Have you ever wondered why some people respond eagerly to the gospel, while others ignore or reject it? In this study the apostle Paul answers that question. He tells us how the Jews responded to the message of Christ crucified; they stumbled at it. He tells us how the Greeks responded; they laughed at it. However, there were some Jews and some Greeks that found Christ to be the power and wisdom of God. Find out why they responded this way in this study!
We Preach Christ Jesus – Wisdom and Power of God
Christ: The Power and Wisdom of God
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
In 1Cor.1:10-17, Paul is urging the Corinthians to agree and be of the same mind and judgment. They should not line up under human leaders like Paul, Apollos, or Cephas, nor be completely independent and detached from their brethren and say, “I am of Christ.” Paul’s point is that he, or any other preacher is nothing. Paul wasn’t crucified for them, and they weren’t baptized in his name. But in 1:17, Paul says something that causes him to launch out in a new direction. He says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.” There are 2 words in that sentence, both beginning with the letter “c”, that caused him to write 1:18-25. They are “cleverness” and “cross”. When Paul says he does not preach in cleverness of speech, he thinks about man’s wisdom. When he mentions the cross of Christ, he thinks about God’s wisdom. The paragraph to follow is all about the contrast between man’s wisdom and God’s wisdom.
Notice the repeated words: Wisdom, wise, wiser 9x; Foolishness, foolish 5x
In Chapter 1:18 As Paul so often does, he begins this paragraph with a thesis statement, summing up the entire content of the paragraph. The rest of the paragraph is really an unpacking and exposition of this sentence. The word of the cross: this is a code word for the gospel (1:17). Those who are perishing and us who are being saved. Notice that he didn’t say, “those who will perish”, and “us who have been saved.” Paul puts both in the present tense, pointing to a continuing reality. Lost men are perishing right now. Something that is perishing is going bad and will need to eventually be thrown out. Sinners are going bad now, they are depraved and corrupt, and one day God will have to toss them out into hell. We are “being saved”. Lost men are becoming more corrupt as the power of sin exercises more and more power in their lives. We are being saved as the gospel exercises more and more power in our lives. We are being saved from sin and its grip on our lives. Note: there are only two types of people in this world; those that are perishing and those that are being saved. Which are you? Are you perishing or being saved from perishing? You can know by asking yourself “Is Christ crucified foolishness or the power of God to me and you”?
1:19 To prove his point that to those being saved Christ crucified is not foolishness but the power of God, the apostle quotes from Is.29:14 where God affirms that He will destroy the wisdom of the wise and set aside the cleverness of the clever. But when does God do this? When He makes Christ the power of God in someone’s life. When that happens, all his previous human wisdom goes out the window, and he sees what true wisdom is. In verse 1:20 Paul seems to be challenging the supposed wisdom of the worldly wise. Where are they? Come out and show yourselves. Let’s see what your wisdom can produce. You think that the gospel is foolish; God has made your wisdom foolish! Wise man: a general term for all worldly wise men. Scribe: the Jewish doctor of the law. Debater: the Greek philosopher. In these terms, Paul includes all worldly wisdom, whether it comes from Jews or Greeks, and says that God has made all of it foolish. But how has God done that? vs.21.
1:21 For since in the wisdom of God: this refers to God’s ordained plan. God had decided long ago that men would never be able to come to know him through their intellect or learning. Instead God took pleasure in coming up with a plan in which what the world considered foolish would be the means through which sinners would be saved. That means was the preaching of Christ crucified. This verse is teaching us that all of man’s great learning and philosophy is utterly useless when it comes to knowing the True and Living God! In 1:22, Jews ask for signs. They want miracles in order to believe. Often the Jewish religious leaders would ask Jesus for a sign. Mt.12:38-39. Greeks search for wisdom. Greeks were into wisdom. They valued and esteemed wisdom, and believed that man should put his time and energy and effort into achieving it. In 1:23 says but we preach Christ crucified, here we have the summation of Paul’s gospel; Christ crucified (the word of the cross). To Jews a stumbling block, the Jews expected their Messiah to be a great military conqueror who would deliver them from the oppression of Roman rule. Crucifixion was about the most humiliating and shameful thing that could happen to a person. The person crucified was stripped naked and left for hours to die a slow lingering death in full public view. Further, the Jewish Scriptures taught that a man hung on a tree was cursed. The Jewish people could not understand how Jesus could possibly be anything other than an accursed criminal, certainly not their long looked for Messiah. To Gentiles foolishness, the message of Christ crucified was too simple. It didn’t fit with their love of wisdom and learning. There was no deep, profound message here. None of it “fit” with their background.
In 1:24 says but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. When Paul says in vs.23 that Christ is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks, he does not mean ALL Jews and Greeks. There were some Jews and Greeks who had received Christ, believed on Him, and been mightily transformed by Him. But what made the difference? Why had this transformation taken place in their lives, and not in their countrymen? Because they had been called! This is the third time Paul has mentioned this word (1:2; 1:9). What does God’s calling accomplish? It changes our minds about Christ crucified. Whereas formerly we viewed this as foolishness, now we perceive it to be the wisdom of God. We see God’s wisdom in sending His Perfect Son as a substitute to bear our guilt and shame and punishment, so that we can receive His righteousness, and all of that so God can be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Not only that, whereas formerly Christ crucified was a notion to be ignored or rejected as foolish, now it became the Power of God. This message powerfully transformed our lives! This message became the most important message in our lives. It gave us hope for eternal life. It washed away our sins and made us acceptable in the sight of God. It produced new affections of love and devotion for God, and a desire to glorify Him. It changed us from the inside out, so that we became brand new people. Note: God’s call is not just to hear the gospel and have salvation in Christ offered to you. All the Jews and Greeks of 1:23 had experienced that and were still lost. It is a powerful thing that actually brings you into fellowship with Christ (1:9), and changes your perception of Christ from foolishness to wisdom.
In the nest verse Paul says 1:25 the foolishness of God is wiser than men, this refers to the message of Christ crucified. It was not really foolish, but the world considered it such. However, this “foolish” message is wiser than all the learning of men, because it can enable a man to come to know his Creator! The weakness of God is stronger than men, this refers to the crucifixion. There can be nothing weaker than a man hung up on a cross to die. It is stronger than men because that act can transform the hardest heart and change the most wicked rebel.
Conclusion: Three Things to Note
1. There are 3 types of People: Those that stumble at the cross, those that laugh at the cross, and those that are transformed by the cross. Which one are you? If you answer stumble or laugh, you are perishing. If you have been transformed by it, you are being saved.
2. Only God’s Call Can Save Someone, man cannot get saved by using his brain power or intellect, or by getting a better education. Man is powerless to affect his own salvation. It must come from someone else. Only God can do this, and He does it through calling us! Therefore, if you are saved, you must give God all the glory for this, for He is the One who has done it!
3. Preaching is God’s Ordained Means to Save Sinners, in our days, we tend to look at preaching as obsolete and out of date, but God doesn’t! Preaching has always been, and always will be the means God has ordained to save His elect and not concerts, skits, music, or drama. Thus, we should find ways in our home Churches to preach the gospel of Christ Jesus as its revealed in the Holy Scriptures. As God blesses us, we may want to rent a public facility just for the purpose of preaching to win perishing souls into the Kingdom of God! Amen.
Thank you and God bless you all.