and knowledge. Then, once high school is completed, there is the option for those who want to continue to develop the strength of the intellect, they can move on to the university where higher learning takes place. So essentially there are levels to this thing
How high can this thing go? If you have a bachelor degree, there is a higher level. If you have a masters degree there is a higher level still. You can get a doctorate. What is the next level? Have you arrived? Do you then have ultimate wisdom, ultimate knowledge? Is there anything higher? When do you go from higher learning to highest learning? When have you fully arrived?
I propose to you that the supreme wisdom, the ultimate level of knowledge is knowing God. What is there beyond that? That is not only higher learning, but highest learning. The ultimate knowledge is not just knowing about God or speculating about God and his existence, but knowing Him.
Now you would think that when it comes to highest learning, if there is a message by which one knows God, that it would be like upper echelon type material, post doctorate level stuff. But it’s not. That’s where things get turned upside down. It is the elementary message of the cross of Christ, so simple that a child can understand it. It isn’t doctorate level stuff, masters, level, undergrad, or even high school level. As Sherlock Holmes would say, It’s elementary.
But based on the world’s definition of wisdom, this message is utter foolishness.
The message that says I am made righteous through the righteous act of another is foolish, that I am made holy and my sins are atoned for by works that are not my own sounds bizarre, sounds upside down and backwards; to the world that is foolish.
· To the Jews a stumbling block
· To the Greeks foolishness
· To our culture foolishness
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who perish. But for those who are saved, it is the power of God.
What good is it if humanity pursues higher learning, knowing bigger and better things, but in the process, they miss out of the biggest and best things, namely knowing God? On our deathbed, what is the most important thing to know?
When it comes to wisdom and the power of the intellect the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Paul moves from the discussion of the power of the intellect to the power of status (nobility, position, name, etc).
There is a tendency in mankind to want to be somebody in the eyes of the world. At the gym they play music videos and one they play over and over and over has a chorus that says “the world’s gonna know your name” by the Script featuring Will I AM. Lyrics like these are indicative of this fact that people tend to want to be seen as somebody; not a lot of people are striving to be a nobody.
But being somebody in the eyes of the world doesn’t make you somebody in God’s eyes. To many who thought they were somebody, who were somebody according to the world’s standards Jesus said, “Away from me you evil doers I never knew you.” The world may know your name, but what does it matter if Jesus doesn’t know your name?
When it comes to status, when it comes to being somebody, God turns these concepts upside down in the KOH.
Consider how God kicked off this upside down Kingdom, how He got this whole thing started.
First of all, consider the status of Jesus. He was a “nobody” in the eyes of many. Consider the things that were said of him by his contemporaries. He’s from Nazareth. Can anything good come from Nazareth? Jesus? Isn’t this the son of Mary and Joseph, the carpenter? Where did he get his religious training? Where are his religious credentials? Many thought that he was a nobody. But, in the eyes of God, he is precious. This is my son in whom I am pleased. This isn’t the kind of guy who you would naturally think to spearhead the long awaited Kingdom of God.
Then, consider those Jesus chose to be the foundational 12 of this new Israel, the 12 apostles. As Jesse put it, what a roguish ragamuffin bunch of fishermen, tax collectors, and sinners. They were not religious leaders, nobody of noble birth, nobody popular. This is not the kind of people you start a movement with. Not the foundational 12 upon which to build a new Israel. This is very upside down.
But these nobodies, these weak and lowly fishermen and tax collectors Jesus endowed with power to raise the dead, drive out demons and perform miracles. God displayed His power through men who were weak in the eyes of the world in the establishment of his upside down kingdom.
So Jesus was a nobody in the eyes of many. His initial 12 disciples were nobodies in the world’s eyes. Now let’s consider some of the others who are among the elect of God, those God chose in the early days of the establishment of the Kingdom.
You would think they would be the rich and famous, right? That’s who make the magazine covers and the headlines in our current world system. Is that not who our world system recognizes as somebody?
But consider what James says in James 2 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 to those who love him? How upside down. You would think that if anybody would be among the elect, it would be the rich and famous. But look at those God chose; not the famous or the rich, but the poor nobodies.
Right here in our text, we find that the church of Corinth was made up of a bunch of “nobodies” as well.
1 Cor 1:26 Brothers and sisters, 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.
How backwards and upside down. Wouldn’t you think that the elect of God would be the wise, the influential, those of noble birth?
Continuing in the text we read: 1 Cor 1:27-28 27 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. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are 29 so that no one may boast before him.
God chose to elect His people in a way that is very backwards and upside down from the way that we as humans tend to chose. Now if there is a God who has an elect people, you would think that he would pick the elite (the rich, the famous, the wise, the influential, the religious). There are those who you would think would be last picked if they get picked at all (the poor, the powerless, the sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes). But look at those God chose.
Jesus said to the religious leaders, in Matt 21:31 “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. Backwards. Upside down.
This is like choosing teams for a game of dodgeball and saying “Give me the least agile guys out here.”
God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak things to shame the strong and the lowly and despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are. Because in the upside down Kingdom, one is not somebody because of what he knows, what he has done, or who He is. In the Kingdom, we are somebody because we are in Christ. Look what Paul says in verse 30
30 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.
In the world we make ourselves somebody by what we know, what we do, or sometimes we happen to have the right last name like Hilton. But in the Kingdom we become somebody by being in Christ. God makes us somebody.
While we may not be of noble birth according to earthly standards, by being in Christ, we are brought into the royal family of the king. We are born from above, born of the Spirit, reborn into the royal family and we, in a cosmic sense are now of noble birth more noble than the most famous of earthly kings the planet has ever known because we call the God of the universe, Abba, Father (TALK ABOUT BEING SOMEBODY). While the world may not see you and I as somebody, we ARE somebody.
Not only are we made noble in Christ, but we are made righteous (v30). Our status of righteousness before God is not based on how many good deeds we do our how well we check off the boxes on our religious to do list. As Isaiah the prophet says about Israel, in Is 64:6 “All our righteous acts are as filthy rags.” Our righteous standing before God is not based on our own merits, but on that of Jesus Christ. As the text says: Because of him we are in Christ and thus become righteous, holy, redeemed.
Our natural tendency is to boast in our achievements but in the kingdom (upside down) our boast is not in self but in God. Paul concludes this section by saying in verse 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Last week we discussed being proud of Jesus. Here are some reasons: I didn’t live a sinless life. Jesus did! I didn’t make propitiation for my sins and satisfy God’s wrath. God did that on my behalf! My boast is not in me, but in God.
Paul elaborates on this whole concept in another letter he wrote to this same bunch of nobodies that God made somebodies. Turn to the next book, 2 Cor 12.
2 Cor 12:7bff 7bTherefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
When I am weak, then I am strong. How upside down.
Understanding these precepts about the Kingdom and the upside down nature is helpful to us on a moment by moment day to day basis, because it generates a paradigm shift and thus affects how we see ourselves and how we live our lives. We are able to take classes and grow in intellect, while recognizing that having some letters after our name doesn’t make us somebody in God’s eyes. We can do righteous things out of a servant’s heart, but we maintain the perspective that such things do not procure a right standing with God and make us righteous in his sight. We are not saved by works. Our boast is not in those achievements but in Him.
Additionally, we have a proper self esteem. Our world system in 21st century America talks of growing in self esteem with a very humanistic perspective, but our self esteem revolves around who we are in Christ and it is a healthy, humble self esteem in which we do not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but we think rightly of ourselves.
In theory, with a Kingdom perspective, we should not view ourselves as nobodies. “The world doesn’t know my name. I’m not super intellectual. I’m not rich and famous.” We shouldn’t have a low self esteem. We say, “I am somebody; Jesus knows my name. I may not be a doctor who has undergone higher learning, but I have received highest learning through the message of the cross and therefore, I know what matters, I know WHO matters. I know God through the message of the cross. I’m not rich in worldly wealth but I am rich in faith and I am an heir of the Kingdom that God promised to those who love him. I’m not famous in the sense that I my name is across the headlines of the New York times or MSN.com , but my name is written in the book of life.”
So with all of this in view, we should have a healthy perspective on who we are – not a low self esteem, or a humanistic high self esteem but a healthy and proper self esteem. Talk about a life transforming game changer!
In conclusion, for us as citizens of the kingdom, our strength does not come from ourselves. We are strong when we admit we are weak and we can’t do it. I need God to do for me what I cannot do for myself. When I cry out to God, I tap into the power of the God whose weakness is stronger than man’s strength. With all of my hard work I can fail. In my impotence by whispering one feint prayer, I tap into the power of the omnipotent one for whom nothing is impossible – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
In the upside down Kingdom, when we are strong we are weak but when we are weak we are strong, for God’s power is made perfect in weakness.