Bragging Rights

Studies in First Corinthians

by Bob Burridge ©2016

Lesson 5: 1 Corinthians 1:265-31 (ESV)

Bragging Rights

Some people put a lot of effort into things
just to be able to brag about what they’ve done.

The Guinness Book of World Records tells about some more unusual accomplishments:

  • Garry Turner clipped 153 wooden clothes pins to his face (8/3/01)
  • Dr. Norman Gary held 109 honeybees in his closed mouth for 10 seconds (10/20/98)
  • David Kremer was able to vertically balance 10 bowling balls (11/19/98)

Probably these things wouldn’t even be attempted if no one would know about it. The primary motivation is for bragging rights. That’s what often what drives people to do things. They crave approval and recognition by others. Sadly it often becomes an exercise in pure self-pride.

It depends on what we mean when we say the word pride and what values guide us. In some cases pride means we value doing our best, taking pride in our work (doing our best). Good work gives us satisfaction in the abilities and opportunities God gives us. We need to make good use of what God created and blesses us with. But we also know that the Bible warns against being a proud person. We should never do things for the bragging rights, to impress other people or to impress ourselves. Instead all the glory should be given to God for the abilities, desires, and opportunities he gives us. That’s where we have the greatest satisfaction.

Paul had been warning the Corinthians about divisions that had infected their church.
The believers were being taken in by unbiblical ideas. Since the Bible was not being used to settle their differences, there were bickerings and divisions among them.

Next Paul turns his attention directly to one of the
inner sins that drives us to do wrong things.

26, 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.
27. 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;
28. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,
29. so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
30. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
31. so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The bickering believers should take a look at their calling from God. Literally it means that they should examine that calling very carefully. They should notice the kinds of people God gathers into his church. It’s clear that God works beyond the things valued by fallen men. The congregations were mostly make up of ordinary average believers, not many of high status.

God uses the weaker things so that his own power
will be more obvious as he works.

Notice that there are two groups of three things that go together in verses 26-28

He has not called many of the wise according to the flesh. In our last study we said that wisdom is the ability to piece information together, to interpret it’s meaning, and to put it into practice effectively.

The wisdom the world treasures – wrongly collects, interprets, and applies the information it has. Fallen hearts refuse to accept certain pieces of obvious truth. They strip the facts about God’s glory that’s built into everything at Creation. Distorted facts lead to wrong theories, wrong ideas, and wrong conclusions. They base their judgments on values that do not fit with the way things are as God made them.

God’s wisdom is the only system of truth that takes things into account as they really are. Godly wisdom makes true sense out of things. It delivers us from distortions and digressions.

In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

In Matthew 11:25 Jesus said, “At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;”

So to make this distinction clear God chose the things the world ignorantly calls “foolish”, to shame those caught up in or deceived by the world’s false wisdom. He guides ordinary, average people into truth and good judgments, which are based upon the truth he has revealed, and he convinces them of it by regenerating their hearts.

This does not mean that those God calls lack in real wisdom. It’s that they are not infested with the kind of “wisdom” the fallen world values.

He has not called many of the powerful. The church is not filled with people of special influence, or who control the power in this world. They are not for the most part citizens with great material resources or political leverage.

God chose the things the world calls weak to shame the things they prefer to call strong.

So where does our leverage come from as we carry out our mission? It comes from God who is not only infinitely powerful, he is the giver of the power all others have. It’s all an entrustment that if it is abused the powerful abusers are held accountable. Paul wrote in Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

God often uses his young Davids to slay the mighty Goliaths. Just as the Philistine giant laughed at the sling in a boy’s hand, the world laughs at the preaching of the message of Christ as unimportant and archaic. But just as the stone from the hand of David brought down the giant warrior, the day of judgment will come. All other hopes will be shown to be paths to destruction. Only those who trust the simple despised message of the Cross will be delivered.

God gives a strength to his people that goes way beyond the kind of power and might valued by the world.

In Isaiah 40:29-31 God’s word promises this …

29. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
31. but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

He hasn’t called many of the noble-born:
The true church was never anchored in the aristocracy of birth, or a class of hereditary nobles. God has given his word to the simple farmer, the salesman, the housewife, and laborers. He calls fishermen, receptionists, students and technicians. Though God has also called kings and scholars, the rich, intelligent, and the influential, they have never been the majority of the greatest Kingdom ever founded.

God exposes the emptiness of the “class mentality” the world recognizes. He brings them to shame by using those things they degrade and look down upon. He has built his kingdom by using simple every-day believers. The ones he contrasts the noble-born with are called the low and despised. They are the common, despised, and reviled. There is nothing special to distinguish them in the eyes of the world. God chose them so that the grace at work in them would be all the more evident.

After completing these lists Paul adds an all-inclusive summary. God chose the things that are not, to nullify the things that are.

The things the world sees as nothing at all, things it does not even consider to be real, God uses to bring to nothing all that the word imagines to be really something.

In reality the world trusts in things that are only myths, lies and deceptions. What they value doesn’t really exist. They are locked in a hopeless battle with imaginary weapons against what is real, but which they deny are even there.

By his calling of the ordinary into his church, God exposes the world’s folly in despising and ridiculing what really is. The foolishness of these despisers is real, while they deny real wisdom, strength, and human value. But their treasures are transient, empty, worthless.

By his eternal decree God chose these lesser things to reveal his greatness unmistakably.
There is no advantage to the worldly wise, powerful, and noble. They look to their own wisdom, power, or birth for their hope and success, and are unable to see their true need and refuse to see the truth.

The sin of self-centered pride knows no class distinction. The proud are found among the rich and poor alike, and from the educated and the illiterate equally. The grace that saves is likewise not bound to these worldly categories. Yet it’s most clearly displayed when those who have so little are so greatly blessed. There can be no confusion about where their blessing came from. Our Lord populates his church with one group only: repentant sinners saved by grace alone.

There is an obvious truth here.

29, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

The word “boast” here is not best translated as “glory” as in some older translations of the Bible. It’s a different Greek word than the one we usually translate as “glory”, which is “doxa” (δόξα). This is not the radiant wonder of God in his magnitude and greatness. The word here is “kau-cha-omai” (καυχάομαι) which means “to boast about”, or “to take pride in something”. This is the ultimate issue: no one has reason to boast as a creature over the Creator.

In God’s presence the real value of all things is revealed. If everything we have is a gift of God, then those who say they are responsible for the gift are nothing but thieves. Ephesians 2:8-9 shows us that even our salvation, which some think they earn, is God’s gift. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (“boast” there is the same word “kau-cha-omai”)

There is no reason to brag on ourselves in anything as if it was independent of God’s giving. We may accomplish great things here in God’s world:

  • We might love and teach our children.
  • We might care for the sick and needy.
  • We might make sure that justice is done to the criminal, and safety is secured for their victims.
  • We might free the oppressed, and teach people to read.
  • We might turn raw materials into computers, telephones, wrinkle-free clothing, or amazing medicines.

But we must never forget, that God is behind every great accomplishment. It’s his blessing that gives us the privilege of being his means for doing wonderful things.

The world is always bragging in its own accomplishments, stealing the honor from God. When they make God’s glory theirs, they commit the gravest of sins.

God alone is the one who places us “in Christ Jesus”

30. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

By the power and love of God believers are placed in the care of Jesus the Messiah.

He is our wisdom: Jesus Christ is the key to rightly applied knowledge. By his grace he regenerates our hearts to behold the facts he has revealed. He enlightens the soul by grace to see things as they really are, and to act upon that reality. The world’s wisdom is nothing more than imagined fantasies and distortions. Christ is the focus of all truth. He makes sense of the facts God has revealed. In him alone the pieces come together. He gives real meaning to justice, mercy, sin, redemption, love, and compassion.

Jesus Christ is our righteousness: We have no innocence before God’s law except that our Savior declares it to be ours by his atonement. He kept the law in our place while he lived here on earth. On the Cross he paid the penalty we deserve as breakers of that law. In our Savior, and by nothing we do, the demands of divine justice are fully satisfied.

He is our sanctification: The life Jesus gives us when the death of sin is removed, makes us growing children of God. By that gift of spiritual life we are enabled to do things that are truly good in God’s eyes, not just good outwardly, but good because we do them out of gratitude and love for God, for his glory. In him we are nourished to grow into Christ-likeness.

He is our redemption: Nothing humans can do for themselves can set them free. The shedding of our Savior’s blood is the only redemption that makes us God’s children. One day sin will be no more. It will not be because of politicians, doctors, social workers, soldiers, or scholars. It will be because of the work of Jesus, completed 2000 years ago on a Cross outside of Jerusalem.

Therefore, as Scripture teaches, there is only one reason to boast.

31. so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

This is the positive statement of the negative in verse 29.

In this whole passage Paul is making reference to what was written in Jeremiah 9:23-24

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

We have reason to boast, but not in ourselves independently from God. In Jehovah (as it says in the original quote from Jeremiah) we can talk about our accomplishments, but only as gifts of the Lord. In these verses Paul applies to Jesus what God told Jeremiah belongs to Jehovah himself. This is another of those verses where Jesus and Jehovah are clearly identified as the same One God.

The wisdom of the world is not the way to grow the church, or to promote Christianity. The values of the world are not the values of God’s people. The Jesus the world believes in is not the Jesus of the Bible.

To heal the disputes in Corinth, the false teachings that divided them had to be corrected. The pride and self-glory, the judging, bickering, and arrogance of the factions needed to be replaced by a humble focus on the cross.

Instead of bragging about our own distinctions, ideas, or accomplishments we are to openly credit God with every good thing, and live by trusting in his power alone. When we boast ultimately in God for all things we are united into a spiritual family united by simple truths, rather than by divisive human theories and traditions.

This is the heart of Reformation thinking. We need to re-form ourselves back to the original shape God gave us in his word.

Do we have bragging rights at all? We have none in the sense the world seeks them. We are very pleased when we do well, and when we are able to accomplish good things. But God needs to be at the center of our pleasure. He must be the admitted cause of it all. To take pride independently of him is to become thieves of heaven.

Therefore we should have an attitude of humility. We have nothing to prove to anybody about ourselves or about our own worth. We are just messengers of a clear message from God. Our job is to deliver that message clearly. This keeps us praying to God throughout each day in thankful praise. This keeps our focus on our purpose – to glorify God in all things. We are not to be looking for things to brag about, not even to ourselves.

The regenerated soul admits he is morally undeserving of any blessings by his own merits. Yet he recognizes that he does have blessings from God. He is lavished with wonderful treasures by the merits of a loving Savior.

(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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