Date: February 27, 2011
Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 1:25-26 | Roger Voegtlin
Series: Transcribed Sermons
Turn in your Bible to I Corinthians, chapter one. This is a practical message with several illustrations, many of them Bible illustrations; and when we read the Scriptures, I hope that you’ll look at them closely and apply them. I hope you’ll find that, even though this message is practical, it’s very Biblical and it’s a message we need. Some find it hard to believe that God could bless them, and others can’t be humble when God does bless them. They can’t help but believe that it’s their doing. I Corinthians chapter one, verse 25. “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called…”
For some people, the Scripture seems hard to understand. I’m not saying I understand everything about Revelation, and I’m not saying I know everything about the history of the Old Testament; but when it comes to salvation and living, the Bible is easy to understand. You don’t have to be a theologian to understand verse 26. “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh…are called...”
We like to look at people. I’ve heard people say, “This pastor is so brilliant, he could be a senator.” “…not many wise men after the flesh…” We put preeminence on the flesh, even though we say we don’t believe it, but, “…not many mighty, not many noble, are called:…” Not many great men are called to serve God. “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised…” Do you ever get tired of being hated in this town? “… and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
You have a good day on the bus, and you want to brag about it. “…no flesh…” You start glorying and God is going to make a fool out of you. “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. And I, brethren, when I came to you…” (this is the Apostle Paul) “…came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.”
Some pastors want to build empires and people say, “Wow, what a preacher! What a presence!” Pastors have come here who know your name better than I do, and they say, “Hi, Joe. How’s your grandmother’s toenail?” And I don’t even know if Joe has a grandmother. Some people have such personality, but the Apostle Paul says, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words…”
We used to get the most well-known preachers to come for our conference, but in the long run not much was accomplished. I finally really looked at the Bible, and I thought, “More than anything, I want godly people.” Does Pastor Unger have a great big church? No, but I believe he’s godly. I believe that before he gets up here, he prays and prays, and then has something to give us. “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
In II Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul is speaking again, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in mine infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
The Apostle Paul, I believe, was brilliant. There is no doubt, through his testimony, that he was highly educated; but he didn’t want to depend on that. I’m not against people being highly educated, but the problem is that most depend on it if they are. There are a lot of Christians and there are a lot of independent fundamental Baptists who have a lot of degrees but who are not used of God. I’m all for degrees if you look at them in the proper way. I’m all for brilliance, if the person can keep the brilliance under, but very few people can. Again, “…for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
The Lord’s ways are not our ways. The Bible says as high as the heavens are above, God’s ways are above ours. “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” We have to remember that we are fallen, sinful creatures and that we will not come to the right answer naturally. For instance, if someone were looking for a pastor, they would look for a man entirely different than what Paul described here. And remember, this was written under the inspiration of God, it was written of the Holy Spirit. We read that the weak things will confound the mighty, and the foolish things will confound the wise. The things that are nothing will bring to naught the things that are.
Apply that to this institution. If someone were looking for a pastor for this place, the natural, fundamental, independent Baptist and the pulpit committee would interview people, and they would want to make sure the man was kind of political, that he would get along with the community. Because we have a college and a Christian school, they would probably say, “He should have a doctor’s degree. He’s going to lead the college. Maybe he should have a PhD,” and the idea of the teens liking the pastor would always be brought up.
But look at the one God chose—a guy who really can’t keep his mouth shut, a guy who even fundamentalists think is a “bullhead.” Educationally, your pastor failed first and third grades because of fighting—not just fighting once or twice but fighting dozens of times a year. He’s a guy who doesn’t like to study, a guy who hated school, and someone who tells the teens, “Get a haircut, or get a purse.” Not our teens, of course, but teens in general want to burn our place down. It takes a nobody for God to be able to do something with, and he’d better know he’s a nobody. It takes many years to learn, and many never learn, that if a person is going to be exalted, he has to humble himself. If a man wants to be abased, let him lift himself up. Let him make himself proud, and God will throw him down. God says the way up is down. God says to be something, you have to first become nothing.
I just love to read biographies and autobiographies. I want to learn about these men, and one thing I’ve found is that there have been brilliant men in our history—people like Jonathan Edwards, highly educated and greatly used of God. But for every highly educated person, there is a Spurgeon. “Oh,” you say, “he was educated.” He was self educated. I’m talking about formal education. He started preaching at 18. Bob Jones, Sr., started preaching at 15. He didn’t have any formal education. D. L. Moody was always criticized, as I get criticized, for his poor English. He didn’t have any formal education. Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission, one of the great missionaries of all time said, “When God was ready to evangelize China, He looked around to find somebody who was nothing enough, who was weak enough that He would get the glory for what was going to be accomplished.”
Now, please don’t let this message encourage one of you college students or high school students to quit school. You can graduate from college. Young people today don’t have much education. People graduated from high school in the past knowing several languages. Today, people can graduate from high school and graduate from college, and not know much. I’m not against education. My son has an earned doctor’s degree, and I encouraged him to do it. I’m not against education, but the point is that God must get the glory. Until you become nothing, you’ll never be anything for God. Sometimes we say, “Wow, this guy is a great orator,” or “Wow, this guy is so highly educated.” We think God needs that.
Moses was a “somebody.” He was raised in Pharaoh’s palace. Some think that he was heir to the crown. He was well educated, I’m sure. He thought he was something, to the place where he killed an Egyptian. So God had to make a “nothing” out of him in order to use him. After he killed the Egyptian, we know he ran out behind a mountain and kept his father-in-law’s flock. For forty years he was in the desert, nobody hearing about him, nobody knowing who he was, and God teaching him that he was a “nobody.” He didn’t even have a flock of his own. Then God spoke out of a burning bush to Moses and said, “I want you to deliver my people from captivity.”
I would guess that Moses was tremendously qualified to be a great leader because he was raised in Pharaoh’s palace as his adopted son, but God had to take him to the place where he knew he was nothing. Then He said, “Now, Moses, I want you to lead my people out of captivity.” And what did Moses say? “I can’t. I can’t.” Seven times Moses said, “I can’t.” And God said, “Now I can use you.” That’s the point I want to make. “Now that you’re a nobody, I can make a somebody out of you.”
Jacob’s name means “schemer” or “trickery.” He was a “wise guy.” He thought he could get by with anything—he was slick. He tricked his brother out of his birthright. He went to live with his father-in-law, produced the finest cattle, and took off with them. He got rich, and his father-in-law got mad at him; but when Esau was coming for him, he was afraid he was going to die. He wrestled with God until he was “gimpy” the rest of his life—scared to death, limping along, running for his life, weak and helpless, realizing he was a nobody. Then God made a somebody out of him. Do you think you’re “somebody”? You’re never going to be used. You’re never going to be used.
Paul was very educated, tutored by Gamaliel. He said in Corinth, “You are speaking in tongues or different languages, but I know more languages than all of you put together.” They were showing off a little in church. He said, “I can speak in all these languages, but I’m going to speak in words that can be understood so people can be helped.” Again, Paul was a very educated man, but he had to be blinded. “Isn’t it hard to kick against the pricks, Paul?” He was humbled. He said he was the least of the apostles. He said, “O wretched man that I am!” He said, “I’m a nobody,” and so God said, “Okay, I want you to write thirteen books of the New Testament. I want you to start some churches, many churches, in the mideast.”
Some of you young men “strut your stuff” because Coach Wright taught you how to wrestle. I watched you Thursday as most of you got beat. Amen, I was praying for that. You dads better teach your kids not to strut their stuff. You might think it is manly, and maybe the world thinks it is manly, but it is not Christ-like. We’re to depend on Christ. Again, II Corinthians 12:10 says, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” I’m sure Paul thought, “Rabbis used to come for my counsel, and now they stone me. I used to teach some of these guys in the Sanhedrin, and now they throw me in jail. I used to be among the leaders of the Jews, but now they scoff at me and they spit on me, but “therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
This is the biggest problem in fundamentalism. I almost said today, but it’s not just today. It has been a problem all my lifetime, and I would think it has been for hundreds of years. God blesses somebody, and they want to be accepted by the world. Let me give an example—what happens to conservative politicians when they go to Washington, D. C.? They campaign that they are going to stand for the little guy, they are going to fight the status quo, they’re going to do this, and they’re going to do that; but then they get to Washington, D. C. They find out those liberals are nice guys—and they’re powerful guys. They want to have lunch with them, and they want to be accepted by them; and so they start voting with them, and they lose everything they once had! That is what is wrong with our country, and that is what is wrong with Fundamental Baptists.
Our movement has changed so much in the last ten years, and it changed just as much the ten years before that and the ten years before that. I can’t recognize it, and it is because they want to be accepted. That is what is wrong with some of our teens. They grow up and they move to California or Utah, or some place where they can be accepted instead of being right with God. Are you listening?
Think of Billy Graham; he’s the perfect example. When I was a young man, he was, or at least he called himself, a fundamentalist. He went to the same school I did, Bob Jones University. Almost all of his staff or his team had graduated from Bob Jones. At that time, Bob Jones was the most fundamental school in the world. He started off as a fundamentalist. I remember his saying, “The World Council of Churches will elect the antichrist,” but it wasn’t long and he was marching with the World Council of Churches. He could have changed the world for God, but it meant more to him to be accepted by the world. So, he would go on the late night television shows and laugh at their dirty jokes. His hair grew shaggy. He said, “Maybe there’s no hell.” He said he believed in theistic evolution. You say, “What are you getting at?” He became a “hot shot” society man on CNN and ABC and but worthless for God. That is exactly the way you will go if you don’t watch it. That is the way our church will go if we don’t watch it.
Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” You don’t have enough sense. I don’t have enough sense. “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” You must be a nobody to be used of God, and you had better remember Who lifted you up. I’ve seen people who for all the right reasons really started giving to God, and God blessed them. God blessed their business to the place where they were in a nice house and driving a Lincoln Continental. Pretty soon, though, they thought they knew so much. God had to take them and say, “I’ll show you how much I need you.” He doesn’t need any of us. We ought to just praise God that He uses us in any way He does. I’ve heard people bragging about their kids. “God is good. My kids are this, and my kids are that.” I’ve seen God just knock their legs out from under them to the place where they were ashamed of the same kids that they had always bragged about.
You’d better watch yourself. God is merciful, God will bless, but you’d better give Him the glory, and not just with words. I’m not saying that to be a nobody, you do nothing and be a lazy bum. I go back to education. You’d better get whatever you can. I’m not up here preaching against education. But what I am saying is, don’t depend on it. Depend on God. God wants you to attempt great things for Him, but He wants the glory—not your swelled head and not just words. Don’t just say, “To God be the glory.” You have to be a nobody in your own sight.
God wanted someone to deliver His people, so He called Gideon; and he was such an introvert that he was hiding. “Come on, Gideon.” He was backward, he was timid. Gideon said, “I am from the least family in town, and I’m the scrawniest. I’m the least of my family.” Do some of you feel that way? I know I have. “I can’t. I’m a nobody,” and God said, “I need you.” When people would talk about George Müller’s great faith, he would get mad and say, “I don’t have any faith.” And I would say that if you think you have great faith, you don’t have any either. When God called Moody to start a Sunday school in Chicago, he went up and down the streets. He had the first bus ministry, but in reality, it was a horse wagon. He paid for it. He got the kids out, but he didn’t feel that he was qualified to run what we would call a junior church operation. So he hired people to come in and teach it. Are you listening? That’s why God used Moody.
Look at our own salvation—our own righteousness. Nobody can really be made righteous before God until he sees how unrighteous he is. If I’m good enough to get to heaven in my sight, I’m going to hell, amen? The Ten Commandments tell us this. Jesus called people who thought they were righteous “whited sepulchers”—all white and painted on the outside but full of dead men’s bones on the inside. You’re not ready to be saved until you realize you’re a stinking sinner, and then God says, “I can see you’re a nobody, I can see you realize you’re a sinner and you can do nothing. I’m going to clothe you in my righteousness, and I’m going to send you to heaven.” That’s the only way you get there. We’re not clothed in our righteousness; we’re in His.
Take the matter of prayer. Somebody has a nice big prayer answered, and we think, “He must be great.” But let me explain something. I can only relate this to myself. Many times when I’ve had the greatest answer to prayer, it was when I was about to give up. I’ve talked to other pastors, and they have said exactly the same thing. When we first built this auditorium and we lost our loan, I remember going to all the banks around here. Because of the economy in the middle 70s, they didn’t even have a loan department. There was nobody to talk to. They had a sign, but no people. I went into Chicago, and it was the same way. I thought, “It’s the end of the world.” I was pessimistic. I preached a pessimistic sermon and thought, “Well, we’ll just tie a knot and hang there.” I figured God would cut the knot off. It wasn’t any great faith, not on my part. I was at the end when God said, “Here, here is all the cash you need. Go pay for it.”
Before that the same thing happened with the bonds. I think most of you know our basement was basically right here when we first met on this property. Our first building was through the glass doors down there. The steel was up—it was a skeleton. It was like a “boogie” man to me. We had placed bonds. We only had ten family units at the time. I personally talked to everybody to make sure they all were doing the very best they could. Everybody was doing all they could, but we needed $18,000 by Tuesday. Now we didn’t tape sermons then, but I wish we had. I remember specifically that I got going and I said, “You know, if our God can’t provide, if our God can’t provide $18,000, we’re going to shut the place down.” I remember it distinctively because I remember thinking later, “What a jerk. Now what are you going to do?” There were no cell phones back then, and we didn’t have much money. I had to go out of town, and I didn’t call much. But I called after the time we had to have the money, and sure enough, God took care of it.
Now, what I’m saying is that at every major step God said, “You’re nothing, and you can’t do it without me.” When we started the Academy, we needed 100 students, and ten days before the school was going to start, we only had eleven paying students. I went away to pray about it. I wanted to send letters or call the teachers and say, “Don’t come. We can’t pay you.” But God said, “No,” and God gave us the students. God was saying, “You can’t do it.”
You do not have a proud pastor. I sure don’t think that I built this place. I know that it was God. You’re a nobody, and you’d better stay that way or God will drop you like so much smoosh on the pavement. I’m not a proud guy, but I am a strong-willed person; and the first time I really gave myself, just gave in and said, “I can’t do it,” was when I was at Iowa State University. I’m not saying I had any really good education, but I had four years of math in high school. I had physics and what would be considered pre-engineering courses. But then I was in college and I couldn’t do college algebra, which I had in my very first year of high school. I couldn’t do it.
Now, I don’t know if you guys have ever had that happen, but I just stared at the books. I was blank. I took No-Doze, and it didn’t do me any good. I just stayed awake—blank. I was up all night and I finally gave it over to God and said, “If You want me to do this, You’re going to have to do it.” In high school I wasn’t any great student, but because of football, I was the president of the Architects’ Club and the Senior Boys’ Council. I was this, I was that, but all of the sudden, God said, “You’re nothing.” For the first time in my life, at 19 years old, I gave myself to God and said, “Okay, You do whatever You want with me.”
Now we want everybody to think that we’re great prayer warriors, but again, I want to say, it takes a nobody. Some of you pray, “God, I’ve done what You want me to do, and I’m what You want me to be,…” and you’re getting nowhere. Many of you can remember when we used to get paid every six months, whether we needed it or not. We were so tight financially that we had to beg God for everything that ever came in financially, and I think that God knew what He was doing. God had to show us where it came from.
Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” When we get to the place that we say, “O God, I don’t even know what I need. I’m so burdened, but I don’t even know what to pray for,” I think He says, “Okay, you just lay there and groan, and I’ll make this petition for you. I’ll take care of it.” The Apostle Paul said, “…therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me…for when I am weak, then am I strong. ”
You can be a “big shot” if you want. You college students can talk about what you’re going to be. “I can take care of my family,” or, “I can pass my courses,” or, “I’m going to get along just fine.” I admit that I’m nothing. I’m a nobody. I’m just an old sinner trying to keep clean and trying to do what’s right. The only thing we can say is “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” I’ve heard preachers say, “I’m going to build a great church. I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do that.” When I was studying for the ministry I knew I had to start doing something, so I begged my pastor for a little Sunday School class. He split the junior boys, and we sat on the steps to the baptistery. I had two or three students and that was too much for me.
In my senior year of college, I just knew I couldn’t speak, so I forced myself into a place where I would have to speak. We had a little church of twelve. Not one person in that church had ever entered high school. I think I’m right in that the farmer had a fourth grade education. That was the best of anybody in the entire church, and I fit right in. I didn’t think I was any better than they were. I loved them, and God blessed. I could have gone there thinking I was too good for them, but I can say from the bottom of my heart, we never thought we were too good. I didn’t think I was good enough for them, and God blessed and blessed and blessed.
When we started this church, and we bought these eight acres, the first thing I wanted to do was sell some off so we could pay some bills. What could we use eight acres for? It was too many. I remember the first building down there. When we had our dedication, people were standing on the outside looking in, so we built another one—the old little gym. When I looked at it, it was too small. You say, “Where was your faith?” I didn’t have much.
Don’t be happy when men acclaim you. Be scared. When I was at Bob Jones University, I think there were about 5,000 students. The student body president, when I last heard, had a church of 34. The president of the thousand- strong preacher boys class had nothing. Do you understand what I’m saying? It’s the nobodies. The guys whom nobody even knew, the guys who didn’t think they were anything, those are the ones that God blessed.
When we were going to get married, we talked everything through. We were just going to have the perfect marriage, but in six months we both wanted to divorce each other. I had to cry out to God, “O God, You’re the only one Who can give us a great marriage.” Again, I’m not saying to do nothing, but realize that without God, you can’t do anything. Realize that God wants you to depend on Him, and then He’ll do great things.
A young preacher had just graduated, number one in his class in seminary. He was going to preach, and he had quite an outline. He was going to be a “blessing.” He ran up on the platform. “Ladies and gentlemen, please open your Bibles. I want to commence my meditation.” But his notes got all mixed up. He started bumbling and fumbling, and he began to cry. Finally he ran down and out the back of the auditorium. He said, “I can’t do that.” A godly old lady saw him back there and said, “Sonny, if you had gone up the way you came down, you could have come down the way you went up.”
Do you want to do good things for God? “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God.”
“…for when I am weak, then am I strong.”