Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
One might start this sermon with an illustration about human attempts to puff themselves up. For example, I went to elementary school with a boy who constantly drew attention to himself because of his superior intelligence. I do remember that he was very smart, but even at a young age he spent countless hours on the playground and in the classroom telling us about it. He recounted compliments he had gotten from his parents' friends about how advanced he was and said that he could read and comprehend at a middle school level. (All of us third graders were in favor of sending him on to another school!)
His whole agenda was to make sure that we all knew how amazing he was. And this attitude was exactly what Paul was referring to in our passage for today.
We have all met folks that think they are the smartest one in the room. They have all the answers on the tip of their tongue. But over the years I have noticed that the really smart people, the ones that make significant contributions to the world are often hard to spot. They are often great listeners and sometimes are very reticent to tell others of what they have done.
“Stupid is as stupid does.” The great irony of Forrest Gump was how insightful his simplistic sayings really were. Sort of the opposite of Peter Seller’s character in the classic movie, Being There. Everyone thought Chance the Gardener was brilliant, but he really was a dolt, albeit (spoiler alert) a dolt who could walk on water.
In case you don’t know, Gump’s line means you are what you do. In other words, it doesn’t matter how intelligent you think you are or are supposed to be, if you consistently do dumb things, you’re still dumb.
Have we decided that being smart is better than being wise? Can we no longer recognize wisdom in our modern world?
The predominant thought from this passage actually begins back in 1 Corinthians 1:18, where Paul proclaims that "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." He distinguishes between human wisdom and foolishness and what Christians should consider wise and unwise. It seems "foolish" that our Savior is a baby who was born not to a woman of nobility but to a peasant girl in a forgotten manger. It is "foolish" to consider that Jesus' disciples were generally uneducated fishermen and other nobodies rather than the scribes and rabbis of the time. But God does not view wisdom the same way we do. He calls those who are willing to die to self and let Christ live in them.
The subject of wisdom continues, as Paul gives his readers a "for instance". He reminds them that when he came into Corinth, he differentiated himself from the standard orators of the day. There were those hoping to become politicians, teachers for the rich, or somehow establish their reputation. Not so with Paul.
These characters gave embellished speeches about the town and their own accomplishments, hoping their wisdom and knowledge proved them worthy of being hired on or elected to an office. They often used fancy methods of rhetoric, trying to play on the audience's emotions and other persuasive techniques to make their point. It was almost like a play, and those listening expected a lot of pomp and circumstance along with the actual message. (Carson, D. A.: New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. [Downers Grove, Ill., 1994], p 1164)
Paul, on the other hand, was resolved to know nothing except Christ and him crucified. He came as a simple man using straightforward words so that everyone might understand the message. There were no tricks, no shows, and no ruses. The testimony of the truth of Jesus Christ was more than enough. He was no doubt rejected by the rulers of the day but was accepted by the church.
Paul also pointed out that he did not rely on his own abilities, but on the Holy Spirit's power. He didn't need to add anything to the message, nor did he feel compelled to play to the crowd's sentiment but spoke it plainly and left the rest to the power of God.
He goes on to say that while he does not speak the "wisdom" of the day like the other who comes knocking, the gospel is the wisdom of God and far superior than anything man has to say. It was considered secret at one time, but God has now revealed it through Jesus. Just like the ruling class of that day, the Pharisees and others cast it off as foolishness and crucified Christ. Do you hear the same echoes of elitism in people like Bill Mahr the talk show host in the modern and so-called post-modern world?
No one can ever know the depth of grace and love God gives to those who love Him. Then He speaks extensively about the effects of accepting this gospel. When we call Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, we become a new creation. Our bodies and minds don't change (though we are admonished to renew our minds) but the Spirit of God comes and dwells within us. We begin to understand who God is not because of human wisdom, but because the Spirit is teaching us. We do not need fancy rhetoric, for we have God Himself living in us.
In our day and age, we often want to go to churches that fall into the same trap as the crowds in Corinth-we want eloquent, exhilarating preaching. We want state-of-the-art programs. We only want the big-name Bible studies. A good question to ponder with the congregation this week would be: "Is knowing Christ and Him crucified the goal of our lives as individuals and as our corporate life as a church?" Do we want to worship or to attend a weekly show? Are our programs a means to bring us into deeper relationship, or a means of entertainment?
But rather than a guilt trip, this should be an opportunity to realign a church's priorities as well as ours individually. If Christ isn't "enough" for us, then where are we getting our wisdom and knowledge? Where did things get skewed for us, and how can we get back on the right track?
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
I have never been the best at anything. I would spend a lot time growing up, imagining myself as someone I wasn’t. I would picture the talk shows and the interviews, and the inspiring stories my fictional self would share.
I grew up playing a lot of sports. Always okay, but never great.
I wasn’t unintelligent, but I’ve never been what you would consider academic.
Moving into adult life, I continued this mediocrity (decent education, decent job, decent books…). I’ve never been bad at anything, but I’ve never been great or the best.
So, I would imagine it, and play out these ‘dream interviews’ in my mind.
I hoped to be the ‘smartest’ and ‘best’ in the room, but now I appreciate how dumb this is.
They say “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
I’ve heard this quote a lot over the years, but I never really appreciated it.
It seemed like the sort of thing you say to make yourself feel better (and to justify your mediocrity). It seemed like a cop-out, but I now know it’s one of the wisest mantras you can live by.
I began to realize this when I interviewed 150+ people for my latest book. I met folks like Jayson Gaignard who literally lives and dies by this motto (it’s the slogan for his epic conference, Mastermind Talks).
It didn’t click into place straight away, but that’s how life often goes — you hear something a lot, but it takes a while before it makes sense (before it’s relevant to ‘you’).
So why is being so smart so dumb?
Well I ask you to imagine what life would be like, if you entered every room knowing you were the best-of-the-best. Would this fulfil you? Would this make you happy? Would such superiority make you complete, and better than everyone else?
Or would it massage your ego into an unstoppable force?
Would it make you complacent and force you to take your eye off the ball?
After all, isn’t this how the likes of Blockbuster and Kodak slipped into oblivion after dominating their industry for decades?
Is this not how the talented sporting wonderkid of their generation burst onto the scenes, only to fizzle into nothing (I look at you, Freddy Adu)?
How Ego Really is Your Enemy
The smartest person in the room is the only one in it incapable of learning.
As the smartest person in the room, you are ‘it’.
What comes after ‘it’… how are you supposed to motivate yourself to be better, if you’re already the best?
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s how dangerous complacency can be. Most people make mistakes (and fail), not when they’re taking risk and pushing the boundaries, but when they sit back and relax.
Worst of all, you’re blinded from the fact because you’re the ‘best’; you’ve already made it.
And while you’re sat on your throne, enjoying the view, someone below you (learning from you, motivated and inspired by you) is ready to knock you off it.
That may have been you once, but not anymore.
Now, you’re blinded by your ego, protected in a bubble you created for yourself.
I didn’t think I had much of an ego, personally. I’m rather private, shy, and reserved, so you don’t associate ego with a guy like me. You look at the confident person; the outspoken one.
But then I read ‘Ego is Your Enemy’ by Ryan Holiday, and I realized how egotistical I am.
All those hours I wasted picturing myself as the best… it was my ego. I didn’t feel worthy enough being average, so I dreamed about being superior; about being someone different.
Of course, this didn’t make me any better at sports. It didn’t make me any smarter. It didn’t take me any closer to those talk shows and interviews.
But it made me feel better about me, which in turn fed my ego a five-course meal of ignorance.
Lucky for you and me, there’s always a room with someone smarter than you.
It’s easier to stick to what you know. There’s comfort surrounding yourself with people further behind.
But what does this achieve?
It’s like hanging out with a bunch of seven-year-olds, and feeling pride when you outscore them on a test.
You’re smarter than them, but are you a better version of ‘you’?
And this is the point. This is the true lesson I have learned, and this is why I no longer (most of the time) worry about not being the smartest person in the room.
Because ‘this’ (and when I say ‘this’, I mean this life I’m living) isn’t about meeting a certain standard or ticking a specific box. It’s about me being the best ‘me’ I can be.
I won’t achieve this as the smartest person in the room. The only way I will is if I continue to learn, grow, and strive for better.
And there’s a room for that, but it isn’t the one I’ve spent my life in until now.
I still catch myself daydreaming at times, and my ego continues to fight me most days. It’s scared. It’s worried. It’s frightened about being average, and that we’ll never be enough.
But we are enough, and we’ll remain this way so long as we learn, grow, and strive for better. Not a better number, or a better job, or a better social standing… simply a better version of ‘me’.
It’s out there, in rooms where I feel small and inadequate. All I have to do is open the door and enter. (https://medium.com/the-mission/why-being-the-smartest-person-in-the-room-is-the-dumbest-thing-you-can-be-5d750c9d5d73)
This is the Jesus Christ whom we worship and serve. Just as Paul came and told the straightforward truth about Christ and him crucified, Jesus lived a straightforward life and went willingly to the cross. This is not only the foolishness of man, but also the wisdom of God. The following is part of a short essay by James C. Hefley. "Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant woman. He was an itinerant preacher...He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a Cross between two thieves ...all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life." (http://www.tentmaker.org/Quotes/jesus-christ.htm)
I know someone who only participates in Bible studies or reads books by one specific author. If this author isn't being featured in a women's study, then she simply doesn't take part. She likes the author's explanations, illustrations, and loves watching her DVDs. Now, on the one hand, there is nothing wrong with this particular author and presenter-her content is Bible-based and she is interesting to listen to. But on the other hand, this person has turned her into an idol, and in a sense has become like the crowds in Corinth. She wants-expects-to be inspired and persuaded and wooed. If the apostle Paul came into her midst today, I am not convinced she'd give him a second glance. We can shake our heads in wonder, but are we the same way? If Paul came and presented a simple gospel message to us, would we turn away from the glossy Bible study covers and theological tomes and listen to him?
Jesus is God spelling Himself out in language that men can understand. (S.D. Gordon)
One of my favorite scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark is when Indiana Jones is running through a crowd and meets up with a figure dressed all in black. The man in black begins to engage in an elaborate play of footwork and sword-work, hoping to draw Indy into a battle to the death. Indy looks at him, draws a gun, shoots him, and moves on. One engages in all kind of show; the other gets to the point. The sophists of the day wanted to puff themselves up with their own knowledge and impress the crowd with their skills; Paul just wanted to get the point and tell about Jesus. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anEuw8F8cpE)
We have plenty of "wisdom" offered by experts these days. Bookstores are filled with shelves of self-help books, Christian, and secular, offering ways to make our lives better. Their pages are filled with ideas, advice, and suggestions about how to fix what is wrong or enhance what is right.
We will attend weekend retreats and go to seminars and follow five simple steps. We will pay big-name people a lot of money to tell us how to change our lives. But the best wisdom has and always will come from Christ, and is found in the Bible. How much time do we spend in the Word and prayer, and how much time to we spend finding wisdom from every worldly source imaginable?
Christianity is not a doctrine, not truth as truth, but the knowledge of a Person; it is knowing the Lord Jesus. You cannot be educated into being a Christian. (T. Austin-Sparks)
Are we resolved to know nothing but Christ and him crucified when we share the gospel with others? I once attended a large conference on evangelism, and was perplexed to see the number of gimmicks that were offered in the exhibition hall. It felt a lot like a carnival, with every group hocking their wares and competing for my attention. One group wanted me to invest in their tracts. Another wanted me to hand out cardboard rectangles in the shape of and iPod with the gospel message on it. Still others wanted me to buy their complete program on how to train my entire church to share their faith...for only $199.99.
Yet in the book of Acts, Peter stood up on Pentecost and told the crowd who Jesus was and what he had done, and 3000 were added to their number. Paul stood before commoners and rulers alike and simply told the truth, and people were saved. Sometimes we make evangelism too difficult because we are focusing on finding a fancy delivery method rather than sharing the message of truth. Modern day evangelist may have stopped depending upon the Holy Spirit to do the real work. Wisdom is knowing what is really important.
If you as a clergyman are approached by an atheist that just wants to somehow prove that God does not exist, they start with trying to get you to prove God exists. Since this is an evangelistic moment, we should not be pulled into thinking that we need to out smart our questioner with logic, but instead we need to be wise and find a way to show them the positive affect of faith in our lives. My favorite question is why do you ask? If God does not exist than it does not really matter much. I think what you are asking is "what if I have it wrong?" Wisdom is sometimes seeing beyond the barrier of logic and prejudice and trying to see the person.
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Blessed are those who do not walk in the counsel of the wicked...
People: ...or stand in the way of sinners.
Leader: But their delight is in the law of the Lord
People: ...and on God's law they meditate day and night.
Leader: They are like trees planted by streams of water...
People: ...whose leaf does not wither.
All: Let us worship God.
Holy God, we come before You this morning humbly confessing our shortcomings. We confess our lack of prayer and devotion to You. We confess our apathy toward our neighbor. We confess our indifference toward Your Word. Forgive us, we pray, and direct our paths toward righteousness. We pray in Christ's name, Amen.
Loving and merciful God, everything we have been given is a gift from You. So often we forget that. We bring before You our tithes and offerings to be used to the glory of Your Kingdom. Amen.
Holy Spirit, we pray for Your presence in this place today. Come into our hearts of stone and break through all that hinders love. Come into our self-sufficient lives and shatter us so we may be dependent on You. Come and abide with us, speak to us, and guide us.
Open the eyes of our hearts that we may see You. Incline our ears to listen for the sound of Your voice and resist the louder and more persistent voices around us. Renew our minds so that we may embrace who we are in Christ.
We pray for our city, state, and country. We pray for leaders, for those in authority over us, and especially for those in need. Guide us all that we may do Your will and follow Your ways, especially when it means speaking up when we see suffering and injustice around us. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.