As I’ve shared before I am horrible at math. Even simple equations give me a hard time. Growing up, I would struggle through every lesson I sat through. Addition seemed pretty easy, but then came subtract. And once I began to think I was getting that, then came multiplication. Which, I got my “twos”, “fives”, and “tens” pretty quickly, but “sixes”, “sevens”, “eights”, and “nines”, I struggle with even today. Then came division, that’s when the wheels really starting coming off. I felt like I was drowning in numbers.
But the worse of it was when you took all these numbers and began fracturing them. Quarters, seemed to be fine, but eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds, it became overwhelming for me. And then you start adding them, subtracting them, and multiply them? I couldn’t keep up. And then the tipping point came, when we started doing Algebra. Up to that point I struggled a lot, but once I hit Algebra, I gave up.
But you know what was my saving grace? Construction. Seriously, using a tape measure in an environment where someone needed me to relay information to them, and where I would repeat the same steps again and again, helped me understand math. And once I began understanding fractions, it was like a light went off in my brain and I began to understand Algebra and Geometry. Now, am I a math savant? No, that’s my sister, but I no longer have a disdain for the subject like I did as a kid. And it was all thanks to having my whole perception changed by working with my hands and a tape measure.
And it’s this idea of having our whole way of thinking changed that brings us into to the 18th verse, of the 1st chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church. As we open up to 1st Corinthians 1:18, let’s remind ourselves where were at so far.
Last week we began our summer sermon series on the letter of 1st Corinthians. Every summer we dive into one particular book of the Bible, and move through it, as the God leads us to see it’s overarching themes.
Last week we opened the letter with Paul’s desired outcome to why he was writing to this particular church. Paul desired that the Corinthians be unified, not just as the Church of Jesus throughout the world, but as a local body of believers with each other. But it’s because of the church’s disunity that Paul addresses. The first of which, goes after leadership; more specifically, who the people say they follow. In the Corinthian Church, the people were taking their focus off Jesus and instead looking to a human leader as the end all of their spiritual development. Paul rebukes this idea of holding up a human leader above Jesus himself. It was here that we walked away from these opening verses with the understanding that, we can have people we learn from in the faith, but we must always have Jesus as our first teacher. When we hold up a human over Jesus, it brings unnecessary division within Jesus’ Church.
With that refreshed in our minds, let’s dive back into 1st Corinthians chapter 1, now starting in verse 18, we’re were going to read at 30 verses, and look at them in four parts. Let’s read.
18 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. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 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? 21 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. 22 Jews demand 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 human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
In this first section, Paul goes after the idea of what the cross is to both non-Christians and Christians alike. So let’s take a moment and really understand this concept. The cross to the world at this time, is a symbol of mockery and torture. For the Jews, the cross represented the failed attempts of revolutionaries and criminals against the tyrannical occupation of Rome. To the Romans, or Gentiles, the cross was a way to show their power and ability to carry out that power in horrific ways.
But then you have the followers of Jesus come on to the scene. Their Jewish leader is crucified and now they take on the cross not as a symbol of defeat, but as a symbol of victory. Yes, Jesus was crucified, but he was raised from the dead and now has victory over death. These Christians proclaim the cross as a point of victory, where sin was conquered and Jesus was shown to be the long awaited Jewish messiah.
And so to the Jews and Gentiles, the Christians are insane, they are fools. And so Paul says, “…the cross is foolishness…”
Paul goes on to tell us why the cross is foolishness to both the Jews and Gentiles. The Jews wanted the overthrowing of the Romans. If Jesus would have done this before he went to the cross, the Jews say they would have believed. If Jesus would have brought himself off the cross, or legions of angels would have come to his rescue, the Jews would say they would have believed. But because Jesus didn’t fulfill their desire of a battling king, the cross remains a symbol of failed revolt. Even to many Jews today.
The cross is equally foolish to the Gentiles, because it doesn’t make sense to them. From their perspective this is how the story of Jesus sounds: Jesus the God comes down to earth in the full frailty of humanity, he then doesn’t use his divine power for anything except to enhance the lives of others, then he dies a horrific and embarrassing death. To the Gentiles especially the Romans and Greeks, this isn’t what a god would haven done. Sure their god’s came and posed as humans, but they never fully embraced humanities frailties. And when they were posed as humans, their motives tended to be self-focused. And never, never would they be slaughtered in the way Jesus was, especially not as a sacrifice on behalf of humans.
So Paul points out how foolish the cross is and is actually a major stumbling block for the people of his day. But it rings true even today. the concept of the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice on it, still appears foolish to those in our society, and it’s because as Paul states in verse 25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
Paul takes this understanding that the cross is foolish to both the Jews and Gentiles and brings it to his readers personally. Let’s keep reading in verse 26.
26 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. 27 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. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 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. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Now, it might sound mean for Paul to call his readers foolish, unwise, weak, and lowly, but this is the same guy that spoke openly about his shame in persecuting Jesus’ Church, and how he was blind to what God was doing. So when he calls his readers unwise, weak, and lowly, he isn’t mocking them, but speaking to the reality of their situation.
Because it’s in their unwise state, that they recognized the wisdom in the cross. It’s because of their weak status in society, that they recognized the great gift that is given through the cross.
And it’s because of their status as undesirable in the eyes of the world around them, that God was doing great things. But Paul also gives them a warning, not to now boast in themselves, but rather, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” Because it wasn’t them that saved themselves, but rather it was God who has done everything on their behalf.
It is here, that Paul transitions to bring himself into that same status of being unwise and weak by the world’s standards. Let’s keep reading in verse 1 of chapter 2.
1 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. 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 with great fear and 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 human wisdom, but on God’s power.
Paul’s mention in verse 3 of how he came to the Corinthians in “…weakness with great fear and trembling…” might be understood in light of how he literally came to Corinth. If we read through the book of Acts, we’re given a series of events that proceeded Paul’s arrival the city of Corinth and the eventual establishment of the Corinthian Church.
These events start at the end of Acts chapter 15 and go into Acts chapter 18. Now think about these events and the physical, mental, and spiritual toll they would taken on Paul. First, Paul had a major disagreement with his missionary partner and mentor in the faith, Barnabas. This led to the two separating for this second missionary journey. Think of what losing a really close friend would feel like. Then while in Thyatira, Paul exercises a demon from a girl, and for his trouble, he is quickly put into prison. Think of what you’d be feeling to do something good and receive suffering in return. Then while in prison, he experiences an earthquake. Have you ever been through a natural disaster, it’s really jarring. After that Paul when to the city of Thessalonica, where he narrowly missed being attacked by a mod, but the people who he was staying with were actually taken away. How would you feel being the cause of someone else’s suffering? Then Paul goes to Berea, but can’t stay long because the people from Thessalonica track him down. That’s when Paul comes to Athens, and is ridiculed by the Athenian philosophers for his belief in the resurrection of Jesus. How would you feel having your core beliefs dismissed out of hand and you called a fool?
It’s from Athens that Paul arrives in Corinth, mentally, and physically, and spiritually drained. It is here that Paul heard from God as recorded in Acts 18:9, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.”
I’m sensing Paul is having a little hesitation in continuing his work. So, Paul comes to the conclusion that all he had to offer was the gospel. Through his experienced he had learned that nothing else mattered but the proclamation of Jesus’ crucifixion and the salvation that came through it. And it was through this proclamation that people began to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus.
And so Paul is intimately acquainted with what it means to be unwise by the worlds standard. Paul understands what it is to be weak in comparison to the world’s strengths. Yet in that unwise and weak state, it leads to being able then to see the great works of God. It was at Corinth that he learned that very lesson. And now, Paul is going to share from where we who are unwise and weak by the world’s standard must gain our wisdom and our strength from. Let’s continue reading in verse 6.
6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him—
10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
And it is here that Paul brings us to this point of where we must derive our wisdom from. See disciples of Jesus cannot be wise by human standards, because their wisdom cannot be derived from what the world calls wise. The world says strength is needed, but God says I use you when you’re weakest. The world says to retaliate when wronged, but God says to respond with forgiveness. The world says the cross cannot be a way of salvation, but God says it’s the only way. The world says we can run from our decisions, but God says there are consequences for our sin. The world says you can do whatever you want, but God says that we will be held accountable for what we do. We cannot derive our wisdom from the world’s, because it’s it opposition to God, and we cannot help to understand the greatness of God’s wisdom without seeking the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.
I’ve said this several times before, before I was a Christian, I believed a lot of things that I now do not. I believed homosexuality was fine, but in light of God’s wisdom, I don’t anymore. I believed abortion was fine, but in light of God’s wisdom, I no longer believer that either. I believed that lying, using others, being disrespectful, and having things as more important than God was fine, but in light of God’s wisdom, I no longer hold to those beliefs.
Because when we come to salvation in Christ, we start down a path where we accept the foolishness of the cross. That God’s way is foolish to a dying world, but in truth it is greater life giving wisdom than the world could ever know.
But I have found that we try to hold on to certain aspects of the world’s wisdom and try to merge God’s wisdom with it. We try to hold onto two opposing paradigms and when we do we struggle to follow God, and begin to lose trust in him.
You know what a paradigm is? It’s a way of understanding something. It’s our beliefs and how we engage the world. And there are two major paradigms in play as far as the Bible’s concerned: there’s God’s and the world’s. And God’s paradigm is at odds with the world, because the world’s paradigm says that God’s paradigm is unwise and weak.
The worlds says it’s unwise to be unselfish, letting others have, while you go without is dumb. Th world says it’s weak to allow yourself to be struck on the cheek, and unwise to give the other one as well.
But Paul is calling us to a paradigm shift. A shift from what the world says is wise, to what God says is wise. And it’s in this shift that I have found my greatest struggle. I want to hold onto the wisdom of the world, and couple it with God’s, but then I find that I struggle with my trust in him. This is exactly what happens when I worry. I believe that I have power over something that God says is out of my control and I need to trust him.
But when we trust God’s paradigm, when we transition from the world’s wisdom to God’s, we can find a clearing of the mind and the peace that passes understanding. Sure it’s not wise to be unselfish by the world’s standards, but when I am, communities are better for it. Sure it’s weak to allow someone to strike me multiple times, but who is actually in control, the one who has to lash out in violence, or that one who restrains the anger?
God is calling us into a full paradigm shift. Not a half one where we get to keep a bit of the world’s wisdom and try to mangel it with his. God is calling us to a full embrace of his way of things. In recognizing his wisdom is above the world’s; in recognizing that in our weakness we trust him and are made strong.
God is calling us to give up what we think is the correct way, and seek his way instead. Even when we disagree with it. Because when we do disagree with God, we’re actually telling him, I want to hold onto some of the beliefs of the world, because they are more wise than him.
But the only way we can give up the world’s wisdom is by seeking the Holy Spirit. By seeking to understand God, by seeking to understand what the Spirit is saying. And how do we do that? First by reading God’s word, the Spirit is the one who inspired the writers to put it down on paper, and then doing what it says by putting God’s word into practice. It’s truly that simple, and yet, that hard. We must forgo what we think is right, and trust in what God says is right. This is the hardest point of the paradigm shift, because we must give up.
And so this week I want to challenge you to read through the book of Matthew chapters 5 through 7, and then after each topic that is raised the Scriptures, ask God, what needs to change in my way of thinking, so that it lines up with yours? Jesus uses the phrase again and again, “You have heard it said…but I say.” This needs to be our point of paradigm shift, where we say, I used to believe this of the world, but now I believe this of God.
Let us become the people who seek after God’s understanding and leave the world’s wisdom behind us. Amen.