February 2, 2016

"Not many noble"

That is how Paul described the Corinthian church as he scanned down the member roster in his mind’s eye. “Consider your calling,” he wrote to them. “There were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble.” God had not gone through the census paperwork of the city, in other words, in order to recruit to His cause the PhD’s, the government officials, and the chief land-owners. He did not build his church out of the most polished stones in Corinth – the actors, the athletes, the successful businessmen, the chief women, and so on.

Now that is not to say there were no such people in the church. For the gospel is for sinners of every stripe – even those who are wise, mighty, and noble in the sight of men! But “there were not many wise … mighty … noble” (emphasis added) in the church at Corinth. And I suspect that, with some exceptions, this is God’s modus operandi in most localities. Most churches are made up of a given city’s run of the mill, with a fair number sprinkled in whom the world would call “foolish … weak … base … despised” (to use Paul’s words again). And not because Christianity has nothing to say to the so-called elite; not because the gospel message is for those who need some sort of ‘crutch’ to get through the doldrums of this life. No! Local churches are so often such motley crews precisely because God has planned it this way!

That’s how Paul puts it there in 1 Corinthians 1: “God has chosen the foolish things of the world … God has chosen the weak things of the world … and the base things … and the despised God has chosen.” Did you see it three times? “God has chosen”! If a church is a hodgepodge of cultural no-names, it is because God has designed it that way! Why? “So that no man may boast before God.” So that it will be so evidently clear that the reason there is power and fruitfulness in this little church is not because its pews are filled with movers and shakers, but because its people are filled with the Holy Spirit! Nothing else could explain how these plain people could live such fruitful, constructive, holy lives. And so the church folks – who know that they are not wise, noble, or mighty – have to give the credit to God! And the outside world – who knows the Christian’s mediocrity even better than the Christians do – will be put to shame, marveling out how these plain people can be such a force for good in this city!

And the lesson is even more startling when we learn, later in Paul’s letter, that the members of the church were not only the city’s unexceptional, but also that some of them were former thieves, homosexuals, drunkards, adulterers, and so on! Again, God did not pick the best and the brightest (as if there actually were any ‘best and brightest’ in the moral realm)! He went out and saved those who were humdrum, wayward, culturally un-elite, and maybe sometimes even “foolish” in the world’s eyes … and molded them into a living force for His kingdom!

And that encourages me, when I mentally scan my own church roster! Beginning with the pulpit, and working my way through all the pews, I do not see “many wise … many mighty … many noble.” God has not formed our church out of Cincinnati’s elite. We are not a local all-star team! And that is something to be thankful for! Because this way, “no man may boast before God.” This way, whatever good comes from the people in these pews; whatever fruit sprouts up among us; whatever force for Christ we are in this city, no one can explain it away by saying: ‘Well, you gather a group of the city’s key players like that … and between their money, their influence, their acumen, and their name recognition, they are bound to draw a good number of people into their cause.’ Not so Pleasant Ridge! Whatever success we have cannot be explained sociologically! We are (at least in this one way) Corinthian … so that our boast can never be in ourselves, but must always be directed where it is due. “Just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

No comments: