“A God discovered by human wisdom will be bot ha projection of human fallenness and a source of human pride, and this constitutes the worship of the creature, not the creator.”
This is the warning of churchmen who have come in the past. Their message is as impacting today as it was decades ago. The message is simple – knowledge of God must come from God, not from man. We don’t use our knowledge to “work up” to God. On the contrary, God in His grace gives us knowledge of Himself.
This is true for everything about God – everything has its genesis in the very being of God Himself. Not only is this true about knowledge of God, but it is also true about the knowledge of ourselves. Every true thing that we know about ourselves comes from God – we truly know ourselves only when we allow God to speak into our lives.
This is topic of our message for today – two messages: one from us/ourselves and one from God that comes in the form of the cross. Today we’ll continue our discussion of 1 Corinthians as we look at chapter 1:18-2:5, with a focus on 1:18-25. Today we’ll compare the message and promise we get from God about our lives verses the kind of message and promise we get from ourselves. One leads to life and the other to death.
Message and Promise of Man
The 18th century Enlightenment brought with it the promises of a great humanity. The intellect of man and its ability to reason began to trump the mythology of religious belief. To put it simply, man was replacing God as the source of his own identity. The rise of science, medicine and astronomy in particular only confirmed that humanity was capable of taking care of itself. There was no need and indeed no space for the divine in the life of humanity. The message and promise of man was that we were good and were poised only to get better.
This continued into the 20th century as the social gospel flowered. Humanity believed that history was about the progression of human ability – the longer we went on, the better it would become. Belief in human progress made the need for the divine superfluous, almost laughable. Humanity did not need God to cure diseases; it could do that for itself. Humanity did not need God to answer scientific questions; humanity was progressing far beyond the need for that.
Despite living in a different time and a different century, humanity’s message is still “God is irrelevant” and the promise is “we can do it for ourselves.” Serious inquiry into the divine is considered silly, even backwards. We are taught that God has no message for us. Even if He did have a message for us, it would be an antiquated message – one to put in the history books and not to apply to our lives. In the 21st century we are the source of our own wisdom.
In the first letter to the church at Corinth Paul addresses this idea that humanity has a true form of wisdom. He creates a dichotomy between human wisdom and divine wisdom; or wisdom that comes from the cross. Though the wisdom of humanity seems great, it is only a stumbling block to truly understanding God. Paul says as much in vs. 22 of 1 Corinthians. Wisdom of humanity doesn’t point him or her to God – it points back to them. Ironically, it doesn’t even give them true knowledge of themselves because they ignore the cross.
A great example of this “ignorance” is the Jew and the Greek as described in v.22. The Greeks and the Jews didn’t want to see the cross – they were looking behind it and beyond it. In the Scriptures the Jews were always looking for signs of confirmation that Jesus was actually the Messiah (see Matthew 12:38 and John 4:48). Jesus message and miracles weren’t enough for them. The Greeks saw the example of Christ’s love through the Christians that surrounded them. They were using their intellect to come to a decision about Christ and His message.
The message and promise of man only leads to dead ends. It is not one that leads to God, but leads back to humanity itself. To go back to our 20th century human progress and goodness - do you know how that ended up? Well, consider WWI and WWII. These wars are proof that the message and promise of humanity only ends up in destruction of one kind or another. The events of the war actually led philosophers and theologians to ask the question – is God dead; so much for the message and promises of God. Christ is nowhere to be found.
Message and Promise of the Cross
The good news here in this passage is that the human message and promise is not the only option available. The other option available is to look rightly on the cross. Humanity must understand what the cross is and what it means for our own identity.
Paul says that the cross looks foolish and it looks weak. What does he mean by this? Christ’s punishment on the cross looks like the final word about God – defeated by the powers of Satan. All of Jesus’ miracles, teachings, and promises look to be all for naught as the cross looks like His defeat as the supposed King of Jews and Son of God. Christ couldn’t even power up Himself to bring Himself down from the cross. The final word on Christ from the perspective of human wisdom is one of the total failure of God.
A second part of this failure was Christ’s ability to save us. Despite the promises that Christ made (see John 3:16-17) the cross represents Christ’s inability to keep His promise – salvation is not a divine work, but a human one concludes humanity.
Paul teaches that despite humanity’s “wisdom” they misunderstand the cross and what Christ did on that cross. The weakness of the cross is greater than any strength of humanity. God’s foolishness is greater than any wisdom that humanity has.
What else is greater than human understanding is the need for salvation. The cross is evidence of our need for Christ, for salvation. We may think we don’t need it, but the cross says differently. The cross says that we can’t do it for ourselves and that we need God to come to us and heal the rift between Him and us. We think, because of our belief in our own ability, that Jesus is silly – but Paul says we are in need of it, despite what we think.
What does Paul say about those who see the cross as silly? Quite simply, Paul says they are perishing. Notice the verb: it doesn’t say “will perish” it says “are perishing.” In other words, they are in the process of perishing – slowly, but surely they are perishing. Those who reject the cross are on the road to death, not life. As crazy as that sounds, it is true.
Paul invites us to change our perspective. Actually no, He does more than that. He invites us to look on the cross and believe in the Jesus Christ as our savior and Lord. He invites us to look at weakness and embrace it as truth. In order to do this we must pray for new sight. We must pray for God to open our eyes and reveal the cross to us as He sees it, a victory for all of us who are in need of a savior.
God’s Calling and Our Foolishness
As we wrap up today we need to understand a very key point in Paul’s theology that is the concept of election. We don’t have the space and time to go into it in great detail here, but we do have to talk about it. Paul says in v.24 that there are those who are called by God by God. Who has God called? He has called us! He has called us before the foundations of the world! And to those He has called he gives the power and wisdom of God – we don’t have to worry as He has called us and wants to give us His power and wisdom. This power and wisdom is greater power and wisdom than we have access to outside of God.
What are we left to do in the 21st century, in 2016? Earthly wisdom is all around us. We are still taught that God is dead and we are our best hope at our own salvation. Let me challenge you today to examine your own wisdom. In vs. 19 Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14 – “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Be willing to have your own wisdom destroyed, be ready to have your own intelligence questioned. Be brave enough to know that you have been called and God is giving you true wisdom. If you’re not willing, it’s going to happen anyway . . . accept the call today!