1 Corinthians (2)

1 Corinthians   •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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Part 5

Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.
Is there a passage in the Scripture that is more relatable than 1 Corinthians 1:18
1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV
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.
I think back to my own personal salvation experience, and this was one of the passages that spoke to me personally about my own experience. But I want to put this powerful statement into the context that Paul was speaking of in the 1st Century.
I think it is important to note that at this time. During Paul’s day, the cross was an instrument of state-sanctioned execution used by the Roman Empire. It was a tool used for public execution. Crucifixion was one of the more torturous and humiliating methods of capital punishment ever known to exist. The Romans believed that by placing crucifixions along well-traveled roads and in high visible areas, the cross would serve as a public deterrent. In many cases the bodies might be left on the cross for days as a graphic spectacle for the citizens to see. Crucifixion was generally reserved for those deemed the worst offenders.
Beyond the horrific form of death, crucifixion also was intended to cause shame and humiliation. Before being placed on the cross, those being hung would be whipped with a multi-tailed whip that usually has sharp objects embedded into it, this would tear the flesh of the condemned before being hung naked for all the world to see.
We need to keep this in mind as we understand what Paul is saying to the Corinthians who were very well aware of this form of punishment.
So when Paul says that “the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” he is revealing just what the world is stumbling with. How hard it must be to wrap your mind and heard around the concept that God, El Shaddai, the God Almighty, Creator of Heavens and Earth, would suffer such a horrific and shameful death, one reserved for the lowliest of all mankind, and that act would be the power to set all mankind free.
But in the next verse Paul says something very interesting to me. He says that he will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning He will thwart, he is quoting from Isaiah 29:14
Isaiah 29:14 ESV
14 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.”
But I want us to understand what is going on in Isaiah 29 to put this into context.
In Isaiah 29, the people of Jerusalem are depicted as turning away from God, becoming spiritually insensitive, and harboring a false sense of security.Isaiah is prophesying about Jerusalem and its inhabitants. The people have become spiritually blind and deaf, relying on their wisdom and understanding instead of turning to God. They even attempt to hide their plans from the Lord. The people were behaving as if God couldn't see their actions or discern their intentions. They were operating under the delusion that they could act in secret, without divine oversight or accountability.
So when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:19
1 Corinthians 1:19 ESV
19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
I see an act of Grace very that takes me back to the Garden and to Babylon. A warning so great and powerful that we should sit up right now and take notice and check our own hearts.
When God pushed the tainted Adam and Eve out of the Garden and placed two Cherubim to guard the way lest they re-enter and eat of the Tree of Life and be eternally separated from God it was an act of Grace. When God came down and saw all mankind speaking in one tongue and conspiring to work together as one to build a tower to heaven and destroy God, our merciful God mixed up their tongues to prevent them from experience such total rebellion that would lead to total destruction.
When God, warns that He will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever, this is an act of mercy and grace. For if God does not step in and intercede, we will be forever lost to God’s Truth.
You know how nowadays we've got all these apps and ways to keep our stuff private? It kind of reminds me of that bit in Isaiah where people thought they could hide things from God. Do you think technology makes us feel more invincible or secretive than we actually are?
It feels like every time I turn on the TV or scroll through social media, there's an 'expert' telling us what to think or do. Kind of like relying on the 'wisdom of the wise' from that scripture. Do you ever feel we might be putting too much trust in the 'experts' and not enough in our own instincts or faith?
There's so much noise out there, with everyone having an opinion or a 'life hack.' Sometimes, I wonder how we can cut through all that and stay true to ourselves and our beliefs. How do you think we can avoid getting swept up in the latest 'wisdom' and instead stay grounded in what we truly value and believe?
1 Corinthians 1:20–21 ESV
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? 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.
Last week I was invited to speak at a public discussion here in Dixon called Christian Community Conversations. The topic was the Second Coming of Christ. It was no small task, the questions were about End Times, things like, “who is the Beast?”, “What does 666 mean?”, questions that honestly have literally no end of speculation.
As I sat there beside another Pastor and the moderator who holds a PHD, it became very clear to me early on that both of these highly educated men were far more qualified for me, and I wondered what I had to offer to the conversation.
But a pattern formed from the first question from both of these men. With each question these men would refer to commentators throughout the past 2,000 years, men who had formed opinions of their own. I am not saying that the opinions were wrong, just that I felt like they were relying on the wisdom of the wise.
All that I had was the Bible. I had not heard of reads the books these men were referring to. I felt completely unqualified. The next day when I spoke to Daniel about my experience he pointed me to one of his favorite Blues songs entitled, “I have never been to Seminary, but I have been to Calvary.”
You and I, we need to be aware that we are living in a day and time that is filled with self important wisdom. Some of these men and women are incredibly talented speakers and performers. But over and over in the Proverbs we are warned about this.
Proverbs 26:12 ESV
12 Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Proverbs 12:15 ESV
15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.
Proverbs 3:7 ESV
7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
Let’s move on. 1 Corinthians 1:22
1 Corinthians 1:22 ESV
22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,
Throughout the Old Testament, there are numerous instances where the Israelites sought signs from God as a means of validation or proof of His presence or will. For instance, Gideon asked for a sign with the fleece (Judges 6:36-40), and Hezekiah sought a sign from the prophet Isaiah (2 Kings 20:8-11). Additionally, during the time of Jesus, some Jewish leaders asked Him for a sign to prove His messianic claims (Matthew 12:38; 16:1). Thus, the Jews often looked for miraculous signs as evidence of divine intervention or validation of prophetic claims.
The Greek culture, especially in cities like Corinth, highly valued philosophy, rhetoric, and intellectual discourse. Renowned philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had a profound influence on Greek thought. Philosophical debates and the pursuit of wisdom were integral to the Hellenistic world. Greeks sought after sophisticated arguments, eloquent speeches, and deep philosophical insights.
Paul's point is that the Gospel doesn't cater to these human expectations. The cross is a "stumbling block" to Jews and "foolishness" to Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:23). However, for those who believe, Christ is both the power of God (a sign in itself) and the wisdom of God (a profound truth beyond human understanding).
1 Corinthians 1:23–24 (ESV)
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.
I want to stop for a moment here and spend a few minutes to talk about this word, called. In Exodus 3:4
Exodus 3:4 ESV
4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
What we see is that Moses was called, and just like the Greek word used in 1 Corinthians it refers to someone whose presence has been requested, but why I want us to connect it to the Moses example is that to be called is to be summoned for a purpose.
I don’t think Paul missed this point when he chose the words that he did here. In fact I think he intentionally placed this word called right here in this passage to help us understand that our calling is connected to the Cross. That you and I are to be as Messiah, suffering servants for the Gospel. That our lives are to be a fragrant aroma to God, that our lives are to make no sense to the world around us,.
"Paul says that the message of the cross is 'foolishness' to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved, it's the power of God. How can we, in our daily lives, truly embrace and showcase the transformative power of the cross, especially in a world that might see it as foolish or outdated?"
Example: "For instance, when faced with personal conflicts, we could approach situations with forgiveness and grace, much like Jesus did on the cross. Instead of seeking revenge at work when someone wrongs us, we could take a moment to reflect, pray, and respond with understanding and compassion, demonstrating the transformative power of Christ's sacrifice."
"Considering that Jesus suffered on the cross and Paul talks about the 'stumbling block' of the cross, how can we approach our own sufferings and challenges in a way that aligns with our calling? How might our hardships be opportunities to witness to God's strength in weakness?"
Example: "Think about the last time you faced a significant challenge, like losing a job or going through a health crisis. Instead of becoming bitter or defeated, what if we shared our stories of resilience and faith during those times? Our testimonies could be powerful witnesses to others, showing how our faith gives us hope and strength amidst adversity."
"Paul contrasts God's wisdom with the 'wisdom of the wise' that the world values. In a society that often prioritizes knowledge, achievements, and status, how can we ensure that we're grounding our decisions and values in God's wisdom? How might this shift in perspective change our priorities and interactions?"
Example: "Imagine being offered a high-paying job that requires excessive working hours, potentially compromising family time or church commitments. Instead of immediately taking the job due to its prestige and monetary benefits, we could seek God's wisdom through prayer, scripture, and counsel from fellow believers. By doing so, we prioritize God's guidance over worldly success and ensure our choices align with our calling in Christ."
When we do this we literally are showing the world around us exactly what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:25
1 Corinthians 1:25 ESV
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
We are living in a day and age when honestly, in my opinion, nothing is promised to us, not today, not tomorrow, and not next year.
When I watch the news, I see political spin and national messaging. Israel news is focused on the war, our news has been focused on a speaker of the house and Taylor Swift dating a football player.
Social Media is constantly throwing out all sorts of controversies, conspiracies, and quotes.
But in truth, in my heart, I am waiting right now to see how Israel proceeds next. If they launch this ground assault as they have said they will, and they go into Gaza with thousands of soldiers and utterly destroy Hamas, and their tunnels, I believe the world will turn so quickly against Israel, it will be as if we never knew them.
Why do I see this? Because God is jealous for Israel and for all mankind. Israel has not repented. I believe this war in Israel is not flesh and blood, it is about judgment.
It is through this lense we look at 1 Corinthians 1:26-29
1 Corinthians 1:26–29 ESV
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. 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; 28 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.
To understand why Paul is saying this, let's delve into the context and the message he's conveying:
Counter-Cultural Message: Corinth was a thriving cosmopolitan city in the Roman Empire, known for its intellectualism, wealth, and cultural diversity. The church in Corinth had a mix of backgrounds, including Jews and Greeks, rich and poor, slaves and free. Paul's message is counter-cultural in emphasizing that God's standards are different from the world's. Whereas the world values wisdom, power, and noble birth, God often chooses the "foolish," "weak," and "low" for His purposes.
Boasting in God Alone: Paul's primary point is to highlight the supremacy and sufficiency of God over human accomplishments and credentials. By choosing the weak and the foolish, God ensures that no one can boast before Him based on their wisdom, power, or status. All glory and credit go to God alone.
Unity and Humility in the Church: Given the diverse socio-economic backgrounds of the Corinthian believers, Paul's message is also a call to unity and humility. He's reminding the church that they shouldn't pride themselves on worldly distinctions or divisions. Instead, all believers are equal before God, and their value and identity are rooted in Christ.
The Power of the Gospel: The broader context of this passage (1 Corinthians 1:18-31) is about the message of the cross being a "stumbling block" to some and "foolishness" to others, yet to those who believe, it is the power of God. By pointing out that not many of the Corinthians were wise, powerful, or of noble birth by worldly standards, Paul underscores the radical nature of the Gospel. It doesn't rely on human credentials or standards but on God's power.
In essence, Paul is encouraging the Corinthians (and by extension, all believers) to view themselves and their faith through a divine perspective rather than a worldly one. He's emphasizing that our worth and calling are not determined by worldly standards but by God's gracious choice and the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
1 Corinthians 2:1–5 ESV
1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
When Paul came to the Corinthians, he did not rely on eloquent or scholarly rhetoric, a common practice in Greek culture. Instead, he centered his message solely on Jesus (Yeshua) the Messiah and His sacrificial death. Paul admits his vulnerability and fear, emphasizing that the Gospel's transformative power doesn't stem from human wisdom but from the divine power demonstrated by the Holy Spirit. The foundation of faith should be God's power, not human intellect.
Supporting Scriptures from the Tanakh:
Isaiah 53 – This chapter describes the "suffering servant," often interpreted by Messianic believers as a prophecy about Jesus. It portrays a figure who is rejected, suffers for the sins of others, and is ultimately vindicated. Paul's emphasis on "Christ and him crucified" resonates deeply with this passage.
Zechariah 4:6 ESV
6 Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts." This underscores the idea that true spiritual accomplishments are achieved through God's Spirit, not human effort.
Jeremiah 9:23–24 ESV
23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
"Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom...but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me." This echoes Paul's sentiment that human wisdom is secondary to knowing God.
Consistent Teachings from Paul in the New Testament:
Romans 1:16 – "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." Paul consistently teaches that the Gospel, centered on Christ, is the true power for salvation.
Galatians 6:14 – "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ..." Paul's focus on the crucified Christ as the core of his message is evident throughout his letters.
Philippians 3:7-10 – Paul regards all his prior accomplishments and credentials as "rubbish" compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.
Prompt: "Paul intentionally kept his message simple, focusing on Christ and His crucifixion. In today's world, with so many distractions and complexities, how can we ensure we're keeping the core message of the Gospel central in our lives and sharing it with others? Are there areas where we might be complicating our faith unnecessarily?"Suggested Answer: "It's easy to get wrapped up in theological debates or the 'right' way to practice our faith, especially with so many opinions on social media. Maybe we could set aside time each week to simply meditate on Christ's sacrifice and love for us. This core reflection can ground us. Also, when sharing our faith, focusing on personal testimonies can resonate more deeply with others than doctrinal arguments."
The Power of Vulnerability:
Prompt: "Paul admitted to coming to the Corinthians in 'weakness, fear, and trembling.' How can being vulnerable about our fears, doubts, and weaknesses actually become strengths in our journey of faith and in connecting with others? Can you think of a time when someone's authenticity about their struggles impacted your faith or perspective?"Suggested Answer: "Being vulnerable can be incredibly powerful because it makes us relatable. When leaders or friends share their struggles, it reminds us that we're not alone in our journey. I remember hearing a testimony from a church elder about his doubts during a rough period in his life. It was so refreshing to realize that even those who seem strong in their faith have moments of uncertainty. It encouraged me to seek support and openly share my own doubts rather than hiding them."
Relying on Divine Wisdom Over Human Intellect:
Prompt: "Paul contrasts human wisdom with the 'demonstration of the Spirit and of power.' How can we cultivate a daily reliance on God's wisdom, especially when faced with decisions or situations that challenge our understanding? How might we discern between worldly wisdom and divine guidance in our own experiences?"Suggested Answer: "Daily prayer and Scripture reading can be foundational. By immersing ourselves in God's Word, we start to align our thoughts with His. Also, seeking counsel from mature believers or being part of a small group can provide insights when we're unsure. It's essential to remember that divine guidance often brings peace, even if it doesn't align with worldly logic. So, a sense of inner peace could be a good indicator that we're on the right track."
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