The message of Christ can seem like foolishness to many, yet it’s the power of God for salvation.
We’re in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 this morning. Beginning in verse 18 we read:
1 Corinthians 1:18–25 (ESV) - 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The message of Jesus... His perfect life, his death on the cross, and his resurrection to new life... it doesn’t seem to make sense.
You see, Paul tells the Corinthians church that that the “word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.”
1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV) - 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
In other words, to those who are dead in their sins and trespasses, separated from God, the message of the Gospel is going to come across as pure foolishness. As utter nonsense.
I remember thinking that way myself, as a young man...
I knew a lot of Christians, and to be honest, I wasn’t particularly fond of churches and Christian culture. The last thing I wanted to do was become one of those “Born Again Christians”, let alone a pastor. The message of salvation; of there being grace in Jesus seemed... well, cliché.
I wrestled with it for YEARS, but over time, it became obvious: The Gospel is true.
And it’s the the most important truth there is! It’s the one message that the the whole world needs to hear. Paul says “to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation! It’s a powerful, transformative message of grace and hope.
As a covenant people, called to make disciples of Jesus, part of our Great Commission work is to share the message of the Gospel in the world. We should be working together as a collected church body such that every man, woman, and child in our sphere of influence has repeated opportunities to hear and respond to the Gospel.
That’s our duty, and our joy, as followers of Jesus!
Now ... When we get serious about evangelism and outreach, and the message of Jesus is proclaimed with boldness to the people in our lives, is it always going to “land well”? Is it always going to make sense to the people we’re sharing with in a way that they grab it and run with it, accepting Christ as their savior?
No. That’s kind of the point that Paul was just making. Sometimes it’s going to come across to people as foolishness, not spiritual wisdom...
So let’s talk about wisdom for a moment. Paul goes on in verse 19-21:
1 Corinthians 1:19–21 (ESV) - 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
There are many people in the world who would consider themselves wise. Thinking people. Academics and scholars. Educated folks who think they have a handle on things.
Of course, wisdom and intellect are not bad things, in and of themselves. However, mankind has always had a tendency to self-glorify ourselves in seeking these things, rather than to use them as ways in which to worship God. It goes all the way back to the Garden, when our first parents ate from the tree of the KNOWLEDGE of good and evil, in direct disobedience to the Lord.
Unfortunately, many folks get “too big for their britches”, intellectually speaking. They think more highly of themselves then they ought to. And God’s response to them is essentially: “I will destroy your worldly wisdom.”
In other words, “I can’t be known through your pursuits.” You can’t find God in worldly philosophy.
God flips things upside down. The infinite God is found through the most foolish of things: PREACHING.
In verse 21, “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
Preaching. Not debating. Not lecturing. Not publishing journal articles. Simply preaching. Proclaiming Christ’s Gospel. SHARING THE MESSAGE OF THE CROSS AND THE RESURRECTION.
An act which may seem foolish to many, but which God blesses and uses for His eternal purposes to reveal His redemptive plan.
WE’RE ALL CALLED to be part of sharing this message. Again, it’s our duty and joy as disciples of Jesus!
Now, in verses 22-25 we see WHY the act of simply proclaiming the Gospel seems so foolish... It’s the difference between God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom:
1 Corinthians 1:22–25 (ESV) - 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
By and large, the Jews were looking for signs... miracles. Some kind of proof that the claims of Christ were true. They got them, of course. Everything from him turning water into wine, feeding thousands, healing the sick, raising the dead, to of course, himself being crucified and raised. But their hearts were hardened and they simply wouldn’t accept anything. The Gospel was a stumbling block to the Jews. The idea that the messiah had come, and been executed... they couldn’t handle that.
And, as we’ve discussed, the Greeks or Gentiles were the worldly philosophers. Many wanted to engage in debate about lofty topics. Life and death. Existence itself. To them, the idea of a God sacrificially dying for His people was contrary to the very understanding of what it meant to be a God, especially in the larger pantheon of Roman gods that they believed in, gods who were self serving and vengeful. The Gospel was simply foolishness to them.
BUT... For those who heard the message of Christ... and were called by God, that message was the power of God to bring them to saving faith. The Holy Spirt would regenerate hearts and bring people who had been dead in sin to into new life in Christ.
Looking at the situation as presented, it strikes me that there are major similarities today.
On the one hand, we have many who look at things through a modernist lens, not seeking miraculous proof of Christ’s claims, but scientific proof instead. We want everything backed up with empirical evidences, and we want to superimpose our modern presuppositions about the world on the ancient texts of scripture. However, that’s the wrong way to interpret God’s word.
On the other hand, we have those who approach things through a post-modernist perspective. They seek spiritual wisdom similar to the Greeks. They hunger for knowledge, yet within post-modern thought there is this sense in which what is true for me might not be true for you. That truth is relative, and all paths lead to God, whoever he or she might be... If you want to talk about foolishness, that’s the definition.
TRUTH, by it’s very definition, is true in all situations.
And the Gospel, that Jesus died to save sinners, is TRUE.
Acts 4:12 (ESV) – And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
In Christ there is salvation.
Regeneration. Justification. Adoption. Sanctification. Redemption.
All of this and more, In Christ alone.
This, Paul says, may seem like utter foolishness...
But it’s wiser than anything else put forth by mankind! It makes more sense than any plan we can come up with. For one, it’ll actually work. It HAS worked. When Christ was dying on the cross, he said “It is Finished.” He paid the ransom. We simply have to respond in faith.
It’s also stronger than anything we can do. It looks “weak” that God would die on our behalf. Yet He did so willingly. He did it so that once and for all that debt would be paid. He lived the perfect life we couldn’t life, and died the atoning death we couldn’t die. In our own strength, we might try to white knuckle our fight against sin until we finally give in and break. Because of Christ’s death, as weak as it seems to the world, there’s grace. Forgiveness. Hope. That’s the strength we need.
As we close this morning, I want to pray, giving thanks for “folly of what we preach”. The message of Jesus is such a powerful truth, and God is so faithful to use it to save and redeem His people.
May we never lose sight of the cost of our salvation!