A Great Paradox
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; 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. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
This passage of scripture describes two very different groups of people. The first group is considered to be foolish, weak, lowly, despised, and insignificant, while the second group are those thought to be wise, strong, and notable. And on any given day, a glance at the newspaper or TV will offer examples of those whom the world considers to be wise, strong, and prominent in society. Such people often rely on their own accumulation of knowledge, power, influence, and affluence to make their way through life with little or no regard for a relationship with the living God.
But who are the foolish, weak, lowly, and despised that the Apostle Paul speaks of here? And what about those people and ideas that seem so insignificant when confronted by popular opinion, cultural fads, or the surge of the social Zeitgeist (spirit of the times)? Examining the setting of Paul’s letter will help us to better understand his distinction between these two groups.
First, we must understand the location. Corinth—the capital city of Achaia, built up on a strategic strip of land connecting the two major sea ports of Lechaeum and Cenchrea. Situated at the intersection of trade routes vital to the economy of Asia Minor, it was a metropolitan melting pot of ethnicity and, as a result, thought to be “intellectually alert, materially prosperous, but morally corrupt.” In fact, the repute of its immoral climate was so widespread among the surrounding regions that to consider one to have been “Corinthianized” became a common slur used to describe a person of notably deteriorated morals.
Second, the attitude of the people reveals a stark contrast between those who had responded to the Gospel message and the yet unsaved inhabitants still living for themselves. Upon entering the city, one could expect to encounter a mixture of Roman pride, Greek arrogance, and even the divisiveness of Jewish sectarianism. So, it would have been rather easy for a follower of Christ to fall into the devil’s trap of feeling rather small and insignificant—if not foolish—in comparison to the wealthy, powerful and world-wise of Corinth.
Like those 1st Century Christians to whom Paul is writing, days will come when we feel weak or insignificant in the face of all the world presents us, and we will undoubtedly face opposition to the stands we take against moral corruption. As for those to whom the reflection of Christ is repulsive, we should not be surprised at their reaction, even to us as His representatives on the Earth. The Bible tells us the reason for this: “To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume” (2 Corinthians 2:16). What the life of a Christian represents to the lost is one of two things: it is either a sweet aroma of the divine offer of eternal life, or it is the foul-smelling reminder that anything short of full surrender to the Gospel message upholds the certainty of eternal punishment in hell. God has called us to faithfully live and love like Jesus, but we are not responsible for the lost person’s reaction to what our life stands for. This is because their response is to the message and not the messenger.
So, the next time your biblical position seems foolish compared to popular opinion or you feel insignificant in the presence of successful, world-wise people, remember that Christ is your power and your wisdom. It is by God’s design that He called you to serve Him and not the world. It truly is a paradox—and it is a partnership. While God intended that the world would never know Him through human wisdom, He uses the foolishness of our holy lifestyle and Christlike attitude to affect those around us. What, to the world, seems like a foolish, weak, insignificant devotion to Christ is what God uses to catch the attention of unbelievers. The Holy Spirit draws them to want a relationship with Christ. And God uses the foolishness of preaching the gospel message to save those who come to believe (1 Corinthians 1:21).