Surprises lurk in the most unexpected places in Scripture. Sometimes in familiar passages. Last week I preached from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 and discovered an unexpected tool to unify Christians. If you’re in a rush, at least skip to the end to see the conclusion; you can return for the argumentation if you don’t say, “Yes, yes, yes!”
In the previous paragraph (1:17-25), Paul introduced the subject of worldview using the biblical term, “wisdom.” He argues that a divided church needs to reject the world’s way of viewing all of life’s categories choosing rather a Christian perspective. That is one way of looking at the cause and cure of divisions within the church.
Consider Your Calling
But beginning in 1:26, he commands the Corinthians to “consider your calling.” The KJV and NKJV translate this imperative verb as an indicative (“ye see your calling…”), which merely obscures Paul’s force in the statement while not changing its meaning in the context. The apostle commands them to carefully ponder the nature of God’s calling to these Christians.
What is the calling here? Paul has already used that term three times in this epistle. He greets the believers as those who were called (1:2). He prays form them as ones whom God called (1:9). He contrasts the ones who are called with all the unbelievers (1:24). Then, here again in 1:26, he says, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;”
When the NT talks about calling—which it does often—it almost always means God calling a sinner from the grave of his sin to life. It is a call which makes something happen like Jesus calling Lazarus from the tomb on the fourth day. Paul likes to use the phrase “calling,” but Jesus and John use the metaphor “born again” to refer to the same thing: the beginning of spiritual life in a sinner’s heart. So, when you see calling in Paul’s epistles, you can usually think “being born again.” (Rom. 8:28; Gal. 1:15; 1 Thess. 2:12)
After using the word “calling” four times in the first chapter, he switches to “choosing” in 1:27. The people who were called were also the ones he chose.
1:27 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, 28 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,
The wise, powerful, and noble were not called or chosen for the most part. A few from these upper levels of society, but not many. Politicians, influential businessmen, and those born into privilege do not commonly receive the blessing of God’s calling or choosing.
Rather, when He began building a new group who would learn to sing the great song of Moses and the Lamb, the usual pool from which He selected were the poor, weak, and helpless of the world. There may be some with PhD’s, there may be some kings and presidents, there may be some rich business owners, but most of the believers are just normal people.
However, if you believe in Jesus, you are wiser than a man who has sold 5 million books but does not believe in God because you are able to see the most important things in life. These verses clearly present God’s calling as something He does according to His will; not because of any factor in the sinner’s heart. The calling and the choosing find their A and Z in God.
Three Reasons Calling Matters
After explaining what God did, Paul will answer why in the next three verses. What was important in the mind of God when He chose? Three times the Greek conjunctions are translated with “so that” (NASB) showing the result of God’s activity.
He chose people so that the wisdom (worldview) of the world would be destroyed (1:28). He chose people so that pride would be absolutely and utterly destroyed (1:29). He chose people so that God alone would be glorified (1:31). If your understanding of election does not bring these results, then you don’t understand election.
One more observation needs to be mentioned from verse 30.
1:30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,
With typical Pauline simplicity he inserts two Greek words which clearly assume and assert unconditional election. I am “in Christ Jesus” because of “His doing” alone. God elects and then calls people for salvation to establish their humility. He wants a humble people.
Surprised by Context
I had reached the last verse of the passage in my preparation, and I was rejoicing in God’s grace. But a niggling problem wouldn’t go away: how does this discussion of monergism fit with the rest of the letter? Was Paul just eager to talk about election? No, it fits perfectly with what he is telling the Corinthians.
Starting from 1:10 (just a few paragraphs earlier), Paul is rebuking them for their divisions. The church was not working together; they were not unified; they were preparing for an ugly church split that has characterized too many assemblies.
And to this assembly he commands them to consider their election. If we know that each person in our church was specially loved and chosen by God to be in the Great Choir in Revelation 5:9, that would help us to be unified. The people of God already are unified because God chose them all together as a group before the world was formed (Eph. 1:4). So, if we meditate on that, if we bathe our wounds in that solution, if we mix that cement into all of our bricks, it will cure are petty frustrations and splits.
Sometimes people think election is controversial, but Paul thinks it will bring great unity to the church. The preacher who was given to the church as a pattern for all believers (4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17) talks about God’s sovereignty in salvation in the opening of many of his letters. He uses it as a cure for divisions in the church—he doesn’t think we should tiptoe around what is sometimes called Calvinism. Do you have a fractured church? You need to think more about unconditional, sovereign election.