Paul argues that those who live in rebellion to God will see the cross as foolishness. There’s no way to spin the gospel to change that fact. If you re-package the gospel to make it attractive to rebels, it is no longer the gospel.
In the first major section of 1Corinthians (1Corinthians 1:10-4:16), Paul speaks to the issue of the factions in Corinth. Some have decided that Paul lacks wisdom in his speech. They prefer Apollos who is a much more impressive speaker. This creates 2 problems. The smaller problem is the factions themselves which Paul addresses in 1Corinthians 1:10-17. The larger problem is their foolishness that has caused them to reject Paul because they don’t think he speaks with wisdom.
Paul is not concerned that the Corinthians are rejecting him as a teacher. Paul is concerned that his message is being rejected. Paul is speaking to that situation where the Corinthians are choosing style over substance.
1:17For 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. 18For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20Where 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? 21For 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. – 1 Corinthians 1:17-21 NASB
- The Corinthians want Paul to be a powerful, charismatic speaker (like Apollos).
- Paul responds, in order to make the gospel attractive in the way you Corinthians would like it to be attractive, I, Paul, would have to remove the cross from it.
- The message about the cross seems foolish to those who reject it. But the cross is the power of God for salvation to those whose eyes God has opened.
- In 1Corinithians 1:19, Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14. Isaiah 29 was written to Israel when they were seeking alliances with foreign powers to save them rather than trusting in God. Isaiah tells them: Putting your trust in armies, negotiations and alliances rather than in the living God is foolish. You think it’s wise, but it is utter folly. Circumstances will prove this. What the wise men thought was so wise will be shown to be foolish in the end.
- Paul applies that language to the situation at Corinth. When the cross comes to its fruition, the wisdom of the world is going to be shown to be folly.
- In 1Corinthians 1:20, the wise man embodies the Greek idea of wisdom; the scribe embodies the Jewish idea and the debater is the sophist, the eloquent speaker the Corinthians are seeking. These three are the best the world offers and they will be proved foolish.
- 1Corinthians 1:21 – God could have made the world such that the intellectual elite would be the first ones to find their way to God, but He didn’t. How wise can I be if I’m at the top of my field, but I don’t know God?
- God is quite content to save people with a message that the world thinks is foolish.
- God doesn’t get converts by changing the message to make it seem wise in the world’s eyes. He gets converts by changing people so that they can see and understand the wisdom of the gospel.
22For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. – 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 NASB
- Seeking signs is not a bad thing in and of itself. It is okay to ask, “are you really from God and how would I know?”
- The Jews saw the signs but rejected the cross. They wanted a political leader and king to free them from Roman rule.
- The Gentiles were looking for eloquence and flair, not a king who was shamed and humiliated as a criminal.
- The cross is not the kind of Messiah the Jews were expecting; and the cross is not the kind of philosophy the Greeks want.
- But the cross is salvation to those who believe. What pagans dismiss as foolish is wiser than their wisdom; what they dismiss as weak is more powerful than all their power put together.
Paul is answering the question: Why do I still preach this message of Christ crucified that you find so embarrassing? Why don’t I use the kind of sure-fire material that would make me seem wise to the world? Because that material is not the gospel. To win the crowd the way you Corinthians want me to do it, I would have to twist the gospel into something else. God has no interest in making the gospel attractive in the world’s eyes. If you think I’m foolish and unimpressive because of it, then you are dismissing the wisdom of God for the wisdom of the world.
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