|Volume 20 Number 5 May 2018||
Brian R. Kenyon
Sometimes while talking with our friends and neighbors about the Gospel of Christ, they seem not to care nor understand its significance. Some even mock at the idea of such a misguided, “old-fashioned” idea. It is of interest to note why some of these reactions occur. At least part of the reason was revealed by Paul:
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. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are. (1 Corinthians 1:18-28)
The Gospel Contrasts
To the lost, the Gospel is foolishness, but to the saved, the Gospel is God’s power (1 Corinthians 1:18). The word translated “message” [“preaching” KJV, “word” ESV] is from a common Greek word (logos) that basically means “word” or “message.” Here, it is the message of the crucified Christ—His birth, His life and His vicarious death. “Those who are perishing” refers to the lost, those on the path of eternal destruction (Matthew 7:13-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:10). To these people, the Gospel message is folly! In contrast, the saved know the power of the Gospel (Romans 1:16). They have recognized, accepted and appropriated the death of Christ and all the attached blessings (Romans 6:3-4). No other message has the power to save (Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 4:20).
The Gospel Confounds
Paul was not stating something new, for God’s ways have always stood in stark contrast with the ways of humanity (1 Corinthians 1:19; Isaiah 29:14; Psalm 33:10). The “foolishness” of God (as it is so termed by the world) makes human wisdom foolish (1 Corinthians 1:20). When it comes to knowing God’s plan, the wise (i.e., Greek philosophers), scribes (i.e., Jewish scholars) and the “disputer of this age” (i.e., skilled debater and rhetorician, Acts 17:18-21) stand dumbfounded before God (Isaiah 33:18). God’s way of redemption reduces all human wisdom to an absurdity (Luke 10:21). Because His plan does not match human wisdom does not invalidate God’s wisdom!
Human wisdom actually prevents people from coming to a knowledge of God (1 Corinthians 1:21). Although God’s existence can be known from nature (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:19-20), the Gospel plan of salvation requires knowledge of God’s revelation, found only in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17)! The “message of the cross” is the means by which people are saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 10:8), not the wisdom of men. The Gospel message only saves those who obediently believe (John 3:16, 36; Acts 16:30-34). Jews and Greeks of the first century exemplify Paul’s point (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). The Jews demanded miraculous evidence from God as proof (Matthew 12:38-41; 16:1, 4; Mark 8:11-12; John 6:30). The Greeks were absorbed in speculative philosophy, and thus they sought to make all conclusions based upon their own “intellect” (Acts 17:18-21). Christ crucified was a stumbling block to the Jews because, in their minds, a crucified Messiah was weak and defeated (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13). A crucified Messiah was also unacceptable nonsense to the Greeks (Acts 17:32). Like it or not, Jesus is God’s eternal plan (Acts 2:22-24)! Those who are called of God, however, recognize Christ as the power and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24-25). The “called” are those who have obeyed the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Christ is the saving power of God (1 Peter 1:18-20), and He is the wisdom of God because He revealed (in life and in word) God’s plan of redemption (Ephesians 3:8-12). That which appeared foolish to the Greek mind was truly wiser than all their “wisdom,” and that which appeared weak to the Jewish mind was really more powerful than any miraculous sign (1 Corinthians 1:25).
The Gospel Is God’s Choice
The choice of God is inconsistent with the wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians 1:26-28). The social elite do not usually answer God’s call (1 Corinthians 1:26; James 2:5). “Not many” implies that there were some, but not an abundance (Matthew 19:23-24). Culture (i.e., “wise”), power (i.e., “mighty”) and birth (i.e., “noble”) were said to be the claims to the first century aristocracy, but God uses people and plans that are contrary to human wisdom (Isaiah 55:8-9), sometimes just to show that His ways are by His power (2 Corinthians 4:7). God powerfully uses the opposite of what human wisdom expects! God uses the nothings (i.e., “things which are not”) to destroy (“bring to nothing”) the somethings (i.e., “things which are mighty”; David and Goliath, Jesus and the world, etc.). We must never discount God’s ways. Rather, let us stand with Christ in teaching and calling people back to God through the Gospel.
May we echo the sentiments of Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Whether from people in the first century or people today, we must not allow worldly wisdom to thwart our living and promoting the Gospel!