Text: 1Corinthians 1:18-31
The young church at Corinth was loved greatly by Paul, even with God’s own love, His very agape that had filled Paul’s heart. He rejoiced with them when they showed signs of spiritual growth and was quick to come to them or write to them to admonish them when they were in crisis because they had turned to false teachings.
I want to go back just a verse from Session 1 —
Verse 17b – Paul did not proclaim the Gospel in cleverness (sophia) of speech, not in terms of worldly wisdom, not so that he would be seen as a great orator! If he did that, the cross of Christ would be made void (kenoo), emptied of power, abased, neutralized.
Do you see it? Using man’s wisdom and great oratory to preach the cross of Christ is an oxymoron — the cross is the picture of selflessness, and those who use only “head knowledge” and great speaking skills are the picture of self-centeredness. All you see is the preacher. The message of the cross is powerful indeed, beloved. But never will that power go forth from a professional pulpiteer.
Beloved, how often does the church go after those who are great orators, but who lead them astray! Do not be swayed by impressive speech and worldly wisdom! People who do not know the Lord follow worldly wisdom.
But when someone speaks in the power of the Holy Spirit and with God’s wisdom, speaking the very Word of God, listen to them! That one will preach the whole Word of God without apologies, and call believers to repent (see Revelation 2 and 3, where Jesus Christ calls five of seven churches to do so)!
Again, I will say this, along with others who have said it in the past. You might be able to win someone to Christ with a good argument using worldly wisdom, but that person will doubt and leave the faith if someone comes along with a better one.
But if you have been saved by the power of God and then filled with God’s Holy Spirit, no argument against God will move you, because the Father and the Son fully and permanently dwell in you (John 14:23)! When that happens, no question or doubt remains! You are steadfast, immovable, always abounding in His work!
Now, 1Corinthians 1:18-31 —
If I were to give this a title, it would be, “Whose Wisdom are YOU Following?”
Verse 18 – To the world — those who have refused Christ and are perishing — the word of the cross is foolishness. Literally, the “word” is logos 3056, the spoken word, and also the name of Jesus Christ, from John 1:1 and forward.
They reject the Word of God, and Christ Himself. They reject the idea that a cross is necessary, because it means that they are sinners, in need of a Savior. “How absurd! I am a good person,” they assert. Paul replies —
Romans 3:9 What then? Are we (Jews) better than they (Gentiles)? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles) are all under sin;
10 as it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 Destruction and misery are in their paths,
17 And the path of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
No one but God is good, and only He can make us right before Him, by believing into His Son, and then asking Him to purify our hearts by filling us with His Spirit. Then, He has made us good!
Now we learn about those who are being saved. Why “being saved?” Salvation is “in an instant” as well as ongoing as we move toward entire sanctification, a.k.a. being filled with the Spirit in an instant!
We continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing it is God who is working in us (Philippians 2:12)!
We have been saved by believing in the Christ who went to the cross for us. Oh, the power of God, to raise His Son, and to raise us to eternal life!
Then, by the power of God in us, we begin a transformation that culminates in entire sanctification. And then we continue on, no longer sinning against Him, but going from one degree of Christ-likeness to the next, and one degree of glory to the next (2Corinthians 3:18). How wonder-full!
This is the power, the dunamis, the miracle-working power of God! Only He can make a dead man live! Only He can bring the spiritually dead to eternal life in Him! And only He can make a believer’s heart pure!
Verse 19 — So, the appropriate question to ask is this, because we do care for the lost — what will happen to those who are wise in a worldly way, who scoff at Christ and reject Him?
God will destroy their wisdom — it will be lost, it will perish, as will they if they do not repent. And the cleverness (intellect) of the clever (mentally “put together”) will be brought to nothing (rejected)! Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14, where Isaiah speaks the same warning.
In no situation would Paul use man’s wisdom in sharing the Gospel, and neither should we! We do not want to in any way empty the Gospel of its power, neutralizing it and abasing it, belittling it and degrading it by assuming that we can convince people of its truth by logical, philosophical, or psychological argument or debate.
May it never be! God cannot honor the words we speak when we try to argue people into the kingdom, for we are saying that man’s wisdom can be an effective tool. We cannot use man’s hands to shape God’s truths; that is how error in teaching begins!
Verse 20 — In comparison to the wisdom of God, where is the wise man who is wise only with this world’s wisdom?
Where is the scribe — the lawyer who knows the law of God — or the expert Biblical scholar, who knows what the Word says, and can quote it from memory, but does not know God at all?
Where is the debater (disputer) of this age, who knows only the wisdom of this age?
God has made foolish (insipid, silly) the wisdom of the world! It is foolish compared with His wisdom. It cannot save, it cannot sanctify, it cannot make righteous. There is a reality far greater than that which is seen with the naked eye, and God and Christ are that Reality!
Why does Paul say this to the believers at Corinth? Because they are cosmopolitan, they are worldly. They are knowledgeable in Greek wisdom and philosophy, and they are listening to the world’s wisdom.
But that is foolishness to God! They are making judgments about men of God, using man’s wisdom to make their judgments.
Verse 21 — Here is God’s wisdom:
— You cannot know Me and be saved from hell through your worldly wisdom. Worldly wisdom is foolishness to Me. I am the Creator, you are the creature. Those who are wise in their own estimation are full of pride. They rely on their own wisdom, which is lilliputian compared with Mine!
— But there is a way to know Me and to be saved. It is through My Son, Jesus Christ, who died on a cross for you.
— My message sounds foolish to the worldly –– a Man, the Son of God, died on a cross so you can be forgiven and put in right relationship with Me. And His resurrection (even more foolish) entitles those who believe to eternal life!
— But it is My great pleasure to save those who believe the message. Those who believe have set aside worldly wisdom and pride in human intellect. I will say it again. Those who believe have set aside (disposed of) worldly wisdom and pride in human intellect.
— My servant, Isaiah, said, “Who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (See Isaiah 53:1.) It is when you believe My message that you see my arm, My strength, My Son, My salvation!
NOTE: When I was sick with MS (an incurable disease, according to man’s wisdom), and Pastor Doc was leading me toward healing, there came a point where I prayed, “That’s what THEY say, Lord, but what do You say?” And He said, “With God, all things are possible!” (See Matthew 19:26 and all of the gospels and New Testament, beloved!)
Verse 22 – The Jews always asked Jesus to show them a sign. Prove to us that You are the Messiah! But everything Christ did was proof of His Messiahship. They did not want to believe that He was the Son of God, even though His signs and wonders abounded and could only have been done by God. And as for Gentiles, with the worldly wisdom they possess, they say that the message of the Cross is foolishness.
Verse 23 – Jesus Christ is a stumbling block, He is a stone over which they stumble (Romans 9:33, 1Peter 2:8, Isaiah 8:14). To the Gentiles, He is foolishness. But we (Paul, Peter, Apollos, and the rest of the sent ones) preach Christ crucified!
To preach Christ crucified is this:
— To proclaim the cross of Christ, on which He took the punishment we deserved for our sin, so if we believe into Him, we are reconciled to God and forgiven for our past sins. And we proclaim that Christ fulfilled all prophesies about Him in the Old Testament.
— To proclaim His resurrection, for it is proof that He is the Christ, and it is the means by which we are given eternal life. His resurrection is the declaration that He is the Christ, with power, the very power of God (Romans 1:4). Hallelujah!
— To proclaim that He is exalted to the right hand of God, and the Holy Spirit is poured out as proof of it. And we proclaim mankind’s sin nature is crucified when we are filled with the Spirit (Galatians 5:24). We proclaim that we no longer live but Christ lives in us (see Galatians 2:20). And we proclaim that we have become partakers of His divine nature, proven because we walk as He walked and are as He is (2Peter 1:4, 1John 2:6, 4:17)!
— To proclaim that a day of judgment is coming, when Christ will return to judge the world, so now is the time to repent!
Many of us know Galatians 5:17, but have you contemplated Galatians 5:24?
Verse 24 – But glory to God, we are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, who are the called! For us, Christ is the miracle-working power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Christ is the epitome (complete expression) of the wisdom of God, for God knew what was needed in order for man to be saved from his sinful condition –– the perfect sacrifice of the perfect Man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And Christ is the epitome of the power of God, His life, death and resurrection a demonstration of God’s miracle-working power.
The Corinthians have, in their midst, many Gentiles and Jews who say that Christ is foolishness. And there is much evidence that some are listening to those voices rather than the voice of Christ, as spoken through God’s appointed apostles.
Verse 25 – Paul closes this set of verses by saying that God’s foolishness (in sending His Son) is much wiser than all of man’s wisdom, for only by God’s “foolishness” are humans saved.
And though He is perfect, and not at all weak, some men see the Gospel of His Son as weak, as a sign that God is weak, and scoff at Christ’s followers, who they say are weak. But God’s strength is far above that of mere humans —
Isaiah 55:8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
So men are foolish to think He is weak. His strength is so great that even His weakness is stronger than that of humans! He has the power to save, which no human can do!
Verse 26 – Paul now reminds the believers at Corinth of their humble beginnings.
There were not many in their midst who had wisdom that was worldly (according to the flesh). There were few considered mighty or noble (of high rank), by the world’s standards.
So why do they boast? Why do they think they know more than God?
Verse 27-29 – Thanks be to God! He has chosen
— the foolish . . . to shame the (worldly) wise
— the weak . . . to shame what is strong by the world’s standards
— the base (not of noble descent) the despised, and
— the things that are not (the things the world doesn’t value) . . .
Why? So that He may nullify (abolish and destroy) the things that are (the things the world values)!
Why? So that no man may boast before God! Boasting is evidence of pride. The believers at Corinth are immature. They have put on airs! Pride is a sin against God, and division in the church has resulted from that sin. We will see further evidence of pride, as we continue on through 1Corinthians.
So, because Paul loves them as God the Father and God the Son love them, he exhorts them to remember where they came from. None of us were anything in God’s eyes, until we believed into His Son. Then, He made us something!
The believers at Corinth were nothing in the world’s eyes. But that is who God chooses. Their position was lowly. But the believers at Corinth have forgotten their beginnings. Now they are boasting about their ability to discern who is the greatest leader because they are so wise, even wiser than the Lord who sends Spirit-filled leaders to them!
As I noted in Session 1, you will find “boast” and “boasting” to be a recurring word in both letters to the church at Corinth. These words are used 31 times!
Verse 30 – In this and the final verse of Chapter 1, Paul gives them a closing admonition. First, he writes —
#1 — You are not in Christ Jesus by your own doing –– You are in Christ Jesus by God’s doing! You didn’t believe on your own, but God gave you the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8).
#2 — And it is Christ who became wisdom from God for you, he tells them! God, in His wisdom, knew that Adam would fall and that all mankind would need a Savior and Heart-Changer, even before time began! So why were they paying attention to the wisdom of this world?
By God’s wisdom in sending His Son, the names of the believers at Corinth are written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world — that is, from before the world was made (Revelation 13:8)!
[NOTE: And God gives His wisdom to those who ask Him to fill them with His Holy Spirit. Jesus promises that when you are baptized with the Holy Spirit whom He will send, the Holy Spirit will teach you all things! ALL things!]
Verse 31 – That being true, the believers at Corinth have nothing about which they may boast, except in what the Lord has done! As Paul said to the boasting Galatians —
Galatians 6:14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
May it be so in Your church, Lord Jesus! May your people turn from the wisdom of this world and be filled with Your Spirit, who will teach them all things, so that just as you promised —
Luke 21:14 “So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15 for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.”
Amen. So be it, Lord Jesus!
In Session 3, Paul will continue on man’s wisdom versus God’s, Paul will continue to lead the believers at Corinth to see their immaturity, and to understand what it is to be mature (perfect) and to have the mind of Christ.