Summary: There is really one answer to a divided church and that is THE CROSS. It is the cross that reveals the love of God.
Up to this point in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians we have been discussing the divided church. There is really one answer to a divided church and that is THE CROSS. So that is our focus this evening. Paul emphasizes in verse 17 that words of human wisdom are not the answer for a divided church. Why can’t human wisdom solve the problems of a divided church? Because love among all persons is the only remedy for division, and the greatest demonstration of love ever witnessed on this earth is the cross of Christ. It is the cross that reveals the love of God. So let’s get into our passage.
READ v. 17. Now remember that the Corinthians had written a letter to Paul asking for his help in bringing this divided church back together. In the first four chapters of this letter Paul gives eleven answers to uniting a divided church. The first and foremost answer for any division is the cross.
The message of the gospel is the cross of Christ. The content of preaching should revolve around the cross. All the other subjects of the Christian life are due to the fact that we have been reconciled to God and brought near to Him by the cross of Christ.
The minister should never let the rituals of the church take the place of the cross in his ministry—no matter how important they may be. It’s easy to let ritual, ceremony, and form replace the cross in the church. It’s also much easier to administer rites and ceremonies than to spend hours in diligent study and to preach the cross to a selfish world.
The demands upon a minister’s time by other functions of the church are often so consuming that he finds himself slipping from his primary call to study, pray, and preach the gospel. The minister has to keep his priorities straight because no one else will do it for him. He must make the cross the primary subject of his life and preaching.
We have to be careful with this because the cross can be emptied of its power. How? Paul says by preaching the gospel with “words of human wisdom.” Preachers can become more concerned with eloquence than with the cross. This happens when they focus on flowery speech to impress, their appearance, persuasive words, or maybe even too much charisma.
The preacher can become more concerned about the content of his message and its points and arguments than he does about proclaiming the cross. He can get off on tangents—too many illustrations, too many jokes and funny stories, sharing his position on an issue, or allowing worldly readings to take the place of the cross.
The man who preaches the gospel with “words of human wisdom” makes the cross of Christ of no effect. He empties the cross of its power. When the preacher strays from the cross, people leave the service and their attention is not upon the gospel and the cross, their attention is on the preacher. A preacher should never set out to impress people with his style, delivery, fluency, charisma, ideas or anything else. He should keep the focus on the cross.
READ v. 18. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. The world’s wisdom includes many words, many ways to find the truth and meaning to life. But the Word of the cross is the only way to the truth and meaning of life.
In contrast, the message of the cross is the power of God to those who are saved. No other message can reconcile man to God. No other message can give men the perfect assurance of God’s daily love and care and of living eternally with God.
READ v. 19-20. The preaching of the cross destroys the wisdom of men and makes foolish the wisdom of the world. This is a verse quoted from Isaiah 29:14. How does the cross destroy and make foolish the wisdom of men and their world? At least three ways:
1. The cross exposes the fallacy of man’s reasoning and wisdom. Man tries to conquer evil through science, technology, and the religion of human effort. He tries to use everything at his disposal to conquer nature, disease, suffering, corruption, and death. Man wants a life that is full and free, but he wants it on his own terms. He wants to do his own thing, to live as he wishes, to gain position and power, to gain recognition and fame and to be comfortable. Man wants acceptance and recognition for his achievements.
What the cross does is shatter this reasoning. It exposes the problem of sin. Man is not willing to live as Christ said so he put Christ to death.
2. The cross exposes the fallacy of man’s search for love, joy, peace, and all the other fruit of the spirit. Man cannot produce the fruit of the spirit on his own. But the cross gives this assurance of living eternally with God. The cross destroys the idea that the fullness of life comes from science, technology, education, and even good works.