First Corinthians 1:26-29 is one of the most important passages with the words “But God–” in the Scriptures. Quite a few verses that begin with the words “But God–” come from the first epistle to the Corinthians, probably because Paul looked upon the situation as he found it in Corinth and then thought of all that God is able to do to the contrary.
Do you remember the problems in Corinth? Perhaps the biggest problem was the lack of unity in the church. Factions were dividing its members, and the church seemed to be facing bitter splits. Some members claimed to follow Paul, others followed Peter, and still others preferred Apollos.
How was Paul to address this problem? He talks about God’s wisdom and how the preaching of the cross is apparent foolishness to those who hear it and how it only becomes God’s wisdom to us as it is received in faith. He begins here. Paul says quite simply: “Look at yourselves and see the kind of people God chooses. Are there many wise among you?” If the Corinthians were honest, they had to say, “No, not really.” Nor could they claim to be particularly mighty or of noble birth.”Well, then,” Paul says, “see what God has chosen: not the wise but the foolish; not the mighty, but the weak; not the noble, but the ones who are base in the eyes of this world.” The Apostle Paul wants the Corinthians to realize what they really are before God in order that, by God’s grace, they might become what God really wants them to be.
We need to look at this section carefully. In verse 26 (kjv) Paul lists the things that God has not chosen. He has not chosen (1) many wise men after the flesh, nor (2) many mighty, nor (3) many noble. These were the three major divisions of life in ancient times. In a Greek or Roman town, if you asked, “Who is important here?” you’d find that the important people of the town would be in one of these three categories.
First, there were the wise. The word Paul uses is the word sophia, the word from which we get our words sophist and philosopher. It means “wisdom.” So Paul was saying that although this is an area in which one can try to be great in the world’s eyes, we should notice, nevertheless, that God has not chosen many of these people to be his followers.
The second category is power or might. The word here is dunamoi. We get our word dynamite from it. It speaks of explosive power, culminating in the chance to rule. In ancient times this would refer most of all to military persons or to political figures. So on the one hand you have philosophers, educators, and professors, and on the other hand you have the political figures and the military leaders. But Paul says that God has not chosen many of these people.
A third area in which one could have importance was nobility. This had to do with descent from wealthy parents or kings. But Paul says, no, not many of these people are chosen either.
At last he asks, but what has God chosen? And then in perfect contrast he answers that it’s not the wise, but the foolish; not the mighty, but the weak; not the noble, but the base things of this world; those of low birth has God chosen in order that he might confound the wise and the mighty and the noble.