Summary: In today's lesson we are urged to recognize the folly of human wisdom and to embrace the wisdom of the gospel.
Today we continue studying The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
Christians in the church at Corinth had misunderstood the nature of wisdom with regard to salvation. From Paul’s perspective human wisdom opposes God’s wisdom that is revealed in the gospel. Human wisdom is based on human knowledge and leads to destruction. God’s wisdom is based on the gospel and leads to eternal life. Let’s see how Paul expresses the difference between human wisdom and the wisdom of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:
18 For the word of the cross is folly 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, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18–25)
Every time they did anything, he had something smart to say. The Sunday school class went on an all-day picnic at the national park. It could have been a great time, but Jimmy seemed interested only in picking everything apart.
“Well, that was really a lot of fun!”
“So this is supposed to be good food?”
“I don’t see why everybody is so excited about coming here.”
Jimmy just loved quoting statistics, giving trivial facts, and scrutinizing everything with the biggest words he could use. Jimmy was not a happy fellow, and, unwittingly, he made everyone else unhappy, too.
After a day of this, the bus driver could not take it anymore.
“Jimmy,” he shouted, “we all know you think you’re the only one on this bus with any sense, and you may be the smartest guy here. But let me tell you something, you’re not a wise man—you’re just a wise guy.”
What’s the difference between a wise man and a wise guy?
I suppose we could list a dozen things or so. But one thing is true in every case. Wise people know how to use their intelligence to serve others and to help those around them.
Wise guys are out for themselves. They use their intelligence in a way that destroys.
In the passage that we are going to study today, Paul addressed those in the church at Corinth who claimed to be wise. They used their “wisdom” in a way that divided the church and set themselves in opposition to Paul. They took pride in the human “wisdom” of the world. Initially, they had not trusted worldly, human wisdom for their salvation, but now they had begun to emphasize such wisdom over the gospel itself.
In their pursuit of wisdom, they became arrogant wise guys.
In a previous lesson I mentioned that the traditional understanding of the situation in Corinth is that there was internal division and strife in the church. Paul wrote his letter to correct the division that existed among the various factions. However, I think that commentator Gordon D. Fee is correct in saying that “the historical situation in Corinth was one of conflict between the church and its founder.”
That is not to say that the Corinthian church was not experiencing internal strife and division; they were. But the primary problem was between the church as a whole and Paul as the church increasingly disagreed with Paul and his teaching. For Paul this presented a twofold crisis—over his authority and his gospel.
After the introductory salutation (1:1-3) and thanksgiving (1:4-9) of the letter, Paul immediately addressed the issue of divisions in the church in Corinth (1:10-17). Paul urged the Christians in Corinth to heal the divisions in the church because they are contrary to the unity that exists in Christ’s body.
In today’s passage (1:18-25) Paul says that the Corinthian Christians had moved back to human wisdom. He showed how their so-called wisdom was worthless. It could not save anyone; it could not further the cause of Christ. All it did was destroy. In fact, the wisdom the Corinthians were so proud of actually opposed the gospel. As far as Paul was concerned, these people were not truly wise—they were only wise guys.