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1 Corinthians 1:18-31 - "Christian Boasting"
Andrew Richardson MPC, 21st April 2002.
In the year 1543, a polish astronomer called Nicholas Copernicus published a book. In his book he made the amazing claim that the earth rotates around the sun. Now that probably sounds obvious to you, today it's something everyone knows. But back then it was revolutionary. Until Copernicus, everyone thought that the earth was the center of the universe and the sun rotated around it. That was the accepted wisdom. But Copernicus turned that wisdom upside down. If he was right, the old wisdom wrong. It didn't just need modifying. It needed to be thrown out. It was giving people completely the wrong picture of how the solar system worked. If Copernicus was right the old way of thinking wasn't wisdom at all. It was foolishness. And of course Copernicus was right. And the old wisdom has been thrown out. These days its hard to believe people thought the sun rotated around the earth. Copernicus showed the accepted wisdom for centuries was actually foolish.
And according to Paul, that's what has happened to the wisdom of the world. Just like the idea that the sun rotates around the earth, worldly wisdom has been shown up as foolish. God's turned our normal human way of thinking upside down. He's shown, worldly wisdom's got it wrong about him. At the cross of Christ, God did exactly the opposite to what the wisdom of the world would have done. He took what is stupid and foolish in the eyes of the world and used it to save us. There's no way that our normal wisdom can understand it.
You can see what Paul's saying in v 20. He says to the Corinthians, 'just think about the people who look wise in your society. The people who have their own impressive ideas and philosophies about God. The John Laws and Philip Adams of ancient Corinth. They couldn't think up a God who'd use a cross. Their wisdom about God is foolish. They can't understand him at all.' Look with me at v 20. He says:
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?
He's saying if you want to understand God. If you want to find out he's saved people through the cross, these clever people won't help you.
And if they can't help you, he says, it shows God has made FOOLISH the wisdom of the world. it's not wise enough to know him. Thats what Paul says in the next verse v 21:
in the wisdom of God the world through ITS WISDOM DID NOT KNOW HIM
It doesn't matter how intelligent someone is, it doesn't matter what their IQ is. Even if they've got a PhD in theology. If they follow worldly wisdom they won't understand God. And if they try they'll get completely the wrong picture. Normal worldly thinking gives people an upside down view of God. They'll say God's wisdom is foolish and his power is weak. And you see it especially in what they think of the cross. That's what Paul says in v 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.
The same idea is there in the second half of verse 21 too:
God was pleased through the FOOLISHNESS OF WHAT WAS PREACHED to save those who believe.
When people thinking with worldly wisdom are confronted by the cross they can't accept it. They think its weak and foolish.
And Paul's got two examples of this happening. He's got two examples of philosophies that say they understand God, but can't handle the cross. The two examples are the Jews and the Greeks. Two groups who had respected ideas about God back then. Look at v 22. Paul says Jews demand miraculous signs. According to them, God would come and do something amazing to free them from the Romans. And then he says, there's the Greeks. Greeks look for wisdom. According to them, God was a complex philosophical idea you could make sense of if you thought hard enough. But Paul says, neither of them want a crucified saviour v 23"
but we preach Christ crucified: a STUMBLING BLOCK to Jews and FOOLISHNESS to Gentiles
And there are still people like the Jews and Greeks today.
Last Christmas I was given a book by John Spong. Spong is a theologian who gets a lot of publicity. He's often on TV or in the paper and he's sold almost a million of his books. His aim is to come up with a picture of God without any help from the Bible. He wants to get rid of old fashioned and out of date ideas. And think up a God who'll fit in with modern western thinking and be attractive to people in our society. He's a lot like the Greeks, and the funny thing is, just like them he can't accept the message of the cross. He thinks its foolish. Just listen to what he writes about it:
The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a BARBARIAN idea based on PRIMITIVE CONCEPTS OF GOD and must be dismissed. [Point 6 of the twelve theses in his A Call for a New Reformation (emphasis added)]
You can't miss his attitude. For Spong the cross is a crazy idea. Just like the Jews and the Greeks, he's a perfect example of Paul's point. The wisdom of the world can't understand a God Who'd work through a cross.
And so Paul says, it's the wisdom of the world that's foolish, not the cross. The cross might sound foolish, but it's God's power and wisdom. The cross might sound weak and foolish, but it's still stronger and wiser than the wisdom of the world. v 24:
But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, the cross is Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
But that's not the message we get from the world. When you meet clever people, or hear intelligent ideas it can be hard to trust the cross. Sometimes the wisdom of the world seems so impressive. I remember a guy I used to read the Bible with at uni. He was a christian who was into politics. He was a member of one of the political parties and he found it really exciting. He was picketing the student union buildings. He was getting flown around the country to help with election campaigns. He was meeting the prime minister. It all seemed so important. So powerful. He was changing the country. But the message of the cross, well, it seemed pretty ordinary in comparison. It didn't seem to have that kind of power. It seemed weak and foolish. And soon my friend had given up meeting with me, he'd given up on the bible. And he'd given up on the message of the cross. But Paul didn't want the Corinthians to give up and he doesn't want us to give up. The message of the cross is God's power. Human wisdom IS FOOLISH. So keep trusting the message of the cross and don't give up.
Unfortunately, the Corinthians were being tempted by worldly ways of thinking. They were starting to downplay the cross, and focus on the wisdom of the world. Especially with their leaders. As we saw last week they were boasting about how smart their leaders were and how well they could speak. They were evaluating them according to the wisdom of the world. And the reason Paul's taken so much trouble to show them worldly wisdom is foolish, is so they'll stop their boasting. If they can understand that God isn't impressed by worldly ways of thinking, then maybe they'll stop thinking about their leaders in a worldly way.
And so to make sure the Corinthians have understood his point, to make sure they understand how silly their boasting is, Paul gets them to have a look at themselves. He says, "You of all people should know not to boast about your leaders in a worldly way. If God used worldly criteria, if God thought the things you've been boasting about were important, most of you wouldn't be Christians at all. If God was interested in human wisdom or power or standing, he wouldn't have been interested in you." He says in v 26:
Brothers, 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.
The Corinthians were mostly from a very humble background. But Paul says, that's OK. God's not interested in worldly values. As we've seen he thinks they're foolish. And he doesn't choose people according to worldly wisdom. In fact, he chooses people worldly wisdom would never choose. And he does it for a purpose - so no one can boast that God chose them for their wisdom. V 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 He 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.
Paul says no one can boast before God, but its easy to forget. The Corinthians had forgotten - They were boasting about their leaders. And maybe you can think of times you've boasted about that too. You might not have said anything, just thought it. Maybe you started to accept the worldly wisdom that leadership is a competition. You felt proud because you were following a leader who was extra gifted, a leader who spoke well, or who had a PhD. You were thinking it made you a better Christian - that some of your leader's prestige was rubbing off on you. It's the kind of thing that can happen when churches are looking for a new minister. They'll search for someone who'll make their church look important. Someone with the right degrees and the right background, rather than someone who'll teach them about the cross and help them grow in their faith. But Paul says don't boast like that. If you do, you're getting caught up in the foolish wisdom of the world. It's like you've gone back to believing that the sun rotates around the earth. You're acting on an old discredited way of thinking. Don't do it.
But according to Paul, If the Corinthians really have to boast, there is someone they can boast about - Jesus. He's the ONE PERSON who it's really wise for them to boast about. He's wise and righteous and holy. They can be proud of someone like that. And His wisdom rubs off on them too. If the Corinthians are in Christ - if they're trusting Him, they share in His qualities. He's wisdom and righteousness and redemption for them too.
As Paul puts it,
30 It is because of God 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 him who boasts boast in the Lord."
Paul's summarising a verse from the Old Testament. Jeremiah 9:24. And if we look at the full verse it'll help us to understand a bit more what it means to boast in the Lord. For Jeremiah it means to boast that you know Him. And it means to boast about His kindness, justice and righteousness.
Let me read to you.
But let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the LORD.
Jeremiah helps us understand that boasting in the Lord is incompatible with accepting the wisdom of the world. Because it's at the cross where God shows His kindness and justice and righteousness. At the cross God is kind enough to sacrifice Himself for us. At the cross God deals with our sin justly while still acting righteously. If we're boasting in God's kindness, justice and righteousness, we're boasting in the cross. But as we've seen, that's something human wisdom would never do.
So the question that this leaves you with is, are you boasting in the Lord? Are you excited about knowing Him and convinced that He's kind and just and righteous? Even at the cross?
There's an ad. on Television at the moment for the life savers. It's a little boy telling the story of how he was swept out to sea and the life savers saved his life. And he's only too happy to boast about the life savers. They're his heroes. Of course he'll go on television and let everyone know about them.
That's the kind of attitude Paul wants us to have towards Jesus. We're saved through His death on the cross. It's in Him we have our wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption. And so we've got every reason to be proud of Him. Proud of the privilege of knowing him. Proud of his kindness, justice, and righteousness shown at the cross.
So don't get caught up in the foolishness of worldly wisdom - boasting about church leaders. Boast in Jesus.