God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians because the religious people couldn’t accept a defeated Savior, and philosophers couldn’t believe in a God who would take on a frail human body and die. Paul honed the point later by repeating what God said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Basking in this promise, Paul declared, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).
The inverted way of Jesus
Jesus’ humble life and humiliating death informed Paul’s thinking. Jesus spent much of his time with the losers and the outcast. He talked about the last becoming first and the first becoming last. He embraced the meek and the broken—the humble ones who felt swamped with heavy burdens. He died alone, bitterly forsaken by all.
This is Jesus’ upside-down approach to our world. It is the way of his grace. We live in a world where the biggest, best, and brightest succeed, while the littlest, last, and least get trampled. But Jesus disrupts and interrupts our quest for power and our lust for significance. The ways of our world are rebuked by the inverted way of Jesus. Because of this, Christianity has from its beginning prized weakness and rebuffed strength.
D.A. Carson writes, “God has not arranged things so that the foolishness of the gospel saves those of us with an IQ above 130. Where would that leave the rest of us? Nor does the foolishness of what is preached transform the young, the beautiful, the extroverts, the educated, the healthy, the wealthy, the upright. Where would that leave the old, the ugly, the illiterate, the introverts, the poor, the sick, and the perverse?”
Despair is good
This should leave us in despair. But it can be “gospel despair” if it leads to trusting in Christ and not in ourselves. As Martin Luther wrote, “It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.” This means that we are not operating out of self-sufficiency, but out of total dependency on Christ and in need of being empowered by the Spirit. So, let’s boast in our weakness instead of displaying our self-righteousness and strength. This obviously looks like foolishness and nonsense to the world, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.