Exposition of 1 Corinthians 1:26-30, God’s grace brings him honor

1 Corinthians 1:26-30

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

In this section Paul demonstrates his deep insight into the shape of God’s wisdom and power. He asks the Corinthian believers to look around the room and see the kind of people God had summoned into unity with Christ (1 Cor. 1:26). If God operated his eternal kingdom according to the world’s values — the values of imperial Rome — most of them would never have been allowed in it! But Paul calls them brothers and sisters, so he is placing himself with them, not above them.

When Paul says, “Not many of you were wise by human standards” (1 Cor. 1:26), the italicized portion translates the Greek phrase that means “according to the flesh” (NIV alternate reading). Garland explains that: “It refers to evaluations made by unregenerate [non-Christian] humans employing criteria that are revealed to be bogus in light of God’s measures.”[1] The Greek word for “flesh” (sarx) generally refers to life and behavior apart from God. That is why the flesh is often contrasted with the Spirit, whose presence within a believer is proof that they belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9).

Garland then makes a crucial point: “These worldly norms only factor into the equation those things that can be shown off and admired. They foster boasting and self-reliance, which lead one to spurn God’s truth because it challenges all human illusions.”[2] These concepts will help you understand every part of First Corinthians!

Three times in verses 27-28, Paul speaks of God’s choosing, and three times he uses the phrase “of the world” to speak of the world’s estimation. It was the world that considered foolish and weak and despised those who were willing to entrust their lives to a crucified Christ. But those trusting Christ were the very ones God chose, and the very fact that he chose them will ultimately heap shame on those who clung to the world and its values rather than clinging to Christ.

What, then, do the weak, the foolish and the despised — in the world’s estimation — have to boast about? Only about God! Since God did everything to send Christ and make their salvation possible, he alone deserves the praise. Not one single Christian has anything personal to boast about in relation to their acceptance by God (1 Cor. 1:29). Those who chose the world’s values have even less to say.

God’s grace or kindness is assumed in 1 Cor. 1:30. It is more explicit in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God —9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” Our salvation is from God (1 Cor. 1:30, HCSB) and “this is not from yourselves” (Eph. 2:8, NIV).

God’s wisdom has been expressed for all time in Jesus Christ. We who have trusted the crucified Christ have received the righteousness, holiness and redemption that come only from union with him (1 Cor. 1:30). Since the only basis for our standing with God comes from God’s grace in Christ, it is him who we brag about. (All Texans take note!)

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 73.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 73.

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