PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Confounding the Wise

03/03 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 Confounding the Wise; Audio available at:

17 οὐ γὰρ ἀπέστειλέν με Χριστὸς βαπτίζειν ἀλλὰ εὐαγγελίζεσθαι, οὐκ ἐν σοφίᾳ λόγου, ἵνα μὴ κενωθῇ ὁ σταυρὸς τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

18 Ὁ λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν, τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν.19 γέγραπται γάρ· Ἀπολῶ τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν, καὶ τὴν σύνεσιν τῶν συνετῶν ἀθετήσω.20 ποῦ σοφός; ποῦ γραμματεύς; ποῦ συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου; οὐχὶ ἐμώρανεν ὁ θεὸς τὴν σοφίαν τοῦ κόσμου;21 ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔγνω ὁ κόσμος διὰ τῆς σοφίας τὸν θεόν, εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας.22 ἐπειδὴ καὶ Ἰουδαῖοι σημεῖα αἰτοῦσιν καὶ Ἕλληνες σοφίαν ζητοῦσιν·23 ἡμεῖς δὲ κηρύσσομεν Χριστὸν ἐσταυρωμένον, Ἰουδαίοις μὲν σκάνδαλον ἔθνεσιν δὲ μωρίαν,24 αὐτοῖς δὲ τοῖς κλητοῖς, Ἰουδαίοις τε καὶ Ἕλλησιν, Χριστὸν θεοῦ δύναμιν καὶ θεοῦ σοφίαν.25 ὅτι τὸ μωρὸν τοῦ θεοῦ σοφώτερον τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐστίν, καὶ τὸ ἀσθενὲς τοῦ θεοῦ ἰσχυρότερον τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 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 Cross and Christian Unity

Paul is applying the gospel to the problems in the church in Corinth. He is reminding them of the nature of the good news that they had believed, and applying the cross to the divisions that were developing in the church.

He reminds them that there are only two categories; not I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Cephas, I follow Christ; only those who are perishing and us who are being saved. Paul and Peter and Apollos are all in the ‘us’ category, all on the same team, all pointing to the same Jesus who is the only way to salvation. Paul is confident that the believers who make up church in Corinth are also part of the ‘us who are being saved’, not divided, but one in Christ. So he brings them back to the foundation truth of Christ crucified to remind them of who they are, to remind them of their essential unity and the power of the cross of Christ to transform sinners into saints.

The Gospel is the Cross

As we saw last time, the gospel that Paul was sent to preach, the gospel that unites believers, is described in verse 17 as the power of ‘the cross of Christ’, in verse 18 as ‘the word of the cross’; he says in verse 23 ‘we preach Christ crucified’. The gospel message centers on the cross, on the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Any message that centers anywhere else but the death of Jesus as a substitute for sinners is a false gospel and is guilty of emptying the cross of power.

The Foolishness of the Cross

In verse 23 he says that preaching Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. Preaching a crucified messiah is an oxymoron to a Jew. The promised messiah would have a special measure of God’s blessing (Ps.118:26); he would not be under God’s curse, and the Old Testament says ‘cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ (Gal.3:13; cf. Deut.21:23). So a crucified messiah was a cursed messiah, and not at all what the Jewish people expected. For the Gentiles, the Christ or Messiah was a Jewish king, so what did that have to do with them anyway? And a crucified king is a dead king, a weak king, an insignificant would-be king crushed under the rule of Rome. Criminals were crucified. To be nailed to a cross was the epitome of helplessness. To proclaim a crucified king seems moronic, idiotic, weak, powerless. The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.

God’s Wise Intention to Frustrate the Wisdom of Men

The cross divides all people into two categories; those who are perishing and those who are being saved; those who are transformed by his power and those who consider it foolishness. God brings about his salvation through what appears to be a foolish method to intentionally undermine human wisdom. Paul backs up this assertion by quoting the Old Testament to show that this is not a new thing in the program of God; this has been God’s method all along. He says

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.

We see here that this is the active intention of God. He says ‘I will destroy… I will thwart’. He says ‘God made foolish’; ‘it pleased God’. God is purposely destroying, thwarting, making foolish the wisdom of this world.’ It is the wisdom of God and the pleasure of God to bring to nothing this world’s wisdom.

Why would God do this? Why would God set out to obliterate the wisdom of the wise? Why would God set himself decidedly against human wisdom? Isn’t human wisdom a God given gift? Aren’t we encouraged to pursue wisdom and knowledge and discernment?

This wisdom is not the wisdom and discernment promoted in Proverbs, the wisdom of living a life shaped by the fear of the Lord (Prov.1:7; 2:5; et al.) this is the wisdom of Psalm 2, where the nations, peoples, kings, and rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed. This is the wisdom of Romans 1, against which the wrath of God is unleashed. Paul writes in Romans 1:18

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Here is the problem:

Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. … 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

As Paul summarizes here in 1 Corinthians,

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom,

Man turned his God given faculty of reason against the God who created him. In our ungodliness and unrighteousness we suppress the truth. We refuse to honor God as God. We refuse to give him thanks. We exchange the glory of the immortal God for images. We exchange the truth about God for a lie. We refuse to worship the Creator, and instead worship the things he created. We refuse to acknowledge God. Our God-given faculty of reason and wisdom did not lead us into a right relationship with our Creator, a relationship of worship and honor and thanksgiving and dependence. Instead we turned this God given gift of wisdom into a tool for independence, rebellion, idolatry, self-centeredness and greed. In the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom.

Quote from Isaiah

This purpose of God to undermine human wisdom and bring his salvation through what appears to us as foolishness has been God’s good plan all along. To support this, Paul quotes Isaiah 29, a passage where God is confronting the hypocrisy of the leaders of his people who do what seems wise to them while distrusting God and disbelieving his word.

Isaiah 29:13 And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, 14 therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; [the KJV reads ‘a marvellous work and a wonder’] and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” 15 Ah, you who hide deep from the LORD your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?” 16 You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

God promised to protect his people if they would trust him, but on several occasions in the history of Israel they chose to rely on their own wisdom in political maneuvering rather than simply depend on God. In their fear of an invasion from Assyria, they made an alliance with Egypt. They would spend precious energy and resources on securing this alliance, and when the time came, Egypt would do nothing while Assyria invaded. Wonder upon wonder, God would actually fight against his own people Israel to humble them, to teach them to depend on him and him alone.

The arrogance of human pride raises up in defiance and independence of God and says that we can do it on our own. We don’t need to; we refuse to trust, to depend, to rely on another. It would be foolish to wait when there are things we could be doing, action we could be taking. Wisdom says we need a backup plan. Never put all your eggs in one basket. Be resourceful. God intentionally turned the seeming wisdom of the wise into foolishness to humble his people, to bring them low so that they will see their need for him and turn back to him.

Paul says that this ‘wonder upon wonder’, this ‘marvellous work and a wonder’ that destroys the wisdom of the wise and thwarts the discernment of the discerning is the cross; the word of the cross; Christ crucified. God does not save those who think themselves wise; he saves those who believe. Those who believe are not the self-reliant, the proud, the resourceful. Those who believe are those who are helpless, out of options, who know they are sinners and entrust themselves to the mercy of God as their only hope.

Why is it Wise to Frustrate Wisdom?

1 Corinthians 1:21 tells us that our failure to know God through wisdom is the wisdom of God and the pleasure of God. Why is it God’s wisdom to frustrate our wisdom? In Romans 3, after establishing that none are righteous and none seek God on their own, Paul concludes:

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Have you ever been around people who think very highly of themselves and think that you should think highly of them too? They go on and on and on and on about themselves, about their own accomplishments, about what they’ve done. They like the sound of their own voice. In the wisdom of God, people like that won’t be in heaven. If by God’s grace they are, their mouths will have been stopped and they will be humble. In God’s wisdom, he stops the mouth of every person, because we are all accountable to God and we all stand guilty before him on our own. The only way God saves is purely by his grace, as a gift through the cross (Rom.3:24). Paul goes on:

Romans 3:27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.

God in his wisdom stops every mouth and excludes boasting. Wow, you made it to heaven? How did you do it? How did you make it in? I, like you, am a sinner, and stood condemned before God. But Jesus took the punishment that my sins deserved, and paid the price in full on the cross. He called me into a relationship with himself, and he gave me life. I am totally dependent on him, trusting in him. I did nothing to deserve to be here. All glory goes to Jesus!

In Romans 11, Paul celebrates the wisdom of God in showing the same mercy to us Gentiles and to the Jews

Romans 11:30 Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

The chief priests and the pharisees, the religious people of Jesus’ day refused to believe in him. But the lowest of the low, tax collectors, prostitutes, those who knew they were sinners believed in him. He chose a group of fishermen, a Jewish zealot, even a tax collector to be his disciples. Matthew (the former tax collector) records:

Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (cf. Luke 10:21-22)

It was the gracious will of God to hide the truth about Jesus from the self-righteous and reveal it to little children. In the wisdom of God, the world did not know God, did not enter into a relationship with God through wisdom. Religious experts with all their learning rejected Jesus. Sinners, those who acutely understood their need, found forgiveness and a reconciled relationship with God through Jesus. Jesus said:

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus doesn’t say ‘come to me all you who have lots of letters after your name and who are smart enough to figure out the deep things of God’. He doesn’t say ‘come to me all who are willing to earn your keep and I will give you something to do’. He invites those who are weary, tired, those who have tried and tried and failed, those who know they can’t do it. He invites us to come to him and find rest. He doesn’t say come and earn rest. He says ‘I will give you rest’. A gift, freely given. Rest for your souls. Rest in him. Rest in his finished work.

So where are you? Have you found rest in Jesus? Have you come to him as a child? Have you realized that there is nothing you can do? Nothing! Can you humble yourself to acknowledge that your independence and self-sufficiency is a form of rebellion and idolatry offensive to God? Can you simply trust him? Simply take the free gift from his hand? Or are you still trying? Still looking to contribute? There are no qualifications; no prerequisites – other than admitting that you are a sinner in need of a Savior. Jesus invites you to come – come to him and rest. 

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

March 3, 2013 - Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , ,

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