1 Corinthians 1:18–31 (NRSV)
Christ the Power and Wisdom of God
(Cp Isa 29:14)
18 For the message about 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,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
This week I have struggled with this passage. It was not because it is an incredibly difficult passage to understand, or because there is some interesting meaning behind the words that can be extracted. I struggle with this passage because it is one of the most straight forward passages in scripture. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
I spent time just sitting and contemplating this passage. I reflected on my life, my decisions, choices I have made, and at times when my phone buzzed with yet another Facebook debate I contemplated our nation. Some might say that I was just sitting there day dreaming, or wasting time because I was not going into a deep inductive bible study highlighting key words and all. I sat contemplating, I sat there letting God remind me of all the times I was relying on the wisdom of man and the times I relied on the wisdom of God.
For most of my life I would have regarded myself as smart, in grade school my classmates called me the scientist. They would draw characters of me in lab coats, wild Einstein type hair, and various chemistry paraphernalia. My classmates and I would design rockets that we hoped we would build some day, and we all could not hardly wait to get into junior high when they allowed us to dissect things. I was excited to learn and it seemed that they were too. Eventually we all grew apart as we got older, the things that we once dreamed about were transferred to other endeavors and the descriptive terms used also changed. But one thing remained the same, I still wanted to learn.
This was my life, even through college, some might say even today since I usually have at least one book handy to read wherever I go. Which is why I am thankful that eBooks were invented because my backpack could get heavy at times. I wanted to be smart and seen as smart.
What I often thought to be my greatest strength is also my greatest weakness. As I sat contemplating my life and wisdom, I began to realize that I would often regard things I did not understand as being unimportant. If I could not explain something it did not matter or should not matter to anyone else. My vision progressively narrowed until there was no more room for the amazing wonder that I once experienced as a child. God revealed what it means when the wise are made foolish.
I then remembered decision in the past, directions that I had taken in life that were good and not. As I considered these things I began to see a pattern. One of the most ridiculous things I had ever done in my entire life, the least thought through event that I had ever participated in was the trip I took to Ukraine to teach English classes. I say that it was ridiculous because per the wisdom of man I was totally unqualified to go. I did not know Ukrainian, I barely knew proper English so how would I begin to relate to students of a completely different culture? Nothing in my rational brain, the one that I though was wise told me that yes, I should go. But there was this bit of foolishness within me that was sure that I was supposed to go. That trip changed my life. It took the quiet boy, the one who rarely spoke, and transformed him into a man willing to speak. I remember the first bible study I led in a conference room a large round table with a huge plant in the center and we studied Ephesians, and I lead one of the discussions. I came home that summer with a completely different perspective and direction of life.
I then remembered another decision. A decision where I weighed the options and in my own wisdom moved forward. Most these decisions sounded great on paper, I was qualified and I knew I could do the work, yet after making the decision I yearned to go back and quit because the choice was not at all what I envisioned it to be. The wise became foolish and what was perceived as foolish was wise.
I thought about these two things, one was a crazy decision that was very bold and not at all my normal activity and the other was a sound decision that I was sure would bring great benefit to my family. The difference came that one was prompted by God and the other by my wisdom. When I talk about these things to people, they look at me funny and ask me things like, “how would taking a job that paid substantially more money be a bad decision?” and “why on earth would you go across the world to teach English?” One of the most foolish things I had ever done in my life was enter ministry, my own mother told me, “You can’t preach, because you can’t talk.” Wisdom and foolishness. I must say that the foolish decisions that I have made with God have always be the right one, and rarely have the wise ones made on my own been a benefit.
Paul writes to the people of Corinth and says to them that their knowledge is growing, their influence is strengthening, but they often forget who they follow. Some follow Paul, others Apollos, still others Peter. They listen to these three, and they make decisions. Each of them have strengths and weaknesses. Peter was a disciple of Christ one of the twelve and part of the most inner circle of Christ’s friends. Paul was a great Pharisee that no one could match. Apollos was an eloquent speaker taught in the schools of Alexandria. People made decision on which to follow based on preference and human wisdom. The problem is being a Christian is foolish in the eyes of the world. They would follow Apollos because he made good arguments based on the systems of logic of the world. They would follow Peter because if Christ is king then the person you would want to be closest to would be the one closest to the king. Then there is Paul, a brilliant man who left a promising career to become a traveling minister of the gospel. And the gospel did not always make sense.
Why would it make sense? The story of God becoming an incarnate human to live among mankind is crazy. It cannot be explained through the disciplines of Greek Philosophy. That this incarnate human would then live through childhood, under the care and direction of a common craftsman made even less sense. And that this man would leave the family business to become a traveling teacher who would eventually lose his life for what he taught makes even less sense. Why would we follow such a person?
Why would we entrust all our hope in a story that seems so crazy? Why would we listen to a teacher who says, “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom?” When we all know that the poor do not have anything of value. Or, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” When we all know, we would not even think about voting the candidate who does not brag about themselves, we would not vote for them because they would never win, and if we were to vote for them then the worst might happen the other braggart might win. And how can we possibly follow someone who says crazy things like, “love your enemies and do good for those who persecute you.” When we all know, we must crush our enemies and force them to leave us alone.
It is foolish to follow Christ. Yet we do. I have thought about this as well. I have let it simmer in my mind. We follow even though it does not make sense. We follow because somehow those foolish people we once watched did not have the worst happen to them as we expected. In fact, even though things did not work out how they hoped they came out at the end somehow better than before. They may have been steamrolled by coworkers who took advantage of meekness yet they still were considered for a promotion. They might have gotten made fun or bullied by others at school, yet through their kindness many of these bullies became their friends. We watched others and when we asked them why, they told us Jesus. We thought that they had everything together so we considered it for ourselves.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
Consider your own call. It is interesting that Paul is encouraging the people of Corinth to participate in a discipline of prayer, something many call the prayer of examine. Reflect on your life, what has gotten you from where you once were to where you are now. How did you get here? I do not know your story but I know mine. I am here because of a woman who taught my Sunday school class, who saw me at my worst and loved me anyway. I am here because my mother and father did not judge me for actions I once took but encouraged me through those decisions to make better ones in the future. I am here because my grandfather calmly approached every trial of his life with simple words and a song. I am here today not because of my own wisdom or my own ambition but because of countless people showing kindness and encouraging me. Some of those people were what the world would call wise while others the world would call foolish. Some of those people had influence over others, but the majority were simply there when I needed them. None of them were famous, not even one of them ever would have been a pastor of a mega church (or would want to be if you asked them). Most were not even pastors, they were just people who followed Christ and because of them I am who I am today.
We may not have the influence or the money of some. We may not have the opportunities that we might wish to have. But we do have something that no one else has, we have the story of our lives. We may not have all the answers or a title that gives us authority over other, but we each have a witness of what the lifestyle of following Jesus has done for us. Many of us the world would not regard as wise even though we might want them to, but that is ok because what we do have is better. We have life in Christ who became the wisdom of God for us, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. Though the trials come, thought the enemy knocks at the gates, and our bodies fail we have life in Christ. And when we seek him first in all we do, everything we really need falls into place. It might not be easy and it may not make sense but consider it. Consider the stories that brought you to this place, and consider the stories of your own life. We did not get here alone and if we are honest we did not get here because of ourselves. And we will not get to the future blessing God has for us trusting in the wisdom of man, we get there by listening to Him and being fools for Christ.