The “Strength in Weakness” Dichotomy

1 Corinthians 1: 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.

Jesus really did turn the world upside down with his preaching.  I’m sure the listeners scratched their heads many times when Jesus spoke.  What did he mean that the “first would be last, and the last would be first” (Matthew 20:16); or “whoever wants to become great must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26)?

The New Testament is full of dichotomies – comparisons of two things that are apparently polar opposites.  In the scripture above, the Apostle Paul was writing to the Corinthian church and he introduced two more dichotomies: that God chooses the foolish things to shame the wise; and he chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  Both of these concepts are very difficult for a competitive athlete to understand with human wisdom.  How will I achieve success in sports if I act like a fool?  If I disobey the rules, if I abuse my body, logically my foolish behavior will have negative consequences.  And how can weakness possibly have any power?  Weakness will disqualify me from even making the team, let alone winning a prize.

The 1st century hearers of these messages would similarly have had challenges understanding these teachings.  They had been raised seeing the religious and political elite ruling their world.  They were the wise, the rich, the powerful; they were the picture of leadership and the ones who should be honored.  But who was this Jesus guy now who came with little fanfare, one who washed the feet of his disciples, one who was a friend of the tax collectors and the sinners?

Later some recognized him as the messiah, yet there he was being whipped and spat on by Roman soldiers.  They hung a sign above his head to mock him saying “King of the Jews”.  The chief priests scorned him saying: “he saved others, but he can’t save himself” (Matthew 27:42).  Here was the ultimate example of weakness.  Jesus had become fully depleted as he spoke his final words: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”.

Yet we know the story did not end here.  Jesus had taken all the sins of the world upon his shoulders and took them to the cross.  While he could have called down legions of angels to “save himself”, he willingly made himself weak to demonstrate the most incredible power ever displayed – the power over sin and death. On the third day he rose again and conquered death.  And those who believe will be saved.

As you pursue your athletic endeavors, do so with wisdom and the strength God has given to you.  But recognize the greatest power you will ever be able to demonstrate will be the power that comes from the cross.  It may also be in a place of weakness in which you will be able to demonstrate more power than you would ever be able to demonstrate in a place of physical strength.

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

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