One: 1 Corinthians 1.18-31
January 27, 2013 Series: One | First Letter to the Corinthians
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:18–1:31
V. 18-25: Preaching of Paul 18 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. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 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? 21 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. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
We're studying a letter FROM the Apostle Paul, TO a young growing church in the big booming city of Corinth. Instead of wisely going out into culture as the family of God, they are foolishly bringing the culture into their church family. And it is changing them—their relationship with God, themselves, and one another. Like the ambitious Romans fighting for power and prosperity in their city, self-absorbed Christians have begun to compete with one another for prominence in the church. The Corinthian church is divided and in the middle of a good-old-fashioned: “My pastor is wiser than your pastor” battle royal. Instead of finding in their identity and acceptance in the Lord Jesus Christ, they are fighting to establish their identity and acceptance in the approval of men. Disgusted that there even exists a “Team Paul”, the apostle condemns all of their boasting—it's not that he doesn’t care what people think of him; he simply doesn’t want people to think of him at all. Paul makes the point that he was not sent by Jesus to build a following for himself. He was sent for one mission: to preach the news of Jesus and make followers of Christ.
The gospel was/is received message. Paul was not commanded to be creative, crafty, or clever with the news. He was not to preach with eloquence to be admired, cleverness to be entertaining, or even cultural sensitivity to be accepted. He was to be direct, blunt, and accurate. He was a glorified mailman commanded to repeat what he had received.
The gospel was/is a simple message: The message received was not difficult to understand. All men are by born absolutely depraved and in rebellion against a good God. Their sin makes them guilty before a Holy God and they are sentenced to die by a Just God. But that same God is merciful, gracious, and forgiving. In love, God chose to save men so as to display his greatness and be with the men who rejected Him. He sent his Son to die the death our sins deserve and raised him from the dead as proof of victory of sin, Satan, and death. And our King will return again to be with those who believe the news. Simple.
The gospel was/is foolish message. More than anything, the gospel was and is foolish. More will disbelieve than believe. And in Jesus’ time, his leaders, his pastors, even his own family and friends thought he was at best a tragic example of humility and at worst a demon-possessed nut-job. The story of a leader putting down a rebellion by dying for his enemies didn’t sit well with Romans or anyone, it is both counter-cultural AND counter-intuitive.
The Wisdom of the World
That is why Paul says that the WORD OF THE CROSS—the crucifixion—is foolishness to the unbelieving Roman world (Corinth is a Roman city). Interestingly, Paul does not say the WORD of the RESURRECTION. Without doubt, the Resurrection is an essential part of the gospel. But the glory of the Resurrection which powerfully proclaims victory over the enemies like Sin, Satan, and death is not the part of the story that generates the most mockery in the culture and embarrassment in the Corinthian church. Out of all of the ways to die at this time, death by crucifixion was one of the worst. Not only was it physically brutal, it was socially disgusting. Crucifixion was a special form of execution reserved for convicted slaves, convicted terrorists, and the slimiest of slime. It would never be imposed upon the “respectable” criminals who were exiled, beheaded, or thrown in the arena. In a society of winners, Jesus was the ultimate loser. Whether Jew, Gentile, Roman, or Greek, most of the world was, and is, unimpressed with a Middle Eastern Jew from a dump called Nazareth. Measured by their standards of “success”, it was rather unconvincing that this man hanging on the cross was God in human flesh, Lord of all, coming to judge the world. Who would ever follow a man rejected by those he came to save, abandoned by his disciples, executed by the government, too weak to save himself? In the eyes of culture, the crucifixion of Jesus was the very definition of FAILURE.
In following the ways of the world, the Corinthians have ceased to be centered on the cross. It's not as if the Corinthians have rejected Christ completely as much as they are trying to move beyond the cross onto things a bit less foolish so as to be wise considered in the world. To Paul, this is the most foolish thing they could ever do. Paul is not embarrassed by the cross at all. He doesn’t try and hide this “offensive” part of the story, on the contrary, he centers his preaching on it declaring it to be THE WISDOM and POWER OF GOD. By power, Paul means it is that one thing which can effectively save, defeat evil, or transform a life. Paul did not try and convince people that the cross was logical or inoffensive. He simply proclaimed it as news because he trusted the power of the cross to convince more than his ability to persuade. But that is not where the culture found power.
The Power of the World
The world offers its own alternative set of values, its own definition of wisdom, its own formula for “success”. The cross offers weakness, sacrifice, and humility as the source of power WHILE the world offers strength, wealth, and fame. The world tells us that “salvation”, freedom from whatever your personal hell is, comes from “winning” not losing, from taking not giving, from achieving not surrendering. The current status of the Corinthian church is evidence of what happens when you stop preaching the cross. When you abandon the wisdom of the cross, and adopt the wisdom of the world, you will find power. You will lose the power to save and find the power to destroy all of your relationships.
The wisdom of the world destroys our relationship with God. – People who put trust in the values of the world still believe in God and heaven. The difference is that they believe their work is what will restore that relationship. Their salvation is dependent upon themselves upon behaving the right way, obeying the right rules, or following the right traditions. The wisdom of the world CANNOT lead men to KNOW God because it always leads to self-righteousness and away from the cross—the antidote for self-glory.
The wisdom of the world destroys our relationship with self. – Because your “acceptance” and identity is rooted in your own work, you cannot help but swing between pride and despair. If you find “success” by the world’s standards—good day; if you fail—bad day. You either beam with pride or weep in despair as you find your value in what you KNOW, what you DO, or what you ACCOMPLISH in pursuit of the approval of men. And, without the cross you’re never sure if you’ve “made it” the eyes of “Dad” or the world, and it always feels like someone else has made it more.
The wisdom of the world destroys our relationship with others. – As we see in Corinth, when you abandon the cross, you make much of yourself. And when you make much of yourself you make less than others. Apart from the Christ, your standard of holiness is other people. They are not fellow servants, they are competitors. They are not family members, they are people valued for how much they are like you or what they can do for you. They are not fellow sinners; they are projects more broken than you are.
The Wisdom of the Cross
It is dangerous to abandon the cross and all the wisdom of the world to govern your life. The cross is central to our faith—to those who believe it is the VERY WISDOM AND POWER OF GOD. What the Corinthians have forgotten is that THE CROSS OF JESUS IS NOT ONLY THE SOURCE OF LIFE, IT IS A WAY OF LIFE. Saving men through the cross makes a mockery of all of man’s efforts to save himself. The cross of Christ takes what is a symbol of Roman Power, Roman Rule, Roman terror, and makes it into a symbol of God’s RULE and LOVE. The word of the cross turns everything the world’s value system upside down. As singer-songwriter Michael Card: We in our foolishness though we were wise, he played the fool and he opened our eyes, we in our weakness believed we were strong, he became helpless to show we were wrong. So we follow God’s own fool…for only the foolish can tell.
The cross is God’s complete reversal of the weak and the strong. Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away. And those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost (From Keller). As evidence of this fact, Paul reminds the ambitious young Corinthians of just who they are. 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Paul tells them, you already tried it the world’s way and guess what happened: EPIC FAIL for all of you! In the eyes of the world, you were losers. You were weak, and despised. And in Christ, you became saints in the eyes of God. What they have begun to do is, having been released of their shame, having been told they are valuable and important and speci l in the eyes of God—they now want to find meaning in things apart from God. But God did not SAVE the weak and despised in order to make them strong and powerful IN the world. He saved them in order to reveal His Wisdom and Power TO the world.
V. 26-31 The Power of the Cross
And he reveals his wisdom THROUGH the church. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes: To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace is given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known…Ephesians 3.8-10:
That means that if the church is manifesting the wisdom of God then, when contrasted to the world, we are going to look pretty foolish. And if we don’t look foolish… then perhaps we have stopped believing, preaching, or living a life centered on the cross. A church that abandons the cross looks like Corinth—divided, immoral, and prideful. It looks just like the culture. Life centered on the cross displays our true citizenship living in a foreign land; an alternative kingdom lifestyle which maintains a complete reversal of the values of the world with regard to power, recognition, status, wealth. By the word of the cross we stop believing that the power to change or save comes from anything but grace—so we seeking salvation in the things of the world. Finding salvation in the cross restores our relationships with God, self, and others:
The CROSS restores our relationship with GOD
Our relationship with God is completely transformed. The news of the cross is that salvation is something to be received not something to be achieved. The word of the cross tells me that there is absolutely nothing I can do to fix my relationship with God. I must trust in what Jesus has done for me. The gospel doesn’t work like anything else in a world focused on achievement. There is certainly work involved, horrible, painful, sacrificial work; it’s just not yours. My relationship with God moves from an impersonal “boss-employee” relationship to a personal “Father-child” relationship, from a fear-based way to be approved by God to a love-based desire to delight in God.
The CROSS restores our relationship with SELF
In turn, the word of the cross completely transforms my relationship with myself. Before, I swung between extremes of pride and despair base on my comparative goodness or badness. Now, my value comes from my identity in Christ. I no longer need to adopt the wisdom of the world or pursue those things that world says is successful. The word of the cross frees me from bondage to the power of material things and worldly status I no longer need to prove to myself, or others, that I am “worthy”. I can stop playing the compare game because, in Christ, I stand forever love and approved and joyful…even if I am “less” than.
The CROSS restores our relationship with OTHERS
After changing my relationship with God, and myself, the power of the cross transforms my relationships with others. People are no longer competition. I am part of a family of brothers and sisters, a team of gospel workers, a group of fellow sinners just as broken as me. People are no longer competition and I longer place value on people like the world does. The word of the cross proclaims to me that MY sin was so evil, so offensive to a Holy God, that he only solution was for God to sacrifice His Son. But God was so immeasurably loving that, though he knows the depth of my sin more than I ever can, he chooses to send His Son. My belief in such a foolish grace is compels me to love and sacrifice for those I whom I once considered dirty, broken, sinful, unlovable, irritating, and even those whom I called enemies.
Conclusion The brutality of the cross may no longer offend our sensitivities, but the word of the cross still offends our self-centered ambition driven culture. The entire goal in GOD CHOOSING what is weak and foolish is to PREVENT all human boasting. Our culture is enamored with itself. And if the church is not careful, we’ll follow the way of the world and begin to believe that we have done something to deserve to be saved, that you have done some work to be found righteous, that you have been good in anyway. True foolishness is boasting in our obedience, our works, or any of our accomplishments in order to impress God or impress others.
Knowing God means begins with preaching the cross. We boast in what Jesus has done on the cross—that he is what makes us wise before God, what makes us right, what changes us, what can free us from sin. We boast in Jesus, and our need for him, when we fall short. And we boast in Jesus, and what He has done through us, when we succeed. We boast in Jesus’ love. We boast in Jesus’ sacrifice. We boast in Jesus forgiveness. We boast in the grace. We boast in what Jesus is doing in people who are not us, Christians, pastors, and even non-believers. We boast in what Jesus is doing through our sufferings. We boast that Jesus is coming again and that we have the privilege to play the fool like Him until He does.