Some speakers use impressive words, but they are weak on content. Some preachers make the Bible marginal in their sermons in order to hold people’s attention. Even Bible studies give less focus to the Bible than they do to fellowship.
Paul stressed solid content and practical help for his listeners. He wanted them to be impressed with his message, not just his style. You don’t need to be a great speaker with a large vocabulary to share the gospel effectively. The persuasive power is in the story, not the storyteller.
In this series we will seek to make Christ the center of our preaching, rather than trying to be impressive.
1:18 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.
Paul had not come to Corinth to make disciples for himself; he had come to “preach the gospel” (1:17). But this preaching was not according to the world’s wisdom or desires—it was not filled with philosophical arguments or supernatural acts.
Paul’s preaching was the message of the cross—Jesus Christ crucified on behalf of sinners. Such a message always has two results, for ultimately all of humanity will end up in one of these two classes.
(1) The gospel message sounds foolish . . . to those who are on the road to destruction. For those who desire worldly wisdom, the message of the cross seems stupid. “Who wants a crucified king?” they might ask.
(2) But for those who are being saved . . . [the gospel message is] the very power of God.
Paul wrote to the Romans, “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” (1:16 nkjv). The gospel message is more than a true story and a good way to live; it is “the very power of God.” Only with such power can the gospel message redeem sinful people and transform them into God’s people.
1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Paul summarized Isaiah 29:14 to emphasize a point that Jesus often made: God’s way of thinking is not like the world’s way (normal human wisdom).
“The wisdom of the wise” and “the intelligence of the intelligent” refer to world-centered wisdom and intelligence. These are not wrong, but they are worthless as a means of salvation. The context of the passage in Isaiah is that God hates those who Isaiah 29:14 (ESV) “therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.
God says he will destroy their wisdom and intelligence because it can never help them find him. People can spend a lifetime accumulating human wisdom and yet never learn how to have a personal relationship with God. They must come to the crucified and risen Christ to receive eternal life and the joy of a personal relationship with the Savior.
Whether they use their “wisdom” and “intelligence” to search for God or to attempt to dismiss him, they will only find themselves doomed to frustration and, ultimately, to eternal separation from God.
1:20 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?
No human wisdom or intelligence can either discover or disprove God. No human reasoning can bring salvation. So all those who have lived by their own wisdom—the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters—will be left with nothing.
God had already made them all look foolish and showed that their “wisdom” was no more than useless nonsense. Some have suggested that the “philosophers” (also translated “the wise ones”) may have been an allusion to the Greeks. The “scholars” (also translated “scribes”) may refer to the Jewish professionals who were skilled in God’s law. The “brilliant debaters” (or “philosophers or disputers of this age”) could refer to either Jews or Greeks who thought that any issue could be solved by human reasoning.
Paul may have been thinking of such distinctions, or he may have been simply using three different terms to describe people who think they are learned. For all their learning, God would show them to be fools. Their wisdom would be “useless” because it could do nothing to provide salvation. That can come only through the cross.
1:21 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.
In his complete sovereignty and in his wisdom, God decided that people would never find him through human wisdom. Instead, he chose a crucified Savior and a message of salvation preached by weak and fallible human beings to save all who believe. This looks like absurdity to the “high and mighty” of this world.
Many people of Paul’s time, and many today, mocked the message of the gospel. In their human wisdom, they wanted to reason “above and beyond” and experience more than what they felt was offered in the foolish preaching of believers. In reality, the worldly wise will not find God; those who accept the message of the cross will find him and be saved.
1:22-24 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.
Many Jews considered the Good News of Jesus Christ to be foolish because they thought the Messiah would be a conquering king who did many spectacular signs and miracles.
Although Jesus had performed many miracles during his ministry on earth, many Jews who observed his miracles firsthand had refused to believe. Jesus had not restored David’s throne in the way that they had expected. Besides, he had been executed as a criminal—how could a criminal be the Savior? This proclamation of Christ crucified was a contradiction of all that they believed, and it became a stumbling block to them.
The Greeks (also here called Gentiles) did not believe in a bodily resurrection; they did not see in Jesus the powerful characteristics of their mythological gods, and they thought no reputable person would be crucified. To them, death was defeat, not victory. It did not make sense—in their worldly wisdom—that any god would do such a thing as come to earth to be killed. The Greeks worshiped wisdom and revered their great thinkers and philosophers. To them, the gospel message just didn’t measure up; to them, the proclamation of “Christ crucified” was foolishness.
While some Jews and Greek tripped over the message of “Christ crucified,” it was a different story for those who are called—those who embraced and believed the gospel. Many people, both Jews and Greeks, will not stumble over the message but will find that the gospel of Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God (see 1:18).
Our society worships power, influence, and wealth. Jesus came as a humble, poor servant, and he offers his kingdom to those who have faith, not to those who work hard or improve themselves. This may look ridiculous to the world, but Christ is our power, the only way we can be saved. Make sure you know Christ personally; then you’ll have the greatest wisdom anyone could desire.
1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
This verse provides the key to Paul’s words in chapters 1-3. The message of Christ’s death for sins sounds foolish to those who don’t believe. They believe that they, by their own wisdom, can find the “ultimate reality” or make for themselves the best life; however, they will be woefully disappointed. Their wisest plans cannot even compare to God’s most insignificant act.
Paul’s words do not imply that God could ever be foolish or weak; instead, he was making the point that human wisdom and human strength cannot begin to compare to God. What the world sees as foolishness (Christ’s death for our sins as a display of God’s power) is God’s truth. The cross was reserved for criminals in Paul’s day. How could such an act have any power?
Death seems to be the end of the road, the ultimate weakness. But Jesus did not stay dead. His resurrection demonstrated his power over death. And through what had appeared to be weakness, Christ accomplished what no amount of human strength could ever accomplish. By his death, people are saved from eternal death and given everlasting life—if they trust him as Savior and Lord. The “foolish” people who simply accept Christ’s offer are actually the wisest of all, because they alone will live eternally with God.
1:26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
The Corinthians had a tendency to be “puffed up” with pride (1 Cor. 4:6, 18-19; 5:2). But the Gospel of God’s grace leaves no room for personal boasting. God is not impressed with our looks, our social position, our achievements, our natural heritage, or our financial status. Note that Paul wrote many, not any. In the New Testament, we do meet some believers with “high social standing,” but there are not many of them. The description Paul gave of the converts was certainly not a flattering one (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
Paul reminded them of what they were (v. 26). They were not wise, mighty, or noble. God called them, not because of what they were, but in spite of what they were! The Corinthian church was composed primarily of ordinary people who were terrible sinners. Before his conversion, Paul had been very self-righteous; he had to give up his religion in order to go to heaven! The Corinthians were at the other end of the spectrum, and yet they were not too sinful for God to reach and save them.
Having shown the difference between God’s wisdom and what people of this world call wisdom, Paul urged his readers to remember that few of them had any worldly achievements when God called them. Few would have been considered wise in the world’s eyes (Greek, sophoi, referring to the intellectuals or philosophers). Few were powerful or influential (Greek, dunatoi, referring to the politicians and decision makers in government). Few were wealthy (Greek, eugeneis, literally “those of noble birth,” referring to the aristocracy).
Among the earliest disciples, five were fishermen, one was a tax collector, and the careers of the rest are unknown. None had the status of education or wealth (though Matthew may have had some money, he had gotten it through tax collection, not high status by any means).
By using these three terms, Paul was pointing out that intellectual, political, and social position are not necessary qualifications for being chosen by God. In fact, just the opposite was true. Yet they had been called by God.
Clearly, God does not seek out the people whom the world admires; instead, he reveals himself to humble and searching hearts, regardless of their worldly position. God can use us no matter what our position or status. To the worldly wise, it would have made more sense for God to call the leaders and the influential people. But God does what seems foolish to the world—he calls those who do not have these characteristics and achievements. Paul explains why in 1:27.
1:27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong
God “called” (1:26) and God chose—both of these works refer to conversion, God’s “call” on a person that draws him or her to salvation. God’s call and choice did not go out to the high and mighty; instead, God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. . . what is weak in the world to shame the strong. Upon those “foolish and weak” people, God showered his mercy, giving them “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1:24). God would shame those thought to be wise and strong by the world by choosing not to reveal himself to them.
| This sounds strange to the world. Why would God not choose leaders and influential people who could make sweeping reforms and be followed by the masses? God does not choose as people choose. His sovereign choice is not based on anything that people can do or achieve. No amount of human knowledge or influence can replace or bypass Christ’s work on the cross.
Our trust in God will sometimes open us to the accusation of acting superior. When that happens, we must calmly assert that our confidence is not in ourselves. Our unashamed confidence is in God. Live with confidence. Boast in Christ.
1:28-29 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
God chose the foolish and the weak, the things despised by the world, so that those chosen can never boast in the presence of God. This choosing of ordinary people was a major theme of the Old Testament. God used Moses (Exodus 3), Deborah (Judges 4-5), Gideon (Judges 6-8), and many other people of humble origin to show that success came through his power, not theirs.
The foolish and weak can never say that God chose them because of their talent or intelligence. Instead, God chooses those who are counted as nothing at all by the world and turns them into great people for him. People’s abilities, social standing, or knowledge have nothing to do with God’s choice.
Skill and wisdom do not get a person into God’s kingdom—faith in Christ does—so no one can boast that his or her achievements helped him or her secure eternal life. Salvation is totally from God through Jesus’ death. No one can do anything to earn salvation; people need only accept what Jesus has already done for them.
1:30-31 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”NRSV Here Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that God alone is the source of . . . life in Christ Jesus. He used the word “your,” speaking directly to his audience of believers.
These believers in Corinth had received eternal life in Christ Jesus, not because of who they were or what they did but because of Christ Jesus alone, the “source of life.” God is the source of believers’ existence and the reason for their personal and living relationship with Christ. Their union and identification with Christ results in having God’s wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3), possessing right standing with God (righteousness, 2 Corinthians 5:21), being made holy (sanctification, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7), and having the penalty for their sins paid by Jesus (redemption, Mark 10:45).
Because salvation is completely by God’s grace, any boasting before God is sheer nonsense. If believers must boast, they must boast in the Lord. These words come from Jeremiah 9:23-24 and refer to saved people glorying in the Lord’s acts on their behalf. So the redeemed people of the New Testament boast not in their salvation, but in God alone, who provided that salvation through his grace alone.
I expect to be amazed by three things when I first arrive in heaven. I will be delighted by those I find are actually there. I will be shocked to note who isn’t there whom I assumed I would see. And then I will be speechless with wonder as I realize that by God’s grace I am there! Charles Spurgeon