Wisdom Discovered Through Folly
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:18–25
Wisdom Discovered Through Folly1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Sunday, February 6, 2005
Pastor Randy Smith
For the past two sermons we have been concentrating on Paul's initial exhortation to the Corinthian church. Though he had much by the way of correction to say to these wayward saints, his initial concern was the disunity in the body. "Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you" (1 Cor. 1:10a).
A few weeks back, I mentioned that the Greek word for "divisions" is schismata, which comes from the root word schisma. It is where we derive our English word "schisms." Now this particular Greek word occurs only eight times in the New Testament. Three times it is found in 1 Corinthians in reference to the divisions within the Corinthian church (1:10; 11:18; 12:25). And three other times it is used in connection with a specific individual who frequently caused divisions (Jn. 7:43; 9:16; 10:19). Can you guess who that person might be? You're right: Jesus Christ!
Do you sense a possible contradiction here? The Name in whom Paul preached saying divisions must cease is possibly the greatest divider in the Bible. The One who was prophesized to be the "Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6), also said, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Mt. 10:34). The One by whom all families should be united, said, "I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother" (Mt. 10:35a). What gives? Does the Person of Jesus Christ unite or divide? The answer is "yes" and the explanation comes in this morning's text.
Today we'll examine three points that I believe summarize the theme of verses 18-25. I have entitled them: The world's response to the Gospel, God's response to the world and the Christian's response to God. We'll cover each of these points and then look at some application to tie all these points together as we continue to prepare our hearts for the Lord's Table.
1. THE WORLD'S RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL
There are many things the world finds foolish about the Christian life. Possibly it is the commitment to holiness, or politically incorrect doctrines, or even the exclusivity of salvation in Christ alone - but there's nothing more foolish in the world's eyes than the essence of the Gospel itself. According to verse 18, "For the word of the cross (the Gospel) is foolishness to those who are perishing."
The Greek word for foolishness is moria. It is where we get our English word "moron." To those in the world, to those who are perishing, the "word of the cross" is simply moronic.
That an obscure man from a carpenter's shop in Nazareth could die on a Roman instrument of torture as a common criminal and have his death atone for the sins of the world chafes with human wisdom. Nothing in the mind of natural man applauds or accepts or agrees with the "word of the cross." I recall that Oxford professor and philosopher, Sir Alfred Ayer, who said the Gospel message is "intellectually contemptible and morally outrageous" (Our Daily Bread, August 16, 1992).
In verses 22 and 23, Paul gets more specific as he divides the world into two groups and delineates their response to the message of "Christ crucified." "For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness."
The Jews were always asking Jesus for a sign. Christ's response? "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Mt. 12:39-40). Jesus gave them this sign He predicted. On the third day He rose from the dead. But rather than accept their resurrected Messiah, they bribed the soldiers to say, "His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep" (Mt. 28:13).
Why couldn't the majority of Israel accept Jesus? It is because as Paul said in verse 23, the preaching of "Christ crucified" is a "stumbling block" to the Jews. Despite clear predictions in the Old Testament (Isa. 53; Psm. 22), their preconceived notions did not allow for a suffering Messiah (cf. Gal. 3:13; Dt. 21:23). They expected one to deliver them from the Romans, not one to die by the hands of the Romans. Remember even the Apostle Peter was stunned when he heard Christ predict His rejection (Mt. 16:21). "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You" (Mt. 16:22).
In verse 23 Paul also said the Greeks or Gentiles (which accounts for the rest of the world) "search for wisdom." They prized their philosophy. The word literally means to love wisdom (phileo - sophia). We think of the Athenians in Acts 17 who "used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new" (Ac. 17:21). They elevated humanistic thinking. They esteemed their prideful knowledge.
So when Paul came preaching "Christ crucified," to them it was nothing but sheer "foolishness." That God would care that much for people believed to be worthless? That God would become flesh which was believed to be evil? That God would be nailed to a wooden cross? A crucified Messiah to save the world from hell was beyond human speculation. It was outright absurd!
2. GOD'S RESPONSE TO THE WORLD
The world is looking for a Gospel that conforms to its own understanding. The world is looking for a Gospel that inflates its own ego. That is why all the false religions have a works orientated mentality. The world in its wisdom called God's wisdom, foolishness. But God has a few strong words (as we move to the second point) for the world and its wisdom.
Verse 19, "For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.'" Verse 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?" Verse 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."
As humans, we love to extol our brilliant thinking. We love to think we can find solutions to our problems without consulting God. But after thousands of years, what has the wisdom of the world achieved? Has it eliminated poverty? Has it reduced global conflict? Has it made our schools any safer or our families any stronger? Has it resolved our quest for ultimate truth? Has it answered the ultimate questions of life such as: Where am I from? Or, what is my purpose of existence? Or, where will I go when I die? On the contrary, human wisdom has left more people unsatisfied, unfulfilled and unsafe because human wisdom has and never will lead anybody to Jesus Christ (verse 21).
Human wisdom is not the solution; actually, it's the problem. Human wisdom is diametrically opposed to the ways of God. So God has frustrated the wisdom of the world and devised a plan whereby nobody can come to Him based on his or her own reasoning or intellect. How did God choose to bring salvation? Verse 21, "(He) was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe."
Now, God is not saying that preaching is foolishness. Nor is He saying that foolish preaching should be tolerated. What He is saying is that the message of Christ crucified, the simple, unadulterated, uncomplicated message of the cross is foolish in the world's eyes. James Boice wrote, "Preaching is that wise means of God by which the wisdom of the world is shown to be foolishness, and the folly of the gospel, as the world conceives it, is shown to be true wisdom" (Feed My Sheep, p. 37). In other words, what the world thinks is foolish is actually God's wisdom manifest to save a lost and dying and foolish world. Those who are called (verse 24) will be saved not through their philosophizing or their intellectualizing, but simply by (verse 21) believing the message deemed foolish by the world: The holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the Person and work of Christ, faith and repentance.
3. THE CHRISTIAN'S RESPONSE TO GOD
That leads us to our final point. If the world responds to God's wisdom as foolishness, what is the Christian's response to God's wisdom?
Back to verse 18. "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
To the world, the message of the cross is foolishness. But to those who are being saved - those who are called by God, enlightened by the Spirit of God and on the road to glorification - the message of the cross is the power of God.
Verse 24 also makes this similar contrast between those in the world and those in Christ. "But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor. 1:24).
The call of the Gospel goes out to all, both "Jews and Greeks." This is what theologians deem the "general call." This call is rejected by most. Yet there is also a call of God given through the Gospel that brings people to saving faith. It is named the "effective call." It is irresistible. It enables people spiritually dead in sin to see the truth. It enables people who hate God now to desire God. It enables people who once embraced folly to now embrace the wisdom of God. It is compared to the creation account when God called light from darkness in 2 Corinthians 4:6. "For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." It is compared to God breathing the breath of life in the nostrils of man. It is compared to God calling Lazarus from the dead. It is God saying, "My child, come forth!" No wonder Paul can say to us who are being called that the Gospel is not only the wisdom, but also the power of God! Mark my words beloved, every time God saves a soul, a miracle takes place!
All right, there has been a lot of theological explanation, but how does this profound truth affect our daily lives? With the time that remains, allow me to present some pertinent application.
Though we are to avoid divisions within the church (our previous two sermons), we must expect divisions between the church and the world (today's sermon). Consider Jesus Christ. He was hated by most, misunderstood by family and rejected by friends. His words were twisted. His message was ridiculed. And His life was ignored. Some of His so-called disciples joined the multitudes that cried, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" The religious leaders lied to get Him murdered. The Man who never committed a single sin, was nailed to a cross and mocked by the onlookers.
The call for the Christian is simply to be like Jesus: To "follow in His steps" (1 Pet. 2:21), to "walk in the same manner as He walked" (1 Jn. 2:6). If we are faithful in this calling, should we be surprised if the world wants to treat us the same way they treated Jesus? Didn't Jesus warn us, "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (Jn. 15:20).
Maybe we should not be as surprised if people in the world don't think too highly of us because of our uncompromising faith in Jesus Christ. It is not that we should intentionally seek persecution, but when it comes, maybe it is a good indicator that we are acting like Jesus. Maybe it is a good indicator that the world in its wisdom thinks we are foolish. Isn't that what the Bible teaches? Didn't the Apostle Paul say, "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12). Sadly, many in the evangelical church have reversed this. They seek the world's approval and persecute those who desire to live godly!
Maybe we need to do some self-examination and ask ourselves if there is any schismata (divisions) in our lives. If we are causing divisions within the church, we need to repent. And if were not causing any divisions within the world, we need to repent again. We must be like Jesus who prayed for unity in the church. "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity" (Jn. 17:22-23a). And we must be like Jesus who brought a division between light and darkness. "A division occurred again among the Jews because of (His) words" (Jn. 10:19).
Our text in 1 Corinthians makes it crystal clear that the Gospel, the "word of the cross," is offensive. We must not seek to remove the offense for in doing so we will preach another gospel (Gal. 1:6f) that demonstrates neither the power nor wisdom of God and is impotent to save lost souls (Rom. 1:16). Al Mohler said to pastors, "If there is not controversy in your ministry, there is probably very little content in your preaching" (Feed My Sheep, p. 12).
Paul never changes the essence of the Gospel to suit his audience. He didn't Judaize it for the Jews or intellectualize it for the Greeks. He preached the message of Christ crucified. In verse 17 he said, "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." Verse 23, "But we preach Christ crucified." Chapter 2, beginning in verse 1, "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1-2). His unwavering commitment was always to "Christ crucified." Ours must be no different.
Unfortunately today, many professing Christians are more of the world than they are of Christ. And the church has actually been part of the problem. In an effort to make the Gospel no longer foolish to the world, to make the church more acceptable, they have diluted the message. They have removed all offensive doctrines such as church discipline, election and gender roles. They no longer preach about sin. There is no accountability. Many have done away with church membership all together.
It is called the "seeker-sensitive movement," and it is sadly transforming the Christian landscape. It is giving the people what they want, not what God wants them to receive. It follows the culture and not the Scriptures. It is built on the wisdom of the world and not the wisdom of God. It is about entertainment and not worship. It attracts unbelievers and fails to equip the true saints of God.
Based on our text, there is no way unbelievers should feel comfortable in the church of Jesus Christ. If they are, the church has ceased to be the church. They should be pressed with one of two options - Either leave that place thinking everybody is out of their mind or fall at the foot of the cross and commit their lives to Jesus Christ. Isn't this what the Scriptures have been teaching us this morning? "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18).
What do you want to see in this church? Should we make the message wise to unbelievers? In doing so we'll make it foolish to God and His children. Should we preach with cleverness and human wisdom or preach the Word, standing steadfast on the message of Christ? Should we apologize for the cross or lift up the cross and boast in its beauty (Gal. 6:14)? Should we seek to please the world and professing Christians who want to act worldly or should we seek to please God and believers who want to honor Him, even if it means misunderstandings, a smaller church, and much persecution? Should we give the message desired by those who are perishing to those who are being saved? May it be said of us, "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" (1 Cor. 1:23-24).
The story is told of an old church that proudly engraved, "We Preach Christ Crucified" over the entrance of their church. Over time the church began to compromise the message to suit the folly of the world. And as they began to compromise the ivy began to grow around their engraving. The sign that once read, "We preach Christ crucified," now began to read, "We preach Christ." Eventually it said, "We preach."
There are many churches with the motto, "We preach." Their message may be wise in the eyes of the world, but foolish in the eyes of God. And the ivy has grown further in other churches and their motto is just, "We." They've eliminated preaching and have become nothing more than a social gathering.
May we never lose our focus as it is outlined in the Word of God - Christ crucified - foolishness to the world, but the wisdom of God and the power of God to those who are being saved.