The Church at Corinth and Wisdom: Part 3 of 7 (series: Lessons on 1 Co.)
by John Lowe
and things that are despised,
They are despised by the world, since they are esteemed to be nothing, as poor people generally are (See Mark 9:12; Luke 18:19). The language here is a striking instance of Paul's manner of expressing himself with great strength. He desires to convey to the Corinthians and to you and I today, in the strongest terms, the fact that God had enhanced His plan with grace by choosing the objects of least esteem among men. He is willing to admit all that could be said on this point. He says, therefore, that he had chosen the things of low birth and rank--the base things of the world; but this did not fully express his meaning. He had chosen objects of contempt among men; but this was not strong enough to express his idea. He adds, therefore, that he had chosen those things which were absolutely nothing which had no existence; which could not be supposed to influence him in his choice.
This verse taken in conjunction with the preceding verse gives five designations for Christians (as for how they were regarded by the world of that period). The foolish, the weak, the base, the despised, the things that "are not" (in other words, the "nobodies"); but the great apostle's words on behalf of those who were despised by the world are to the effect that the triumph, the success, the honor, and the glory belong to them. In the last three designations (in this verse), the Jewish attitude of despising all Gentiles and actually speaking of them as "dogs" appears to be in Paul's thinking (See Matthew 15:26).
• Mark 9.12 (KJV) And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought.
• Luke 18:9 (KJV) And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Despised others. Others who were not as externally righteous as themselves. This was the character of the Pharisees. They trusted in their outward conformity to the ceremonies of the law. They considered all who did not do that as sinners. This, moreover, is the true character of self-righteousness. Men of this type always despise others.
• Matt 15:26 (KJV) But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.
hath God chosen
God has chosen the poor of this world, who are rich in faith, to inherit a kingdom. That doesn’t mean that a rich man or woman cannot be saved; but Jesus did say; “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25; KJV). Well, a camel can’t go through the eye of a needle. That’s humanly impossible, or should we say “camel” impossible. But for God all things are possible; however, it must be that very few of the rich and powerful are saved, since Jesus gave us such a ridiculous illustration.
yea, and things which are not;
Some think, myself included, that Paul has the Gentiles in mind here, since the Jews called them “dogs” and “things that are not,” as they did in the apocryphal books (See below). “Things which are not” is that which is nothing; which is worthless; which has no existence; those things which were below contempt itself; and which, in the estimation of the world, was passed by as if they did not exist—those who are so unimportant that they are unworthy of even the slightest notice which is implied in the word contempt. For a man to despise a thing, he must at least notice it, and consider it worth some attention. But the apostle here speaks of things beneath even that slight notice; like a thing that is completely and totally disregarded, as
if it did not exist. The language here is evidently that of hyperbole (an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.”).
“Things which are not” and “things which are nothing” was a common figure of speech in the East, and it is not unusual to find them in the sacred writings: "All nations before him are as nothing, And they are counted to him less than nothing and vanity," (Isaiah 40:17). Also, "God, who calleth those things which be not as though they were," (Romans 4:17). This language expressed the opinion which the Jews had of the Gentiles. They despised them, and, in fact regarded them as no people; a people without laws, and organization, and religion, and privileges, (See 1 Peter 2:10). Queen Esther prayed these words about the Medes and Persians, “O Lord, give not thy sceptre unto them that be nothing, and let them not laugh at our fall; but turn their device upon themselves, and make him an example, that hath begun this against us'' (Esther 14:11). Her prayer is that God would not give his sceptre to those who are not.
“Yea” is not in the Greek. The introduction of this Word by the translators does nothing to illustrate the gist of the verse, but, in fact, it adds confusion. Also, some of the oldest manuscripts omit "and." However, the clause, "things which are not" (are regarded as naught), is in agreement with "foolish . . . weak . . . base (that is, lowborn) and despised things." God has chosen all four, though regarded as things that are not, to bring to naught things that are. Yea.
Apocrypha, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means “books included in the Septuagint and Vulgate but excluded from the Jewish and Protestant canons of the Old Testament.”
• Isaiah 40:17 (KJV) All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.
• 1 Peter 2:10 (KJV) Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
to bring to nought things that are;
The subject here is the opposite of things which are not; they are those who, on account of their noble birth, large possessions, and high attainments in knowledge and learning, thought of themselves as someone great, and despised all others; all of them will be done away with one day, and they will not enjoy the future happiness and glory which will come to all those who love God. The Jews have a saying which is quite contrary to all this; it says “the Shekinah, or presence of God, does not dwell on any but upon a wise man, a mighty man, and a rich man.”
Those who are chosen will bring to nought things that are; the existing state of things; the pagan religions, governments, and civilization; these were to be overthrown through the influence of the Gospel. God has already brought to nought all the Jewish pretentiousness; and He did it by means of the Gentiles, who, soon after this, trodden underfoot the citizens of Jerusalem. Israel is strong again, which they must be to survive in the midst of millions of Muslims. But in their prior condition, they were humble and subdued, and impotent.
There is nothing worthwhile in any man, because in reality, we are all nothing. We have value only because Jesus has claimed us for His own. Things that are, therefore, must mean things that appear, so that this passage corresponds with such statements as these:
• He raiseth up the poor out of the dunghill, (Psalm 113:7.)
• He raiseth up them that are cast down, (Psalm 146:8,)
And so we may clearly see how great is the foolishness of those who imagine that there is in mankind some degree of merit or worthiness, which would make them deserving of God's choice.