A reading from 1 Corinthians 1:18-31:
18 For 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. 19 For it is written, ” I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20 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. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both 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. 26 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, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, ” LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”
The Word of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God
One of the things humans avoid at all costs is to be seen as foolish. To be foolish means to lack good sense or judgment. If I were to ask you to share the time you felt the most foolish, I bet there would be no hesitation in your memory to bring up that awful moment. Our foolishness has a way of lodging itself in our psyche to the point that some people need therapy to get past foolish episodes and the humiliation that goes along with it.
My memory has no problem bringing up my first memorable foolish moment. I was in probably the second grade when it happened. We were working on an art project, and I started daydreaming and quietly singing a silly little song, over and over again. When I finally came to myself, the teacher and all my classmates were looking at me with laughter in their eyes, holding back the real laughter that came seconds later. I did not need therapy to get past this, but it is something I will always remember.
In our reading for this morning, the words foolish or foolishness appear six times in the 14 verses. We see that because God is wise, He uses foolishness to dismantle the wisdom humans think they walk in.
Let’s look behind the scenes of this portion of scripture and get a sense of what Paul was saying and why. Paul was writing to a church that he founded and spent 18 months with at the end of his second missionary journey. Corinth was a center of religion, commerce, and a mix of Greek, Roman, and oriental thought. Although not to the extent of nearby Athens, Corinth was, in short, proud, busy, and intellectual. Besides carnality reigning in the culture, it was alive in the church, as well. It seems, as Paul wrote later to the Romans, that the Corinthians thought higher of themselves than they should and lacked sober judgment.
I have broken our reading into four sections, adding additional scriptural references and comments to each. The first section is verses 18-19:
For 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. For it is written, ” I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”
Paul begins this portion of scripture with a quote from Isaiah 29:14. I believe whenever an Old Testament scripture is quoted in the New Testament, that it is worth our time to look at what is quoted in the context it was quoted in the Old to gain a clearer picture of the import that scripture has in the New. Let’s read Isaiah 29:14 in the context of verses 13-16 for a fuller understanding. Isaiah 29:13-16:
13 Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, 14 Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; And the wisdom of their wise men will perish, And the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.” 15 Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the LORD, And whose deeds are done in a dark place, And they say, ” Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?” 16 You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
Isaiah is talking here about religion; traditions and reverence learned by rote, versus a heart relationship with God. Religion is a mind game. John Wesley was famous for his letters. The Rev. Ted A. Campbell, associate professor of church history at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, a scholar on Wesley’s letters, estimates Wesley wrote nearly 18,000 of them. Some were only a sentence or two and others were many pages long. Wesley wrote to one recipient, “Beware you be not swallowed up in books! An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.” Now Wesley was not against knowledge. In fact, he encouraged his lay preachers to read deep and wide on many subjects. What Wesley was against was people becoming proud because of their knowledge and not ministering in the love of Christ to others.
Humanism and Postmodernism are, at their core, man’s attempt to increase his knowledge so he can “think his way out” of moral issues using intellectual prowess. Sin is not something man can think his way out of. Sin is a heart sickness that requires a heart remedy. The cross of Christ is that remedy.
Section two contains verses 20-25:
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? 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. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the 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.
Here, Paul continues, equating those perishing with the worldly wisdom that they boast about. He later expanded on this theme in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans. Romans 1:16-25 says,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ” BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Does it get any clearer, that we live in an age where man has remained futile in his speculations and acts from a heart of foolishness?
Our third section is verses 26-29:
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 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, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.
Paul powerfully here echoes Jeremiah, the prophet, from chapter 8, verses 4-13, where it is written:
4 “You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Do men fall and not get up again? Does one turn away and not repent? 5 “Why then has this people, Jerusalem, Turned away in continual apostasy? They hold fast to deceit, They refuse to return. 6 “I have listened and heard, They have spoken what is not right; No man repented of his wickedness, Saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned to his course, Like a horse charging into the battle. 7 “Even the stork in the sky Knows her seasons; And the turtledove and the swift and the thrush Observe the time of their migration; But My people do not know the ordinance of the LORD. 8 ” How can you say, ‘We are wise, And the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes Has made it into a lie. 9 “The wise men are put to shame, They are dismayed and caught; Behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, And what kind of wisdom do they have? 10 “Therefore I will give their wives to others, Their fields to new owners; Because from the least even to the greatest Everyone is greedy for gain; From the prophet even to the priest Everyone practices deceit. 11 “They heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace. 12 “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done? They certainly were not ashamed, And they did not know how to blush; Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time of their punishment they shall be brought down,” Says the LORD. 13 “I will surely snatch them away,” declares the LORD; “There will be no grapes on the vine And no figs on the fig tree, And the leaf will wither; And what I have given them will pass away.”‘”
And that snatching away is not an Old Testament reference to a pretribulation rapture. Rather, it refers to the snatching away or consuming of the harvest, which is their punishment.
Our final section is verses 30-31:
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ” LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”
This is a reference to what is written in Jeremiah 9:23-24, and I will end with this:
23 Thus says the LORD, ” Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.