Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Different Wisdoms, Different Priorities

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5

Teaching t05394


Paul saw their adulation of human leaders as the symptom of a deeper problem: seduction by what he calls "the wisdom of the world."

So he contrasts the wisdom of the world with God's wisdom in this passage. He states that these two perspectives cannot be synthesized; they are antithetical. We must choose which one we will hold, and our choice will radically affect how we view Christianity's message, followers, and spokesmen.

The Message (1:18-25)

Read 1:18-25. The verdict of the world's wisdom on Christianity's message: "It is scandalous and moronic." Why?

Not because Christianity is irrational or lacks evidence for its truthfulness. When Paul communicated this message in Corinth originally, he employed reason and gave evidence (Acts 17:2-4; 18:4,5 >> FULFILLED PROPHECY & EYE-WITNESS TO RESURRECTION). Because Christianity is the truth, it also has evidence for its presuppositions, is logically consistent, and is practically effective. This is why some of the best minds in history have been devout Christians.

But because the world's wisdom seeks to define and solve all human problems autonomously from God (using its own ideas and desires) instead of by consulting God's revealed wisdom. From this standpoint, God's message ("Christ crucified") sounds ridiculous.

To most Jews, the idea of a crucified messiah was "scandalous." There were two reasons for this.

Their Law clearly taught that anyone who hangs from a tree is cursed of God (Deut. 21:23). Therefore, they overlooked passages like Isa. 53 (which teach that God's chosen One would be cursed by God for others' sins, thus fulfilling the sacrificial system) and believed that a crucified messiah was a contradiction in terms ("If he was the Messiah, he couldn't be crucified; if he was crucified, he can't be the Messiah.").

They sought for "signs." Most Jews defined their main problem as political subjection to Rome, and they looked for a great deliverer like Moses, who would perform dramatic signs to break Rome's oppression. Jesus performed miracles, but he deliberately avoided the spectacular, refusing to do the dramatic signs (Matt. 12:38-40), refusing to be made king when they wanted to draft him (Jn. 6:15), and instead submitted to Rome in the ultimate way: dying by crucifixion.

To most Greeks, the idea that a crucified messiah was the answer to humanity's questions and problems was "moronic." Again, there were two reasons for this.

Most Greek philosophy held that the first characteristic of God was apatheia—inability to feel or be influenced by the human condition. Therefore, a suffering God, a God who entered the human condition even to the point of suffering death was an inferior, barbaric concept.

Most Greeks sought "wisdom." They reveled in complex ideas about ultimate reality that only intellectuals could comprehend. They delighted in debating theories more than in finding solutions to the pressing questions of life. Therefore, any teaching that was simple enough for the masses must be for morons.

It is the same way today. Wherever people define wisdom apart from God's point of view, Christianity will be viewed as foolish.

In the secular university, which is still dominated by naturalism and humanism, a world-view which insists that "Jesus died for our sins" is greeted with smug condescension or sneering mockery.

In the market-place, which is dominated by materialism and the will to power, the idea that the death of One who would purposefully allow himself to be abused and lay down his life is the key to life is outrageous.

In the religious world, which is dominated by the notion that people can find their own ways to God, the idea that we are so sinful that we need charity purchased only by the death of God's Son is offensive.

But to those who are willing to acknowledge that their biggest problem is their separation from God because of their true moral guilt before him, "Christ crucified is the wisdom and power of God."

What wisdom to find a way by which God could reconcile sinful people to himself without compromising his righteous character! What wisdom to conceive a plan for this and predict it in various ways centuries in advance!

What power to bring us from spiritual death to spiritual life, to indwell us with God's Spirit, to transform our characters, to overcome physical death! As Paul said in Rom. 1:16, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe."

What is your verdict on "Christ crucified?" Your answer is the most important decision you will ever make!

The Followers (1:26-31)

Read 1:26. Notice Paul says "not many"—not "not any." There have always been some from the upper echelons of society who have embraced Christianity (ERASTUS; MANEAN; LADY HUNTINGDON; COLSON)—but for the most part, true Christianity has been mainly a working, middle-class movement. It has never been very attractive to the "movers and shakers." Why?

Those who buy into the world's wisdom have an explanation for this. "They are failures, and Christianity is for losers." If you define "success" in terms of SOCIAL STATUS, WEALTH, POLITICAL CLOUT, SCHOLARLY CREDENTIALS, etc., you will tend to view Christians as losers.

In the early church, this sentiment was very blatant. Celsus, an opponent of Christianity, said "We see them in their . . . houses, wool dressers, cobblers and fullers, the most uneducated and vulgar persons . . . like a swarm of bats—or ants creeping out of their nests—or frogs holding a symposium round a swamp—or worms in a conventicle in a corner of mud." [1]

In our own society, a diluted form of Christianity is still respectable. Sure, a little religion may be part of what it means to be cultured, may be politically expedient, but anyone who gets serious about Jesus is weak, uneducated, neurotic, needs a crutch, or is into "sour grapes."

But God has a very different perspective. He warns us that the world's definition of success is wrong, and he provides us with a totally different definition (read Jer. 9:23,24). His definition requires the humility to admit that our human privileges and advantages are worthless and detrimental if we look to them as a proof of success. It is only the one who realizes this and humbles himself to know God by receiving Christ that has the right to boast that he is a success—and his boasting is in the Lord, not in himself.

So through the church, God is rejecting the world's definition of "success" and displaying his own "successes." Read vs 27-31. God delights in declaring that those whom the world calls "nobodies" are really "somebodies" because they know him, and posses the true wisdom of vs 30: right standing with God, set apart as his people, and purchased out of slavery through Christ's death.

By the way, Paul wasn't into "sour grapes." He had been a "success" in his own society, but once he met Christ, he could never look at it the same way again (read Phil. 3:7-8).

What's your definition of a "winner?" God says no matter how RICH, BEAUTIFUL, FAMOUS, POWERFUL, or EDUCATED you are, if you don't know him you are a failure—you have missed the fundamental purpose of your existence. And no matter how little of these things you have, if you know him you are a success.

CHRISTIANS: There is a connection between the vitality of our relationship with Christ and how we're defining "success." If your relationship with him has grown stale, is it because you have gone back to defining "success" according to the wisdom of the world?

The Spokesman (2:1-5)

Which wisdom you hold to will also determine your verdict on God's spokesman. Read 2:1-5.

Paul didn't pass the test for what the Corinthian "wise" deemed an adequate public speaker. In Greek culture, rhetoricians were a major form of entertainment. But Paul was deemed inadequate on that scale:

They were usually impressive in appearance (HANDSOME & WELL-DRESSED). Paul was "unimpressive" (2 Cor. 10:10). Early sources say he was short, bald, hook-nosed, and bow-legged and hunch-backed from his floggings.

Their speaking style was full of "bells and whistles." Plutarch says "They made their voices sweet with musical cadences and modulations of tone and echoed resonances." [2] Paul's speech, in their view, was "contemptible" (2 Cor. 10:10) because he spoke in a normal voice.

Their content was full of lofty phrases, abstract philosophy, and flattery of the audience. But Paul focused on one message (vs 2) which confronted people with their need for forgiveness, and on making that message clear and understandable.

They swaggered with self-confidence (PEACOCKS). But Paul was acutely aware of his human inadequacy for the task, so he spoke "in weakness and in fear and in much trembling."

I get the impression that Paul would been canceled by many Christian TV shows!!!

But Paul knew that on the scale that matters (God's perspective), he was effective. Paul knew that effective spokespersons for Christ are like a good PICTURE-FRAME: he focused their attention not on himself, but on Christ. He didn't speak his own philosophy of life; he proclaimed God's message. He didn't rely on human flash and glitter; he relied on God's Spirit to empower him and convict his audience. And people didn't go home entertained; but many went home converted to Christ!

Christ's most effective spokespersons have always been this way (MOODY TO UNIVERSITY STUDENTS; GRAHAM).

CHRISTIANS: Your short-comings and fears don't disqualify you from being an effective spokesperson for Christ. If you sincerely share the good news and how Christ has changed your life, and if you depend on God to empower you as you step out in faith, you will be effective and some will come to Christ through your witness.

Next: more on God's wisdom . . . 


[1] Quoted by William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), p. 21.

[2] Quoted by William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), p. 19.