1 Corinthians 1b
1 Corinthians 1:17-19… For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. 18 For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, 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 cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”
Paul makes it clear what his mission is as a preacher of God’s righteousness in verse 17. He was to proclaim the “gospel” (literally, “the good news”). He was to do this without “cleverness of speech” (literally “wise words”). In other words, his proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ was not to be in scholarly academic presentations that are simply meant to impress the minds of learned and unlearned men. Such presentations may sway one’s mind but not one’s heart. In attempting to use “wise words” to present the basic gospel of Jesus Christ Paul says that this in itself would “void the cross of Christ.” It’s a simple proclamation of good news, and any attempt to “scholarize” it weakens it. Verse 18 explains what Paul means. He says that the message of the cross (Jesus Christ dying on the cross to save mankind from the wrath of God brought on by our sin at birth) is a message of foolishness. The Greek word for “foolishness” is literally “moros” from whence we get “moron” – denoting a silly, stupid, or idiotic person. That’s what the message of the cross is “to those who are perishing.” This phrase is literally “those who are being destroyed.” The tense of the verb is present, and the Greek adds the nuance of a continuing state of being destroyed. Those who reject the good news of Jesus who died for the sins of the world are not fully dead, they are in the process of being destroyed – of suffering eternal loss. This process is all about their rejection of the Christ on the cross.
Contrasting those who are “being destroyed” because of their rejection of the cross are those in the latter half of verse 18 “who are being saved.” Paul includes himself in this group, but it’s noteworthy that they were not fully saved according to the tense of the verb. They are being saved – they are in the process of the phenomenon. Those who are being saved are those who are called to believe (1:24) and who do in fact believe (1:21). They are not fully saved in the sense that being saved is an ongoing process that finds its ultimate fulfillment when Christ brings them home into their eternal state with him. Till that future time occurs, existing saints, those who have already placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, are “being saved.” As the message of the cross is “foolishness,” or “moronic” to those who reject Christ, to those saints who are undergoing a continual salvation of their souls, the message of the cross is literally the “power of God.” “Power” is dunamis, the Greek word from whence we get “dynamite.”
Verse 19 is Paul’s authoritative text for this message. He quotes Isaiah 29:14. The Isaiah passage is a stern warning to Israel that they are not to attempt to match wits with God, and Paul sees this passage as having its fulfillment in the cross of Christ – foolishness to the lost.
Food for Thought
The message of the cross of Christ is simple. Mankind is born sinful despite the fact that our world teaches us how “good” mankind inherently is. We’re born with a need for forgiveness even as we come out of our mother’s womb. God’s wrath on sinful man had to be satisfied for Him to be true, so He meted that wrath out on Himself – on His Son Jesus Christ. God provided forgiveness at the cross, and though the message is simple, it is foolish to many. Just the thought that people are evil is foolishness to most, but to those of us who have placed our faith in Christ, it is powerful, and we continually undergo the change that God’s power gave us at the cross.
1 Corinthians 1:20-21… Where is the wise man? 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 through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
Paul’s rhetoric in verse 20 continues his thought from verse 19 where he quotes Isaiah 29:14… “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Now he says, “Where is the wise man.” It’s as if Paul is sarcastically asking, “In view of God’s wisdom where is man’s”? The “wise man” likely refers to the Greek philosophers and thinkers of the day. Paul asks, “Where is the scribe”? Scribes were rabbis, teachers of the Law in Israel, and he is clearly comparing those Israel held in high esteem – Jewish rabbis – and who the rest of the world held in high esteem – Greek thinkers. The third question Paul asks is, “Where is the debater of this age”? The “debaters” here is a general term for philosophers, and Paul adds “of this age” only to the final group, though it is likely a reference to all three groups. The basic point here is to summon those who are thought to be wise. Where are they? Bring them on so as to match wits with the Almighty Creator God who is the only true Wise One. It is this Wise One who sent His Son to die on the cross – a message of foolishness to those who don’t believe.
Verse 21 is introduced with “for,” and this stands as an explanation to what Paul is saying about human wisdom. The “world” here is personified, and it represents all those who hold the cross of Christ in contempt. Mankind never comes to know God through his search for wisdom because in his search he discounts the cross of Christ as stupidity. The “world” rejects Christ, and verse 21 says that God was “well-pleased” through the foolishness of the message of Christ to save those who believe. Simply put, Paul says that God uses the “foolish” message of the cross to bring true wisdom. When this foolish message is preached it saves those who believe, not those who scoff. It’s not the preaching per se that saves those who believe, it’s the message preached. Those who “believe” are not those who simply adhere to the historical truth of the cross of Christ; it includes only those who put their whole trust in Christ through a faithful following of his teachings as representative that their belief is indeed true and real.
Food for Thought
The world we live in today is filled with what it deems as wisdom. But this kind of “wisdom” owes itself to human self-sufficiency. God is not impressed with human self-sufficiency, and He has turned the tables on what man thinks is wise. Mankind believes that he can do anything. He believes he can create other humans. He believes that good behavior will buy him eternity. He believes that technological breakthroughs and medical advances prove that he is “good” and “wise.” God, however, has turned the tables on man. That wisdom is foolish in God’s eyes, but true wisdom comes from the exact thing that the world believes is foolish: the cross of Jesus Christ. Wisdom that stems from that is wisdom indeed. All else is foolishness.
Man left to himself cannot and will not find God. Dr. Gordon Fee says, “A God discovered by human wisdom will be both a projection of human fallenness and a source of human pride, and this constitutes the worship of the creature rather than the Creator. The gods of the ‘wise’ are seldom gracious to the undeserving, and they tend to make considerable demands on the ability of people to understand them; hence, they become gods only for the elite and ‘deserving.’” In the end, both eternal salvation and true wisdom come only through belief in Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world. That’s true wisdom.
1 Cor. 1:22-25… For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
In the OT God performed many signs for the Jews. He gave Abraham the sign of circumcision (Gen. 17), He gave King Ahaz the sign of the virgin with child (Isa. 7), and He stretched the boundaries of a day to show King Hezekiah he would live another 15 years (Isa. 38). Of course the Exodus from Egypt in 1446 BC was a great sign to the Jews that God was leading them. This one act is referred to numerous times in the scriptures to remind the Jews of God’s power and love for them. As such, the Jews were accustomed to signs from God. Paul makes mention of this in verse 22 above when he says that Jews ask for signs. This need for signs reflects their own messianic expectations. They wanted a sign from the Messiah that he was indeed the Christ. The Jews believed they had God figured out. He would grant them a sign; He would perform some great spectacle just like the Exodus from Egypt, only greater.
The Greeks, on the other hand, sought for wisdom. The Greek historian Herodotus said, “All Greeks were zealous for every kind of learning.” The Greeks were accustomed to great advances in technology, education, and civilization. Because of their own advances they abandoned their own pagan gods in favor of gaining wisdom. Their God was Reason, and what they deemed as reasonable was of the highest order in their idolatrous minds.
Verse 23 presents a sharp contrast between what God is and what Jews and Greeks believed about Him. Paul, speaking for saints, says, “We preach Christ crucified.” Now to the Jews this was a “stumbling block,” and to Greeks this was “foolishness” – it was moronic. Why? Because Christ crucified is a contradiction of terms. It’s like saying “dry water” or “dark white.” The Messiah, yes; a crucifixion, yes; but a crucified Messiah? Never. Messiah refers to power, splendor, victory; crucifixion means defeat, humiliation, curse. To the Jew a Messiah who died on a cross was scandalous. After all, the Jewish scriptures clearly state, “Cursed is anyone who is hung on a tree” (Deut. 21:23). Hence, a crucified Messiah was a “stumbling block” to Jews.
To the Gentiles (Greek, non-Jews), Christ crucified was insanity – it was madness. The message of a crucified God to first century Greeks and Romans was sheer insane idiocy. Gordon Fee has said, “But it is precisely the depth of this scandal and folly that we must appreciate if we are to understand both why the Corinthians were moving away from it toward wisdom and why it was well over a century before the cross appears among Christians as a symbol of their faith.”
Though the cross of Christ was (and is) scandalous for all humanity, to “those who are called” Jesus Christ is the “power of God and the wisdom of God.” The “called” are those selected for salvation, and to them the cross represents everything mankind seeks. Jews seek for power. Christ is power. Greeks seek for wisdom. Christ is wisdom. He is truly all in all.
Food for Thought
The “foolishness of God” is God’s plan of salvation for man. Equally, the “weakness of God” is His hanging on a cross for the sins of man. God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom, and His weakness is greater than man’s strength. The fact that God was cursed while hanging on a tree means that we’re not. He did it for us to spare us from His own wrath. In essence, God saved us from Himself. His plan is nothing like ours. He outwitted us, overpowered His enemies, and He abolished our wisdom. He is salvation for those who trust in Him.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29… For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, 29 that no man should boast before God.
In the present passage the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians to consider their own lives as an illustration to what he’s been trying to tell them in the preceding passages. God’s foolishness is wiser than the wisest man’s wisdom, and the Corinthian church was a testimony to that. Paul says, “Consider you calling.” The “calling” Paul speaks of here is the word he uses countless times to refer to one’s “selection for salvation.” In other words, “Think about your own conversion to Jesus Christ.” They are reminded that of those who came to know Jesus in Corinth not many were wise by human standards, not many were “mighty” (literally, “prominent or influential”), and not many were “noble” (literally, “well-born”) signifying a rank in society. In other words Paul is reminding them that God “selected” them for salvation because He wanted to, not because of anything they had or possessed. Verse 27 explains what God was doing. The Corinthians, and all other Christians for that matter, didn’t just accidentally find God one day, rather God chose them to believe as an attestation of His grace. They had nothing, and He gave them everything. All Christians are the “foolish things” (literally, morons) spoken of in verse 27, and they are chosen by God in order to reveal His grace and “shame the wise.” God did what He did to literally “disgrace” those who think themselves wise and intelligent and overturn their warped perspective. He continues in the last half of verse 27 in saying that God has chosen the “weak” things (representing Christians again) to “disgrace” the things that are strong (representing those with advanced education, great wealth, and lofty influence in society).
In verse 28 Paul speaks of the “base” (“low”) things – despised people. This is a clear reference to the poor and uneducated who were seen as low-lifes by those who were held in high regard. It is precisely these low-lifes – the “things that are not” (the “nothings”) – whom God “chose” who will “nullify” (literally, “abolish, render ineffective”) the things that are. Paul is speaking of the end times here in that God’s chosen people will judge the glorious and greedy. In a startling turn of events, the “nothings” of this world will abolish the “wise” and their wisdom.
Verse 29 reveals what God does what He does. He “chooses” whom He will – the “nobodies” and the “somebodies” – so that these folks cannot boast. The word “boast” means “to brag or take pride in.” God chooses, He elects, so that all glory goes to Him and so that man is unable to take pride in something he did. It is all God, and Paul reminds the Corinthians of this.
Food for Thought
Consider who you are today. If you know Jesus Christ as the Lord/Savior of your life then remember where you got that. God chose you to believe in Him, He elected you to be saved, He predestined you to come to know Him before the foundation of the world (cf. Eph. 1:3-14) so that you will not boast in anything you have done or will do. The whole purpose of Paul’s message to the Christian church here is to remind us of God’s grace. He chose us long before we earned our college degrees or started a successful company. He chose us long before we screwed our lives up; before we used His name in vain. Our calling has nothing to do with us and everything to do with God’s grace – His unmerited favor in our lives. Praise Him for that.
1 Corinthians 1:30-31… But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
In the previous verses of this context it is God alone who saves. He does so through His wisdom – a wisdom that flies in the face of human wisdom. God saves those whom the world hates – the lowly, the poor, the uneducated. Those things mean nothing to God in reference to salvation because He saved them long before they became poor and lowly. Furthermore, even the educated, the rich, and the prominent influential groups are unimpressive to God. He saves them too, but just like the former group they too are saved by grace not according to works or accomplishments. Verse 30 sums up the issue as it addresses all who place their faith in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation. “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus” means it has nothing whatsoever to do with our doing. God chose them to be in Christ, and Paul adds an appositional statement in reference to Christ – “who became to us wisdom from God.” In the previous contexts man’s wisdom is said to be stupidity – no matter how lofty that wisdom is. Man’s highest wisdom in verse 25 is still lower than God’s foolishness. But now God grants His great wisdom to those who believe in Him. So it doesn’t matter how high one’s education was prior to coming to Christ. Their wisdom was still nothing more than stupidity. Now they have God’s wisdom by His doing. The Corinthians were once lowly, but now they are truly wise.
Verse 30 continues with what people become when they come to Christ. First they attain God’s wisdom, and that wisdom is far above that of the natural man. Second, they become “righteous.” This word refers to a person who is where he ought to be; one who is acceptable to God. It means being in a state of rightness, and it implies that prior to being in this state the person was not righteous, he/she was in error. Third, those who are in Christ Jesus are “sanctified.” This word means “to become separate; to be holy, to be consecrated.” Jesus Christ became for us “sanctification,” and only because of him are we truly “holy” people. Finally, those in Christ are “redeemed.” This word literally means “to buy back.” The fact that God chooses some for salvation, that He “calls” some and not others, is an attestation to His grace. He selected some so as to buy them back – to redeem them. It He that does this, the transaction came about through His Son, and it is all done for His glory. In other words, it’s all about God. One day the Corinthians were morons, the next day they were in Christ through God’s work.
Verse 31 is a quote from Jeremiah 9:24. Paul backs up his claims with the authority of the written Word of God. It’s as if to say, “Stop promoting yourself, your education, your high standing in society, and boast of what God has done for you!” Paul carefully spells out how saints become holy, and it becomes painfully clear that it had nothing whatsoever to do with their actions or their standing in society, whether rich or poor. It’s all God’s doing.
Food for Thought
When we die and stand before Almighty God one day, our only answer to His question as to why He should let us in is, “Jesus Christ paid the penalty that I was supposed to pay when he died on the cross for me. His shed blood for me is my only defense.” The fact that God chose us from the foundation of the world and saved us apart from good works is evidence of God’s will over and against that of our own. The doctrine of grace is so contrary to man’s “wisdom,” and the fact that so many despise God’s election attests to His wisdom being above ours. Many complain that God isn’t fair… what a perfect example of man’s wisdom in comparison to God’s.