1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 – The Wisdom of God and the Wisdom of man

1 CORINTHIANS 1V18 – 31.

 

The Wisdom of God and the Wisdom of man

 

1. INTRODUCTION.

 

Verses 10 – 17 are dealing with the divisions in the Church at Corinth. [We will deal with these when we come to chapter 3] The divisions arose over leaders. The members of the Church were aligning themselves behind Paul, Peter, Apollos and Christ; possibly others as well. Before Paul actually deals with these divisions he lays a foundation for the wisdom and power of the gospel.

 

Corinth was a cosmopolitan city influenced very much by Greek Philosophy and by Roman law.

Even though the Romans ruled the world of the time it was the Greeks who had the cultural and intellectual influence. The international language of the day was Greek. That is why the NT was written in Greek so that it could be understood internationally.

 

Greek philosophy dominated the intellectual world. Corinth was a intellectual centre; it was a natural bridge between the eastern and western Mediterranean. It was where many travellers passed through and was therefore a strategic place both commercially and culturally.

 

Some commentators tell us that there were up to as many as 50 identifiable Philosophical parties.

[philo = to love; sophia = wisdom] Love of Wisdom.

 

There were numerous travelling Sophists [teachers; orators] who would give lectures or hold debates about religion, education, economics, politics and social issues. And they would charge a fee  for doing so – the more popular and articulate the speaker the greater the fee.

 

In their arguments to belittle Paul some of the Corinthians were saying that he couldn’t have been much of a speaker if he didn’t even charge a fee. [alluded to by Paul in 2 Cor.11v7]

 

ILLUST: Mrs Thatcher can command large sums of money for her world speaking tours.

How do we judge her message? By its content or by the persuasiveness of her arguments and her oratory [and possibly by the persuasiveness of her handbag]? or by the fee she is paid?

 

Some of the Corinthian Christians had brought this kind of thinking into the Church. Paul here reminds them that this is absurd, as the cross is foolishness to the philosophies of this world. You can’t add human wisdom to God’s wisdom. You can’t add to what God has done!

 

2. THE FOOLISH MESSAGE. [1v18-25]

 

There were no chapters and verses in Paul’s original letter and the link between v17 and v18 is important.

He is drawing a distinction between the word of human wisdom and the word of the cross

 

[Christ sent me to] preach the gospel

not with words [logos] of human wisdom

…. for the message [logos] of the cross

… is the power of God [v17-18 extracts]

 

The logos that belongs to human wisdom and the logos that belongs to the cross are mutually exclusive.  Paul is telling the Corinthians Christians that there is no longer any need to follow the philosophies of human wisdom. Don’t be misled and divided by human speculautions. Don’t get carried away with philosophy.

 

People today are still carried along by various philosophies – caught up in the admiration of human opinion and human thinking. Human philosophies will always come up short – they will always be found wanting.

 

ILLUST: Communism was to be the new idea that would solve all the world’s problems. Has it?

Has Capitalism? Has democracy?

 

None of these things answer the basic questions of life.

 

ILLUST: As Ecclesiastes teaches, Life from an under the sun perspective, a human perspective, is meaningless!!

 

The only thing that can give meaning to life is the Gospel and it is that very thing that human philosophy rejects as foolishness. The world doesn’t want to know what the Bible says. Yet they all decry the terrible state of the nation and none of them have any answers to the dilemma.

 

To those who reject the Message of the cross, to those who are perishing, the message appears to be foolish nonsense. And it remains that way as long as they continue in their unbelief. The message of the gospel is not something that people can figure out for themselves given enough time and enough intelligence. NO!

 

The gospel is not philosophical wisdom but revealed wisdom. And that is why is only makes sense to those who are being saved. It was one of the early Church fathers who said,”I believe in order to understand”. Until God’s Spirit enlightens our minds the cross remains foolishness. And so it was to the Greeks and the Jews of Paul’s day.

 

Paul was writing to the Corinthian Church not because these philosophies were prevelant in the world but because they had crept into the Chrurch. It’s the same today.

 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The whole drift toward modernism that has blighted the Church of God and nearly destroyed its living Gospel may be traced to an hour when men began to turn from revelation to philosophy.”

 

What are we doing when philosophy takes over from revelation. We are elevating man and lowering God. But that is man’s way.

To promote self.

To exalt self.

To be self-willed and proud and independent.

To think that we are so clever and have the answers to life’s questions appeals to our ego.

 

The cross of Christ cuts right across this way of thinking. It asks us to do nothing – allows us to do nothing – except respond to the message of the cross and accept Christ. It deals with our sin and it also deals with our pride.

 

Philosophical wisdom doesn’t deal with these. Human education and technological advncement are good things and properly used are of great benefit to mankind. BUT philosophy is bankrupt when it come to when it come to human nature, morality, sin, God and the hereafter.

 

Paul is being very sarcastic in v20.

Where is the wise man?

Where is the scholar?

Where is the philosopher of the age?

 

Paul is really asking,”Where are all these clever people who can solve the world’s problems?”

How much closer in peace than it was 100/1000 years ago?

Are we any closer to beating hunger, poverty, crime, immorality than they were in Paul’s day?

Has all our technology made us advance?

Has our education made us more moral?

Has international communication made us understand each other any better?

The basic human problems still remain!! And human wisdom is itself a basic part of the problem.

 

All of this worldly wisdom and philosophy hasn’t brought us any closer to God.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom

did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of

what was preached to save those who believe. [v.21]

 

Salvation comes to those who take God at his word and believe in Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross. You can’t argue a person into the kingdom of God.

 

ILLUST: Farhad a young Muslim man after many evenings of discussion. “You are right Jesus must have claimed to be the Son of God but it’s too hard, I can’t believe it”

 

Philosophical argument saved no one.  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, to all those who believe.

 

Paul now goes on to give two examples of those who rejected the cross in his day because they considered it to be foolishness.

Jews demand miraculous signs and

Greeks look for wisdom. [v.22]

 

They considered it to be foolish because it didn’t coincide with their idea about how to find God. The Jews had expected the Messiah to be a majestic conquerering king whose work would be accompanied by the kind of spectacular miracles that occured in the OT. Yet Jesus performed miracle after miracle in public for them all to see yet they did not believe.

Even though OT passages like Ps.22 and Isa. 53 foretold a suffering Messiah the Jews simply reinterpreted these passages to fit in with their preconceived ideas. To them a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. This was a stumbling block to the Jews [v 23]. [a scandal]

 

To the Greeks God was ultimate reason – God could not feel – therefore if he didn’t fit what they thought was reasonable then he couldn’t possibly be God. If he couldn’t feel then the idea of a God who suffered was a contradiction in terms.. To them God was utterly detached and remote. The idea of God in Christ reconciling the world to himself through the cross was both incomprehensible and ridiculous. It was foolishness [v23] mwria – moron. – moronic.

 

What is clear from both these groups is that they refuse to bow the knee before God, instead they are determined to to make God fit their own ideas and desires.

 

Is this not like the world in which we live today. As long as God is there to christen us when we are born, bless us when we are married and comfort us when we die then we are satisfied, as long as he doesn’t  interfere with the rest of my life. As soon as we have preconceived ideas about what God can and cannot do and will and will not do we fall into the same trap as the Jews and Greeks of Paul’s day.

 

As long as the Jews continue to seek a sign and the Greeks cling to the wisdom they remain separated from God. The very thing they rejected – this foolishness/ this madness/ this cross – is in fact the only true sign and wisdom.

 

The scandal of the cross. It is hard for us to understand what the cross meant in Paul’s day. It was the most shameful,  despicable death anyone could die. It was reserved for the lowest criminals and the dregs of society. There was nothing more humiliating.

 

From a human point of view the Cross is folly and weakness. BUT it is this very foolishness and weakness that is in fact the demonstration of the wisdom and power of God. And that is only evident by the supernatural act of God saving both Jews and Greeks [Gentiles].

 

It is in the cross that God nullifies human wisdom. It is in the cross that God overpowers his enemies. The only message a Christian has to proclaim is the message of the cross, the Son of God becoming a man, dying to pay for our sins and being raised from the dead in order to give us new life.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom,

and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. [v.25]

 

Paul is not saying that God is either weak or foolish. But that if God could possess any sort of foolishness it would be wiser than man’s greastest wisdom. And if it was possible for God to be weak that would still be stronger than man’s greatest strength.

 

In talking about God’s foolishness and weakness Paul means of course from the unbeliever’s perspective. Tragically, it is this very work of God that man rejects that is the only thing that can save man. The cross is the greatest demonstration of God’s power and wisdom.

 

3. THE FEEBLE RECIPIENTS. [1v26-31]

 

Paul now moves on from the foolish message to the feeble recipients.

Paul didn’t write 1 Corinthians to argue against the world’s false boasting, but rather because this boasting had crept into the Church at Corinth. Christians were glorying in their own abilities and and elevating their gifts. They were forgetting that their faith depended on God’s call and not on their merit. They were forgetting that the gospel is the message of the cross!!

 

Being Christains doesn’t mean that we are immune from false pride. We like to think that we can in some way contribute. But such an attitude reduces the power of the cross. Paul now reminds them that they in fact had nothing to offer God.

 

READ VV.26-28.

 

Paul tells those who think that they need worldly philosophy and wisdom to simply remember themselves as they used to be before God stepped into their lives. Most of them were the nobodies of society. They had nothing to crow about.

 

God is not interested in our social standing, our educational qualifications or our bank balance! Those things may carry weight in society but not in terms of our salvation. On the day of Judgement God isn’t going to ask us what school we went to. What counts is how we respond to the message of the cross of Christ.

 

God’s ways are not our ways! His wisdom is a kind of paradox. It was not that there were no wealthy or influential people in the church at Corinth, But not many. The philosophers and those walking the corridors of power were conspicuous by their absence.

 

This was not just true of Corinth but has been the case all through Church history!

What did Jesus say in Matt.11v25:

I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth,

because you have hidden these things from the

wise and learned, and have revealed them to little children.

 

It was the riff-raff, the scum of the earth that God chose to make kings and priests in his kingdom.

 

ILLUST: {MacArthur} A simple, uneducated, untalented and clumsy believer who has trusted in Jesus Christ as Saviour and who faithfully and humbly follows his Lord is immeasurably wiser than the brillant Ph.D  who scoffs at the gospel.. The simple believer knows forgiveness, love, grace, life, hope, God’s word – God himself. He can see eternity. The unbelieving Ph.D, on the other hand, knows nothing beyond his books, his own mind, and his own experience. He sees nothing beyond this life, and con be considered nothing but foolish.

 

ILLUST: We are often tempted to think that if this famous lady or that national sports star became a Christian they could make a real contribution to the gospel. NO! no more than any one else!

 

Servants are not highly reverred in the world but in God’s economy if you want to be great you must learn to be a servant.

 

ILLUST:  By God’s standards John the Baptist was the greatest, apart from Jesus himself.

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women

 there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist:

yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven

is greater than he. [Matt.11v11]

John the Baptist had no formal education, no political standing, no social position, no military rank and no money.

 

Those who remain proud and arrogant and unbelieving will never know true power and wisdom.

God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble [Prov.3v34. cf James 4v6]

 

God is constantly in the business of bringing proud people to their knees so that they can enter his presence in repentance and faith.

 

Paul’s purpose is not just to show that Corinthians that they have nothing to boast about but also to show the wonderful grace of God. That God can take the nobodies of the world and makes them sombodies for Him – that’s grace!

 

To know God is to know wisdom! And we have wisdom if we know him. He has given to us righteousness, sanctification and redemption. This is the wisdom of God and this is amd possible only by the Cross which is foolishness to the world.

Because of Christ’s death on the foolish cross sinners can be made righteous – justified – before

God.

Because of the cross the sinner can be set apart for God; made holy and blameless.

Because of the cross the sinner can be rescued from the the power and penalty of sin – ransomed.

 

The complete and eternal acceptance of the repentant sinner is foreign to the wisdom of the world. The wisdom of men calls for clever words, good deeds and human effort to gain salvation.

 

The ways and wisdom of God spell out the message of the cross as the only way. It is not the cross plus … BUT the cross alone!!

 

Listen to the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord:”Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,

let not the mighty man glory in his might,

let not the rich man glory in his riches,

but let him who glories, glory in this,

that he understands and knows ME,

that I am the Lord who practises

stedfast love, justice, and righteousness

 in the earth; for in these things I delight:”

 says the Lord [Jer.9v23-24]

 

If our finances, our education and our social position have no influence or merit with God, which they don’t, and if our salvation is solely God’s work, which it is, THEN we have nothing to boast about in ourselves.

 

There is no need then to feel any sense of inferiority or superiority! Anything and everything we have is as a result of God’s goodness! THEREFORE the only thing we have to boast about is God himself.

 

MacArthur ” … in Christ we have received God’s wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redmption, we have no grounds for pride or boasting, because we didn’t deserve, earn or produce any of them. Man’s wisdom can produce none of those things. It can only produce pride, misunderstanding, strife and division.”

 

Therefore says Paul quoting Jeremiah:

Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. [v.31]

 

In ourselves we have NOTHING. In Christ we have ALL THINGS.

 

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