One of the reasons we have contention in the church is that we tend to believe what is right in our own eyes. We don’t allow God to dictate to us in His Word; we dictate to Him. Often this dramatically and deleteriously affects church conduct. Once our church begins to take polls and surveys to find out what people like and then strive to give them that, we fail in our mandate from God as a church. We see this in our powerfully taught in 1 Corinthians 1.18-25.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are 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. – 1 Corinthians 1.18-25
Two groups of people are explicitly mentioned in this passage: Jews and Greeks. The Jews request a sign and Greeks seek after wisdom. The Jews want another powerful exodus from God. The Greeks treasure human wisdom and philosophy. There is nothing wrong with a desire for power and wisdom. The trouble is that the Jews wanted power and the Greeks desired wisdom on their own terms. They wanted to define the works of God on their own. They wanted their own limited expectations to come to pass.
There are two groups of people in our present age according to v. 18: 1) those who are perishing and 2) those who are being saved. Those who are being saved are those who rely on the cross as a manifestation of God’s powerful deliverance from sin. We understand that we live in the present because Christ died and rose again in the past. Those who stumble at the cross reject the crucified Christ. Such a thing is a manifestation of weakness and foolishness to them. Therefore, they are perishing while we are living.
Paul quotes Isaiah in v. 19 of our text (see Isaiah 29.14). He will methodically bring six Old Testament quotations forward to buttress his argumentation for the good of the Corinthian believers. The idea behind this particular quotation is plain: Don’t try to match wits with God. We need this reminder. A great reversal is coming. God will destroy the wisdom of the worldly wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent in this world.
The flurry of four rhetorical questions in v. 20 tell us that worldly wisdom is already rendered foolish in this present age. Where are they? Where is this great human wisdom and power? God makes it all foolish in the crucified Christ. This is the great reversal. What many in this world consider foolish is presently the wisdom of God, but it is veiled to so many who are perishing.
The world cannot know God through human wisdom. If it could, this would mean that the world is somehow deserving. We are undeserving. God is known only through His wisdom, and Christ is the Wisdom of God (see v. 24). God’s wisdom is the opposite of the human wisdom so highly prized in our world today (see 2.6-16). It is the message that is important and emphasized in verse 21. Why preach the message of Christ crucified? To save those who are believing in this world! God is pleased to save believing people through a message the world considers to be foolish.
The Jews look for another powerful exodus. The Greeks look for human wisdom and reason, the pursuit of philosophical ideas. Jesus refused to give a sign to those who remained adamantly opposed to Him. The Jews only wanted a sign that would not contradict their idea of a powerful Messiah delivering them from Rome. They want a powerful warrior not a Lamb of God who would take away their sin. The Greeks wanted to constantly learn but never come closer to the truth. God must conform to their ever-shifting ideas and reasonings. They want a wise philosopher to challenge and change their thinking. They don’t want stability; they want upheaval.
There is a third group of people in verse 23: those who preach Christ crucified. Christ crucified contradicts the message of Jews and Greeks. The Jews stumble at the cross and the Greeks scorn at the cross. But we submit at the cross. What is considered weakness, folly, and defective is actually “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (v. 24).
God is calling both Jews and Gentiles to believe. But He calls them from His perspective of power and wisdom. We must conform to Him and not the other way around. This is the message believers preach today. It still contradicts the world’s message of power and wisdom. But for us Christ is the effectual power of God for salvation to all who believe, Jew or Gentile. Why? “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (v. 25).
God is neither foolish nor weak. Paul is simply continuing with a literary theme in this paragraph. The idea of the foolishness and weakness of God are hypothetical ideas used to highlight the great reversal and contrast of this paragraph. The supposed weakness of God would still be superior to any human concept of power. The supposed foolishness of God would still be superior to any human concept of wisdom. But obviously, there is no foolishness or weakness in God.
This paragraph of Scripture is a contrast. The Jews request a sign, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to them. The Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, foolishness to them. There will always be those who stumble at the cross, scorn the cross, and submit at the cross.
Stumbling at the Cross
The Jewish people stumbled at the cross because they were looking for power and great glory. They only saw shame and weakness at the cross. Deuteronomy 21.23 and Galatians 3.13 indicate that everyone who hangs on a tree is cursed. This is how the Jewish people saw it. They could not reconcile their understanding of Messiah with passages like Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53. They stumbled at the cross.
Scorning at the Cross
The Greeks scorned at the cross because they were lovers of knowledge. This was utter foolishness to them. They didn’t see wisdom at the cross. They didn’t see God’s great plan for redemption. They scorn the cross and prove they are perishing.
Submitting at the Cross
But to us who are being saved, we preach Christ crucified because we are submitting at the cross. We are those who are called. We are both Jews and Greeks in the Church of God. For us, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God! We have been called and we have believed. We preach Christ crucified. The death of Christ reveals the foolishness of our wisdom and the weakness of our power. Jesus died for us!
- The Power of God – Christ crucified is the power of God. We see God’s power in the conversion of many since the cross. We see God’s power in our own conversion. God powerfully transforms shattered lives.
- The Wisdom of God – Christ crucified is the wisdom of God. He is the supreme revelation of God. He is the Word, and to know Him is eternal life. He is THE wisdom of God not a wisdom suited for a particular culture with itching ears.
As we submit at the cross, we preach Christ crucified. He is the greatest good that has ever come out of the greatest evil perpetuated on a man. We count all things loss for the excellency of this knowledge.
- The cross of Christ is not a stumbling block to us. Christ is the Light. The god of this age has blinded religious moralists and those seeking a sign or some miracle. He blinds those who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. We preach Christ crucified and not ourselves (see 2 Corinthians 4.4-5).
- The cross of Christ is not foolishness to us. We certainly have the ability to reason and think. God blesses us with a strong intellect. But this must be submitted to Him to be of any use for us. We cannot know anything completely or perfectly. We will never know as God knows. The wisest among us will become as little children are. God destroys the wisdom of the wise and brings to nothing the understanding of the prudent (v. 19). Our greatest need is to be taught by God.
- The cross of Chris is the power of God and the wisdom of God to us! We desire to identify more and more with the cross of Christ. We don’t want it to be a stumbling block or foolishness through misapprehension and misapplication of the truth. True wisdom and true power will always be considered foolishness and weakness in this present age. But the true perspective is that God is both wiser and stronger than all of us. We submit to Him.