The Upside-Down Gospel
Groucho Marx once observed that he wouldn’t want to belong to any social club that would have him as a member. The point, of course, is that many people join various organizations because those organizations are exclusive. If you belong to a group that keeps out the riff-raff, it shows that you aren’t riff-raff.
By contrast, the strategy Paul sets forth in 1 Corinthians 1:20-31 aims at the opposite effect. He acknowledges that the gospel that he uses to attract converts is foolish, at least in worldly terms. Any Jew or Gentile with sense is going to steer well clear of him!
As one might expect, the catch brought in with such a net is various. Most of it isn’t very impressive: the foolish, the weak, and the poor. However, Paul notes that God is going to do something amazing with such unpromising raw material. He is going to use it to reveal worldly wisdom as foolishness, worldly power as weakness, and worldly wealth as poverty. In the end, everyone will be forced to acknowledge that for all their arrogance, they didn’t have any reason to boast in themselves either.
Not surprisingly, this radical first-century message quickly became corrupted. Using the name of Christ as a cloak, people have been using the gospel (or a version thereof) to advance their own worldly concerns for centuries. The magnificence of various church buildings all across the globe does little to reveal their owners as have-nots!
These problems can crop up within the Lord’s church too. We don’t typically go in for cloth-of-gold vestments and cathedrals, but there’s a part of us that wants to have a nice church filled with only nice people. That photogenic couple down the street with 2.4 kids and a white picket fence is perfectly welcome. How about the guy who struggles to hold down a job? How about the woman with a criminal record?
The church in Corinth would not have lived up to anybody’s standards for niceness. All of the problems we read about in the church did not spring up out of nowhere. Instead, due to the unselectivity of the screening process, all those new Christians brought enough baggage with them to fill up the hold of the _Queen Mary_.
And yet, these were the called and chosen of God, the ones whom He had selected to humiliate everyone else. What’s more, they did. The organization to which the riff-raff belonged continues to this day. The wealthy, wise, and powerful of Corinth? Not so much. Indeed, on the day of judgment, the disparity between those who sought after Christ and those who didn’t will only become more obvious.
Today, then, we need to worry a lot less about the raw material of potential converts and a lot more about the power of the gospel. As always, it’s the people who don’t have their lives together and are well aware of the fact who are most likely to embrace global change. They might not look very inviting in the church photo, but they are more than enough for God to use for His glory.