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The Preaching of the Cross: the Power of God

1 Cor 1:18ff

Date:  Aug 26, 2007

Place:  Faith EBC


What is Biblical preaching? It is the communication of Biblical truth, which has been recorded in God’s Word which the Holy Spirit uses to convince the preacher through study of the history, language, culture, who in turn shares what he has been taught to his hearers. The purpose of preaching is to convince another of the truth of Scripture. The preaching of the Cross is with the purpose of understanding the message of the Gospel – understanding what took place on Calvary and for what reason. The preaching of the Cross is the message that God so loved the world that He gave His Son so that we might be reconciled with God.

The believers at Corinth seemed to have forgotten the message they received. This can be evidenced by virtue of the fact that there were many divisions in the church – unity was lost. Unity is lost when we forget the message of the Cross. Unity is lost when the power of that message is no longer valued although once understood. Paul begins with contrasting the Power and Wisdom of God with that of the world.

I.                     The Preaching of the Cross: Its effect vv. 18-25

a.        Foolishness to those who are lost, vv.18-20

λόγος γὰρ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν, τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν. 1 Co 1:18 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

For the Word (preaching or message) of the cross is foolish to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved the power of God.

Both to the cultured Greek and to the pious Jew the story that Christianity had to tell sounded like the sheerest folly. [1]

The message of the Cross is foolishness in that people during Paul’s day didn’t understand why anybody would worship someone who was crucified. When they heard the message, it would be hard to believe. What do people put there faith in?

They rely on their works, their position, their experiences, their friends, their family, their money, their jobs. The message that a crucified man could save anyone is crazy. Didn’t he die as a criminal, after all only criminals die on a cross? This is the view of those who are perishing – the preaching of the cross is foolishness. However, when the story of the cross is told, one would mention the fact that the man who hung there was the Saviour of the world. The Saviour of the world – the world needs saving? Yes the world needs deliverance from the penalty of sin, which is death and eternal separation from God.

The message of the Cross is a proclamation of judgment – sin needs to be judged once for all, see 1 John 2:2.

The message of the Cross is a proclamation of our need – each of us is sinful, there is no righteousness in us that will deliver us from the penalty, power and presence of sin. None of us can deliver ourselves from sin’s penalty. We can’t do penance. Our good deeds won’t save us. Only God has done what is necessary to secure our deliverance.

The message of the Cross is a proclamation of God’s plan of salvation. It is the message that God sent His Son to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. It is by faith alone in Christ alone that one is delivered from the penalty of sin, see Romans 3:24-26.

The message of the Cross is a proclamation of forgiveness (Acts 13:38; 26:17-18; Romans 5:1; Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; 1 John 1:9) and peace (Eph 2:14; Col 1:20;3:15) with God.

The message of the Cross is a proclamation of each man’s destiny. If we reject the message, we will be separated from God eternally. If we receive it by faith, we receive eternal life, Gal 3:26; cp. John 1:12; 3:18; 5:24.

Those who are being saved is a reference to the progression of our salvation, which begins with our being declared righteous by the Lord the moment we believer (positional salvation - justification), then moving on to the maturing process where we grow in our understanding and seek to honour the Lord with our lives as the Holy Spirit reminds us of what we have received (progressive salvation – sanctification), then moving on to the day when we will be the Lord face to face and will receive rewards for faithfulness, receive a new body and will be forever with the Lord (ultimate salvation – glorification). Therefore, for those being saved, the preaching of the Cross is a clear statement on the power of God.

Thiselton notes: “Thus “the wisdom of the world” is subjected to the critique of the cross in both an epistemic sense (the cross defines in what reality consists) and in a salvific sense (the cross defines the pathway to life and well-being).[2]

Therefore, it is in the work of Calvary and the preaching of its message that we see the power of God.

γέγραπται γάρ· ἀπολῶ τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν καὶ τὴν σύνεσιν τῶν συνετῶν ἀθετήσω. 1 Co 1:19 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and I will confound the understanding of the learned.

Paul quotes Isa 29:14, this is the first of at least fourteen OT quotations. “S. Lewis Johnson in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes that in context these “words are God’s denouncement of the policy of the ‘wise’ in Judah in seeking an alliance with Egypt when threatened by Sennacherib.” 2[3]

The wise of this world would say that this idea that people go to heaven or go to hell for having received or rejected the message is nonsense. They say, there is no heaven, no hell. We need to eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we may die. Some say they will get to heaven by simply doing good deeds, after all God wouldn’t reject a person whose life is devoted to good works. The wise of this world deny the fact that there is a God, creation all happened by chance.

The fact is God has destroyed the wisdom of the “wise”. The scriptures describe the wisdom of the world in this way, see James 3:14-17. It is envious, self-seeking, boastful, deceitful, sensual and demonic. This can be illustrated in Romans 1:18-3:20. It is based upon achievements that are designed to allow us to compare ourselves with others, designed to tell God how good we are. God has destroyed this world’s wisdom with His wisdom from above, which is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy, good fruits, impartial and sincere, 1 Cor 3:19; Psalm 90:12; 111:10.

God has also confounded the understanding of the learned. This is clear in the way the Lord Jesus dealt with the religious leaders of His day, John 7:15.

The Lord delights in using the weak, the simple to confound the wise and the strong of this world.

ποῦ σοφός; ποῦ γραμματεύς; ποῦ συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου; οὐχὶ ἐμώρανεν θεὸς τὴν σοφίαν τοῦ κόσμου; 1 Co 1:20 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?

Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?

Where are those who claim wisdom among the Greeks? Where are the experts of the Law? Where are the Jewish and Greek philosophers? They are no where to be found. They were never consulted when it came to God’s plan to use the power of the Cross, the power of the Gospel message to reach the lost. They were never consulted when it came to the sending of His Son. The truth is the wisdom of world has been shown for what it is – foolish, through the work of the Cross.

b.       Power of God to those who are being saved, vv. 18, 21

ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔγνω κόσμος διὰ τῆς σοφίας τὸν θεόν, εὐδόκησεν θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας· 1 Co 1:21 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom (its desire to claim that they could know God apart from His revelation) did not know God, God was well pleased through the foolishness of (the message preached) preaching to save those who believe.

The power of the message of the Cross (Romans 5:8) can be seen in the forgiveness and peace people receive in response to hearing the message. The wisdom of this world regrettably doesn’t know God. The power of God is seen in the lives of those who understood the message of the Cross, which resulted in a transformed life, and now evidenced in one’s ability to love as God loved, to forgive as God forgives. The power of God is evidenced in that it authorizes us to share the very message we have receive not simply in words, but a powerful demonstration of a transformed life.

ἐπειδὴ καὶ Ἰουδαῖοι σημεῖα αἰτοῦσιν καὶ Ἕλληνες σοφίαν ζητοῦσιν, 1 Co 1:22 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

And seeing that the Jews ask for signs and Greeks ask for wisdom.

We can see throughout the Gospel accounts that the religious leaders were constantly asking Jesus for a sign, Matt 12:39; Mk 8:11; John 6:30. The Lord’s reply is that a wicked and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, Matt 16:4. The Greeks on the other hand are seeking for answers throughout human wisdom, rational arguments.

c.        Preaching Christ: Stumbling block to Jews, vs. 23

ἡμεῖς δὲ κηρύσσομεν Χριστὸν ἐσταυρωμένον, Ἰουδαίοις μὲν σκάνδαλον, ἔθνεσιν δὲ μωρίαν, 1 Co 1:23 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

But we preach a Christ crucified, a (or affront) stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles,

The story is told of a small English village that had a tiny chapel whose stone walls were covered by traditional ivy. Over an arch was originally inscribed the words: we preach christ crucified. There had been a generation of godly men who did precisely that: they preached Christ crucified.

But times changed. The ivy grew and pretty soon covered the last word. The inscription now read: we preach christ. Other men came and they did preach Christ: Christ the example, Christ the humanitarian, Christ the ideal teacher.

As the years passed, the ivy continued to grow until finally the inscription read: we preach. The generation that came along then did just that: they preached economics, social gospel, book reviews, just about anything.

The story probably isn’t literally true, but it does illustrate how man’s philosophical detours affect how the gospel is transmitted.[4]

For the Jews the question gets asked: How could someone who was crucified be God’s Messiah, Dt 21:23; Gal 5:11? It would seem that they never entertained the OT passage of Isa. 53. For this message to be received by the Jews, it would mean that they would have to confess, that the Law wasn’t sufficient to save, as they were teaching. They failed to understand the purpose of the Law. The Cross would be a constant reminder of the fact they crucified the Messiah, Zech 12:10.

d.       Preaching Christ crucified: Foolishness to Gentiles, vs.23

God is so far above us – how could God feel with fallen humanity? How could one worship a God who suffered? How could God become a man? How could the cross accomplish anything? How can the cross remove the sin of the world? How can the cross change the life of anyone? How could the cross convert the world?

e.        Those responding to the preaching, vs. 24

αὐτοῖς δὲ τοῖς κλητοῖς, Ἰουδαίοις τε καὶ Ἕλλησιν, Χριστὸν θεοῦ δύναμιν καὶ θεοῦ σοφίαν· 1 Co 1:24 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

But to those who are invited (who responded to the invitation by faith, vs.21), both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

The word translated called may better be translated invited. They are the ones referred to in vs. 21 i.e. those who responded to the message of the Cross. Christ is the power of God not simply evidenced in creation, but rather through the resurrection, the power to recreate. The Jews were looking for a sign – the power of the resurrection is the irrefutable sign to them. The Greek were looking for wisdom – again it is found in the mystery of the cross and resurrection of Christ.

                                                   i.      Evidence of God’s Power, vs. 25

ὅτι τὸ μωρὸν τοῦ θεοῦ σοφώτερον τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐστὶν καὶ τὸ ἀσθενὲς τοῦ θεοῦ ἰσχυρότερον τῶν ἀνθρώπων. 1 Co 1:25 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1.     Weakness of God stronger than men

The evidence of God’s power can be seen in the fact of the resurrection. The Jews simple would have to admit that they failed to appreciate the display of God’s power, but this was true throughout the OT as well. The perceived weakness of God would accomplish so much more than man’s ability could ever conceive.

                                                  ii.      Evidence of God’s Wisdom

1.     Foolishness of God wiser than men

The evidence of God’s wisdom can be seen in the fact that God sent His Son, born in a manger and who in turned died on the cross. This would be enough to boggle the minds of all the philosophers of all time.

II.                   The Preaching of the Cross: No boasting on our part vv. 26-31

a.        The message is no respecter of persons, vv. 26-28

Βλέπετε γὰρ τὴν κλῆσιν ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι οὐ πολλοὶ σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα, οὐ πολλοὶ δυνατοί, οὐ πολλοὶ εὐγενεῖς· 1 Co 1:26 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

For behold your calling, brethren, how that not many were wise according to the flesh (standard of this world), not many were powerful, not many noble.

Consider what it is you have responded to – You are now be called to live holy lives, not based upon human wisdom, or human power, but rather based upon the life of Christ (cp. Romans 8:9-10), the power which He gives to us in order to fulfill the purpose for which we were created – that is to worship Him and serve Him from a free will. Consider where you came from – you haven’t come to Christ because you were more clever than other or because you were more influential or because you were born of a higher status.

ἀλλὰ τὰ μωρὰ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο θεός, ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τοὺς σοφούς, καὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο θεός, ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τὰ ἰσχυρά, 1 Co 1:27 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

but God has chosen the foolish things of the world, in order that He might shame the wise and God has chosen the weak of the world, in order that he might shame the strong.

God has chosen (purpose) the way of the Cross which has stumped the wise of this world and has shamed them because the reject the simplicity of its message – whosoever believes in Him has eternal life. God has chosen the way of the Cross which has offended the very people who bore Him and again has shamed them because they reject the power of the resurrection. The foolishness of the Cross has shamed the wise – who reject its message. The weak of the world, those who respond by faith have shamed the strong (those with influence, power and ability).

καὶ τὰ ἀγενῆ τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὰ ἐξουθενημένα ἐξελέξατο θεός, τὰ μὴ ὄντα, ἵνα τὰ ὄντα καταργήσῃ, 1 Co 1:28 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

and the insignificant of the world and the despised God has chosen, things that are not, in order to render powerless the things that are.

                                                   i.      No one can boast of his lineage or social standing, vs. 29

ὅπως μὴ καυχήσηται πᾶσα σὰρξ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ. 1 Co 1:29 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

So that no flesh should boast in the presence of God.

The point is that no one can boast because of any so called wisdom they might have or power they may have received because of their birth. No one will ever be able to boast in the presence of God. We are all saved by grace.

                                                  ii.      We are saved because of Christ, vs. 30

ἐξ αὐτοῦ δὲ ὑμεῖς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ὃς ἐγενήθη σοφία ἡμῖν ἀπὸ θεοῦ, δικαιοσύνη τε καὶ ἁγιασμὸς καὶ ἀπολύτρωσις, 1 Co 1:30 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and holiness and deliverance.

We are in Christ by virtue of our faith in Him – He is our wisdom and our strength.

1.     He is our righteousness

2.     He is our holiness

3.     He is our redemption

                                                iii.      Let us boast in the Lord, vs. 31

ἵνα καθὼς γέγραπται· καυχώμενος ἐν κυρίῳ καυχάσθω. 1 Co 1:31 (NA27 w/GRAMCORD)

So that just as it is written: “he who boasts let him boast in the Lord.”


To boast in the Lord is not to go around telling people with some smug attitude that you are on your way to heaven, but rather that you have been saved in the most remarkable way – For God so loved me that He gave His Son so that I might have life and live with Him forever.


[1]The Letters to the Corinthians. Edited by Barclay, William, lecturer in the University of Glasgow. The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed., 17. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975.

[2]Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians : A Commentary on the Greek Text, 158. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000.

 2 (1:19) S. Lewis Johnson, “First Corinthians,” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1232.

[3]MacDonald, William and Arthur Farstad. Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments, 1 Co 1:19. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995.

[4]Green, Michael P. Illustrations for Bilical Preaching : Over 1500 Sermon Illustrations Arranged by Topic and Indexed Exhaustively. Revised edition of: The expositor's illustration file. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989.

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