Bad News If You Think You’re Smart or Strong

Bad News If You Think You’re Smart or Strong June 23, 2022

 

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In this life, the smartest and the strongest among us often dominate.

Whether through wits, wisdom, energy, or sheer force, most of the loudest voices which get the most attention have a way of rising to the greatest power, the greatest wealth, the greatest influence in this world.

Most of the world’s political leaders share some combination of these qualities, and they win elections with them.

Most leaders of business and industry could not do what they do without these factors at play in their lives.

Even within the Church, those who lead often do so out of their intelligence and/or the force of their personalities and charisma.

And really, in any dynamic – workplace, playground, family, social circles, etc. – it remains true that these qualities tend to fill the room and establish who’s in charge.

There is no doubt about it: smarts and strength are things that we value highly in this world.

And yet, as is so often the case, the ways of the Kingdom of Christ turn these values upside down.

In talking in a broader passage about how to navigate the theological debate about food sacrificed to idols, the apostle Paul had this to say:

 

1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.” (1Cor 8.1-3)

 

So first off, bad news for the smart: If you think you are smart, you don’t yet know what you should know. Thinking that you’re smart just shows how much learning you still have to do. Smarts without love just puffs us up, makes us arrogant.

When He walked the earth, Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own,” but resolved to only do what God the Father revealed to Him (Jn 8.28); Jesus was not relying on His own understanding, but chose to submit to the Father’s.

Paul had seen the Lord face-to-face, raised the dead, talked with angels, received God-breathed Scripture, and been caught up to Heaven. Even so, he would note, “Right now I know in part,” (1Cor 13.12) – he humbly acknowledges his lack of knowledge, even though surely he knew far more than any of us.

Truly growing in knowledge should cause us to acknowledge the old adage that, “The more I learn, the less I know.” The more we understand, the more it humbles us to realize how much more we need to understand.

Now, for the strong:

 

1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 15.1-6)

 

So, bad news for the strong: If you are strong, you are to use that strength to bend towards the weak.

You do not use your strength to force your will or to get your way. You actually do the exact opposite.

And this, of course, is exactly what Jesus did.

The strong One left the fullness of His strength behind and embraced flesh, drawing near to we who are weak (Jn 1.14; Phil 2.1-11).

The strength of the one God lowered Himself to dwell amongst the helpless.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, strength bends towards weakness, meets it where it is at, and encourages it along.

So if you are strong, it doesn’t mean that you always get your way.

It means that you have the privilege and the responsibility to lay your way aside in order to support those weaker than yourself.

Dominance over others does not exist in the way of Christ.

And although this all sounds like bad news for the smart and the strong, it isn’t really, of course.

It is bad news for our pride, to be certain, which wants to boast in its own intelligence and delight in its own strength.

But those qualities were never things that God needed from us. None of this was ever about our own understanding or our own power.

He is God, and He has those things well covered.

So our growing intelligence should humble us, and our growing strength should call us to service of others, not the other way around.

When we get this right, we find the humble footsteps of Christ and walk in the example of His Incarnation, subduing our pride and submitting our intelligence and our strength for the love of God and of others.

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