Letters to the Corinthians: Foolishness and Wisdom

So Paul has just reminded the Corinthians that the main thing is the cross of Christ, he decides to drive that point home with a discussion about foolishness and wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:1-5 …

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. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher 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 know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

It is written in Isaiah 29:14 – “Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” That’s not an exact quote, but more of a paraphrase. He continues to build on the point from the last section – the main thing is the cross of Christ. I think that they weren’t so very different from us today. Knowledge and wisdom is important to us. All of us can probably name a pastor or teacher who was influential to shaping our theology. The ancient world had it’s Aristotles, Socrates, and Platos on the wisdom front and it’s Elijahs, Isaiahs, and Moseses on the sign front. They were both looking for more of the same – and Jesus did fit the bill with the Sermon on the Mount and healing and raising from the dead; but then Jesus broke from the script. Instead of writing down his teachings and going from Athens to Rome to other centers of learning or overthrowing the Romans and driving them out of Israel with miraculous displays of God’s power – he allowed himself to be arrested, tried, and crucified and his followers scattered. Foolish and a stumbling block, indeed. But human wisdom doesn’t have all the pieces to the big picture.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; 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. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

At this point it would have been great to have been told what the nature of the division was – but this is what we have so far: “Hello! Thank God that you get some stuff right. But you’re divided into four groups. Isn’t Jesus the one who died on the cross? Isn’t Jesus the one in whose name you were baptized? If you think any of the rest of us – Apollos, Peter, or me are more wise – then let me tell you about wisdom …” Perhaps more will unfold in the following chapters. It does seem that the Corinthians were big on wisdom and knowledge, perhaps not in the same way that Athenians were known for it, but they are Greek and do have a profound respect for such things.

This section – “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. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” – is right up there with my favorites. It just sounds like it fights right there with Jesus’ message: Do you want to be the boss? Be an intern. Do you want to be the first? Go to the end of the line. Do you want to famous? Just be a regular person. Human nature inclines us to seeking power, being partial, aligning ourselves with the strong; yet Jesus asks us to lay down power, not chose favorites, not to side with strong or oppress the weak.

It is written in Jeremiah 9:24 – “but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.” Again, not an exact quote. I think we’ll have to learn to accept that whenever people refer to the Old Testament, it’s not always to take it at it’s literal meaning, but borrowing from an idea to bolster the point they are making.

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

I’ve already noted that Paul was a bold speaker, but apparently he wasn’t a preacher in the style in which the Corinthians were accustomed to; they might have expected eloquence and rhetoric but Paul relied on a demonstration of the Spirit’s power instead. Again he uses the phrase ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified‘ this could very well be the central theme of his teaching about the gospel message. Paul’s not boasting that he has a faction of followers, he’s not complimenting his followers for being right or scolding the other factions for not following him, he’s pointing to the one that he looks to and the one who gives him hope – Jesus Christ. At eighteen mentions of his name – there seems to be nothing else on his mind that can even compare with him.

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