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Instruments of God

On June 03, 2009

"Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord" (1 Cor. 1:31, NRSV).

Have you noticed how God selects the most unlikely individuals to accomplish extraordinary feats? Defying human standards and expectations, we discover God’s power working in astonishing ways in the lives of people we might consider less than ordinary. There are so many examples of God’s power among people who would never make it in Hollywood! Consider the remarkable leadership of the stuttering Moses, the elderly and barren Sarah, the young Virgin Mary, the impetuous Peter, or the slaves Andronicus and Junia. These biblical leaders, and many others, were not impressive by any earthly standard.

Yet God seems to delight in countering human prejudice by accomplishing more than we might “ask or imagine” through individuals whom the world counts as nothing. Even our Lord Jesus surprised many in his home town of Nazareth, for they considered him merely the son of a carpenter. But for egalitarians this is a great encouragement!

While many churches and denominations disdain women leaders, consider how Paul dealt with human pride in the church at Corinth. Chloe--the house church leader--alerted Paul to the divisions in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 1: 11ff). Factions in this church were based on whether people followed Paul, Apollos, or Cephas. Paul reminded the Corinthians that it was Christ-centered preaching that changes lives, not eloquent preachers. Though Jews demanded signs and Greeks desired wisdom, Paul placed his hope on Christ’s accomplishments at Calvary (1 Cor. 1:22ff).

In a city with a philosopher on every corner, Paul asks the church at Corinth three questions. Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Note the irony in these questions because Paul was addressing a church comprised of slaves, the uneducated, and the poor. Though they were unimpressive by earthly standards, they were wise, Paul suggests, if they preached Christ crucified. For though teachers of the law and philosophers were educated males, Paul does not celebrate the training or eloquence of the messenger, but the preaching of Jesus, and him crucified. Paul admits that even his preaching did not involve “wise and persuasive words, but a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor. 2:4b-5).

Paul welcomes his own humiliation--his lack of persuasiveness or eloquence. He also recognizes the limitations of the church at Corinth. He wrote:

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. 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. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are… (1 Cor. 1:26-30a, TNIV).

Muscular Christianity (of brain, tongue, tribe, nation, class, or gender) too easily risks emptying the cross of its power. Faith rests not on human wisdom or privilege, but on God’s power (1 Cor. 2:5). For the “weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:25b). The question is not whether the messengers are impressive by human or cultural standards, but do they preach Jesus! And is their message accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:5)?

There are countless women who are called and gifted by God. Women have been preaching “Jesus, and him crucified,” since the empty tomb, and God has infused their message with hispower. God has made them instruments of revival, not because they are impressive or well educated, or because they were the messengers the world expected, but because they were faithful and celebrated the cross. God was honored to work through their cultural weaknesses. Not one word in Scripture holds them back from proclaiming Jesus, the Lord who is also our “righteousness, holiness, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1: 30).

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