Be Aware of God’s Use of Contrast
“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base (insignificant or lowly) things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.” 1 Corinthians 1: 27-29
Artists will often make use of contrast in their work to arouse interest or as a means of emphasis. Painters use contrasting color and light values for effect or to highlight the focus of their painting. Similarly, contrast is used for effect and emphasis in poetry, novels, and music, where dissimilar emotions or character traits are set off against each other.
Any student of the Scriptures should be aware of God’s use of contrast as a means of emphasizing His power and glory, and to highlight what is spiritual as opposed to what is fleshly and physical. It is important for us to recognize and absorb God’s intended use of contrast in His revelation to us. By so doing we will gain insight and wisdom into God’s purposes, as well as appreciation for God’s attributes and beauty.
Contrast, in this context, is defined as the comparison of similar objects to set off their dissimilar qualities, or to compare or appraise in respect to differences. The use of contrast gives us a frame of reference or a relative measure to help us to more fully understand or comprehend. In the Scriptures, we are better able to grasp the spiritual meaning and purpose when presented in a setting where characters or elements are set in contrast.
The Scriptures are full of example of the use of contrast, but I would like to look at just a few:
David and Goliath
One of the best known stories in the Bible, the account of David’s fight with Goliath is also an excellent example of God’s use of contrast. Here are some of the contrasting elements: Goliath is a giant, but David is a small boy. Goliath is an older, seasoned warrior, or man of war, who has fought since his youth, but David is only in his youth, with no previous battle experience or formal training. Goliath is militarily proficient and equipped with the latest and best weaponry, carrying a large spear and sword, he is covered with bronze armor, and has a shield bearer, but David can’t even make use of the armor that is offered to him by King Saul, and instead remains in his shepherd’s garb, taking only his staff, his slingshot and a few stones in his pouch. Goliath’s taunting strikes fear in the entire Israeli army, whereas David’s comments about the situation bring anger and ridicule from his older brother. Goliath is arrogant and uses insults, cursing, and intimidation, but David is calm and focused, stating only the truth about the situation. Goliath was relying on his physical size, strength and skills, but David was completely relying on the power of the living God of Israel.
Here is the conclusion of the battle:
“Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with the sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.’ So it was when the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David that David hurried and ran towards the army to meet the Philistine. Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in the forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. But there was no sword in the hand of David.” 1 Samuel 17: 44-50
Here we see very, very clearly that the physical powers of this world are no match for the power of God and that we too can experience the same victory over our enemies or circumstances, no matter what the physical appearances of our situation, if we rely on God’s power.
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31
The Sinful Women and the Pharisee
Another example of the use of contrast in the Scriptures is found in the 7th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Here Jesus shows us the difference between a truly converted believer, a woman who was a sinner, who sees the reality of the mercy that was granted to her through the forgiveness of her sins, and the shallowness of a claimed believer, a religious Pharisee named Simon, who is merely religious in outward appearance, but not internally changed since he does not recognize his own sins or his need for forgiveness.
I am referring to the account of the woman who anoints Jesus feet with an ointment and then, while weeping, washes them with her tears and dries them with her hair. The Lord Jesus actually points out the contrast as a lesson to Simon the religious Pharisee who has questioned His interaction with this woman:
“Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.’ “ Luke 7: 44-47
Here, again, we clearly see from the contrast of these two behavior patterns showing us that a person’s actions reflect the true condition of their heart, and will also show us the truth of their relationship with God. We can use the guidance of this example to both examine other’s inner heart condition by viewing their actions, as well as to look into the mirror at ourselves.
“So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7: 17-20
God’s Wisdom vs. Man’s Wisdom
As a final example, I would like to point out that God has purposely designed His plan to save mankind to be seen as weak and foolish by those who are in the world system and not looking with the eyes of faith. In this way He has created a contrast between His ways and the ways of the unbelieving world, and a contrast between His wisdom (seen as foolish and weak by the world) and the wisdom of men. Even today the intellectuals of our time are critical of the “foolishness” of God’s plan of salvation through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and His imminent return to establish a new heaven and earth for His kingdom. It is also seen as foolishness and stupidity to look to God’s revelation, the Bible, as a source of truth. God has done this with a definite purpose in mind: to show that this plan is totally from Him and by Him, and also, to remove any allowance for man to boast or glory in His presence.
I will leave you with this portion of Scripture below that clearly explains this truth and the contrast that God has established:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness 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 bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’ Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer (debater) of this age? Has God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block (or offense) and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are 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 you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble (well-born), are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen and the things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31