“For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, 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.”
Before we embark upon a trek through our text verses today, it would be a help to us I think, to pay some attention to verse 17.
It would not be a bad thing for preachers of God’s word everywhere, myself included, to commit this verse to memory, or at least have it typed on a small card and posted in a prominent place in the study.
Paul has been pointing out to the Corinthian believers that he did not baptize among them, with the exception of one or two, as a means of making clear to them that they were to follow Christ and not a mere man.
Therefore, this first phrase, ‘For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…’
What I’m getting at though, is the next part. ‘…not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.’
This makes a very powerful point that all of us should ponder and reflect upon, but especially the man who is called by God to preach. This is the Apostle Paul speaking, and he is establishing once more to the reader’s mind that he was called by Christ, that Christ gave him a commission, that it was a specific commission, and that he would not be deterred or distracted from it.
Let me cite just a couple examples of what I’m talking about. Now I do not want anyone to think that I am condemning these things for what they are, because they are useful. So hear me all the way through. In recent years we’ve seen works come out categorized as apologetics.
Now that does not mean the writer is apologizing for Christianity. The word ‘apologetics’, means that the work is a systematic and argumentative defense of Christianity and its origins and validity.
So when we think of apologetics we think of people like C. S. Lewis, more recently Lee Strobel, who wrote “The Case for Christ” and “The Case for Faith”.
These are all excellent works, and I admit that I personally have read everything of Lewis’ that is in print, unless I’ve missed something along the way. But I don’t think I have.
But these very helpful writings are for the Christian, primarily. They are for his furthered understanding of the things he has chosen by faith to believe. In my own Christian life they have encouraged me and helped me understand things better, and I am thankful for them.
But as much as our minds of flesh would tell us that those things are useful for convincing the unbelieving mind to come to belief, that is simply not the case.
When Josh McDowell came out with his “Evidence That Demands a Verdict” in the early 1970’s, he strongly discouraged using the book as a witnessing tool. It was a compilation of his notes as he researched the claims of Christianity for himself, and he gathered a great deal of information useful for the Christian’s own Bible study.
But McDowell understood then what Paul is talking about in I Corinthians 1:17. The unbeliever cannot be approached on any basis except the simple truth of the gospel; that Christ died for his sins, was buried and rose bodily from the dead on the third day. He must be told that he has sinned, as all have sinned, and that he must turn from sin and come to God only by faith in that gospel truth, or he is eternally separated from God.
I’ll give you just one more example of what I’m talking about before moving on. In our adult Sunday School class we recently viewed a video made by Grant R. Jeffrey, based on his book titled, “The Signature of God”. There was a great deal of interesting and helpful information in it. His final installment concerned this Bible Code we’ve been hearing more of. It claims that there is a sort of secret code within the text of Old Testament scripture that only God could have put there. I won’t take time to explain that in detail now. I would only warn that if you get the book and read it, take it with a grain of salt and be careful not to put too strong an emphasis on it for your own faith and walk.
Paul’s calling was to preach the gospel. Furthermore, he was determined to keep his message pure and simple arguing that man’s attempts at cleverness in speech could not help, but could indeed hinder the message of the cross.
Did I misstate that? Let me clarify. I said that man’s attempts at cleverness could hinder the message of the cross. But Paul says “that the cross of Christ should not be made void.
Now I did that on purpose because I want you to understand something vitally important from this verse.
The gospel is God’s power to save all who believe. We know that from Romans 1:16, which states very clearly that it is the power of God to save. But Christian, you and I should know and never forget that we can remove that power, void that power, in our very attempt to wax eloquent with it. To be heard of men. To have men saying, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” (Acts 12:22)
Someone says, “Oh, c’mon, Clark, none of us wants people thinking of us as a god”. But I submit to you that our old sin nature wants exactly that! We fool ourselves and we keep our conscious mind from recognizing what’s really going on in there, but the sin nature wants precisely that; to be heard as clever and eloquent and to get attention and applause. And men in the pulpit are no different than anyone; perhaps worse.
So I say to you as well as to myself today, that this is exactly why the old man has to be put down every single day, Christians.
Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” And if you and I want to be used by God powerfully, we cannot want to be seen as powerful. If we truly want people to hear the gospel from us and be saved, then that gospel must come in its purity and simplicity through us as vessels, not as though it originated from us, and it must come through without picking up any of the philosophical additives we think it needs in order to be more palatable and attractive.
These other things can be of help and interest for us as students of the scriptures. But they appeal to the intellect, and therefore to the human ego. They do not inspire faith. They may help to strengthen it, but they do not generate it.
If you use them to try to persuade a non-believer to believe, you could find yourself voiding the cross of Christ.
Now I realize I’m preaching to the preachers more than the Christian in the pew, but it is something you need to hear also.
Because we are all given the commission to evangelize. Do you realize that? Matthew 28:18-20 is not just for preachers, people. If you are a believer in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, you are called to evangelize. If you are not telling people around you about Jesus when opportunity presents itself, or you see a chance to make the opportunity, then you are not being obedient to your calling. So you need to know that, and knowing that, you need to understand that your message is not from you, that it is simple, that it does not need your embellishments; in fact, it can be voided by your embellishments, so keep it pure.
Now I spent a lot of time on that verse, considering it was not presented as part of today’s text. But in truth, what Paul says to us in these following verses cannot be clearly understood without first clarifying verse 17. That’s why he begins verse 18 with the word ‘for’.
So let’s go on now and see what more he says about the word of the cross.
THOSE WHO ARE PERISHING
This word of the cross, which is just another way of saying the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, is the most powerful utterance ever made. Not because of some man’s design or oratory genius, but because of the content of the message and its truth.
So Paul says that this word, this message, this truth, is to those who are perishing, foolishness.
Now I want you to note that he puts it in a progressive tense. ‘Perishing’.
It is important for us to take a few minutes here to be certain we are clear on the implication of it.
Those without Christ, that is, those who have not heard and or believed the gospel and put their trust in Him for salvation from sin, are perishing.
Now we know from other passages of scripture that they are indeed perished, if you will, past tense. By that I mean that they are not headed for spiritual destruction, they are spiritually destroyed. It is a present state for them.
To the Ephesians Paul said, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), and he repeats himself to the Colossians, “And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions…” (2:13).
He was writing to believers of course, so he refers to their condition before coming to Christ in faith and he says they were dead.
And of course there are many other proof texts for this doctrine. Romans 5:21 tells us that sin reigned in death. Earlier in that chapter we see that death spread to all men when Adam sinned (vs 12), so it is a truth well-established and undeniable.
So here in our text when Paul refers to the ‘perishing’, we are forced to reason this out and find an answer to the obvious question, “If those without Christ are dead, then how is it that they are also perishing?”
We find the answer I think, in various places. In the second letter we have to the Corinthian church, Paul says that ‘we’, meaning himself and those in ministry with him, but also all who are Christ’s and therefore commissioned to be so, ‘we are ambassadors for Christ’. As though it were God entreating through us, he writes in chapter 5 verse 20 of II Corinthians, “we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”.
So here is this entreaty, this earnest petition or plea going out to those who have not believed, to appropriate to themselves this gift of God, which is eternal life through faith in Christ.
Then in Hebrews 9:27 there is a verse very familiar to most of us; “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”
So here is where we are so far. Mankind is dead in trespasses and sins. Yet his judgment is not yet. His final judgment will come when his flesh has died from this world. There will be no second chance.
No soul purging, no purgatory to be prayed through, certainly no reincarnation, which is one of the silliest and emptiest attempts to avoid and ignore reality ever fostered upon the imagination of men.
No, there is one opportunity to avoid judgment for sins, and it is in this life only.
“…behold, now is ‘THE ACCEPTABLE TIME’, behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION”. (II Cor 6:2b)
So while the reality is that men are spiritually dead in their sins, as long as they have breath, which itself is a gift of God, (Acts 17:25), they have opportunity to receive life from Him that is eternal in quality and duration.
And what they need to hear from us, Christians, is that God is patient and that it is not His wish for any to perish finally, but for all to come to Him in repentance; but let them know in such a way that they cannot fail to understand, that there is a day beyond which it will be too late for them. Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. They must be told that, because they have perished in sin, they continue to perish, and apart from the regenerating touch of the Holy Spirit of God they will perish finally, away from God’s presence forever.
Paul says that to those who are in this process of perishing, the word of the cross is foolishness.
So please don’t try to convince them with apologetics and clever speech. Their only hope for life lies in the simplicity of the word of the cross. Jesus died for their sins, was buried, and rose bodily on the third day, and no one who has ever put their faith and trust in that truth for their own salvation will ever be disappointed. (Rom 10:11)
TO US WHO ARE BEING SAVED
Next Paul says ‘…but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’
So we need to ask much the same question, ‘being saved?’ Does this thought fly in the face of the doctrine we hold that when we come to Christ for salvation it is instant and complete at that time?
No. Now we have been talking about these fundamental doctrines of the faith, as a congregation, and I will be as brief as I can here. But it is important I think, to reiterate these things often, and especially when in a media that it is quite possible that others outside of our local family will be exposed to.
We’re told that when anyone comes to Christ they are made a new creation in Him. Old things have passed away and new things have come. That’s in II Corinthians 5:17. What this means to us is that God has not renovated something in us, and He has not removed something from us, eg, the sin nature, but rather that He has imparted the Divine Nature to us.
He has given us new life entirely, in the spirit, and now reckons us to be brand new in His sight. Therefore we are to consider ourselves to be dead to sin and to the old nature, and live according to the new life we have been given.
At the moment of salvation then, because God sees us in Christ and His righteousness and not in any righteousness of our own, and according to the perfect and complete atonement provided through the cross of Christ, we are immediately and forever acceptable to God, with no reservations. I have said and will repeat, the very moment you were saved by faith, you became as acceptable to God as His Son, Jesus Christ. Because it is in Christ’s rightness, by His merit and provision that you stand.
So the use of this word, “being” can only have reference to the ongoing work of Sanctification, wrought by the Holy Spirit in you, which is the progressive work of conforming you to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), fitting you for Heaven, meaning that there is a growth process in the spirit that will not be complete until you are saved finally; that is, in the very presence of Jesus, never to return to this world and the flesh.
Do you see the all-important comparison being made here?
Those who are without Christ, have perished in sin, are continuing to perish, and apart from salvation will perish finally.
Those of us who have believed have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved finally, referring to a completeness of conforming us to what we are already reckoned to be in the economy of God and Heaven.
What I want to point out before we move on though, is that if our progressive sanctification is making us more like Christ, through the transforming of our minds and the conforming of our spirits, then those who are perishing are progressively getting worse.
Think about the eternal implications of that, and perhaps it will inspire you to a greater sense of urgency about reaching out to them while it is still called ‘Today’.
THE WISDOM OF GOD
Here is an interesting statement. “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God,…”
Did you hear it? It’s the first part of verse 21, in case you want to look at it yourself. I encourage it.
In His infinite wisdom, it was the determination and design of God, that man would not come to know God through his own wisdom, which is worldly wisdom.
I decided to do a quick word study here, to see if there was any difference between God’s wisdom and Man’s wisdom so far as the Greek language was concerned. There was not. Same word, both places. It means, ‘cleverness, skill’.
But the difference is infinite. It was the wisdom, the cleverness of God that salvation would not be according to any degree of the world’s wisdom and cleverness.
Now, that says a great deal. Men are pretty clever! Look at the world of entertainment. In just the motion picture industry alone, look at the improvements and the wonders that man’s imagination has wrought. In 1977 George Lucas brought us the first installment of “Star Wars”, and it had some 60 or more special effects that had been invented for that movie. It quickly became a cult classic, because it took motion picture viewing to a whole new realm. Then three years later he came out with “Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back”, and that movie featured well over 200 more special effects that had not been possible when the first one was made. Since then the world of special effects in movies has become more the star than the actors in very many cases.
Through a combination of knowledge and diligence and determination, sports figures continue to break records that their predecessors from 50 years ago couldn’t have dreamed of reaching.
There’s the world of business and finance. Of the arts and sciences. I don’t have to do a lot of senseless research to quote the stats to you. We all see them increase and grow and we’re constantly being impressed by them, either favorably or unfavorably.
But God in His wisdom determined that through the wisdom of man He could not be found.
Not through science, not through art, not through philosophy or mechanical design, not through religion. In fact, I will put it to you this way; man’s increase in knowledge and worldly wisdom, since his knowledge and wisdom are rooted in a fallen nature, continually takes him away from God.
When Nimrod was building his tower, supposedly toward God, he was in fact moving farther and farther from God with the placing of every stone, and in his foolishness he did not know it. And since then, all of mankind’s efforts to better himself, better the planet, better society, in his own wisdom, have taken him farther and farther from God or Godliness, and deeper and deeper into trouble and ruin.
When men advocate a universal tolerance in religion and philosophy, declaring that all that is required is sincerity and a striving to be as good as possible and do no deliberate wrong, and that we should all hold hands and accept that no matter what our religion is we will all be with God in the end, they are getting farther and farther from Him.
And in that statement I include all those in so-called Christian groups and organizations who are buying into this philosophy of tolerance and universalism. They are getting farther and farther from God, not closer, and the Bible calls them fools.
How can I say this? Because in the wisdom of God He determined and designed that the world through its wisdom would not come to know God. And it has not.
In point of fact, the world in its wisdom rejects the very message that would save them.
What is that message? It is the word of the cross. It is the word of the cross, friends, and that statement all by itself excludes all other religions, all of men’s philosophies, all and any attempt to find God in any other way, by any other means!
This is the wisdom of God; that there is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. And my word to you today is that you can skate around and investigate every New Age philosophy, every ancient religion, every discovery of science, every speculation of the most imaginative men who ever lived. You can study every archeological find that relates in any way to the scriptures, prove the existence of an ancient code hidden in the text of the Bible, reason to its logical end every claim the Bible makes or that men make about the Bible.
You can paper machete your VW Beetle to make it look like Golgotha and put a cross on top.
But the only way you’re going to see God and Heaven, is by the word of the cross, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, and Soon-coming King!
That is the wisdom of God.
FOOLISHNESS AND WEAKNESS
Let me just add a couple of thoughts in closing, from verse 25.
There’s a lot of talk of foolishness and wisdom in these verses, and Paul isn’t done yet, as you can see if you read to the end of this chapter.
But he puts a cap on it in verse 25. He has referred to the word of the cross as being foolishness to the world, so that’s what he means here when he says, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
Well, we understand what Paul meant, don’t we? Of course he wasn’t saying that God is foolish. But looking from the unbeliever’s point of view, the message of the cross seems to be foolishness. How could the death of a man, hanging on a criminal’s cross two thousand years ago, have anything whatsoever to do with me?
So this is where faith comes in. Here is where the wisdom of God comes in. If it can be said that God was ever, for any moment in all of eternity, weak, it was as His Son hung in open shame and disgrace on the cross of Calvary. But in that moment He was demonstrating His greatest power. And it is this power that is able to save to the uttermost, all who believe.
C. H. MacKintosh wrote:
“Our thoughts are too shallow and contracted to take in all the effulgence of divine grace. We are too full of legalism, too full of self. We vainly think that we must add something to what Christ has done, whether that something be in the shape of works, feelings, or experiences. All this must be set aside. Christ alone is the great foundation, the eternal rock, the tower of salvation.”
Christian, if it were possible for God to be foolish or weak, He in His foolishness and weakness would be wiser and stronger than all the wisdom and strength of men.
Keep His message pure; in your thinking and in your witness. He doesn’t need our so-called wisdom or strength. We can only void the power of the cross with our contamination.
“Consider your calling”, he will go on to write in verse 26. So I’ll end with that. Consider your calling, Christians; to tell the pure and simple word of the cross. It is the power and wisdom of God to save, and God’s word will do God’s work; in you, yes, and through you.