Among the writings of Paul, 1 Corinthians is the letter which teaches the church what it means to be a Christian community.
The opening verses (ch1 vv1-9) have the effect of defining where the church comes from and what it’s based on, and I will want to show how the rest
of the teaching follows on from that.
I was drawing out a definition of the church in the attached thread;
Defining the church
Part of the definition was that the church has been “called” by God.
So the next concern is how this calling comes through the event of the Cross (ch1 vv17-25).
v17 The starting-point is Paul’s observation that he was not sent to preach the gospel with “eloquent wisdom” (literally “wisdom of
If he had preached in this way, then the Cross of Christ would have been “emptied of its Power”.
A little background- not too much, because the internal conditions of Corinth are no part of my brief.
Paul began the main body of his letter by complaining about the internal divisions in Corinth.
There were people claiming to “belong to” different leaders.
Part of Paul’s response is to be thankful that he gave personal baptism to very few of them.
This suggests that at least one of the groups (perhaps “I belong to Cephas”) was over-concerned about being baptised by the “right” person.
Then comes the remark about “eloquent wisdom”, which suggests that at least one of the groups (perhaps “I belong to Apollos) was over-concerned
in that direction.
This prompts him to launch into the argument that the rejection of “wisdom” , in the human sense of that word, is the very essence of the nature
of “the Cross”.
v18 He finds two different classes of people- “those who are perishing” and “those who are being saved”.
(These words are in the present tense, not the past tense.
So not “the lost and the saved”, strictly speaking- just moving in that direction.)
They experience and understand “the Cross” in different ways.
For the first group, the Cross is classed as “folly”, the opposite of “wisdom”.
We might expect the second group to understand it as God’s version of “Wisdom”.
For the moment, though, Paul goes back to the word “Power”.
vv19-20 But these reactions are simply showing (as Paul illustrates from Isaiah) that God has always been ready to “overthrow the wisdom of the
v21 For the Wisdom of God has made a policy decision;
It is not appropriate that “the world” should come to know God by means of human wisdom.
I can suggest one possible reason, namely that if they could achieve this by their own wisdom, they would be achieving it independently.
Their wisdom would be another Babel, taking them heavenward in their own strength.
It is more fitting that the gap should be bridged in a different way- four different ways.
It is God who is acting, not the world.
God is actively “saving”, not passively being discovered.
The proclamation of the gospel is “folly”, in human terms, not human wisdom.
And God is saving the “believers”, not the wise men of the world.
The result is that knowledge of God does not come from self-dependence.
It comes from “faith”, which is the act of throwing oneself upon God in trust.
vv22-24 Paul now spells out exactly what it is that makes the Cross “folly”.
The gospel confronts two different groups of people.
The Jews are looking for evidence of God in “signs”, visible acts of power.
The Greeks- by which Paul means the rest of the world- are looking for evidence of God in “wisdom”, arguments accessible to reason.
Both viewpoints are “human wisdom” in terms of the previous verses, because they’re both about human expectations.
In their different ways, they’re sitting in judgement on God and trying to measure him by their own standards.
The gospel of “Christ crucified” frustrates both demands.
Death seems to be a sign of weakness, the opposite of “signs of power”, which makes it a “stumbling-block” for the Jews.
No doubt it was used already as one of their standard arguments against the gospel.
While death claimed as a victory seems to be a paradox, which makes it “folly” to the Greeks.
It makes as much sense as getting to the front of a line by moving backwards (I’ll explain that allusion in a second post).
v25 But what these people call weakness is really the Power of God, stronger than anything men can provide.
And what these people call folly is really the Wisdom of God, wiser than anything men can provide.
That reversal of understanding is the essence of the Cross.
And the church is founded on that paradox.
That was why, as Paul explains at the beginning of the next chapter, he had taught among them “nothing but Christ crucified”- ch2 v2.
In fact the paradox of the Cross was not just in the content of his teaching, but also in the manner of his teaching, which had been “in fear and
trembling”, rather than in “ in plausible words of wisdom”.
The result (which brings us back to the starting-point) was that their faith was not resting on the wisdom of men, but upon the power of God- ch2
At the end of this chapter, Paul observes how God’s preference for the non-obvious is demonstrated by his choice of people, as they can see for
For they are the more “weak and foolish” of their own society, rather than the “wise and powerful”, who have enough confidence in themselves
to despise the state of dependence.
The church that has been called by God is very different from the church that would have been called by the world.
And that is the point.
God is reversing the world’s understanding of “wisdom and folly”, and reversing the world’s understanding of “power and weakness”.
In short, he is reversing the world’s understanding.
And the reversal of understanding is necessary because God is not the world.
The way that the church is called, through this paradox of the Cross, reflects the fact that the calling does not come from the world, but comes to
call them away from the world.
It is a calling which comes from God.