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Shaming the Strong - 1 Cor. 1:18-31

Shame is good. Shame is the sense or emotion that you have fallen short in some way, which means that shamelessness lays claim to perfection, and that claim is always and everywhere a lie, with one God-given exception. Every son or daughter of Adam has some experience of shame, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That shame is good, because shame is an assault on boasting, which is a symptom of that great sickness of the soul known as idolatry.

God uses the tool of shame to attack boasting for two reasons: first, to vindicate His own glory, and second, so that the boaster might be saved. Boasting is the assertion of superiority, and it is almost always an expression of sinful pride. Rejecting of the gospel always demonstrates boastfulness, since it is an attempt to rob Jesus of the glory that He bought with His own blood on the cross. And since God is a jealous God who will not share His glory with another, the love between Father, Son, and Spirit moves God to take action against such boasting.

But God’s attack on boasting is also mercy: the boaster’s pride and idolatry corrupts him in this life, and would keep him out of heaven in the next. But God intervenes in order to save people from boasting their way into hell. He mercifully makes them aware of their need for salvation by using shame to bring them low.

1 Cor. 1 mentions two different varieties of boasting: the intellectual boasting of the so-called wise, who are too smart for Jesus, and the boasting of the strong, who think that the authority or power they have means that they don’t need Jesus. The philosophical hunger of the Greeks makes them an example of the former, while the Jews and their desire for a miraculous sign serve as a type of the latter. In our own day, there are many who claim that smart, educated, or informed people cannot accept the gospel due to advances in science and technology that make the Bible’s message unbelievable. Others reject the Christian message as something that slows them down rather than helping them get ahead. Jesus’ opposition to self-serving power and His disapproval of the pursuit of mammon make Him weak in their eyes.

But what these objections fail to take into account is that what they could not do with all their wisdom and power, Jesus did by offering Himself up as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Science hasn’t brought salvation to the world; philosophy hasn’t solved the world’s problems; powerful militaries haven’t secured peace on earth. Brilliant philosophers and powerful rulers come and go, attracting followers or conquering kingdoms for a time, but not only can they not save the world; they cannot even save themselves from death. Everyone, no matter how smart or strong, who mocks the foolish gospel is either dead or dying.

By contrast, Jesus came in weakness and simplicity, but has now been revealed as the power of God and the wisdom of God. God fills the earth with the glory of Jesus through the foolishness of preaching: uneducated fishermen telling the story of a dying God, leading to a Church made up of not many wise, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. And yet this message and this Church have transformed the world: billions of men and women now worship the one who died on the cross and rose to life on the third day. Preachers open an old book and speak of an old rugged cross, and heaven comes to earth, so that the name of Jesus is glorified all over the world.

The wise, the rich, the powerful, the strong have everything, and yet they accomplish nothing compared to Jesus, who emptied Himself and became nothing, but brought life and salvation to all who are found in Him. This is how God shames the strong: their boasting is shown to be vain and empty, but God’s people boast of Christ’s humble victory all over the world.

But there is good news for those who have been put to shame by the foolishness of God: the blood of Jesus was shed to cover the shame of every sin you’ve ever committed, every time you’ve ever fallen short. Jesus came to make you ashamed of all your efforts to boast in the presence of God, so that you would turn to Him so that He might become your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. And so the way to avoid the shame of falling flat on your face before God is to willingly kneel before Him and give glory to Jesus Christ. As it is written, let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

Posted on Wednesday, February 01, 2017 by CJ Bowen