1 Corinthians 1:18-30
For the message 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; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher 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 know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
Last week, you will hopefully remember that we began to look at the product of human reasoning. I stated that man’s wisdom and God’s wisdom are at war and the mind is the battle ground. Thankfully, the Lord in His graciousness gives us four truths in these verses from 1 Corinthians. My hope is that you will glean wisdom from Him that leads to boasting not in ourselves, but in Christ and His unfathomable grace through the first two truths.
Here is the first truth: God cannot be understood by the natural man. His wisdom is beyond human logic. And salvation by way of the cross makes no sense to mankind.
Verse 18 states, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” The natural man cannot understand spiritual matters. It is impossible! It is like listening to someone speaking in a foreign language that you don’t understand.
Now who is the natural man? 1 Corinthians 2:14 states, “The man without the Spirit (the natural man) does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The natural man is the man who is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He is the man who has not been born again. Remember Nicodemus from John chapter three? When he came to Jesus he was a very religious man! In fact, he was one of the key teachers of religion to the whole nation of Israel. But he had not been born again at that time. He was a man without the spirit. He was a natural man! And Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, no one can see (understand) the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Romans 8:9 states, “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Nicodemus did not belong to the Father at this point in his life. The man without the Spirit, the natural man, is not a Christian, even if he or she has been going to church or preaching from the pulpit his/her entire life. And the man who is not indwelt by God’s Spirit cannot understand God’s wisdom.
The pinnacle of the wisdom of God is the cross. The cross is the means by which God in eternity past planned to rescue and redeem mankind from their predicament, lost in sin. Logically though, it doesn’t make sense that an all-powerful, just God of the Universe would save people who have rebelled against him, especially when they have nothing to offer Him. John MacArthur puts it like this: “That one could die on a piece of wood on a nondescript hill in a nondescript part of the world and thereby determine the destiny of every person who has ever lived seems stupid. It allows no place for man’s merit, man’s attainment, man’s understanding, or man’s pride.” Human logic cannot understand God’s ways! It is impossible. Isaiah 55:9 states, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Years ago, I got into a discussion with a friend of mine about spiritual issues. We began to discuss salvation. I remember asking him, “How do you think a person gets into heaven?” He went to church every Sunday, and this is how he explained salvation to me, “When a man dies, his good deeds and bad deeds are placed on the scales of justice and God weighs them. Whichever direction the scales tilt determines whether or not you enter heaven. If your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds then you’re okay.”
You see, this man believed that men who go to Heaven are good. And when his time came, that his good deeds would outweigh his bad deeds, because he viewed himself as a good person. The cross made no sense to him, because he didn’t understand that we will never measure up to the sacrifice our sins demand on our own.
Like most people, he was just using his own human reasoning to try to understand the ways of God. But God cannot be understood by the natural man. His wisdom is beyond human understanding. And that is the first truth we learn in this passage.
Here is the second truth: God actually opposes human wisdom! He stands against it. Verses 19-20 states, “For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
Paul seems to be scoffing here at the scholars and the philosophers of the world and the wisdom they bring to humanity. What he is really asking is, “Where are all the smart people who have all the answers?” Here we are! We live near the Research Triangle Park! We are surrounded by universities of higher learning! But I ask, “Where has all of this learning gotten us? Where is the peace in the world? How much closer are we to eliminating poverty, hunger, ignorance, crime, and immorality?” Our advances in education, medicine, technology and communication have essentially gotten us nowhere. We are no closer to solving these problems than they were in Paul’s day. And I would argue that immorality has greatly increased. Jesus said in Luke 21:25, “On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” The wisdom of man only leaves the nations in anguish and perplexity.
Here is the truth: we have more means for helping others, but we are more selfish. We have more wealth than ever before, and yet we are more greedy. We have more education, and yet we have both more crime and more war. We have better means of communication, and yet we have never been more isolated. MacArthur writes, “We have not changed, except in finding more ways to express and excuse our human nature.”
Mankind wells up with pride in all of his education and knowledge and wisdom. But remember this truth: God opposes the proud. God opposes the wisdom of the world. He stands against it! Do you know why? It is because He is left out! It is not His wisdom.
The prophet Jeremiah puts it this way. Jeremiah 2:13 states, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
Don’t miss the truth: Human wisdom is a broken cistern that cannot hold water. That is why the cross was necessary. So that we could have a relationship with the living Christ, live in eternity with the Father, and be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Because the wisdom of man cannot earn, justify or debate our righteousness to be worthy of communing with a holy God. Fortunately, God has not left us to ourselves. He has pursued us. And He has given us the opportunity to take on “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Next week we will examine two more truths about God and His wisdom. Stay tuned. Amen!