1 Corinthians: Chapter 1 (verses 26-31)

April 2, 2024

by Peter Amsterdam

The next six verses bring us to the end of the first chapter of 1 Corinthians.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.1

Paul asks the Corinthians to think about their calling, to reflect on how they came to the faith and their standing in society at the time. Prior to this, Paul has referred to “calling” a number of times.2 He considers a “calling” to be significant because it refers not just to God’s summons but to the transforming power of God. Paul wants them to reflect on how they became Christians and how they received God’s undeserved love and calling. Paul identifies with them as his “brothers” (and sisters). In the next chapter he will refer to his own calling as a demonstration of God’s grace.3

Paul also draws attention to the social status of the Corinthian believers. He points out that the standing of most of the Christians in the Corinthian church was low. The three terms Paul used—wise, powerful, and of noble birth—describe the elements of society that were held in high esteem. The wise were considered clever in the community, probably those who were well read, educated, and adept at public speaking. The powerful had influence in society, probably those who had wealth or political sway or both. Those of noble birth were born of the powerful and wealthy, those of standing in the community.

Paul describes the wise as wise according to worldly standards (or in some translations, according to the flesh). This phrase is used six times in 2 Corinthians.4 In Paul’s writings, this phrase has spiritual significance and contrasts with what is of the Spirit or from God. In the context here, different spiritual conditions are being discussed. Paul is contrasting the wisdom of this world with that of God. Later (v. 2:12) Paul sets “the spirit of the world” against “the Spirit of God.” One of Paul’s concerns is that the Corinthians are making judgments even among themselves based on the world’s perception of how things should be rather than how they are in God’s view. Paul appeals to the Corinthians to reflect on God’s power and wisdom, and contrasts it with the power and wisdom of the world. Paul has called them back to Scripture, as wisdom lies in God’s Word.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.5

Having stated that not many of the Corinthian believers were wise by the standards of the world, and not many were powerful or wellborn individuals, Paul makes the point that God has His own way of doing things. Three times we’re told that “God chose.” God chooses to give His love and grace to whomever He pleases. Paul shows what a privilege it is to be chosen by God. He calls some of the Corinthians “foolish” by the standards of the world, but even so, God chose them. Paul knows the depths of God’s grace and love. He is telling the listeners that if they will reflect on what God has done for them, they will see that God’s love and His priorities are clearly different from those of humanity.

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.6

Earlier, Paul mentioned those not of noble birth (v. 26); in other words, those who were not wellborn. Now he writes that God chose the lowly, the low-ranking, the poor, the common, the socially inferior. Those who were not of noble birth were seen as insignificant by some and despised by others; this is how many of the Corinthian Christians were regarded by people around them. However, a new people had been brought into being.

Paul said that God has chosen “to bring to nothing” the things that are. The phrase “bring to nothing” indicates judgment and destruction. The preaching of the crucified Christ upends what the world values. He raises up that which seems foolish and weak in the world’s eyes and judges (brings to shame and nullifies) that which the world considers valuable.

so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.7

God has deliberately chosen the foolish things of the world—the cross and the Corinthian believers—so as to remove any possible grounds for any person to come before God with something in their hands. There is nothing that anyone possesses which can give them an advantage before Him; no accomplishment, wealth, or standing in society is of value to Him.

The word “boast” is used predominantly by Paul in the New Testament. It’s likely that he used this word in reference to Jeremiah 9:23–24, which Paul will quote in verse 31. Boasting isn’t generally looked on positively; however, as it is used here, it can mean “to take pride in” or “to glory in.” One author states: The ground is level at the foot of the cross; not a single thing that any of us possesses will advantage anyone before the living God—not brilliance, “clout,” achievement, money, or prestige.8

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.9

Earlier (v. 28), Paul spoke of things that “are not.” Now, in contrast, he says because of God, “you are.” God is the cause of them becoming believers in Christ Jesus. It was through Jesus’ death and resurrection that the possibility of salvation by grace was made available. He is the manifestation of God’s plan to save and to judge. He is the only way that anyone can have the standing that matters—standing before God.

As Paul continues toward the last verse (v. 31), which is a quotation from the book of Jeremiah, he adds three words: righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Each has to do with standing before God, though each has a distinct meaning.

In Jeremiah, righteousness has to do with God, who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.10 He has pleasure in these things, and He expects them of His people.

Sanctification has to do with the status Christians have “in Christ.” Sanctification is often considered a lifelong process through which one becomes more Christlike, more holy. The call for a holy life, which is an important part of this letter, comes from the prior work of God in Christ by which Christians are a people set apart, chosen by God.

The concept of redemption comes from the world of slavery and the payment of the purchase price for a slave. The freedom of Israel from Egypt and their coming into the promised land was seen as God’s “redemption.”11 Paul likens what has happened in the past to his present day. It is through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection that Christians are gathered up “in Christ,” freed from the domain of sin and from judgment by God. Through no action on their part and with no human wisdom or plan, God’s work through Christ’s crucifixion accomplished what was needed to allow them to stand before God.

…so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”12

This phrase about boasting in the Lord is loosely quoted from Jeremiah 9:23–24: Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

God’s work in Christ brings Jeremiah’s quotation to fulfillment. The crucified Christ has shown that there is only one possible boast, for it is all “from God” and is in the Lord. Paul takes a major theme from the Old Testament and adapts it here as a general principle to address the Corinthian problem. The Corinthians should only boast in what God has accomplished among them.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 1 Corinthians 1:26.

2 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2, 9, 24.

3 1 Corinthians 2:1–5.

4 2 Corinthians 1:17; 5:16 [twice]; 10:2, 3; 11:18.

5 1 Corinthians 1:27.

6 1 Corinthians 1:28.

7 1 Corinthians 1:29.

8 Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 88.

9 1 Corinthians 1:30.

10 Jeremiah 9:24.

11 Psalm 111:9.

12 1 Corinthians 1:31.