Wisdom and Power
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Our text today divides the world into two classes of people.
It does not divide it by race. The text does not divide the world by gender, nationality, political affiliation or religion. It does not divide the world by economic status or intelligence. All of these things are very important to us, and we spend much of our lives concerned about such things. Politics and economics are important. However, are they most important? Race and gender are significant. However, are they most significant?
Today, we are going to look at the turning point of all history. We are going to look at what is most important and most significant. This one thing divides the world into the "haves" and the "have nots." This one thing divides the world into two classes of people.
This one thing is the cross.
Those who are perishing and those who are being saved form the two classes of people.
1 Corinthians 1:18 says:
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. NASB
Here we see that all people are divided into those who are perishing and those who are being saved.
We are all going to die physically. We all know this. However, the Bible speaks of a second death and of the judgment of God. Hebrews 9:27 says, "...each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment..." (NLT) This clearly refers to judgment coming after physical death.
The Bible teaches that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) It also states quite plainly that "the wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) In order to understand this more completely, we can look at John 3:18 which says, "...whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (ESV) It is clear from the Bible that all of us have sinned and that our sin is enough to condemn us. All humanity, without Christ, is perishing not just physically but eternally. Hebrews 10:26-27 puts it in these terms:
Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. (NLT, )
We see the evidence of evil all around us. Murders, rapes and crimes of all kinds fill our newscasts.
The world asks two questions that address this evil. One question is "How can there be a God if there is so much evil in the world?" The second question is "How can a loving God condemn anyone to Hell?
The Bible offers the best answers I have yet heard to these questions, but there is no end of debate concerning these issues. Both the questions and the answers are as old as the Bible itself. These and many other questions and objections have been passed around for millennium. It is interesting to note that these two questions in particular contradict each other. The first one complains that God is not doing anything about evil and the second one complains about God doing something about evil. Approximately three thousand years ago, the Psalmist wrote:
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us." (Psalms 2:1-3, ESV, )
Why is humanity so set against God?
1 Corinthians 1:21 speaks truthfully when it says:
Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. (NLT, )
Through human wisdom, the world rages against God. However, God does not wish for any to perish. He says as much in 2 Peter 3:9. (According to the most well-known verse in the Bible (John 3:16), in order to keep anyone from perishing, God gave His only Son, and yet as 1 Corinthians 1:18 tells us, this message is foolishness to those who are perishing.
Just as the world is divided into two classes of people, those who are perishing and those who are being saved, so also, the Church is divided along the same lines. This is why Paul spends so much time on the distinction between the world's wisdom and God's wisdom.
Two things in the world have long been a trap for the Church. One is the world's wisdom and the second is the world's power. Unity of the faith means that we must discern and understand these things. Indeed, it is a very sad truth that many call themselves Christian who deny the very master that bought them. The Bible speaks of this when it says:
For people will be lovers of self ... having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:2,5 ESV, )
The Reformation happened some 500 years ago because the Roman Church had become enamored with political power and its doctrine perverted by the wisdom of the world. These things still divide us, and must divided us. For example, there are some that say that all roads lead to God. They say that it does not matter what name you call Him. We are all calling on the same God. This might indeed sound wise to the world. However, it denies the Master who bought us.
This is seen clearly in 1 Corinthians 1:23:
So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.' (ESV, )
We preach that Christ was crucified.
The Jews have a different religion. They do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah ("the Christ"). They are offended by claims that Jesus is the Messiah they have been promised and are waiting for. The Muslims have a different religion and do not believe that Jesus was one with the Father, and are offended that we teach the Trinity. The claims of Jesus to be the only way to the Father are offensive to other religions.
For those with no religion, it is all nonsense. Jew, Christian, Muslim or other -- we are all talking nonsense. Many claim that we either cannot know (agnosticism), or that there simply is no God (atheism).
Perhaps it is in an effort to not be offensive to other religions, or perhaps it is in an effort to not seem foolish to the world, but to say that everyone will be saved in the end or that all roads lead to God is to ignore one of the basic truths of the Gospel. Jesus clearly taught:
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV, )
In addition, John 3:36 teaches:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (ESV, )
This is the dividing line.
We can and do enjoy rich, warm fellowship and family relationships with Christians who differ from us doctrinally. Some speak in tongues, others do not. Some baptize by immersion, others by sprinkling. Some accept women as pastors, others do not. Some believe Jesus will rapture the Church before the Tribulation, others believe He will do this at the end of the Tribulation. While we know we are right and vigorously teach and defend our positions, we share a bond of brotherhood in Christ. We are family. Many of us have experienced an unexplainable sense of unity with believers of different cultures and languages, because we share a common Savior.
Jesus is what we have in common, and our faith in Jesus is the dividing line between those who are perishing and those who are being saved. We need this dividing line because we need to know what to believe and what not to believe. We must know where the line is drawn. 1 John 4:1-3 explains this when it says:
'Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:1-3 ESV, )
This is how we determine the truth from the lie. This is how we measure whether a teaching is from God. What do they say about Jesus?
Some who teach falsehood sound as if they are saying the right things about Jesus, but redefine the terms. For example, some say He is a god but not God. On the other hand, some say He is a god in the same way we will all one day be gods. These and other such teachings rob the cross of its power and show that those who say such things are among those who are perishing.
Since the time of Jesus until this present day, Christians have stood on these truths and have chosen to die rather than compromise on the truth of the cross, the truth that Jesus, God's Son, died on the cross to purchase our salvation.
This truth is the very power of God for our salvation. To add anything to it, such as the thought that any work we can do can merit our salvation, is to take away from the power of the cross, and to nullify it as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:17.
According to 1 Corinthians 1:21, the world, through its wisdom, does not know God, nor can it.
In 60 A.D., Paul's said, "God used our foolish preaching to save those who believe." (1 Corinthians 1:21, NLT) Now, two thousand years later, God is using the same foolish message to save those who believe. The world is doing all it can to stop this message. It is ridiculed in the media. It is ridiculed on our campuses and outlawed in our schools. In half the countries of the world, the governments openly persecute Christians, imprisoning and in some cases executing them for holding on to this foolish message.
However, for us who know its power, we know that the very gates of hell cannot and will not stop the advance of the Gospel, because it is the very power of God for the salvation of those who believe. Because of this, we have a unity and solidarity of faith that the world cannot understand or take away. Truly:
This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25 NLT, )
We live in perilous times, but we need not fear because we have the wisdom and power of God in the message of the cross.