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God's Foolish-Sounding Message- I Corinthians 1:18-31

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

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Introduction: The Offense of the Cross

From the 'Sunday School Times' comes this interesting story. It tells us:

"Dr. Brummitt has given a remarkable illustration from personal experience: The town in which I live has an elevated railway. One of the stations is near a great Roman Catholic burying ground, Calvary Cemetery. For many years, because in that part of the town were many more dead than living folk, the trains did not stop at the cemetery station except on request. Just after leaving the nearest station the guard would open the door and say: "Next station is Calvary. Train stops on signal only. Anybody for Calvary?" It is a parable of life's train. At all other stations every train stops. At Market Street, School Street, University Avenue, Main Street, Vanity Fair, Broadway, Church Street, Home Avenue, no special notice needed. But Calvary is "the offence of the cross," and no one stops there unless he chooses to. It is unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness. But it saves those who believe. Through all eternity we shall thank God that Christ chose Calvary, "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame."

In our previous study of I Corinthians, we learned that the Apostle Paul is writing to this church that is having a lot of problems. They are divided and the people in the church of Corinth just were not getting along. Because of this the Apostle Paul felt compelled to write them and straighten things out about this and some other issues that he'd heard about.

The major problem that comes up in chapter 1 is a division over which Christian leader is the best to follow within the church. Some said they were following Paul, some Apollos, some Cephas or Peter and still others said that they were following Christ. The Apostle admonished them that Christ is not divided. We are not following any human leader. Though Christ gives leaders within the church, our Master is Jesus Christ alone. He is the one who dictates the way we live. And true unity comes from following Him and obeying His Word.

The Apostle tells them in verses 13-17 that they shouldn't even think that he, Paul, is the one they are ultimately following. Paul wasn't crucified for them. And they weren't baptized in Paul's name. He was even glad that he had only baptized a few lest they should say that they were baptized in his name rather than Christ's. In fact, Christ didn't send him to baptize. He sent Paul to preach the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, rose again went into heaven, is seated at the Father's right hand and is coming again for all those who place their trust in Him alone for salvation.

And cleverness of speech is not what makes the gospel powerful. It is the message of the cross itself and belief in it that saves. To think that it takes someone clever to announce the good news is to make the message void of the power that it possesses. It is faith in the cross of Christ that imparts to us His triumph over sin by His death, no matter who proclaims it or how eloquently they may communicate it.

The world doesn't look at things in this way, however. In this world, powerful and wise people are looked up to and they are seen as somehow better than others who are weak and unwise.

But truthfully, when it comes to the gospel, it doesn't really matter to them how cleverly you speak or preach. Because the gospel message itself, regarding the cross, seems like foolishness to those who are perishing. However, to us who are being saved, we know that it is actually a demonstration of God's power and shows forth His wisdom.

In I Corinthians 1:18-31 Paul expands upon this idea of God's wisdom versus man's wisdom, letting us know that, in the end, it is God's wisdom that will win the day because of the inferiority of the thinking of those who claim to be wise without God and without His message of salvation for a lost world.

Let us look at these verses a little bit more closely and see what we can glean from Paul's teaching regarding the wisdom of God seen in the gospel of the cross of Christ.

The great apostle has two main points that he is making in this passage. The first is that the cross is foolishness to those who are dying. The second is that our God actually chose the foolish things to shame the wise.

I. The Cross is Foolishness to Those Who are Dying- (18-25)

First of all, Paul sets the tone for the rest of the chapter in verse 18 by saying:

"For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying, but to us who are saved it is the power of God."

He uses this introduction to begin to contrast the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God. Further, he sees God's wisdom at its highest and finest in what appears to be the foolishness of the cross of Christ.

While working in Corinth, Paul taught and preached to both Jews and Gentiles. And both are represented in the church that he was responsible for founding there. To the Jewish people who were expecting a powerful Messiah, the idea of a King who was crucified on a Roman cross was ridiculous and weak. To the Greeks who valued wisdom above all else it is utter foolishness. Why would God the Father send His Son to die? By human wisdom this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

But God, through the prophet Isaiah, (Isaiah 29:14b), has vowed to destroy the human wisdom of those who claim to be wise but don't put their trust in Him (I Corinthians 1:19).

Even today, we have those who put their total faith in science and human learning, thinking that they will be able to solve all the problems of the world, only to find out that with the solving of some problems, more problems arise.

That is not to say that there is no value in human wisdom. For example, all of the modern technology that man has come up with such as automobiles, planes, air conditioners and heaters, the harnessing of atomic energy, as well as all the advancements made in the field of medicine have made our lives more comfortable, longer and less painful. But, with all they've given us, they have failed to bring us total security. And they have failed to solve the problem of evil in this world, as well as the problem of death. Further, they cannot do anything for us in the afterlife. Man is still without God and headed for an eternity in Hell. That's why Paul could say:

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"Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? (20)

The wise is the sophos, the philosopher, the traditional arbiter of wisdom for the Greeks. The Scribe is the grammateus, the scribe or teacher, the traditional arbiter of wisdom for the Jews. The debater or lawyer is the suzetetes, the one skilled in the arts of rhetoric (the art of preparing persuasive arguments) and oratory (the art of public speaking). Persuasive people enjoy a good deal of power today. But in ancient Greece, the suzetetes had it even better. The Greeks regarded suzetetes with the kind of fawning adulation that many people today regard rock stars. But Paul calls such people the debaters of this age. And in the New Testament 'this age' is a negative phrase. It is the age contrasted with the age to come which brings eternal life.

In other words, these people may enjoy power and adulation in this life. However, in the life to come it will all vanish like a mist into thin air. And the so-called foolish message of the cross will save those who believe for all eternity.

Sadly, the Jews continued to look for supernatural signs, while failing to see the greatest sign of all. That is the sign where God provided salvation through a virgin-born, crucified and risen Messiah. The Greeks still looked for wisdom. They wanted ideas they could set forth, discuss and debate. That is to say, they desired human reason and not divine truth.

But the fact of the matter is that God did not structure spiritual truth so that man, with human wisdom could find it out. It is perceived only by God's revelation to us.

And so, Paul continued to preach Christ crucified, though it be a skandalon (that is a stumbling block, scandal, or an offense) to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.

However, to those who are called from both Jews and Greeks, (that is those who are called to be in a relationship with Christ and have accepted Him through faith), the crucified Lord is seen as the ultimate power and wisdom of God.

Indeed, if there were such a thing as God's foolishness, it would be imminently wiser than man's wisdom could ever be. And if God could be weak, it is certainly far stronger than the strength of any man.

Because of His wisdom and strength, God's plans and schemes will succeed every time. Man's schemes, on the other hand, because of his limited knowledge and power, often fail.

II. God Chose the Foolish Things to Shame the Wise- (26-31)

God disdains human wisdom, which is that wisdom that doesn't think it needs Him for anything. He not only disallows it as a means of knowing Him, but also, He disallows it by choosing to save the lowly people of this world. And thank God for that or most of us would be in trouble. Further, He does it to shame the wise and take away any boasting from them. Rather, people will boast in and give glory to the Lord. Here is how the apostle puts it:

"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. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, 'Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.' " (26-31).

If God had chosen all the beautiful and successful persons, then people might not think to give Him glory for it. Indeed, most of the Corinthians were not extraordinary in any way. They were normal individuals that were saved by the extraordinary power and wisdom of God. Further, that is true of most Christians throughout history and even today.

God's desire is for all of us to realize that we can do nothing without Him. And that is true no matter how powerful or successful that we may be. This includes our salvation. We cannot save ourselves. Our confidence should not be in our own abilities, but in His power and in our relationship with Him. No one in the world has anything to boast about. Everything we have is from the Lord. This means that our wisdom, power and all of our abilities are from Him as well. And that realization starts with admitting a need to accept the gospel of God's grace. For it is His unmerited favor to those who will take it as a free gift.

Conclusion

This lost world will always see the gospel as foolish because of their pride. And the people of this fallen world will forever want the credit for everything. While, at the same time, they don't want to give God glory for anything. However, like the Apostle Paul, we should be willing to say:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16).

I just recently read a powerful illustration about this verse on the website moreillustrations.com. This insight from an unknown author went like this:

"When Paul says the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, he uses the word 'dunamis' which is related to the English word 'dynamite'. Dynamite blasts the rock in pieces. And that is just what the gospel does in the spiritual realm. It blasts the rock-like resistance of the sin-hardened heart. The rough jailor in Philippi, the runaway slave Onesimus in Rome, and Saul the persecutor on the Damascus Road, all had the hard core of their resistance broken by the gospel. They knew its power and their trans­formed lives bore witness to it before all men."

In our churches, we must make the preaching of the cross, which is the good news of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection for sin, the very center of our teaching and preaching ministry. And as individual Christians we have to always be ready and willing to give a defense for the hope that lies in each of us as followers of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Peter 3:15).

The world needs what they consider the foolishness of the gospel. For only it has the power to transform them and give to them an eternal relationship with the God of the universe. And if the world calls us foolish, then so be it! For we know that our Lord will one day say to us: 'Well done good and faithful servant!" And that, my friends, will make it all worthwhile! I thank God for the foolishness of the cross!!

© 2022 Jeff Shirley

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