Trusting a stupid weak failure
A sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 by Nathan Nettleton, 31 January 1999
We are saved by our trust in God, and the only basis we are offered for our trust is the cross.
According to the enneagram personality profile, I am the type of person who gets addicted to success. The most hurtful thing you can call me is a failure. I long to be recognised as smart, wise, strong, self-reliant and admirable - the marks of success. All of this makes Christianity very difficult for me, and the more I understand Jesus and the ways he calls us to follow, the more difficult it gets.
The first church at Corinth seems to have been a lot like me, and Paul in the letter were reading is letting them know that they need to face up to some tough truths. They seem to have been very keen on their image as the successful Christians, the super spiritual ones with all the gifts and wisdom and power. But Paul will have none of it.
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? The world did not know God through wisdom, so God decided through the foolishness of our proclamation to save those who trust.
Most of us have our particular ways of getting what we want. Me, I generally get my way by reason, by argument. I can talk my way out of or into most things. Other people have other ways. Some rely more on their physical strength. They can muscle their way into whatever they want. Others rely on their goodness and niceness. They can ingratiate their way in. People find it hard to say no to them because theyre so nice. Others play the victim and get their way by making everybody feel sorry for them. Others rely on their charm to get them wherever they want to go. Others buy their way through everything. We all have our ways of winning friends and influencing people for our own ends.
But what Paul is saying is that that wont work with God. You cant reason your way into favour with God. You cant muscle your way to salvation. Your niceness wont earn you Gods mercy. You cant charm your way into the Kingdom of Heaven. There is not one method of gaining success in the world that will work with God. The one and only way of approaching God is by trusting God. As long as youre trusting your own powers, whatever style is yours, youre shutting God out. Put your trust in God. Faith, belief, trust. Theyre the same thing. The way to gain life in its fullness is through trust.
But trust doesnt come naturally, does it? Trust is earned. We trust those whove proved their trustworthiness. Paul recognises this and points out that different people look for different evidence of trustworthiness, especially when it come to trusting a god. Some look for signs - they want to see miracles, demonstrations of divine power. Well trust this God if we see dramatic evidence of what this God can do. Others look for wisdom. They want convincing arguments, intellectual proof, evidence that the ways of this God add up. Well trust this God if he proves intellectually credible and commendable.
But, says Paul, God will not buy into these demands for proof. The message of Christ is an offence to those who seek signs and a nonsense to those who seek wisdom. The only demonstration of trustworthiness God gives us is an act of sacrificial love. God become human living out the fullness of love and copping the hatred and bitterness of a hostile world for doing so. One person, as vulnerable as any other person, entrusting himself in love to us and being torn apart for it. One innocent man battered and spat on hanging nailed on a cross bleeding to death. One act of sacrificial love. Easily dismissed as a failure. Easily dismissed as naivete. Easily dismissed as foolish, as stupid and pathetic. Who has any respect for those who speak as though theyre going to save the world and just end up as one more lifeless corpse on the scrap heap of humanity?
But such is the power and the wisdom of God. Such is the means by which God has offered us freedom and the pathway to life. An offence to some, a nonsense to others, but to those who will trust, to those who will see the love and entrust themselves to it, it is the way of salvation, the wisdom and power of God.
I dont like being considered a failure. I dont like being seen as stupid, weak, naive or pathetic. I avoid it like the plague. And so I find Christianity very difficult. I find it difficult to entrust myself to one who went down that road, and I find it even more difficult knowing that he calls me to follow him down that road - knowing that the more deeply I journey into the love of Christ and am transformed into the image of Christ, the more people will dismiss me as a stupid, weak, pathetic failure.
But if thats the price of journeying into the heart of the greatest love in the universe, of being so loved and of becoming so loving, then it will still be worth it. None of us give up our trusty old ways easily - my addiction to success will not disappear overnight - but the prize is life and love, being reclaimed by and for love, by and for Christ. And its just a simple matter of trust.