The Foolishness of Our Faith

Paul is writing to the believers at Corinth to encourage unity through maturity in the faith (v. 10). He is writing with unity as his goal because there are divisions in the church (v. 11-17). Jesus made Paul an apostle and sent him to preach the Gospel, not in cleverness of speech so that the cross of Christ would not be made void (v. 17). Why is the Gospel of Christ not proclaimed in cleverness of speech, or in order for the person speaking to be presented as some kind of spiritual guru? Paul answers, telling us the nature of the Gospel:

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Our foolishness (v. 18-21)

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Paul’s statement is one of the more powerful in his letter. The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. The state of perishing is a prerequisite to perceiving the word of the cross as foolishness. Those who will eventually perish, the reprobate, hear the Gospel and do not believe because it is foolishness to them. Concerning this doctrine, Paul will clarify in his next letter to Corinth:

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:1-4).

Those who hear the correct Gospel and do not respond to it reject it because they are blinded by the god of this world so they might not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ. Jesus taught:

I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one (John 10:25-30).

Even though the reprobate hear the Gospel and Christ is made evident to them, they do not have ears to hear; the Gospel is veiled to them—the word of the cross is foolishness to them. 

But to those who are being saved, the Gospel is the power of God. Those who are not being deafened by the god of this world hear the Gospel, receive it, and the Gospel message regenerates them—making them alive. The Gospel, not human philosophies or education, is the power of God. The Gospel, not signs and wonders, is the power of God. Those who are in Christ are Gospel minded.

For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14, in which God foretold that He would bring down Jerusalem because of the nation’s haughtiness. They had become proud in their wisdom and knowledge. Their reasoned ideologies had taken them away from God. Knowledge puffs up. Paul applies the prophecy against Israel to all nations. The nations rage in their own wisdom. They think they have figured out how to facilitate peace, justice, and unity. They conflate sexual identities, religions, and faiths in the name of progress. But, cancel culture cancels all culture. Into every human-centered society, Paul asks, “Where is the wise man, scribe, and debater of this age?” No one has been able to cancel the Gospel because God continues to make foolish the wisdom of the world. No nation has, by its own wisdom, been able to accomplish the peace, justice, or glory of God even though all have tried. God is pleased when nations fail in their own understanding. When nations fail, the Gospel flourishes. Those who are being saved hear and come to glory.

We understand that the nations will rage and boast in their own wisdom. They will plan but never accomplish peace, justice, and glory. God is revealing the foolishness of the world through the nations. As He does, His gospel is going forth and accomplishing the work God has ordained. However far a nation falls, we are in Christ. Every failure of human wisdom is an opportunity for the Gospel. The Gospel wins. Do you understand the power of the Gospel? If the Gospel was not powerful, there would be no Christian church—it would have died at the death of Christ, the apostles, or when Islam almost irradiated it by violence. Instead, through the proclamation of forgiveness, it has miraculously almost overtaken the whole world. What we preach is more powerful than any worldly wisdom or strength. The pen is mightier than the sword. The Gospel is mightier than armies, legislation, and human religion.

Our distinction (v. 22-25)

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Paul mentions two contemporary groups. Second Temple Jews searched for signs and wonders. Hellenistic Romans searched for wisdom through reason. Paul is a Jew and Roman citizen, trained by the Pharisees and in Hellenistic philosophy. He knows what it is to search for signs and human wisdom. Instead of appealing to signs or human wisdom, he preaches Christ crucified—the single point on which the Corinthian church was confirmed.

The Gospel is a stumbling block to the Jews, those who look for signs. Jesus referred to those who look for signs a wicked generation (Matthew 16:4; Mark 8:12; Luke 11:29). Why is the Gospel a stumbling block to those who look for signs? Signs are about what people do. The Gospel is about what Christ did. There are many people today looking for signs; many classify the spiritual gifts as signs that confirm salvation. The Gospel, which exalts Christ, is a stumbling block to them according to Scripture. When we think about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, we cannot think about them in terms of signs and wonders. If we do, the Gospel is a stumbling block to us. The spiritual gifts are a point of division in Corinth. Paul reveals, here, that those who are searching for signs will trip over the Gospel.

The Gospel is foolishness to the Gentiles, those who seek the wisdom of the world. Doctrine is a point of division in the church at Corinth such that denominational lines are being drawn within the local church. Paul reveals that those who seek after the wisdom, philosophies, ethics, or “collective faith” of the world trip over the Gospel into foolishness and incoherence—which I believe we are seeing in our own society today.

God is neither foolish nor weak, but He presents Himself humbly and in meekness. To those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power and wisdom of God. Paul identifies one church composed of both Jews and Greeks. They are the ones who have been called. Those who are called come to rest in Christ alone. They recognize the power and wisdom of the Gospel, which is more powerful than signs and wiser than human philosophy.

Our calling (v. 26-31)

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.

Paul implores the Corinthians to consider their calling in Christ. He reminds them that not many of them were considered to be intelligent according to the standards of the world. Not many of them were mighty. Not many of them were noble members of society. God called the lowly of the world to build His local church. God is not like the world. He chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise—namely faith. He chose the weak things of the world to shame those who presented themselves as strong—namely worldly authority. He chose the base and despised of the world, those whom the world does not recognize or the types of people worldly people don’t want, in order to nullify the things the world does recognize and worship.

In our context, then, we speak reasonably, but we do not appeal to the reason of the world. We speak boldly, but we do not appeal to the power of the world. We take every opportunity to speak the Gospel into the current cultural climate. We recognize that, when things seem to be falling apart all around us, they are not falling apart. God is tearing down the power and wisdom of this world and causing them to stumble over the Gospel so that no one can boast. In 2020, we saw the powerful in the world defeated and the wise of the world reveal their foolishness. Nations and much of the universal church have become too proud. God is doing what God does—causing people to stumble for His own glory. God is not so concerned about human progress. He is interested in our repentance and returning to Him. So, we will seek cultural progress according to the standards of this age but will continue to stumble until we return to the Lord God.

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Paul reveals that revival in the church and world is only possible if God works it together. By His doing people are in Christ. By His doing, Christ is our wisdom. By His doing, Christ is our righteousness and sanctification. By His doing, Christ is our redemption. That is why we boast in the Lord, not our signs or wisdom. Amen.

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