by Jeremy Lundgren, AZ
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
When Kaci and I were engaged, we were at her parentsí house in Southern California working on the plans for our wedding. I was given the task of finding a DJ for the reception, and the way I usually approach a job like that is with the mindset that we only need one DJ for our wedding reception, so Iíll start looking, and as soon as I find someone suitable, my job is finished. After making a few phone calls and setting up some appointments, I stopped. Now, the way Kaci usually approaches a job like that, as I was to find out, is with the mindset that we need to make an exhaustive search of all the DJs so that we are aware of all of our options, and then we can make just the right choice. So I picked the phonebook back up and started thumbing through the DJ section of the yellow pages. I thought it would never end. There must have been a hundred DJs who could have done the job for us, but how would any of them stand out from the others? Searching for a DJ, an entertainer, in Los Angeles is like looking for a religion in our world today. You have options! Well, Kaci and I resolved our differences and found a DJ for our wedding.
However, as we look into our text in 1 Corinthians, a question that it brings out is whether or not it is a worthwhile endeavor for us to search for knowledge of God through the wisdom, philosophies, and religions of the world. Will such a search help you narrow down your options? How would you know when to stop? When you find one that is suitable or after an exhaustive search? What if we had the time and the luxury to pursue the wisdom and knowledge that could be acquired in this world? Would that long journey pay off in the end?
Join with me as we read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
I. Worthless Wisdom
A. You cannot come to a true knowledge of God through the worldís wisdom
Let me challenge you, if you have the notion that you are going to spend a large portion of your life studying comparative religions, searching out all the possible answers, carefully weighing each one, to come to a knowledge of God, to start here with Paulís comparison of the cross of Christ with all the wisdom that the world has to offer. You may find that your search for truth may not need to be as arduous or long as you think, because in Godís wisdom, He has shut off all other routes to himself, except the route that goes through the cross. God destroys the wisdom of this world and reveals his wisdom and power only to those who believe the foolish message of the cross. Listen to what this passage says. Let God speak to you.
B. God destroys the wisdom of this world
1. He promised that He would do it
I think these verses are very interesting. If you were to ask a Christian if a person could come to know God through their own wisdom, the Christian would probably respond with an answer something like this, ―No, a person cannot come to know God through their own wisdom because we are all sinful people and our minds have been corrupted. God is holy and perfect and transcendent and we canít truly know him unless he chooses to reveal himself to us.‖ And that would be a correct answer as far as it goes. But in this passage, we donít get a picture of God sitting up in heaven, unimpressed by our puny little attempts to reach him through our own wisdom. Instead, God is actively suppressing any progress we might make in wisdom and knowledge of Him. In verse 19, Paul quotes from Is. 29:14 where God had promised, long ago, to destroy the wisdom of the wise.
2. An Analogy
Earlier in Isaiah 29 there is a short little analogy in verses 11-12 that may help illustrate the point Paul is making.
11 The entire vision will be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, "Please read this," he will say, "I cannot, for it is sealed." 12 Then the book will be given to the one who is illiterate, saying, "Please read this." And he will say, "I cannot read." (Is 29:11-12)
While there are certainly the wise, intelligent, and learned among us who might, on some level, have the capacity to understand the vision, God has sealed it off from them. At the same time, there are the simple, the illiterate, and unlearned who couldnít understand the vision even if it wasnít sealed. Either way, though, whether it is the limitation of our own intellectual capacity for wisdom or it is God hindering the progress our own intellect could make, God will not allow us to come to a knowledge of him through our own wisdom.
3. Hasnít He done it?
a. Tower of Babel
In the last part of verse 20, Paul asks the follow up question, ―Hasnít God done it? Hasnít He destroyed the wisdom of this world? In Genesis 11:6-8, when God saw the people of the earth working together at the Tower of BabelÖ
6 The Lord said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one anotherís speech." 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. (Ge 11:6-8)
God didnít look down on the people at the Tower of Babel and say, ―Well, itís just a bunch of humans. I can sit back and watch this whole thing self-destruct.‖ Instead, He actively brought about confusion to hinder them from accomplishing all that they could have done. God destroys the wisdom of the world.
b. Jewish scribes
In verses 22-23 Paul gives us two more examples of the ways in which God makes the wisdom of the world worthless.
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, ―Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.‖ 39 But He answered and said to them, ―An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Mt 12:38-40)
These religious leaders wanted a sign from Jesus, an indication that they were going the right way in their religious pursuits, but instead they were given a stumbling block. Jesus stuck out his foot and tripped them. The very word Messiah (or Christ) means the anointed one, the chosen one, but the sign the Jews were given was the cross, a dying man hanging on a tree. According to Jewish law, a person was hung on a tree as a sign that they had been cursed by God, so how could Jesus, hanging on a tree, clearly cursed by God, be the Christ, the one anointed by God? God gave the Jews a crucified Christ and they stumbled over it. Even three days later, when Christ rose from the dead, they still stumbled over it. They made up a story that Jesusí body had been stolen. They didnít see the wisdom of God Ė that the man hanging on a tree had been cursed for them. He was opening a door through which they could know God.
c. Greek debaters
The other example of how God destroys the wisdom of the world is the Greeks. Jesus had given his disciples a message that they were to take to the nations, yet this message would seem like foolishness to those who are seeking for wisdom. I recently heard Dr. Ron Nash, a Christian philosopher explain that in Platoís worldview, the resurrection would have been unthinkable. Plato had a very sharp dualism between the body and the soul. The soul wanted to escape the body and leave it behind, so the Christian teaching that Jesus will return and resurrect all of us from the dead so that we can be reunited with our bodies forever would have seemed like foolishness to him. Or when Paul was in Athens speaking to the philosophers on Mars Hill, they were tracking with him until he explained that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Then they mocked him.
d. Our world today
Thomas Aquinas made the claim that God has aided us in coming to a knowledge of him through divine revelation, the Bible, but that some people would be able to discover the truth about God on their own. He did concede that, ―such truth about God as could be discovered by reason would be known only by the few, and that after a long time, and mixed with many errors..."1 Although it would be difficult, some people could come to a knowledge of God through their own wisdom and reason. According Francis Schaeffer, in his book Escape from Reason, that idea was the beginning of a quest in Western civilization for us to find God through our own reason. If you are interested in seeing how Schaeffer traces this theme from Aquinas to modern philosophers and the ways in which it is working itself out in our culture today, you should read Escape from Reason.
However, I just want to make one point on how this relates to our world today. It seems that there was a period of time when philosophers were certain that all the answers were just around the next corner. One brilliant philosopher would devise a system, then the next one would come along and tear it down in order to build another one, but then the next guy came along to do the same, and the next guy, and the next guy, and the next guy, until finally we grew weary and sank below what Schaeffer called the line of despair. We had set out to come to a knowledge of God, not through Godís revelation, but through our own reason, and the end result, that we deal with every day in our world, has been despair. We live in a world where, for some people, the most hopeful thought they have is that the world doesnít make sense and itís not supposed to make sense, because then they can at least take the pressure off themselves of trying to answer the questions that haunt them. They look for comfort in the thought that there is no comfort out there. These are the people that we are called to reach with the hope, power, and wisdom of the gospel.
4. Where are the debaters of this age? Everywhere!
In verse 20, Paul asks, ―Where are they? Where are all these wise men, the Jewish scribes and the Greek debaters? God said he would destroy the wisdom of the wise. Look around! Hasnít he done it?‖ But my first response to the question ―Where are the debaters of this age?‖ is that they are everywhere! Paul dealt with the philosophies of the Greeks and the religion of the Jews, but they never quieted down, and since then weíve had 2,000 years of philosophers and religious teachers. If someone could explain to us the great themes or movements in the quest for a knowledge of God from ancient times up through today, one indisputable fact would be that the wise men, scribes and debaters have not gone away.
Their presence is still among us, but the point is that their power is gone. The verb used in verse 20 ―to make foolish‖ is the same word that Jesus used (Matt. 5:13) of salt that has become tasteless. So God takes the wisdom of the world and He makes it tasteless, powerless, and foolish.
Paul knew what God does to the wise words of the world. He emasculates them, and Paul did not want his message to lose its power.
We can look back to Is 29:8 for another picture of the wisdom of this world.
8 It will be as when a hungry man dreams "And behold, he is eating; But when he awakens, his hunger is not satisfied, Or as when a thirsty man dreams. And behold, he is drinking, But when he awakens, behold, he is faint And his thirst is not quenched. Thus the multitude of all the nations will be who wage war against Mount Zion." (Is 29:8)
When you seek to know God through the worldís wisdom, you will be like this man who dreams he is eating and drinking, but you will never be satisfied. You will never be full.
C. No one sees the cross as the wisdom of God until they have experienced its power to save
Paul accepts that the world thinks his message is foolishness, but he was careful not to remove the offense of the gospel, the saltiness of it. And just because the gospel has a saltiness, an offensiveness to it doesnít necessarily mean that it really is foolishness. In fact, I would venture to say that a large portion of the truth you have come to know in your own life came with some measure of offensiveness to it, some way in which it humbled you. Why would a true knowledge of God be any different? You and I need to accept, as one commentator has said, that the gospel ―mustÖ manifest its power to save before it can be recognized as the wisdom of God.‖2
II. Foolish Faith
Why would God actively frustrate our attempts to come to a knowledge of Him through our own wisdom? Why would He constantly keep us below that line of despair, constantly making the wisdom of the world powerless and foolish? Also, why would God conceal His wisdom and power in a message that is foolishness to the world. Why is he ―well-pleased‖ to do it that way? We can know God, but not on our own terms. There are some reasons why God makes the wisdom of this world foolish, why He will not allow us to find Him through our own wisdom, but only through faith in Jesus, and far from it being cruel, it is actually an act of love from God to us.
A. We can only come to know God through faith in the foolish message of the crossÖ
1. so that no one may boast before God
First of all, according to 1:29, we can only come to know God through faith in the foolish message of the cross so that no one may boast before God. If Aquinas was correct, and a few, elite people could come to know God through their efforts, they would have something to brag about, but God is the creator and we are the creatures. He will not share His glory with another.
2. for the sake of the unwise and weak
A second reason why God doesnít allow us to find Him through our own wisdom is for the sake of all the unwise, weak, and simple people like you, me, and the Corinthians.
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; (1 Co 1:26)
3. to bring about unity within the Church
Third, so that there will be unity among believers. None of us got here because we were smarter or wiser than anyone else. We got here because we believed the message of the cross, a message that seems like nonsense to the world. We all had to walk through that same door, where we agreed with God that we are sinners unworthy of His goodness to us and we asked Him to show us mercy. Thereís not a lot to brag about there.
4. because wisdom cannot save us from our sin
Finally, God does not allow us to come to Him in our own wisdom, because we donít just need to know who God is, as if our main problem was a lack of information. We need to be saved from our sin. The foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men because it actually saves us. Many people live under the illusion that if they could just gain enough wisdom, then they would be able to use that wisdom to save themselves. But that is not true. Solomon had more wisdom than anyone else, yet his life is a testimony that his wisdom did not give him power over his moral weaknesses. Wisdom and knowledge of God donít lead us to salvation. They are a result of salvation. When a person trusts in Christ for salvation, God brings them out of darkness and into the light. He brings them into a close and intimate relationship with himself, where the shame and condemnation of sin are gone, where they can truly know Him.
B. We see Godís power and wisdom as a result of our faith, not to lead us to faith
You may be wondering why God would put you in a position where He expects you to believe something that He knows will seem foolish to you. Why do we have to believe first, then see the power and wisdom? Why canít we see what God has to offer, then decide if it really is such a wise choice?
1. God did show his power and wisdom, but the Israelites did not respond with faith
First let me say that has been tried and didnít work with the Exodus generation. They saw Godís works in a unique and amazing way, yet the Holy Spirit warns you and I today not to follow their lack of faith.
8 Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, And saw My works for forty years. (Heb 3:8-9)
2. God is the judge, not the one being judged.
God is not the one being judged. He is the judge. We need to be careful that we do not sit in judgment on God, telling him that the ways in which he does things are good or bad.
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?" (Is 29:16)
3. God takes pleasure in using the weak, low, and humble things of this world to put to shame those who rise up in their own power against him.
According to 1 Cor. 1:27-28, God takes pleasure in using the weak, low, and humble things of this world to put to shame those who rise up in their own power against Him.
C. The cross looks like foolishness to us because it exposes us for who we really are, but if we accept the truth of the cross, that we are fallen and rebellious creatures, then God will open up to us His wisdom and power.
Just as Jesus remained silent before His accusers, and allowed Pilate to render an inaccurate judgment about Him, even today, He still remains silent before His accusers. He obscures the view of His perfection and glory from the wise and the clever, but finds great pleasure in revealing himself to those who are humble.
Origen, an early church father dealt with the accusations against Christianity of an atheist named Celsus. One of Celsusí accusations was that Christians simply believed the gospel without taking the time to carefully figure it all out with the use of reason before following the teachings of Christ. Origenís reply was that this would be wonderful, if anyone had the time to actually do it, but the responsibilities of real life get in the way, and most people would find it too difficult to do anyways. I think Origen could have also pointed to our text and explained to Celsus that even if someone did have the time, energy, and intellectual brilliance to explore the depths of all of the worldís wisdom, they still wouldnít come to a knowledge of God. But what Origen does say is that, despite the fact that people canít take the time to carefully answer all of their philosophical questions, many are still putting their faith in Christ. In spite of their lack of wisdom, those who used to wallow in the mire have now been washed clean.
Christ will meet you exactly where you are, with all of your questions and doubts, so humble yourself. Accept the truth of the cross, that Jesus hanging there in your place is the proof that you are a fallen and broken creature. Then God will be well-pleased to rescue you from death, bring you into a relationship with himself, and in the intimacy of that relationship,
He will begin to show you all the treasures there are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, (1 Cor. 1:30).
I hope this passage has been challenging and encouraging to you. Let me conclude by offering three applications that have come to my mind. Iím sure there are more, but let me share these with you.
1. Focus on our unity in Christ based on the foolish message of the cross
As believers, we should be focused on our unity in Christ. It seems to me that many of the divisions that arise in the Church are the result of worldly wisdom, philosophies, and thought systems that have crept into our hearts and minds. We need to repent of the trust we have put in those things and return to the foolish message of the cross
2. Accept the reality that people will be offended when we share the foolish message of the cross with them
Iíve been really challenged by this passage to stop wringing my hands trying to figure out just the right way to share the gospel with others so that it will make perfect sense to them. We need to speak with love and grace, ready to give an answer for the hope that we have. As you may have heard it said, we need to make sure that people are offended by the gospel, not us. Letís just accept the reality, though, that people will think we are weird when we start talking to them about Jesus, but letís do it anyways because we believe that 1 Corinthians 1 is true, that it is the power and wisdom of God to those who are called by God.
3. If you have been searching for God through the wisdom of the World, trust in Christ, and then he will reveal Godís wisdom and power to you.
If you have not put your faith in Jesus Christ for your salvation, let me remind you again that you will not come to a knowledge of God through anything else but the cross of Christ. You cannot figure everything out on your own, but Jesus will meet you where you are and reveal Godís wisdom and power to you.
B. No, it is not a worthwhile endeavor to search for God through the wisdom of this world
Is it a worthwhile endeavor for us to search for knowledge of God through the wisdom, philosophies, and religions of the world? No, according to our passage, it is not. No one will come to a true knowledge of God through the worldís wisdom because God destroys the wisdom of this world and reveals his wisdom and power only to those who believe the foolish message of the cross.
1A. M. Fairweather, Nature and Grace: Selections from the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas (Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1954), Part I, Question 1, Article 1. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/nature_grace.i.html.
2A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Thomas Charles Edwards (London:1885). http://books.google.com/books?id=yZ0HAAAAQAAJ&dq=corinthians%20greek%20commentary&as_brr=1&pg=PP6#v=onepage&q=corinthians%20greek%20commentary&f=false
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