We don’t have to be an intellectual whiz to serve God effectively

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”

1 Corinthians 1:17-21

I have been greatly encouraged lately by the fact that we don’t have to be an intellectual ‘Einstein’ to be faithful and fruitful workers for God. It’s not by our wisdom that people are saved by God, but by the work of the Holy Spirit through the redemption Christ has provided. It’s by God’s grace alone that we can do anything of eternal significance God, otherwise we run the risk of boasting in our achievements as opposed to God’s. For whatever reason, God has some of us take on more responsibility in the church through the gifts and abilities He fosters within us then others. He also clearly equips different people to feed the church in different ways, ie different parts of the body have different function, but all are necessary for the body to work effectively. However we mustn’t forget it’s God at work in us, not our own ability/skills in themselves, that sees changes in our lives, and in the lives of those around us.

This humbles those of us who may be more intellectual and skilled in doing God’s work, and encourages those of us who feel we don’t have as many ‘abilities’ at our disposal. Regardless of our ability to serve God, it’s a reminder to us all that it’s only by God’s grace that we can do it effectively. We simply need to be obedient to God’s call on our lives and trust that He will give us the tools to see His work done. We shouldn’t fall into trap of comparing ourselves with others, but focus on investing into the church in the ways God has gifted us to do so.

From my experience it’s those who exhibit a child-like faith in their obedience and dependence on God, that has the strongest influence on others for God. These people may have many gifts, skills and intellect at their disposal, but they are also those who may not be so gifted and more ‘simple’ in the eyes of the world. God humbles the proud and raises the humble. I think this is particularly important for those of us in leadership, as it’s easy to become proud of our efforts and gifts rather then acknowledge, depend and thank God for them. Whatever we do for the church, it’s to build the congregation up and exult Christ, not draw attention to our abilities and so called ‘godliness’.

This passage is also a reminder that we shouldn’t rely on our ability to persuade and convince people of God’s truth. As this passage clearly says, the gospel message is folly to the so called wise people of this world. “I’m a good person… I don’t need saving… I do a lot of good in the world… God loves me no matter what, I know I will be going to heaven” typify some of the folly that comes out of the mouths of those who think they know better. It’s a reminder to us who facilitate and lead church services and ministries that our job is simply to be faithful to the Word and not try to water things down or tickle people’s ears in order for others to “like church” more. Our role as the church is not primarily to win a popularity contest, but to see people’s lives transformed by the Holy Spirit through the gospel. We need to be discerning on how we engage people of different cultures and demographics, but fundamentally teaching and equipping people with the Word is sufficient across the board of diversity we will see within our church. It’s through the teaching of the Word, and our faithful response and application to it, that leads to life change. We mustn’t forget this foundational basic requirement in church and replace it with a fancy alternative that we think might appeal more, or offend less.

There are so many ways in which we naturally tend to take our dependence and focus off God and put it onto ourselves. Church is always about putting the focus on Christ and our need for Him in our lives, as well as being agents of God’s mercy towards one another as we seek to serve God faithfully with what He has graciously given us.

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7 responses to “We don’t have to be an intellectual whiz to serve God effectively

  1. Soli Deo Gloria

    Stu,

    Paul is referring to the wisdom of the world and the mind as controlled by sin and our fallen human natures. As believers we have enormous capacity to grow in grace AND KNOWLEDGE of Christ, we will be fully occupied in eternity contemplating new discovered glories of the living God who in grace humbled himself to make himself known to us. Our minds are the primary means of his dealing with us, that is why his word is so important. We have an absolute duty to make our understanding of him as accurate and as full as it is possible for fallen sinners to have.

    Anti intellectualism (which is one reading of this positing!) only serves to bolster those who are satisfied in their mediocre knowledge of God, and it justifies a sort of resignation and laziness that I don’t think we find anywhere encouraged in Gods word.
    I asked the Lord from a very early age to make we as wise and knowledgable and faithful to him as it is possible to me. I started with absolutely no desire to read or learn or use my mind. By and large it seems to me he has honoured that, and I don’t regret it for a moment. When I talk to people who say they ‘are not intellectuals’, I always encourage them to abandon that line of thought, and begin to think, begin to be systematic in their reading of the Bible, and begin to open their minds to the greatness of the God they discover there.

    We glorify God most as we KNOW him, and obey him and trust him. We cant have any of that without making great personal efforts.

    If anyone doesn’t have a great intellect, then they should pray, and ask God to help them to grow as much as they can, and put in every effort to do what they can (read, listen to good teaching and preaching). This is a prayer and effort that God does bless.

    • Hi SDG,

      True it is by the grace of God we can mature in our understanding of Him and the Word. Yes the passage is talking about the wisdom of the world and that it’s foolishness in the eyes of God. Yet the irony is that the wisdom of God, ie the gospel, is foolishness to the world.

      The point I am trying to make is that we don’t have to be super intellectual in the eyes of the world to be effective workers for God and to understand His Word more and more. People may be thinking how can I do God’s work as I am not that smart compared to others. It’s not our IQ that makes us effective workers for God, but that doesn’t imply we don’t study the scriptures diligently so that God may equip us with what we need to know, serve and enjoy Him. It’s our faith and dependence in God that is the grounds for our spiritual development as we study the scriptures. Through the power of the Holy Spirit within us He grants us His wisdom as we seek Him through the study of the scriptures and prayer.

      The fact that God used ordinary people like Peter – a fisherman – to take the gospel message and see thousands come to Christ!! What a testimony the power of God as opposed to the intellect of man.

      On the flip side of it I think some Christians can forget that it’s by the grace of God that they know anything about Him, as opposed to our intellect and efforts. Yes we need to actively seek God and learn from His Word, but it’s by God’s race we attain it, not our superior intellect. Pride can develop pretty quickly unless we continue to maintain a child-like dependence and faith in God.

      • Soli deo gloria

        Stu,

        The Holy Spirit does not work in a vacuum. He doesn’t just drop gifts on us from nowhere, he moves our hearts, he changes our thinking, he prompts us to think and believe and act.

        Why should the use of a God-given intellect under the direction and control and discipline of the Holy Spirit ever be wrong? God says ‘come let us reason together…..’

        Sin affects all areas of life, intellect included. Sin also causes some to boast in their rejection of intellect. Some glorify God in their gift of hospitality. Some boast that they do it better than others. Some boast in their ‘humility’. Their folly is open for all to see.

        We are what we are by the grace of God, and what may be an ‘ordinary life for you’ may not be ordinary for me. We must follow the Lord with the light and grace that we have, and not compare ourselves with others, unless it is to follow after the examples of Christ like grace and love and true humility that we see in others. Praise God for unity in diversity.

        • SDG… I can’t help but feel you are miss interpreting what I am trying to say. I have never said the Holy Spirit works in a vacuum or that we are not to value intellect. I am simply saying that we don’t have to be intimidated by the so called worldly intellectual people and trust in what God can do with our lives as we obey and follow him. A result of that will be growing in our knowledge, wisdom and understanding of God which is evidence of the His sanctifying work within us as we strive to persevere in our faith and relationship with Him. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but it’s in the hands of our God that we are matured into the people He would have us be. Some are gifted with a greater intellect whilst others with other strengths. But whatever strengths or weaknesses we may have we are to allow God to mature and mold us realising that it’s by His grace alone that we impact His kingdom, not how smart or talented we may be in the eyes of this world. In saying that He has given us talents and gifts to be used by Him for His good purpose. We are not to become proud in those or as you said project a false humility in putting ourselves down for lacking in some areas. We are to simply trust in what God has given us, be thankful for that, and use it to serve and glorify Him.

          My article is meant to encourage people to not to worry about what skills they think they may or may not have, but to allow God to equip them for the road ahead. In our humanity and sinful depravity it’s easy for us to feel insecure due to the perceived strengths of others and the weaknesses of ourselves. I am trying to encourage our readers not to be distracted or intimidated by those insecurities and to give God all we have and allow Him to equip us for the work that is ahead. Just as Jesus called a doctor in Luke to do His work, he also called a simple fisherman in Peter to do His work as well. The world may see a fisherman as “less qualified”, but God saw much more. I think this is encouraging for us as we seek to allow God to build us up in Him, and highlights it’s about the transforming work of the Holy Spirit and not our ability to do it in our strength alone.

        • Soli deo gloria

          Hi Stu,

          Short articles in blogs are not the best places to flesh out a fully balanced view of an issue, and a title can colour everything in it.
          As for me, I really appreciate skills in believers or unbelievers, whether it is a manual skill (and I think you under rate the skill, patience and tenacity of fishermen). Have you ever tried to catch fish?!! There are many examples of different skills in Scripture – miners, carpenters, metalworkers, weavers, farmers, diplomats, soldiers, builders…. You will find Gods. People with these skills as well as unbelievers, and we can value them and appreciate them all, and be thankful for Gods gifts to others.

          There are of course, and always have been intellectuals who attack God’s people, and there are some substantial examples of this today – Dawkins and his cronies. But it is a bad thing to withdraw from the excercise of a God-given intellect because we see an abuse of it inside or outside the church.

          On re-reading your post, I do see the point, and whilst it aims to encourage, I think the unintended conclusion of dismissing intellect as something which can be bad, is too close to ignore, and that is my reason for offering this balancing argument.

          The church in the west, it seems, has largely rejected the appreciation of the importance of God’s engagement with us through our minds. I am sure others have noted that in many churches, it is an unwritten rule that you check in your brains at the door, and throw yourself into the (often) mindless drivel that is passed off as ‘worship’. Of course there are glorious exceptions to this, but by and large, I see very few growing in their appreciation of the greatness of God under these circumstances. A trivial and superficial treatment of the Scriptures is sadly very common, and a serious treatment of the Scriptures is all too often dismissed as intellectual. Thats why a headline ‘you don’t need to be an intellectual whiz to serve God effectively’, grabs my attention and draws my response!

          And for your information I have met and know quite a few intellectual types who are dry as dust…..but that is another story, but they are in a very small minority. The bigger problem in my honest opinion is the anti-intellectualism which is rife in the western church. Dawkins doesn’t mock Christians at this point without justification. We shouldn’t encourage him- and I don’t think you would intentionally do this.
          SDG

  2. Well, Stu, I for one was quite encouraged by this. I personally don’t see how it could have been interpreted as being a post about anti-intellectualism.

    • Thanks for that Fiona. It’s reassuring how God equips us to do His work given our strength and weaknesses. I always find it inspiring to see how God uses different people to team together to build up His church. Great or small we all have a part to play. And in God’s hands we know we will be equipped to do the work. What a blessing and privilege!

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