Perils of Pride #9: Pride of Trivial Pursuit

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
26 Brothers, 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 He 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 him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
(NIV)

Let me begin with a story from our family’s dinner table last night. Each time we sit down to eat a meal together as a family, we discuss one question from the Westminster Catechism. As we were finishing up, the conversation turned to questions and answers like “What is the longest verse in the Bible?” “What is the shortest?” “What is the longest book?” etc., etc. And around the table the kids had the answers to all these questions. It was then that I realized just how guilty I am of the sin of using the Bible as a game of Trivial Pursuit. How is it that I have taught my kids how to say the books of the Bible backwards, but have not instructed them adequately in the gospel of Jesus Christ? Believe it or not, this sin in my life stems from my pride. I am guilty of being proud that I think I know more about the Bible than other people. I thought people were privileged to be in my Sunday School class to hear my latest insights. Now I am beginning to realize that I know nothing of the Bible and do not have a clue how to share the Bible with others. The things I do know about the Bible are nothing more than Trivial Pursuit.

The Apostle Paul describes the plight of those who are filled with pride because of their knowledge, worldly wisdom, and scholarship in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, which is quoted at the beginning of this post. In America today, we are taught that knowledge and education are the paragon to strive for. The goal of the typical parent of a high school student today is for them to score well enough on the SAT or ACT in order to gain admission to a prestigious university. Never mind that the world’s system in that university will probably destroy what little faith the student has. And then our children must be well-rounded, so we shuttle them to soccer, music lessons, and karate. We expect our children to learn all they need to know about God, Jesus, and the Bible from an hour or two on Sunday morning in a church that is probably providing nothing more than watered-down milk to the sleeping congregation. (By the way, if you have never heard Jeff Noblit’s two sermons on the “Milky Way”, I encourage you to find time to listen to them. You can download the messages from the internet at the link below. Look for the sermons on January 15 and 22, 2006.)

http://www.anchoredintruth.org/resources/sermons/hebrews

I hear an objection from a reader now: “Are you saying that education, sports, and music lessons are bad?” No, and yes. No, there is nothing wrong with these things in and of themselves. But yes, these things are bad when they stand between us and the true knowledge and true wisdom that only comes from time spent in the Bible and in communion with God. And one more yes: these things are bad when we are so filled with the pride of our own knowledge and our own worldly wisdom that we find the message of the cross of Jesus Christ to be mundane, trivial, useless, and foolishness. Read 1 Corinthians 1:18. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (NIV) I find myself guilty in being so puffed up by my little bit of knowledge that I have gloried in my superior knowledge and denied the power of the cross of Jesus Christ. There is a word used in verse 18 which describes the state of those who do not know the power of the cross of Jesus Christ: perishing. It literally means “to be destroyed fully.”

Now I hear another person out there asking a question: “But can’t a good education and being well-rounded help me out in my Christian walk?” Surprisingly, the answer to this question for the majority of us is “No.” We are told that God must undo our intelligence and worldly wisdom in order for us to come to salvation. We read this in 1 Corinthian 1:19-21.

19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
(NIV)

Notice what Paul says in verse 21. All the wisdom that this world has to offer can never lead us into a knowledge of God. God has chosen a very peculiar way to impart the knowledge and wisdom required for salvation – the foolishness of preaching. No matter how much of the Bible you think you know, there is always room in your head and in your heart for a good sermon. I am dismayed by the way the modern church treats evangelism. We have all these programs to attract people to the church and call these programs evangelism. We think people can get saved by listening to Christian music, or playing on a Christian basketball team, or by eating hot dogs at an “evangelistic block party”, or attending a Christian finance course. But the method of evangelism that God blesses is preaching. Why is it that we have thrown preaching out the window and then expect people to get saved? Oh, they may make a decision for Christ, but that makes them nothing but a two-fold son of hell (see Matthew 23:15). Why do we do this in our churches? The answer is found in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23.

22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles
(NIV)

We do these foolish things in our churches in the name of evangelism because the unsaved world expects these things: miraculous signs, big productions, worldly wisdom. The world calls the cross of Jesus Christ foolishness, so we are ashamed to hold up the crucified Christ for the world to see. Instead, we hide Him behind a curtain in our church while we try to reach the world using methods and programs of man’s devising.

Someone out there may be saying “But we have a fall carnival every year and people from all over the community come and are exposed to the church in a fun and enjoyable setting.” I am not against fun. I love a chili cook-off just as much as the next guy. But don’t call it evangelism. “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” (NIV)

I believe I diverged some from my theme of pride stemming from a false assumption of superior knowledge of the Bible, so let’s get back on track. It is important for us know everything we can about the Bible. It is important to know enough to be able to share the truths of the Bible with other people. But what is the difference between having Bible knowledge for the purpose of Trivial Pursuit and having a knowledge of the Bible that makes a real difference in our lives? I believe that the answer to this question is found in the principle which is expounded in James 1:22-25.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror
24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does
. (NIV)

The true test of the efficacy of our knowledge of the Bible lies in the evidence of our obedience to what it says. Anyone whose head is full of Bible trivia but has no fruit in their lives is deceived. Such knowledge does not lead to salvation. It leads to pride.

How do we go about fighting the pride which has a tendency to fill our hearts because of our knowledge of the Bible? As we consider 1 Corinthians 18:25-31, we can find three most excellent weapons for fighting our own pride.

First, we can have knowledge of the Bible and still be humble when we realize that what we do know of the Bible the world calls foolishness. This is seen in verse 25. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (NIV) You will not be able to impress the average person you meet on the street by your knowledge of the Bible.

Second, we must realize that there is nothing in ourselves which has helped us really understand the Bible. Your IQ has nothing to do with your ability to comprehend the Bible. God did not choose you because he saw you have a superior mind. God chose you in spite of the fact that there was nothing superior about you in order that His purpose could be fulfilled. That is the message of verses 26-29.

26 Brothers, 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 He 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.
(NIV)

Third, we have something much better than our pitiful knowledge of the Bible to boast about – the Lord Jesus Christ. We are nothing, but through Jesus Christ we have wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption. Boast in the greatness of Jesus Christ. That is the message of verses 30-31.

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 him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
(NIV)

As we close today, contemplate on the words of the first verse of the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts.

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