William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Glory Of The Shame (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

1:26-31 Brothers, just look at the way in which you have been called. You can see at once that not many wise men--by human standards--not many powerful men, not many high-born men have been called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise men; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the strong things and God has chosen the ignoble and the despised things of the world, yes, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things which are; and he did this so that no human being might be able to boast in the sight of God. It is through him that we are in Christ Jesus, who, for us, by God, was made wisdom and righteousness and consecration and deliverance, so that what stands written might come true in us. Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.

Paul glories in the fact that, for the most part, the Church was composed of the simplest and the humblest people. We must never think that the early Church was entirely composed of slaves. Even in the New Testament we see that people from the highest ranks of society were becoming Christians. There was Dionysius at Athens ( Acts 17:34 ); Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Crete ( Acts 13:6-12 ); the noble ladies at Thessalonica and Beroea ( Acts 17:4 ; Acts 17:12 ); Erastus, the city treasurer, probably of Corinth ( Romans 16:23 ). In the time of Nero, Pomponia Graecina, the wife of Plautius, the conqueror of Britain, was martyred for her Christianity. In the time of Domitian, in the latter half of the first century, Flavius Clemens, the cousin of the Emperor himself, was martyred as a Christian. Towards the end of the second century Pliny, the governor of Bithynia, wrote to Trajan the Emperor, saying that the Christians came from every rank in society. But it remains true that the great mass of Christians were simple and humble folk.

Somewhere about the year A.D. 178 Celsus wrote one of the bitterest attacks upon Christianity that was ever written. It was precisely this appeal of Christianity to the common people that he ridiculed. He declared that the Christian point of view was, "Let no cultured person draw near, none wise, none sensible; for all that kind of thing we count evil; but if any man is ignorant, if any is wanting in sense and culture, if any is a fool let him come boldly." Of the Christians he wrote, "We see them in their own houses, wool dressers, cobblers and fullers, the most uneducated and vulgar persons." He said that the Christians were "like a swarm of bats--or ants creeping out of their nests--or frogs holding a symposium round a swamp--or worms in conventicle in a corner of mud."

It was precisely this that was the glory of Christianity. In the Empire there were sixty million slaves. In the eyes of the law a slave was a "living tool," a thing and not a person at all. A master could fling out an old slave as he could fling out an old spade or hoe. He could amuse himself by torturing his slaves; he could even kill them. For them there was no such thing as marriage; even their children belonged to the master, as the lambs of the fold belonged not to the sheep but to the shepherd. Christianity made people who were things into real men and women, more, into sons and daughters of God; it gave those who had no respect, their self-respect; it gave those who had no life, life eternal; it told men that, even if they did not matter to other men, they still mattered intensely to God. It told men who, in the eyes of the world were worthless, that, in the eyes of God they were worth the death of his only Son. Christianity was, and still is, the most uplifting thing in the whole universe.

The quotation with which Paul finishes this passage is from Jeremiah 9:23-24 . As Bultmann put it, the one basic sin is self-assertion, or the desire for recognition. It is only when we realize that we can do nothing and that God can and will do everything that real religion begins. It is the amazing fact of life that it is the people who realize their own weakness and their own lack of wisdom, who in the end are strong and wise. It is the fact of experience that the man who thinks that he can take on life all by himself is certain in the end to make shipwreck.

We must note the four great things which Paul insists Christ is for us.

(i) He is wisdom. It is only in following him that we walk aright and only in listening to him that we hear the truth. He is the expert in life.

(ii) He is righteousness. In the writings of Paul righteousness always means a right relationship with God. Of our own efforts we can never achieve that. It is ours only by realizing through Jesus Christ that it comes not from what we can do for God, but from what he has done for us.

(iii) He is consecration. It is only in the presence of Christ that life can be what it ought to be. Epicurus used to tell his disciples, "Live as if Epicurus always saw you." There is no "as if" about our relationship to Christ. The Christian walks with him and only in that company can a man keep his garments unspotted from the world.

(iv) He is deliverance. Diogenes used to complain that men flocked to the oculist and to the dentist but never to the man (he meant the philosopher) who could cure their souls. Jesus Christ can deliver a man from past sin, from present helplessness, and from future fear. He is the emancipator from slavery to self and to sin.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible