THE WISDOM OF GOD

1 CORINTHIANS 1:18-31

A number of years ago, I found myself speaking with an agnostic -- a man who did not deny the existence of a god, but who believed that such a god or, as he preferred to call him, this "supreme being" must be unapproachable and unknowable. After a conversation that lasted for several hours, I finally asked him, "You admit that you yourself do not know God. Do you think that it just might be possible that the Bible really is the word of God as it claims to be and that Jesus Christ really has made a sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world?"

He thought for a moment before answering, and then he slowly replied, "No, I donít think that I could bring myself to believe that such a thing is true."

"But why?" I asked. "You have already seen that there are many fulfilled prophecies in the Bible, that it is historically accurate, that it contains no real contradictions, and that it speaks correctly when it refers to matters of science. The testimony of those eyewitnesses who saw Jesus rise from the dead was held under pain of death. In view of all of these evidences, why couldnít you conclude that it is even a possibility that the Bible is correct when it promises that you have eternal life through faith in Christ?"

His only answer was, "Itís just too simple to believe."

There are many people who have been thus confronted with the gospel who have come back with this charge. "Itís just too simple." And yet, it is in the midst of this simplicity that we find the power and wisdom of God.

In our last chapter, we saw the problem of divisions within the church. Christians were breaking fellowship with other Christians as a result of divided loyalties toward various leaders within the church.

Paul went on to say that this was wrong and that believers are to realize that they are one in Christ. He illustrated this by the principle of baptism. It was very obvious that none had been baptized in the name of Paul or of Peter or of Apollos. By the same token, those who refused to recognize any other teacher had no right to exclude other believers from fellowship who might feel differently on this subject.

In verse 17, Paul concludes that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel, "not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void."

This introduces a new subject. It is the introduction of "cleverness of speech." In this section, Paul is going to contrast the natural manís "cleverness of speech" with Paulís "word of the cross."

The Worldís Wisdom

The Wisdom of God

Relies on cleverness of speech

The Word of the Cross

This brings us to a question. How does all of this relate to the initial problem of divisions within the church? It is only as we realize that it is the gospel that is the power of God rather than a certain preacherís "cleverness of speech" that we can stop the divisions over certain key leaders of the church.

The Worldís Wisdom

The Wisdom of God

Relies on cleverness of speech

The Word of the Cross

Puts the emphasis on...

  • Paul
  • Apollos
  • Cephas

Puts the emphasis and focus upon Christ

Paul is not the power of God. It is not the "cleverness of speech" of Apollos that has saved anyone. The wisdom of Peter has no atoning work. Instead of lifting up these various leaders, we ought to turn our attention to the Lord.

 

THE WORD OF THE CROSS

For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The ancient Greeks were in love with philosophy and knowledge and wisdom. Indeed, our word "philosophy" comes from the joining of the two Greek words filew, "to love" and sofia, "wisdom." It describes "the love of wisdom."

The Greeks believed that philosophy was all-important. They loved to come together and to argue for their own favorite philosophical ideas. This was one of their favorite pastimes. When Paul had first come to Athens, he had found a place that was representative of this sport: Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new (Acts 17:21).

Unfortunately, this tendency had carried over into the church. There was a growing movement in the church at Corinth to set the word of God up against the philosophies of men, as if one were on equal par with the other.

This tendency is still with us today. During the last 150 years there has been a growing movement within the church to judge the Bible through the eyes of modern philosophy.

In each case, these "theologians" placed their own opinions over the authority of the Bible. This is the way of human philosophy. It always tries to elevate man and to lower God. It rejects the truth of the cross because the cross leaves no place for the exaltation of manís pride.

This trust in human wisdom is not modern. Its origins go all the way back to the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve placed their own opinions above those of Godís and it resulted in their fall.

Am I saying that a study of manís philosophy is unimportant? That is exactly what I am saying. When manís philosophy disagrees with the Bible, then it is wrong. Such philosophy can only be misleading. It has nothing to offer. Furthermore, when manís philosophy happens to agree with the Bible, it is unnecessary because it is merely repetition.

I am not putting down human learning. There have been some great technological advances throughout human history. I regularly enjoy the benefits of these technological advances. But manís advances have not enabled him to answer the questions that really count. They have not helped him to accurately answer the questions of life:

From where did we come?

Why are we here?

Where are we going when we die?

How can we get along with ourselves?

How can I find fulfillment in life?

When it comes to answering these questions, human philosophy is silent. It is without any adequate answer.

By contrast, when we come to the message of the gospel, we find the answer to all of these questions.

The word of the cross is... 1:18

To those who are perishing

To us who are being saved

It is Foolishness

It is the power of God

There is nothing more foolish to human reasoning than the message of the gospel. The idea that one obscure Galilean carpenter could die on a piece of wood on a nondescript hill in and out of the way part of the world and thereby determine the eternal destiny of all men seems silly.

Do you remember what happened when Jesus first told His disciples that He was going to be crucified in Jerusalem? Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. He could not conceive of the idea of a crucified Messiah. Such a plan was beyond the comprehension of his own human wisdom. What he did not understand was that to do away with the cross was to do away with the gospel.

There is a very sharp contrast between the wisdom of the world as opposed to the wisdom of God.

The Wisdom of the World

The Wisdom of God

Sees the message of the cross as foolishness

Sees the message of the cross as the power of God

"Those who are perishing" (1:18)

"Those who are being saved" (1:18)

Tried to come to know God through its wisdom (1:21)

Came to know God by the preaching of the gospel (1:21)

The world looks at the cross and sees only foolishness. The Christian looks at the cross and sees the ultimate demonstration of the power of God.

The cross is the center of everything for the Christian. It is the basis for all that we have. There can be no Christianity without the cross.

Notice the strength of the two present participles. Paul speaks of those who are perishing and he speaks of those who are being saved. This tells me something of people and their relation to the gospel. All people are going through a process. No one is ever stagnant.

The unbeliever is perishing. It is not only true that one day he will perish, but that death principle is already at work in his life right now. He is spiritually dead. He is a walking corpse.

The believer is also going through a process. He is being saved. This does not mean that the process might be interrupted at some point so that this "half-baked believer" would find himself only partially saved. What it does mean is that the believer is going through a process. He is being saved.

It is true that he entered into salvation at a point in time. There came a time in his life when he heard the preaching of the gospel and he believed the message and he was saved. At that very moment, he came into possession of eternal life.

But that was only the beginning. As he grows as a new believer, a process begins. It is a process of growth. This process is not instantaneous. It is progressive.

There is coming a day when that process will be completed. When Jesus returns to gather all of His elect to live with Him, we shall realize the goal of our growth.

 

THE WISDOM OF THE WORLD

For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside." 20 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? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:19-21).

Having shown that there is a difference between the outlook of the unbeliever and the outlook of the believer, Paul proceeds to show why the outlook of the unbeliever is inferior. There are three reasons given in these three verses.

The Testimony of the Old Testament

For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside." (1:19)

The Testimony of Experience

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? (1:20)

The Testimony of Ignorance

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1:21)

Paul is quoting from the Old Testament. The quotation is taken from Isaiah 29:14. Isaiah prophesied in a day when the world was being turned upside down. The stability of the nation was being threatened by the modern armies of the Assyrian Empire. In the midst of these troubled times, the Lord tells Isaiah that the grand strategies of the Assyrian military experts will fail. No nation was able to stand before the military might of the Assyrians. But God will accomplish what man finds impossible.

Even though common sense might tell you that Isaiahís prophecy has no chance of success, history bears out that common sense fails when it is pitted against the word of God.

Paul launches into a series of rhetorical questions. The answers to these questions are not given because the answers are obvious.

There are three groups mentioned. These three groups represented all that was exalted in human philosophy.

The wise man refers to one who is schooled in the worldís wisdom. He is like Solomon of old. He knows all that there is to know in the learning of the world, but in the end, it is all empty.

The scribe may be a reference to the Jewish scholar who was learned in all of the Scriptures and in the other Jewish writings. Knowing the Talmud and all of the other writings of the rabbis did not bring him any closer to a knowledge of God.

The debater of this age is a reference to the Greek philosophers. Socrates and Plato and Aristotle each epitomized such a man. Their words were eloquent and their arguments were forceful, but in the end, where did it get them?

The wise mad is lost in his wisdom. The scribe is empty in his learning. The debater of this age is silenced. Why? Because God has made foolish the wisdom of the world.

Notice that the ignorance of the world is a part of the plan of God. He set it up that way. He planned it so that no man could come to Him on the basis of his own reasonings and intellect.

Man cannot come to understand and know God through human reason. Man cannot dream up a philosophy that will allow him to comprehend God. He can only come to God on the basis of the preaching of the gospel.

This leaves no room for pride. You cannot gloy in your great intellectual achievements when you hear the gospel and believe. God does not save the self-sufficient. He is unknown to the independent. They have no need for God. He saves only those who believe.

When Paul speaks of the foolishness of the message preached, he is not talking about foolish preaching. Neither is he speaking of preaching from ignorance. Rather he is pointing to the simplicity of the message that was preached. He is speaking of the message that the world things of as foolish.

God chose a plan that is so simple that even a child can understand it. It was a plan that took all of manís accomplishments and all of manís ability and placed it to the side. It was a plan that magnified God.

Yet as simple as this plan is, it is not understood by the world. The wise men of the world fall short of understanding the simplicity of the message of the gospel.

 

THE MESSAGE OF WISDOM - CHRIST CRUCIFIED

For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).

Paul has been contrasting the supposed wisdom of the world with the supposed foolishness of God. This contrast is now widened and expanded to include the Jew, the Greek and the Christian.

The World

The Lord

In the wisdom of God

God was well-pleased...

The world through its wisdom did not come to know God

Through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe

The Jews ask for signs...

The Greeks search for wisdom...

We preach Christ crucified

To the Jews a stumbling block

To the Greeks foolishness

To us the power and wisdom of God

Notice the three groups: Jews, Greeks and Christians. The first group describes those who are religious. The second group describes those who are secular. The third group describes those who are the true people of God.

The Jews were always looking for a sign. They felt that only through a miraculous sign could their faith be established. To this end, they repeatedly asked Jesus to show them a sign. They witnessed miracle after miracle and still they would ask Him for another sign. Finally He told them that they would only receive one more sign. It was the sign of the resurrection.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered Him, saying, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You."

But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:38-40).

They asked for a sign and they were given the ultimate sign. They were given the sign of the cross. They were given the sign of the death and the burial and the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection was the proof that Jesus was truly the Son of God and that His death had paid the penalty demanded by sin.

Did they believe it? They did not. When they heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, they made up a story to cover up the truth. They paid the Roman soldiers to say that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus.

There is a lesson here. It is that the desire for proof is often just an evasion. It is often merely a smoke screen and an excuse for not believing. The unbeliever often asks for evidence and then will not accept that evidence when it is clearly presented. He does not reject the gospel because there is a lack of evidence. He rejects the gospel because he is condemned by the gospel.

The Greeks were no closer to the truth than were the Jews. They searched for wisdom. But they only wanted wisdom of their own choosing. They only wanted a wisdom that would inflate their pride. They rejected a wisdom that would give all of the glory to God. They gloried in wisdom that gave credit to the initiated. They reveled in their mystery cults in which the initiated held special knowledge.

We do not ask for a sign, for we recognize that we have been given the ultimate sign. We do not search for wisdom, for we have seen the wisdom of God manifested. We preach Christ crucified. This is the center of our faith. It is the cross.

Jews

Greeks

Believers

The Jews ask for signs (miracles)

The Greeks search for wisdom (philosophy)

We preach Christ crucified

To the Jews a stumbling block

To the Greeks foolishness

To us the power and wisdom of God

The cross is different things to different people.

To the Jews it is a stumbling block.

To the Gentiles it is foolishness.

To the believer it is the power of God.

The Jew stumbled at the cross. The hardest thing for the Jew to accept is a Messiah that was crucified. This went completely contrary to popular Jewish theology. The Jew wanted a Messiah that would be a political liberator -- a military leader that would throw out the hated Roman legions.

The Greek was in love with philosophy. He felt that all answers could be found through a process of reasoning. He was offended at the simplicity of the cross. Here was something that even a child could understand. If it were that simple, then it must not be very valuable. This was the whole basis of the mystery cults. The harder a philosophy was to understand, the more valuable it was considered to be.

Now we see a strong contrast. The contrast is not between the Jew and the Greek. It is between those who are called and those who are perishing. That same message which to the unbeliever is a message of failure and a message of foolishness is to us a message of power and wisdom.

If we are to glory, let us not glory in our teachers or our philosophies or our seminaries or our Bible College degrees or our systems of thought. Rather let us glory in the cross.

Notice that believers are described by a distinctive title. They are referred to as "the called." We are people who have been called. That calling is twofold. It is both external and internal.

We were called externally when we first heard the preaching of the gospel. We heard the message that Christ had died on the cross for sins and that He was buried and that He rose again from the dead. We were called to repent of our sins and believe the gospel and trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

We were also called internally. The Holy Spirit worked a special work in our hearts to make us alive and bring us to the cross in faith.

With these words, Paul completes a chiastic thought that was begun in verse 22. By doing so, he brings us full circle.

For indeed Jews ask for signs

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

The foolishness of God and the weakness of God both refer to the way the would views the cross. The Jews view the cross as a sign of weakness and the Gentiles view the cross as a sign of foolishness.

Man thinks the cross is weak and foolish. He claims that the death Jesus died on the cross was to no effect. Indeed, if Jesus did not pay for sins on the cross, then the cross becomes the epitome of foolishness and weakness. If the cross is not the atonement, then it is the biggest failure of all time.

To those who are perishing, the cross is weak and foolish. But to us, it is the very power of God. This foolishness is more wise than any of manís wisdom and this weakness is stronger than any of manís strength.

 

WHOM DOES GOD CALL?

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 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, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, 29 that no man should 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, 31 that, just as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

The point that Paul has been making is that men do not come to God on the basis of their intellectual reasonings. It is not the intelligent that are chosen. In fact, it is often just the opposite.

Not the WISE, but the FOOLISH

Not the MIGHTY, but the WEAK

Not the NOBLE, but the BASE and the DESPISED

I think it very likely that Paul sat back for a moment and thought over the status of the membership of the church at Corinth. He asks the Corinthians to do the same thing: For consider your calling, brethren (1:26).

There were very few among the Corinthian believers who were rich or powerful or famous or influential. To be sure, Paul does not say that there were not any wise or that there were not any mighty or that there were not any noble.. But the majority of the members of the church did not fit into those categories.

Why? Why do most Christians come from the ranks of the foolish and the weak and the base and the despised?

Karl Marx suggested that it was because the oppressed classes and the weak turned to religion as a crutch to hold them up and to stabilize them. But this is not a Biblical answer. Paul says that t he reason Christianity is filled with the foolish and the weak and the base and the despised is because GOD HAS CHOSEN those kinds of people to be in His kingdom.

Notice the emphasis that Paul places upon Godís election. Three times in this passage, Paul repeats that it is God who has chosen.

For consider your CALLING... 27 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, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised, GOD HAS CHOSEN, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, 29 that no man should boast before God. 30 But BY HIS DOING you are in Christ Jesus...(1 Corinthians 1:26-30).

Paul could not be any more plain. God chose you. It is because of His having chosen you that you are in Christ. Paul says this in verse 30; it is BY HIS DOING you are in Christ Jesus.

1. This Choice took place before the Creation.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love (Ephesians 1:3-4).

The Bible teaches that God chose His people before the foundation of the world. If you are a believer, then this verse is describing you. God chose you before the world began.

Think of the implications of this. Since the beginning of creation, you have been in the plan of God. He formed the earth with you in mind. Throughout all of history, there has never been a time when God did not know you and when He has not chosen you to be in Christ.

2. This Choice was made according to the Will of God.

He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will (Ephesians 1:5).

1 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).

We are never told in the Bible that we have predestined ourselves or that the basis of Godís determination was based upon our own actions. We were not even in existence when our predestination was already an established fact.

This means that God did not choose use according to any merit or action on our part. He did not choose us on the basis of our faith. His choice of us did not depend upon us. His choice was on the basis of His own will.

3. God not only Chooses, He also Draws Men to Christ.

In the sixth chapter of John, we have a sermon of Jesus in which He points out that those who have been chosen by the Father will come to Him.

All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. (John 6:37).

Certain people have been given by the Father to Jesus. All of these who have been given will come to Him. There are not any who have been given who will not come.

This is not speaking of some extra-credit discipleship program that is an optional addition to your walk in Christ. This is speaking of salvation. Jesus is speaking in this passage to the unbelieving multitude. He says that many of them will not come to Him because they are not among those whom the Father has given.

No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, "And they shall all be taught of God." Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. (John 6:44-45).

The only ones who come to Jesus are those whom the Father draws to Him. Unless a man is drawn by God, he simply will not come.

This brings us to a question. Why hasnít God chosen the wise? Why have the mighty and the noble been rejected? The answer is given in verse 29. It is so that no man should boast before God.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were

  • Not many wise according to the flesh
  • Not many mighty
  • Not many noble

God has chosen

  • The foolish things of the world to shame the wise
  • The weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong
  • The base things of the world and the despised
  • The things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are

...that no man should boast before God.

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us...

  1. wisdom from God,
  2. and righteousness
  3. and sanctification
  4. and redemption

...that, just as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."

Notice the purpose clause that is given both in verses 29 and 31. The reason why God has chosen the foolish and the weak and the base and the despised is so that no man will be able to boast on his own account.

No man can ever say, "I found God as a result of my great intellect." No man has ever been accepted by God because he was of noble birth. No man has ever performed deeds mighty enough to merit entrance into Godís kingdom. You canít even boast that you were saved because you chose God and exercised faith in Him. He was the one who chose you.

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