The Power of the Cross
If you were given ten minutes to speak on any topic, what would you feel confident to speak about?
Paul is able to write to the church in Corinth because they are all servants of the gospel together. Without the grace of God, there would be no church and there would be no authority of Paul to preach and teach. “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
After reminding the church of their foundation and unity in Christ, he appeals to them as a brother in Christ to stop creating clubs within the church. The importance in church is not the preacher or the denomination but the message of the cross of Christ – that is the power of God!
Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:3
18 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. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”l
20 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? 21 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. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
26 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. 27 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. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 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. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”l
2 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.
What did you see?
- We look to God for wisdom, not ourselves (18-25)
- We boast in the Lord, not ourselves (26-31)
- We preach God, not ourselves (2:1-3)
We look to God for wisdom, not ourselves (18-25)
“…the message of the cross…” Surprisingly, the phrase ‘the cross’ is used rarely by Paul and only twice in 1 Corinthians (1:17-18). It refers obviously to the crucifiction of Jesus but Paul always treats it as a clear division between those for Christ and those against him. This is a watershed moment in history where the sins of mankind are taken care of justly and lovingly and is a watershed moment in the minds of humanity – you are either proclaim the cross of Christ or you reject it. See Galatians 5:11; 6:12-14; Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 3:18 and Colossians 1:20; 2:14-15 for how carefully Paul uses this statement.
“…is foolishness to those who are perishing…” The message of the cross is central to the faith of Christianity. Anyone who claims to be Christian and yet rejects the clear teaching in scripture (see references above) that this is how God makes right with unrighteous people (those who are perishing) are not Christians at all. A mark of the perishing is to misunderstand the message of the cross or to disdain it.
“…but to us who are being saved…” The tense of the word SAVING or BEING SAVED does not infer that we are not yet in Christ since we are, as 1 Corinthians 1:2 states, both holy and being made holy. But Paul describes us as those who have found the life-boat and are being taken back to our home.
“…it is the power of God.” God’s power is summed up in the message of the cross. Romans 1:16-17 describe the message of the gospel as nothing to be ashamed of as this is God’s power on display! He is able to conquer sin, death and rebellion – turn death to life, dark to light and flesh to spirit! Paul puts the cross of Christ on a pedestal and says: look at it! Do you see the power of God and worship him? Or do you perceive stupidity and yawn? Answer that and you’ll know if you are saved or not.
“For it is written…” Isaiah 29:14. See the verse in context (11-16). God shake his head at those who think they know a thing or two but don’t need to listen to God! They treat him like they are the boss and like they are the ones who decide who he is like! What nonsense. This is a perfect quote for Paul to use to say to the church: remember who made you and who saved you!
“…wise person…teacher of the law…philosopher of this age…” Paul challenges the world to come up with a solution that beats God’s. The wise man is the one who instructs kings. The teacher of the law is the theologian. The philosophers are those who look at the world and deduce truth from it. Paul moves on to say that all have failed because all have concluded untruths about God.
“…in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him…” God can sit back and watch the world write essays on how the world works and move further and further in their own minds away from the truth about God.
“…through the foolishness…to save those who believe.” I think of the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5 who was cured of leprosy by the prophet Elisha. But he was angry at first because the prophet did not declare him cured with a mighty and powerful conjuring of the power of God. Rather, he was instructed to simply wash in the dirty Jordan River several times. God’s power is to save us through the death of his Son. The world wants powerful miracles and clear visions from heaven and signs that the Spirit is working. We are saved because we believe that God is right and the cross is precious.
“…Jews…Greeks…but we…” Greece was the influential culture in Paul’s day – that is, the culture inherited from Alexander the Great, now under Roman power, is a world of philiosophy and clever thinking. Greeks want logic and clear explanation. The Jews want signs like those received by Moses. Our present culture is a bit of both. We are like the Greek, wanting scientific proof. Yet we are like the Jew, wanting experience. And in Christ, both are satisfied at the cross! Although Paul’s point is that the foolishness of the cross is what we thrive on.
“…but we preach Christ crucified.” A crucified man is guilty, shameful, disowned and dead. And this is what we preach. We don’t mix up this gospel with cleverness to win people over. To the Jew who demands signs and wonders, a dead Messiah is a stumbling block. This is not what God seemed to be promising. To the Greek who demands logic, a crucified Messiah who is claimed to have risen to life again is just fairytale nonsense and superstition. They want strength and 7 tips to a better life! But we preach Christ crucified.
“…but…to those God has called…the wisdom of God.” When the cross makes sense, it just makes sense. It can be very frustrating to speak to someone and just know that they do not understand the power of the cross. They may have followed all of the steps and nodded as you described sin, penalty, substitution, grace and forgiveness. But they do not see the power of God in those words. It’s like the difference between someone who describes a sunset in terms of what caused it, when it happened and that it indicates the end of a day – compared with someone who sees the sunset! The cross of Christ is not simply a sign from God nor a logical lesson in forgiveness, it is the personal sacrifice God has made for my sins and for yours.
“...wiser than human wisdom…stronger than human strength.” No generation can step forward and declare that they have found God, found the cause of life, found the meaning of existance, found eternal life, found contentment in all circumstances, found the answer to pain and suffering, found peace in truth. Every human effort only ends in frustration and defeat sooner or later. Find a culture anywhere on earth ever that has worked out how to live in unity without violence, deception or corruption. Only God brings peace and can guarantee it for eternity. And it took the so-called son of a carpenter to be nailed to a cross to achieve it! Verse 25 must also be believed in order to be a Christian because it involves submission to God as God. Any attempt to match Him in wisdom or strength is an outright challenge to his deity.
We boast in the Lord, not ourselves (26-31)
“…when you were called.” The scriptures teach that those who believe the message of the cross have also been called by God. This is part of the doctrine of grace as well as the doctrine of assurance. Grace, because if we first moved toward God, then we would credit ourselves with the first righteous act. Assurance, because since it is by grace you have been saved, then it is a sure deal that you are saved. While it is the god of this age that blinds mankind from seeing the wisdom and power of God (2 Corinthians 4:4), it is God who calls us out of darkness and into his marvelous light (2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 2:9).
“…wise…influential…noble.” This may be a triplet paralelling the wise man, the teacher of the law and the philosopher. But it is another layer of Paul teaching that we are not to be praised for our friendship with God. When we look at the church, how many governors and PHD doctors and kings and CEOs etc do you see? Paul doesn’t mean that you can never see a CEO in church – of course not! But look around and tally all the influential people in the church and what do you get? God is not building his church through important people. And we should not pretend that this is what God is looking to build in his church. But the Corinthians had caught the vision that they needed great preachers and world-standard geniuses in their midst (1 Corinthians 1:12).
“…so that no one may boast before him…” Humility has always been part of the message of the gospel. The last will be first and the first last. God brings down the proud.
“…our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Another trilogy by Paul to match the wise, the influential, the noble and the wise, the teacher, the philosopher. We, in Christ are made righteous, holy and redeemed. Christ is the wisdom of God. All three of this statements can only be applied to us because of Christ – his death and resurrection. We must always stop ourselves if we credit any part of these to ourselves.
“…therefore…boast in the Lord.” Bible reading TIP: Paul’s writing style (as is common to his age) is to place an important sentence at the end of his arguments. This is not always the truth, but while we train our modern students to begin a paragraph with the point of the paragraph, Paul will often conclude his section with a statement of what he has been arguing for. Look out for it and see if you notice this as we read through this letter.
We preach God, not ourselves (2:1-3)
“… I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom…” It’s quite probable that Paul was not an excellent speaker. Of course, he had some great moments and he is described as persuading people as he talked (Acts 18:4) since this is the job of a teacher and preacher. But he also almost preached a boy to death (Acts 20:9)! Paul is saying that his tool of the trade is not so much being an excellent salesman but that the product he is promoting is just excellent. His product is the testimony about God. He is simply letting people know what God has revealed to the world already. God’s church is not built upon the excellence of great speakers – but on the power of the gospel.
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” It’s not that Paul doesn’t have other things to tell people – perhaps he could go on and on about how to make tents! But he has decided in his mind that his mission is to preach the gospel and so that is what he will do. Perhaps Paul has a particular view on politics or on who will be the next winner of Survivor Australia! But he forgets all of this and preaches Christ crucified. All Scripture is about Christ and the cross of Christ. Paul’s mission is clear.
“I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.” Does this match your impression of Paul? Don’t you imagine him as a confident, bold preacher who walks into town and says, “where’s the synagogue. Let me tell you what’s real about God! Repent and know Christ!” Boom! Then he stays a while before being driven out or convinced that the Spirit wants him elsewhere and off he goes – only heard of again when he sends a letter from prison saying, “I’m all chained up but that’s cool! No worries, God’s got this and I fully trust him!” Well, here is his confession in 1 Corinthians 2:3. When he arrives in town and finds some people to talk to, he opens his mouth because he has resolved to speak the truth about God but he is feeling weak, perhaps unworthy, perhaps ill-equipped, but nervous about how people will respond and what will happen next. Heaven forbid that we should presume that our preachers and heroes of the faith are any bolder than Paul? The gospel did not spread because Paul was a great man. It spread because God called Paul and he put one foot in front of the other. Because, against his natural instinct to flee, Paul stood and spoke. Many Christians say they are too shy or something else to go around talking about Jesus – they are no St Paul! Well, perhaps St Paul is not as St Paul as we imagine him to have been!
What did we learn?
People will not swarm to the church and to the gospel because it shines like the most powerful message in the world. This world will continue to respond with a face of pitty. But to those who hear the gospel and repent because they believe they are unworthy of God and yet through Christ they are made righteous, holy and redeemed – they will know that they are called by God and that the cross of Christ is amazing. Before we look for amazing charismatic, energetic, inspiring preachers, check that they are ministers resolved to preach Christ crucified.
Topic A: If God is God, why do we put science or the human heart above Him? It seems that we only believe things that have either been proven by science or that our hearts long to be true. The gospel of God rejects both of these and simultaneously satisfies them. To those who do not wish to know God will use science and human experience to dispel the logic of salvation by grace. But to those whom God has called and saved, we find that the gospel satisfies science and completes our human heart! Scientifically, the resurrection is the only sound solution to the havoc caused after Jesus was crucified. Emotionally, the gospel reveals that we are broken apart from God. Why, though, does humanity insist on putting faith in God on hold until a) we see him or b) we feel him?
Topic B: How long does it take before you are found boasting in God? Discuss ways you have found to speak about God in your life? Listen to one another with encouragement to praise God more.
Topic C: Is fear and weakness reason to say nothing? Courageous people are not those who do amazing things but those who overcome their fears and weaknesses. It’s a sign of faith to testify of God’s goodness through Christ when we are personally convinced that this is the greatest news of all – especially in times when it is not easy to speak up.