1 Corinthians 1:20-29, ‘Where is the wise man? 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 through its wisdom didn’t come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.’
We’ve spent the last couple of programs going over the weirdness that is evident in the western world when compared to the non-western world. We are very odd by comparison and are unlike most other cultures throughout human history and it’s very much a result of the Greek philosophical worldview that has been ingrained in us. This is why we very often misunderstand a lot of things in the Bible. The Bible is an Eastern book…in particular, it’s a Middle Eastern book, a Semitic book and a tribal book but because we in the West are none of those things, we read it and interpret it though our weird worldview lens. For those who can’t understand it, they simply dismiss it and claim it to be nonsensical and little more than make believe and fables.
The new definition of the word weird is summed up by the acronym;
W – Western
E – Educated
I – Industrialised
R – Rich
D – Democratic
So far, we’ve looked at this acronym, looking at the meanings of western, educated and industrialised and in this program, we’ll finish off by looking at the meanings of rich and democratic.
I know that there are those among us in our modern societies who are less fortunate than the majority of people living in the West, but when compared to the rest of the world, we are all rich. This is why so many people try to live in the West both by legal and illegal means. The overwhelming majority of Westerners have easy access to food, housing and medical care and even in our most desperate circumstances, we can rely on social services for assistance. The daily concerns of people throughout history are simply non-issues for most of us living in the West. I know there are exceptions, I’m talking about the general rule of thumb.
We have good or reasonably good cars, good homes, nice clothes, DVD’s, computers, iPads, smart phones, trendy shoes, hairstyles, jewellery, nice perfumes, deodorant etc
50% or approximately 3 billion people live on LESS than $2.50 per day. 80% of people live on LESS than $10 per day. The highest standards of living are all nations deemed to be ‘Western’…not necessarily ‘rich’ because there are some obscenely rich non-western oil nations in the world whose populations still live in primitive and deplorable conditions because of corruption of their ruling despotic regimes who govern them.
The Bible however doesn’t equate wealth with blessing or prosperity or God’s favour and approval. Having wealth and possessions isn’t a sin but without doubt, they can become both a distraction and the object of idolatry if not kept in check.
The Bible warns about the love of money (1 Tim 3:3, 6:10; Heb 13:5); it warns rich men about impending judgment because of their love for riches and greed that leads to oppressing others (Jam 5:1; Mk 10:17-27; Lk 12:15; Pro 23:4). Again, acquiring wealth IS NOT sinful in and of itself, but wealth can be incredibly seductive if uncontrolled.
The Church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22 was very rich, so rich in fact they had no need for anything. At that church, Jesus was outside of it, not part of it. He had nothing good or encouraging to say about it at all. Jesus went so far as to say that while they thought themselves rich and without any needs, He declared them to be wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked!
However, in Matthew 5, Jesus taught the people that real blessing came from the following attributes and attitudes; being poor in spirit, experiencing mourning, being gentle, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful, being pure in heart, for being a peace maker, for enduring persecution, for being reviled and falsely accused and hated by the world for simply loving Him! What a contrast to a Western mindset and a huge challenge to the prosperity gospel!!!
What we in the west think equals blessing doesn’t and what we don’t think equals blessing actually does!
Our system of government is primarily at the whim of the people…we vote and determine who our leaders will be, we have the power and our leaders are there to do our bidding…and if they don’t, we give them the boot at the next election. We demand our rights, we have high expectations, we revel in our freedoms to do and say virtually as we please, but this system of government is contrary to the Bible. This is quite a shock to understand.
Western societies in large part are motivated by selfish greed; the ‘What’s in it for me’ attitude rules our voting choices and this is why politicians spend their campaigns making promises to woo the voting public. Promises they usually have no intention of keeping.
In our minds, ‘I – Me’ am at the centre of the world. What matters above all else is my rights, my needs, my wants, my dreams and my aspirations…if it feels good, do it, I deserve it, the world owes me, why shouldn’t I have it, why should rich people have more than me…we are an instant gratification society and we’re getting worse.
Most Westerners find the idea that Jesus is a King who will one day return to earth to rule the nations with a rod of iron really hard to grasp! Think about it…a rod of iron? That sounds positively despotic! Where’s the freedom in that and how will our personal rights be protected!!!
Here’s the crux of the whole point…we are supposed to conform to His Word not the other way around and in order to conform to His Word we have to know not just what it says but what it means and to know what it means it’s important that we learn what the context and setting was at the time God the Holy Spirit breathed the Word to human agents who then wrote it down.
This means we’re supposed to conform our cynical, selfish, Western hearts and motivations to it, to the Word, so that we become transformed into His image rather than trying to conform Him into the image we want Him to be, according to our Western preferences. This isn’t easy to do but thankfully, He is patient, gracious and is committed to our spiritual growth and maturity.
His Word is the means by which we are transformed. When compared to the rest of the world and the diverse cultures throughout the world, we are the weird ones, but God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. But ignorance is not bliss, if we want to understand His Word properly, then we need to understand when it was written, what the environment and culture was among the people who wrote it and what they meant when they said what they said. The Word of God means what it meant when it was revealed…not what we want it to mean in our culture today. Our culture looks nothing like that ancient cultures, in fact, by comparison, our culture is quite antithetical to Biblical culture.
Hebrews 4:12, ‘For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.’
His commitment to making us more and more like Him is equally comforting, because we can’t do it ourselves. Our culture is very seductive, it’s very enticing and it promises ease and comfort and lots and lots of leisure and it places us squarely in the centre of the universe. The Bible however, declares us to be slaves, who are dead to our own desires and places Christ at the centre of the universe. That’s what we’re supposed to be conformed to and with His help, we can do it.
Philippians 1:6, ‘For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.’
If there’s something in the Bible you don’t understand, put your western worldview aside and start digging in order to learn what the text means within the culture it was written and learn what was happening at that particular time in history. Then you’ll know exactly what God is trying to say to you.
Based on the works of Lois Tverberg.
*The original paper, called “The Weirdest People in the World?” was published by Joe Henrich, Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 2010. This study has spurred further discussion in the secular media about differences between cultures, including the best-seller The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. Haidt points out that WEIRD cultures base their ethical systems only on the freedoms and rights of the individual, unlike the rest of the world, which also bases its ethics on the value of community and of divinity—the idea that one’s principal duty is to God, not one’s self.