In our series through 1 Cor 1-4 we have seen how Paul refuses to play the world’s status games. In Corinth he didn’t try to impress them with the kind of eloquent public speaking they esteemed, which had a negative effect on how they perceived him. Yesterday, we saw Paul begin to defend his approach, showing how God refuses to play our status games, too. We see this firstly in the gospel of a crucified saviour, which is “foolishness” in human eyes (1:18-25).
But not only does God refuse to pander to human pretensions. It seems he also prefers to do his work through the un-pretentious. Through ordinary people, who aren’t trying to pretend to be something better than they are.
Throughout the Bible we see God’s preference for the unpretentious. Think of David. Or the reluctant Moses. Or a prophet like Amos, who may have spoken before kings, but was a simple shepherd. Think of Jesus himself, and his unlikely origins. And what about the leaders of the earliest church – a bunch of faithless, clueless Galilean fishermen, through whom God somehow changed the world! Most of the time, God prefers to work through the unpretentious.
Which, in fact, described most of Paul’s audience. When it came down to it, most of the Corinthian Christians were not part of the sophisticated latte-sipping set.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.
They were poor and not highly educated. They were the ones who were being excluded by all the posturing we talked about in previous posts. So maybe, they’d started to play the game, too. Maybe they were trying to increase their status by attaching themselves to the leaders of the Apollos faction, or the Peter faction, or even Paul’s.
But Paul reminds them not to get caught up in all this. The fact that they weren’t important and sophisticated in the world’s eyes makes them prime candidates in God’s eyes. Because God has chosen to work through people like them, in order to shame the self-important; the status-seekers.1:27 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.
The gospel, then, is a great leveller. No-one can boast, because God is the source of all wisdom. And in his wisdom, he chose to use the most un-likely vessels to carry out his plan.1:28-29 God 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.
Most of the time, God works through the unpretentious. Isn’t that an encouragement? After all, the vast majority of us are not important in the eyes of the world. Most of us are not famous. We’re mostly ordinary people. Exactly the kind of people through whom God most often likes to work. And to work extra-ordinary things.
This principle always reminds me of all the cross-cultural workers I know, whom I’m honoured to count as friends. In one sense, they’re all ordinary people. Sure, they’ve got particular gifts and abilities, like we all do. But the one thing they’re not is pretentious. They’re not flashy or showy. They don’t try to impress people with their credentials. They don’t have a ‘brand image’ of themselves that they’re constantly trying to sell. I think that’s one reason God sent them to do the job they’re doing.
If you want God to use you, then one of the qualifications seems to be a lack of pretension, where our faith is about the glory of God among the nations, rather than what kind of Christian image we’d like to project to the world. Don’t bring your worldly pretensions to church. ‘Cause most of the time, God works through the un-pretentious.
And God does this for a reason. Which is also Paul’s reason for not playing the status-game with the Corinthian elite:1 Cor 2:1-5 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
This is why Paul didn’t come with a great display of oratory; trying to impress people with ‘brand Paul’. It’s to ensure that their response to the gospel wasn’t based on human cleverness or intellectual appeal – but on the power of God. He didn’t want their faith to be a result of human persuasive skill or marketing spin. He wanted to make it clear that it was the supernatural work of God. Again, so that no-one can boast.
Do you see where Paul’s argument has been heading?
- God doesn’t pander to our pretensions, that’s why I didn’t.
- God prefers to work through the unpretentious, that’s why I didn’t worry about my public image.
- And God does this for the same reason I did – so that your faith rests on his power, not on human cleverness.
Therefore… stop being divided over this ridiculous issue! Which, as we saw on Monday, was the central theme of the letter.
When you look at it that way, how foolish is it for God’s people be divided over such lame status symbols as speaking style; or wealth; or intelligence; or popularity. Or any of the other values our status-grasping world holds dear. God doesn’t work that way. Paul didn’t work that way. Neither should we.
Today’s passage tells us to get rid of our pretensions. Stop being concerned about our public image; our claim to superiority. But instead, trust in the power of God and his gospel. Get rid of the bling and get back to the cross.
To think about
Who are the “unpretentious” Christians you know, and what has God done through them?
What pretensions is God challenging you to get rid of in order to become more useful to him?