God Chooses the Foolish to Shame the Wise — John MacArthur
“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” — 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Commenting on these verses, MacArthur states,
Three times it says “not many.” Not many, not many, not many. The majority of believers are not impressive, it’s not impressive especially to the world of elite minds.
We’re not the elite intellects of the world. We’re not the mighty in the sense of being powerful influencers, people in great positions of power. And we’re not noble. What does that mean? High born, well born, socially ranking, royal…no.
Well what are we? Well verse 27 says, “We’re foolish, weak” and verse 28 says, “We’re based, despised, and we’re the things that are not.” We are not wise, we are rather foolish, contrasting those two verses. We are not mighty, we are rather weak. We are not noble, we are base. See that word base in verse 28, the base things of the world. The Greek word for base is agenēs. Genos is to be born, that’s why we get the word genetics from that root. We are agenēs. What does that mean? We haven’t been born, we’re unborn. Another way to say that, we don’t exist. The word came to mean the insignificant…the insignificant. We’re not the movers and shakers. And then he even goes deeper. It would be enough to be agenēs, unborn, not even existing, but he goes even lower, despised and then he says, God has chosen the things that are not, or the ones that are not. That’s a present participle of the verb to be ami and it is the most contemptible expression in the entire Greek language. It is this, “You don’t even exist.” If you really wanted to lower somebody, you don’t even exist.
So God has chosen not many wise, according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, God has chosen…please notice, it keeps repeating…God has chosen, God has chosen, God has chosen,…in case you’re still struggling over the doctrine of sovereign election. God has chosen, God has chosen, God has chosen, four times, verse 29, “So that no man may boast before God.”
The bottom line we’re driving at here is we’re unremarkable….I was with Deepak Chopra on one occasion between takes on a television talk program. He is a Hindu mystic who is also a medical doctor. And he’s a bright guy. And he’s figured out how to separate people from their money. So he is a very bright guy, but he believes that he is God. And he’s written a lot of stuff on this. And he’s very spiritual, very esoteric, very Hindu, all of this, and it was very difficult for him to deal with me…very difficult. And one time we were having this conversation and he said, “Well, you wouldn’t know anything about that anyway. You wouldn’t know anything about that.” And I said, “Well as a matter of fact I do understand that. I understand that philosophy. I understand exactly where you’re coming from.” In fact, I wrote a book on that.
And he said…this is a quote, “I wouldn’t read anything you ever wrote.”
Fine. I don’t even exist.
“You’re not even alive in my world. Go away.”
That’s how they look at us, these elite minds. See the unbelieving people are in the condition they’re in because of these constraints. They’re not impressed with us. They’re not impressed with our message. They are impressed with themselves. And the problem is, they want to follow their own reason and you can’t get there that way.
There’s one other thing we might say. And not only are the people unremarkable, but the preachers are unfashionable. Yeah, that’s Paul, chapter 2 verse 1. “When I came to you, brethren, I didn’t come with superiority of speech or wisdom.” When he first came to Corinth to preach and establish the church, he said, “I didn’t come with superiority of speech and of wisdom.” What’s he talking about?
He’s talking about what they were used to hearing from teachers and philosophers. I mean, the Greeks were into oratory. They were in to a sort of intellectual labyrinth. They were into philosophical complexities, layered arguments. They reject the message because it’s just not impressive. Paul says, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” You just kept saying that same ridiculous moronic foolishness about that man and that cross. Where is the esoteric cleverness? Where is the rational speculation? Where is the philosophical complexity? That’s why in 2 Corinthians 10:10 they said of him, that his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech is contemptible. Who would listen to him? He’s not clever. He has none of that sophia, none of that sophistication, sophisticated wisdom. The message was offensive and the messengers were unimpressive and the preachers who represent the message were unfashionable.
Now not only did he have this narrow-minded simplistic message, he just keep beating it to death, verse 2, but he says that in verse 3, “I was with you in weakness, fear and much trembling.” Come on, where’s the swagger, man? Where’s the swagger? You’ve got to have some swagger. You’ve got to be brash; got to have some self-confidence; got to have some dominance. The brash philosophers and teachers of the world at that time did that. He comes in weakness, fear, trembling and his message and his preaching, verse 4, “is not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power so that your faith wouldn’t rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God.” He understands.
This is not about apologetics, this is not about evidences. This is not about convincing them. This is not about channeling their intellect. This is not about putting their reason in the right groove. They are fallen people. They are naturally in the dark. They are naturally dead. They are double-blinded by Satan. They are alienated from the life of God and they cannot believe, they will not believe. Non-Christians, bottom line, don’t believe the Bible because they can’t. They can’t. And you can’t make it reasonable. And all your efforts of being fashionable and clever and trying to impress them aren’t going to work. You cannot by human reason find God, find Christ, find the gospel, find salvation and come to love the Scripture. Man’s wisdom can do amazing things in the physical world, temporal world, science, technology, genetics, medicine, industry, arts, culture, academics, all kinds of achievements. But man’s wisdom individually and collectively cannot know God savingly. They can know God exists, Romans 1, right? They can know that God has a moral Law, Romans 2. They can’t know God. The gospel is not available to human wisdom. That’s the problem, men find the path that appeals to them is the path of self-satisfying human reason. Can’t get there that way.
So why do we believe? Let’s turn the corner….You say, “Well, we’re the smartest of all these people.” No we’re not. Why do we believe? Verse 6, “Yet…yet,” now we turn the corner dramatically, “yet, we do speak wisdom.” Wait a minute. They don’t understand, we’re the wisest people on the planet. Do you know right now in this moment gathered in this room is the most pure, true, profound, accurate, all encompassing, sweeping collection of human wisdom in the city of Los Angeles for the state of California. Right here. And the sad part is nobody outside is asking us anything. We’ve got all the answers. We speak wisdom. I keep waiting for somebody to call me from Washington, from anywhere. Just ask me…just ask me.
One guy was trying to mock me on a radio interview one time, and said, “Where did you go to Law school?” I didn’t go to Law school, I just read the Bible. Oh, that just makes them really angry.
We do speak wisdom among those who are mature. There’s the first key. Mature is the word…well it’s actually teleios, complete. I read it that way. Complete, saved, been made complete, for you are complete in Him. That’s regeneration. Why do we know wisdom? Why do we speak wisdom? Because we’ve been made complete. We have come to Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, Colossians says. This is God’s gracious gift to us in our regeneration. It isn’t because we were smarter than anybody else, it was because the Spirit gave us life, the Spirit gave us light, the Spirit quickened us, made us alive, took off the blinders and helped us to see the truth of the gospel
Remember back in 2 Corinthians 4, “God who said let there be light, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the glory of the gospel in the face of Jesus Christ.” God turned on the light and turned on the life through the work of the Spirit. We love the Bible because of the work of the Spirit. He has given us life, and listen to me, this is life that is sustained by food, like your physical life, and spiritual life is sustained by food and the food is…what?…it’s the Word of God. It’s the Word of God.
Back to verse 6, “The wisdom that we have who have been made complete in Christ is a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.” It’s not the wisdom of the world. It’s not what James calls the wisdom from below. It’s the wisdom from above, James 3:15 to 18, that comes down and is pure and peaceable. We have the true wisdom.
But look at the culture. If they had their way, the power brokers in this society would shut every believing Christian, every Bible Christian, they would shut them out of the public discourse permanently. They don’t want to hear anything from us. The wisdom that we have is contrary to their wisdom. This is the wisdom that is not passing away. Verse 7, “We speak of God’s wisdom.”
Wow! Do you understand how important you are to the world? You might not be fashionable. I might not be fashionable in terms of what the world likes to hear, be entertained by. You might not be remarkable and I’m not remarkable, none of us is really remarkable, we’re just the hoi-polloi here. But you speak God’s wisdom because the Holy Spirit has given you life and you love His truth.