Part Four

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 For the word 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, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater 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 come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."

This is the fourth part of what God did for us in Jesus' death and resurrection. In the three previous lessons, we have noted:

  • God through Jesus provided us a new way to Him.
  • God through Jesus demonstrated His love for us.
  • God through Jesus made it possible for unholy humanity to associate with the living God.

    Tonight we want to stress the enormous chasm God bridged to allow us to come to him. Most if not all of Paul's writings were to gentile Christians. I do not think many of us realize what an enormous transition it was for idol worshippers to begin following Jesus Christ.

    First, they lived in a world dominated by the presence of idols and the influence of idolatry. Worship of the gods was everywhere! Idols were visible everywhere! Temples dedicated to idol worship were extremely common. Idolatry was more than religious expression in the world of the first century. It was an important part of politics. It was an important part of the work place. It was an important part of agriculture (and their age was an agricultural age). It commonly was a part of the home routine. In the first century, in every day life, it was impossible to escape the presence and influence of idolatry.

    Second, to make the transition from idolatry to following Jesus Christ was an enormous personal transition. It involved changing one's personal concept of deity. It involved changing one's concept of worship (Jesus was the sacrifice, and was already offered). It involved changing religious habits that were a part of your life. It involved changing your concept of godly behavior. It often involved changing your daily life in fundamental behavior.

    1. Let me illustrate how deep the change was by looking at the context of 1 Corinthians 1.
      1. Paul began this letter in the manner he began a number of his letters.
        1. He gave his common salutation, which was typical of the way many letters started.
        2. He expressed appreciation for them [even though we quickly learn they had many spiritual problems].
      2. The Roman world of the first century functioned commonly [where there was a primary Roman influence] on a system of patronage.
        1. An influential man kept numerous people loyal to him by placing those people on his monthly retainer.
          1. He was free to expect those people's help at any time he needed them.
          2. If you took the patron's monthly support, you were indebted to him and expected to do as he requested.
          3. That just was the way business commonly functioned in that age.
        2. It does not take a lot of insight to realize that system of doing business was ripe for major problems.
          1. What we would consider a bribe, they did not consider a bribe at all.
          2. The system promoted a lot of competition and jealousy among those receiving the retainer.
          3. It also stressed the power of control.
      3. Among Christians at Corinth, there were quarrels.
        1. The issue seemed to be, "Who is in control? Who is our primary influence?"
        2. Paul declared the objective of baptism was not control of the Christian community.
          1. There was to be no "you owe me because I am responsible for your baptism."
          2. Christ was not to be understood as a new patronage system.
          3. To illustrate that fact, Paul reminded them that his emphasis was on Jesus' cross, not on baptism.
        3. Paul did not repudiate the role of baptism--he merely stressed the fact that the emphasis needed to be on Jesus' cross.
        4. The rest of that first chapter focused on the importance of Jesus' cross.

    2. Note Paul's emphasis on Jesus' cross.
      1. There were many who did not see any work of God or any personal appeal in Jesus' cross.
        1. Remember, death on a cross at the hand of Roman authority was a despised form of execution designed to show contempt.
          1. It was a horrible, painful, and typically slow form of execution.
          2. It was a form of execution that occurred to "teach people a lesson"--if you behave in the manner of this criminal, a horrible fate awaits you also.
          3. To us the Jesus' death is glorified; that was not the case to many first century people.
        2. Typically, we do not associate the concept of inspirational attractiveness with a common public execution.
      2. Thus, by first century thinking, the word of the cross was absolute foolishness to those who rejected that God acted in Jesus' death.
        1. It was unwise.
        2. It was defenseless.
        3. It was ridiculous to associate an hope filled act of God with a public execution.
      3. Only those who responded to God through Jesus' death saw wisdom in what God did in the cross.
        1. Those who were called to God through the cross saw God's power and wisdom.
        2. Those who were prominent, whether Jew or other nationality, saw only weakness and foolishness.
          1. The fleshly wise were not impressed.
          2. The fleshly powerful were not impressed.
          3. Fleshly royalty were not impressed--one of the perks of position was to postpone death as long as possible!
        3. Only those saved by God's act in Jesus' cross were impressed by God's wisdom and strength.
      4. Paul asked the Corinthian Christians to look at what God did.
        1. God used the foolish things of this world to confound and shame the fleshly wise--what is more foolish than providing eternal salvation through an execution?
        2. God used weak things to confound the strong [powerful]--what is weaker than the dead body of a executed person?
        3. God used base, despised things to confound human reasoning--what is more base and despised than the dead body of a useless man?
        4. God used "something which is not" to bring to nothing things that are--is anything in this world more opposite what we call reality than resurrection from death?
      5. Why did God accomplish salvation in this manner?
        1. Paul said it was done in this way so no human could brag about his achievements in his salvation.
        2. God owes no one.
        3. Salvation exists as an act of God, not the act of humans.

    3. It is by God's act we are in Christ Jesus.
      1. We have not obligated God!
        1. God responded to our need!
        2. Jesus' death and resurrection is our wisdom from God.
          1. We are not saved because of our great intellect.
          2. We are saved because of God's revelation to us in Jesus Christ.
          3. Jesus Christ is God's ultimate wisdom to us!
        3. Jesus' death and resurrection makes us righteous.
          1. We do not make ourselves righteous!
          2. Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot be righteous.
          3. We are righteous because we are clothed in Jesus Christ so when God looks at us He sees our perfect Savior, not all our flaws. Galatians 3:23-29
        4. Jesus' death and resurrection sanctifies us.
          1. As we discussed last Sunday night, because of what God did in him we can associate with God.
          2. God can look upon us as holy because of what Jesus did for us.
          3. Thus, unholy humanity once again has opportunity to associate with the holy God.
        5. Jesus' death and resurrection redeems us.
          1. Because we commit evil we belong to evil.
          2. In actuality, Satan should possess us.
          3. Only because of Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb does Satan not possess us.
          4. Because God bought us back from evil and Satan can we belong to God.

    To me, there are three key verses in our text tonight:

    1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

    God's wisdom and power are seen in Jesus' cross. Were it not for the cross, there would be no reason to give us even a second look.

    1 Corinthians 1:25 ... the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

    Ours is a relationship of dependence, not a relationship of informing. In truth, God does not need us. We need God.

    1 Corinthians 1:30 ... by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.

    We spiritually exist to give God credit for what He did, not to take credit from God.

    David Chadwell

    West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
    Evening Sermon, 15 January 2006

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