I’m sure you’ve had the experience of talking to someone about something and then all of a sudden the conversation seems to take a sudden turn and you don’t know where the new subject came from. If you have ever been on the other side of that conversation you understand how it happens. Say you are talking about some political issue and the two of you are “solving the world’s problems” and you friend says something about a particular Senator. You remember that this Senator’s first name is Bob. That reminds you that you sister told you that your friend Bob is getting married. You are sure that this would interest your friend, so, in the middle of your conversation on politics you blurt out, “Hey! Did you know that Bob so-and-so is getting married?
On first glance it appears that Paul has suddenly changed subjects in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5. Paul had been talking about the divisions in the church and now he seems to suddenly change to talk about the foolishness of the cross. I don’t think Paul has changed course at all. Since in chapter 3 he comes back to the groups who were following Apollos, Cephas and himself it seems to me that he never left the subject.
I believe Paul is drawing attention to one of the chief causes of conflict: losing sight of what is important. He shows us that there are two different ways of viewing the world and the gospel.
THERE ARE THOSE WHO SEE THE GOSPEL MESSAGE AS FOOLISHNESS (18)
In verse 18 Paul says there are two kinds of people; two responses to the gospel message.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God
The first group of people see the cross as foolishness, the others see it as the power of God. Paul has just described one of the biggest challenges we face in our society today: the fact of different worldviews.
A worldview is: “a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world.” If you will, it is the “lens” through which we view the world.
If you have prescription glasses most people are either far-sighted or near-sighted. Your glasses are designed to correct that problem. There are degrees of far-sightedness and near-sightedness but for the most part but most eye problems fall into these two categories. In the same way there are two basic ways of looking at the world. There is what is called a secular worldview (which sees the world basically without God) and a Biblical (or God-centered) worldview.
The first group holds what we can call a secular worldview. This means that they exclude God from their thinking. They reject the idea of absolute truth and think that many determines his own destiny. These people believe that the world needs more education to solve it’s problems. They don’t believe God created the world and discount notions of sin and judgment. To this group of people, right and wrong is determined by the consensus of the people. To these people talk about the Bible, right and wrong and salvation through Jesus Christ is foolishness.
In verse 20 Paul writes,
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
Paul asks a simple question about this worldview: “Where has it gotten you?” How has this godlessness advanced the world? We haven’t solved the problems of poverty, hatred, or prejudice. We have not advanced in our morality . . .we have actually become more selfish, reckless and immoral! Pastor John MacArthur observes,
Our advances in knowledge and technology and communication have not really advanced us. It is from among those who are intelligent and clever that the worst exploiters, deceivers, and oppressors come. We are more educated than our forefathers but we are not more moral. We have more means of helping each other but we are not less selfish. We have more means of communication but we do not understand each other any better. We have more psychology and education, and more crime and more war. We have not changed, except in finding more ways to express and excuse our human nature. Throughout history human wisdom has never basically changed and has never solved the basic problems of man.
As a parent you sometimes have to let your child do something that you know isn’t going to work. You watch them struggle, get frustrated, and fail. But you have to let them do it their way. They need to see that they don’t know what they are doing before they will finally turn to you for help.
Paul wanted the people to see that the ways of the world don’t lead anywhere. Solomon discovered the emptiness of this secular view of the world. He wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes,
16 I thought to myself, “Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:16-17)
In verse 21 Paul draws the contrast,
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
These are the two choices: the way of the world, or the way of God: the wisdom of men or the foolishness of what was preached: that salvation is found only in Christ.
Paul illustrates this with the Jews and the Greeks of his own day in verses 22-25,
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
Everyone seems to have an excuse as to why they don’t embrace the teaching of the Lord. For the Jews, they wanted more signs. The Jesus that was preached did not fit what they thought the Messiah was to be. They wanted “proof”. Jesus told the Jews that the only proof they needed was the resurrection. People can always find excuses for not believing.
The Greeks were different. Paul said, they “look for wisdom”. That doesn’t mean they were open to the truth. It means they wanted to discover and negotiate truth. They wanted to do things their own way. They didn’t want to accept God’s Word as truth. They loved the debate, they relished the newest fads and philosophies. They were like Pirates who keep digging for a buried treasure that was delivered to their front porch!
We see this all around the world. Christianity is dismissed as being unscientific. It is “too primitive” and too “narrow-minded”. Instead, people embrace the bizarre teachings of religious cults (such as Scientology) or embrace the mystical teachings of various eastern religions. They aren’t looking for truth . . . they are trying to be God! They want to decide want to decide their own truth. They want to do their own thing. They don’t want to submit to anyone . . . especially God!
THE POWER OF GOD FOR SALVATION
The secular worldview is the first lens through which to see the world. The other “lens” through which we view the world is what we would call a Biblical worldview. This viewpoint starts with the belief that God created the world. It believes that God is involved with His creation and has entered the world in the person of Jesus and has revealed Himself through the Bible which gives us an unwavering standard or Law. The person with a Biblical worldview realizes that we are all sinful people in need of what Christ alone can provide
In verses 26-31 Paul asks the church to look at their own makeup. He says,
“not many of you were wise by human standard; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised thing—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
It may sound like Paul is insulting the church. That’s not the case at all. Paul is making a point: God has always reached out to the common man. Those who were filled with a sense of their own wisdom and importance lacked the humility required to receive God’s grace. Back in Deuteronomy 7:7 Moses reminded the people of Israel,
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand.
God chose Israel because they were a small nomadic people. He chose them so that the world would see what HE could do through them. He chose them so that God could reveal His love to the world.
In the gospels Jesus said it “is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven.” That’s not because there is anything wrong with having riches. What makes it hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is that riches tend to make us feel SELF-sufficient. In the same way, education is a good thing, but lots of education tends to make us feel that we can figure things out by ourselves.
God requires that we come to Him with humility; willing to be led by Him. God wants us to “boast” in him and not in ourselves. Consequently, the gospel of Jesus is received more by common people than the “celebrities” and the “movers and shakers” of our world. They resist this idea of dependence.
In verse 30 we are told,
Christ has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
Basically, Paul is tells us that those who embrace the message of the cross (that Jesus entered the world, gave His life as a sacrifice, and rose from the dead) are able to live in fellowship and peace with God. These people gain a new perspective on life. They see things from God’s point of view. Theirs is not a changing standard of truth. It is unchanging; it is an anchor that we can build our lives on.
Paul says that those who turn to Jesus for salvation and new life all of a sudden “get it”. It is as if a light turns on in our soul and suddenly life has purpose and direction. Much of what was confusing suddenly becomes clear. The message of the gospel is no longer foolishness; it becomes the motivation for our worship and praise.
Paul tells us these people have a right-standing before God. We are forgiven and made new. God begins the process of building His life, understanding, and perspectives into our lives.
As we move into chapter 2, I think we see some implications of a Biblical Worldview.
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
Notice several things, First, we will never win the world through our arguments. Paul was a man of superior intellect. He had an education that would be the equivalent today of two Doctorates. Paul was conversant on lots of different topics. He could have debated politics, ethics, or any number of subjects. Paul understood that he could debate politics, he could debate the role of science and the Bible, he could debate systems and he could argue about experience. However, he knew that none of these things could save anyone. You can’t argue someone into Heaven.
As a church we have gotten confused. We have put too much of our energy into trying to legislate morality. We stand and we argue about abortion, homosexuality, a Biblical view of marriage, and a host of other political and moral issues. And for the most part we are frustrated because we are being dismissed by the world. Do you know why? It’s because we are looking at the world through entirely different worldviews.
If I am very nearsighted and you are very far-sighted I will not be able to see better by putting on your glasses. In fact, your glasses are only going to make me see worse. If a person who speaks only Japanese tries to give me directions to a place I want to go it is only going to frustrate me.
That’s what is happening in the world. We are upset that people are not acting in a sinful manner. . . . it’s because they are sinners! It is because they do not understand the things of God.
Paul understood that it is foolish to debate the world on these worldview issues. What is needed is to tell the world about Christ, and Him crucified. Our job is to share with people the good news of the gospel. Our job is not to carry signs and to write letters. This only makes us annoying! Our job is to point people to Christ! Our job is to tell others about the man who lived, who died and who rose again. Our job is to introduce them to the One who can change their life, their heart, and their worldview! What is needed is evangelism, not political activism. God is the one who changes hearts and values, not our arguments.
Second, We need to boast in the Lord and not ourselves. This was the problem in Corinth. It was all about their favorite teachers when it should have been about the Lord. These people were bragging about their “groups” when they should have been filled with gratitude and humility for the greatness of God’s love.
Hear this message: our job is not to promote our church, our programs, or ourselves. Our job is boast in Christ. We need to grasp what a great salvation we have been given. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the change He has made in our lives.
A good magician makes his living on misdirection. If he can get us to focus on one thing, he can surprise us with something else. What is fun with magic is deadly when it comes to eternity! We must stop misdirecting the attention of the world with our party spirit. We must stop pointing at our cool churches, our diverse ministries and our charismatic leaders. We must instead point people to Jesus!
Third, we can be too contemporary Paul said he did not use wise and persuasive words but simply demonstrated the Spirit’s power. We have become so concerned with being relevant, contemporary and creative that we have lost sight of the simple truth. What matters most is to proclaim the simple truth and show people the power of God. Do you know the best way to show people the power of God? It is to show them what Jesus has done in your life. We demonstrate God’s power when we love the castoffs of our society, when we reach out to those in need, in short, when we live like Jesus.
Let me ask you: what message are your preaching? Is your message about morality, politics, or about some cool new way of finding meaning in life? If so, you may be frustrated. I encourage you to go back to the basics. Go back to the simple message that Jesus Christ came into the world to save people who were lost. It is time to return to the simple message of the cross: that Jesus died to pay for your sin and to set you free. This is the starting point for real change.
My friend, you may be working hard to be seen as valuable. You may be trying hard to live a good life. And you may be really frustrated at the treadmill that seems to get you nowhere. Please hear me. God knows where you are. God knows your heart. He knows your failures and your struggles. And He still loves you. He came to earth in the person of Jesus to give His life to pay for all the bad, stupid, and foolish things you have done. God’s message is this: if you will come to me, if you will trust Jesus instead of yourself, I will forgive you and I will give you a new beginning. I will show you the truth. I will lead you to peace, to joy, and to life. If you will follow me . . . I will show you that the gospel is not foolishness . . . it is the power of God that can make you new.
Paul has not changed directions in his conversation to us. He is reminding us that if we remember what is important; if we remember that it is Christ (and not our groups, ideas, or arguments) that changes people . . . we will spend more time pointing to Him and less time arguing with each other.