Thursday of Epiphany 4 – I Corinthians 1:18-31

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

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.”

In his novel “The Hammer of God” Bo Giertz begins with a story of a young pastor who has recently been graduated from the seminary. He is filled with all the latest scholarship but little of God’s wisdom. On a terrible night, when a man lay dying and in mortal fear for his soul, his lack of wisdom would be exposed. The man kept repeating that he was a sinner, damned to hell, and the young pastor had nothing to say to him. God sent that night a pious woman, a true believer, who spoke the strange wisdom of God to the dying man. Yes, the man’s sins were great, but the forgiveness of God in Christ is greater still.

Paul is noting something very important here, something which professors such as myself dare not ever forget. God’s wisdom is wiser than us and he often shows it in the lowliest of folk, to the shame and humiliation of the learned. It appears that some in Paul’s day struggled with this as we continue to struggle with this. His congregation probably had a greater intellectual diversity than your parish does. First Christian Church in Corinth probably included some who were well read and many others who could not read at all, slaves and women were rarely educated in those days. Yet, as Paul, who was very well educated, notices, God’s wisdom is poured out into the lowly and the weak. Had Paul stood in awe at the faith of a humble slave? God uses these weak and humble folk to shame the ones the world and our eyes might see as lofty and well educated, upon whom we bestow degrees and titles and honors.

I am glad of my degrees and the learning which I have received. I do not turn my back upon such things, but I also have come to recognize the men and women of humble means who pray better than I do, who often see the Kingdom of God with greater clarity and acuity than I can see. Knowledge is a good thing, Paul also thanks God for knowledge just a few verses prior to this (I Cor. 1:5). But it is always in service to the One who is wiser than all of us put together, who is stronger than our mightiest engines of war, and who created us all from nothing. Our boast, whatever it may be, is a boast in the Lord. In Giertz’s novel, which I commend to you, the pastor goes on from his shame that night to embrace the wisdom of God he learned best from this humble woman of faith.

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