The Foolishness of God vs the Wisdom of Men

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I Corinthians 1:18-2:5

“The message of the cross is foolishness to the unbeliever,

but it demonstrates the power and wisdom of God to the believer”

Robert Fulton in a move known as “Fulton’s Folly” tried to launch a steamboat in the Seine River in France in 1803. It sank because the engine was too heavy. Fulton was laughed and called a fool. It wasn’t until 1807 that Fulton was successful in sending his steamboat down the Hudson River in New York.

In a similar way, the message of the cross has been and is today laughed at and seen as foolishness to unbelievers. Yet… to those of us who believe… it demonstrates the power and wisdom of God.

(Give the two major parts of the message and the sermon in a sentence)


(Relate to context here – divisions see v. 17. Draw circle with cross in middle)

A. The Weakness of Human Wisdom (v. 18)

The problem then (as today) is the problem of looking for answers to life’s big questions from philosophy (man’s wisdom) The result? Man’s wisdom is not enough. It is limited, partial wisdom.

T. S. Eliot: “All our knowledge only brings us closer to our ignorance,

And all our ignorance, closer to death. But closer to death, no closer to God. [And then he asks this haunting question:] Where is the life we have lost in living?”

Is there NO value in knowledge, in education? No, of course not. There have been tremendous accomplishments over the past centuries, especially over the last 50 years.

And it is also true that once you become a Christian you don’t know all the answers to everything – science, math, etc. If you need your car fixed, you go to the best mechanic, if you need a Dr., go to one that has the best experience, education and reputation. When used properly, the field of medicine, technology, & science can be of great value.

But – problem is when human philosophy tries to answer the big questions of life – where we come from, where we are going, why we are here, what’s right and what’s wrong. Human wisdom oversteps its bounds and bites off more than it can chew when it tries to tackle those questions.

If we want to know the ultimate meaning & purpose of life, the source of happiness, joy, fulfillment & peace – we look beyond human wisdom.

No matter how much “philosophizing” is done, human wisdom falls short in giving us the answers to life.

C.S. Lewis: “No clever arrangement of bad eggs will make a good omelet.”

Human philosophy & wisdom – when trying to talk about the important truths – about human nature, sin, God, morality, ethics, our future…

Human philosophy is bankrupt – 0

Look what human philosophy, human wisdom, says about the cross (v. 18)

“Foolishness” = moria, from which we get the word moron. To the unbeliever, the cross is moronic (absolute nonsense) Why? Because it conflicts with his own wisdom. That God would become a man, be crucified on a cross, be raised to life in order to provide for man’s forgiveness of sin & entrance into heaven is such a simple idea that it appears foolish & far too humbling for natural man to accept.

That one man (Son of God) would die on two pieces of wood on an insignificant hill in a very common and ordinary city & as a result determine the destiny of every person who has every lived seems stupid to the natural person. There’s no place for our pride, for our understanding, for earning a prize, for our accomplishments.

Human wisdom cannot understand the cross. To the natural mind, it is offensive and unacceptable. BUT… to the one being saved (believers) it is the power of God. Why have a cross in church? The natural person would say that it’s like having an electric chair or guillotine in church. To the natural man it seems foolish. To the Christian – we know that it shows the power of God.

Listen: How you view the cross determines your destiny!

(The perishing = foolishness. The ones being saved = power of God)

Transition: In contrast to human wisdom is God’s wisdom (vv. 19-25)

B. The Superiority of God’s Wisdom (vv. 19-20)

Paul uses quotation from Isaiah 29:14 to illustrate his point.

When Isaiah made his prophecy, Sennacherib (King of Assyria) was planning to conquer Judah. The Lord told Isaiah not to worry, God would protect them – not because of the strength of Judah’s army, or King Hezekiah’s strategy. No. God promised that Judah would be saved solely by God’s power, with no human help. He destroyed 185,000 Assyrians with just one angel! (Isaiah 37:36) (Read about it in II Kings 19) All Israel had to do was trust & obey.

Natural for us to try to solve our own problems, fight our own battles in our own strength. In terms of salvation, if we try to “help God out” we get in His way & seal our doom. God wants us to simply believe the message of the cross – the simple gospel. Yet it’s so hard for some to believe, because they trust their own wisdom rather than God’s (see v. 20)

This verse teaches us that human wisdom is not only unreliable, but it is impermanent. Another way to ask the three questions Paul asks would be to ask, “Where are all the smart people that have the answers?” How much closer to peace is man than he was a century ago – or a millennium ago? How much closer are we to eliminating poverty, hunger, ignorance, crime, and immorality than they were in Paul’s day?

We are more educated than our forefathers, but we are not more moral.

We have more means of helping each other, but we are more selfish.

We have more means of communication, but we do not understand each other any better.

We have more psychology & education, yet more crime and more war. No, we have not changed, except to find more ways to express and excuse our own sinful nature. You look throughout history and you will find that human wisdom has never been able to solve the basic problems of man.

God’s wisdom, however, is not only superior to human wisdom; it is also very powerful (vv. 21-25)

C. The Power of God’s Wisdom (vv. 21-25)

With all the human wisdom & knowledge we have today, you’d think that most of our problems would be solved, right? Wrong!
Man’s increased knowledge tends to increase problems, not solve them. Hatred increases, misunderstandings increase, mental breakdowns increase, wars increase, drunkenness, crime, family problems.. all increase. Not only in numbers, but also in seriousness. The more you try to depend on yourself and your knowledge, the more your problems increase.

Listen to what John MacArthur says about this:
“Human wisdom never solves anything. It’s nice to sit around and talk about it, but it can’t do anything. People don’t get changed lives from it, it doesn’t transform people, it doesn’t forgive sin, it doesn’t make new creatures, it doesn’t usher people into the presence of God, it doesn’t do anything like that. It gives people satisfaction by playing little intellectual games, and builds their ego by telling people what they know.”

Man can’t solve his problems because he won’t recognize the source of his problems = SIN or the solution = SALVATION. Human wisdom doesn’t have the power to change the problem. BUT…

When we are willing to recognize our own bankruptcy & turn to Christ by faith, He can exchange our poverty for His riches, our sin for His righteousness, our despair for hope, death for life. That, my friend, is GOOD NEWS!

It’s a simple message we preach isn’t it? It’s the message of the cross. It’s the message that Christ was crucified on the cross. That He took our sin on Himself. That He rose again on the 3rd day to prove Who He was. That’s the gospel. It’s so simple, but so many stumble over it. So many see it as foolishness.

But that’s the only message any Christian has to tell… the message of the cross.

The story is told of a small English village that had a small chapel, as many English villages do. The chapel was made of stone and had the rather traditional ivy-covered walls. Over the arch when the chapel was originally built they had inscribed the words, “We Preach Christ Crucified” so that everybody who ever entered would know what they were there for. There was a generation of godly men that did exactly that, they preached Christ crucified. But times changed and the ivy grew and pretty soon it covered the last word and the sign said, “We Preach Christ” and the godly men changed and there were other men who came and they preached Christ—Christ the example, Christ the humanitarian, Christ the ideal teacher.

The years passed and the ivy grew and finally it said, “We Preach” and they did preach all right – about economics, the social gospel, book reviews, and whatever else. How sad! How tragic!

Maybe this stands as an illustration for us of what can happen to a church, to an individual believer, when you crowd out the gospel of Christ…when you crowd out the cross of Christ. May it not happen to our church. May it never happen to us.

We dare not preach any other message than the cross. While it is a stumbling block to some & foolishness to others – it is the power of God to us who believe.

Transition to Pt II. Let’s see now how that power and wisdom of God is demonstrated…


A. The Paradox of God’s Wisdom (vv. 26-28)

The amazing thing about this is that God uses people like you & me. God uses people that the world might consider foolish, weak, & of no real significance to convey His message. Isn’t that something? God is not looking for, anxiously waiting for millionaires, famous athletes or entertainers to save so that they can do His work. His salvation is open to anyone! You know, it’s tempting to think, “If only so & so would become a Christian, Boy, God could really use him” But look at who Jesus chose for His disciples... He didn’t choose based on wealth, influence, or fame. And this is the real paradox of God’s wisdom: That God can make a simple, uneducated, untalented, clumsy believer who trusts Christ & humbly follows Him…God can make that person so much wiser than the man with the PhD who scoffs at the gospel. The simple believer knows forgiveness, love, grace, life, hope, God & eternity. He can see eternity.
The scoffing, unbelieving PhD (without Christ), on the other hand, knows nothing beyond his books, his mind, & his experience. He sees nothing beyond this life.
Who then is the wise, & who is the fool? You make the decision.
(Transition to II. B.) What is the purpose of all of this?

B. The Purpose of God’s Wisdom (vv. 29-31)

Are we then to boast about how good we are? About how much we know, etc? No! The purpose of God’s wisdom is to bring glory to God. God forbid that we should rob God of His glory by boasting (see v. 30) “By His doing…”

Transition to II. C. Paul then illustrates this truth in his own life by how he presented God’s wisdom.

C. The Presentation of God’s Wisdom (2:1-5)

Paul could have used persuasive techniques, giving his advice & opinions, but no, he came preaching one thing – Jesus Christ & Him crucified! And Paul preached in the power of the Spirit.

I hope you don’t come to church to hear opinions about politics, philosophy, economics, or even religion. I hope you come to hear God’s Word taught and preached through the pastor or teacher. There really is no other message than God’s Word.

Paul warned Timothy to “pay attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching (I Timothy 4:13) That was his job. That is every preacher’s job. If he does anything else he prostitutes the pulpit.

Another charge to Timothy the young preacher comes in II Timothy 4:1-2 to “…preach the word” (motto of DTS – plaque in study)

I hope and pray that you will pray for me as your pastor. I don’t say that selfishly, but for your sake, and for God’s glory. There are many things you can pray for when you pray for me, but one thing I know for sure is that you can pray that I will “preach the Word.” Pray that I will not dispense my opinions, not get sidetracked from preaching and teaching the word of God.

Let me go on record right here that as long as God would have me serve as your pastor, I will attempt to “preach the Word.” I have no other message than God’s Word.

Not everyone likes that, however. Some people want their preacher to give nice stories, always say nice things (”tickle their ears”).
One commentator: “In periods of unsettled faith, skepticism, and mere curious speculation in matters of religion, teachers of all kinds swarm like the flies in Egypt. The demand creates the supply. The hearers invite and shape their own preachers. If the people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf-maker is readily found.”

I hope and pray that I will not be a ministerial calf-maker. Pray that I will preach the word of God, not with persuasive words of wisdom, but in God’s power.

It has been said of the great preacher Jonathan Edwards that he read his sermons so that he would not be guilty of using human persuasive techniques to get a good response.

John Stott: “It seems that the only preaching God honors through which His wisdom and power are expressed is the preaching of a man who is willing to be both the weakling and the fool.”

We all must be willing to be the vessel for God to us. Isn’t it amazing that God uses people like you and me to share His precious message with the world?!

Close with this quote from Charles Spurgeon:
“The power that is in the Gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher, otherwise men would be the converters of souls; nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning, otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach until our tongues rotted, till we would exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless the Holy Spirit be with the Word of God to give it the power to convert the soul.”

The message of the cross is a simple one, isn’t it? Christ was crucified on the cross for our sins and He rose from the dead in order to raise us to new life.

Let us all unite together at the cross, shall we? Let’s point people to the cross. To the unbeliever the cross is seen as foolishness, but to us who believe, it demonstrates God’s power and wisdom.

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