the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing
1 Corinthians 1:18
As the apostle Paul makes his plea for unity in the Corinthian church, in response to the reports from Chloe’s household, he starts to give the underlying reasons for these factions, beginning in verse 18 of chapter 1. The first reason that many in the church were turning to their favorite celebrity, and away from the message of the Gospel, came from a misunderstanding of the source of the power of the Gospel. As a vestige of their pre-salvation, unrenewed understanding, they looked at the Gospel as a human system of philosophy or wisdom, and belittled the simple proclamation of the cross. In attempting to correct this false view, Paul contrasts worldly wisdom with divine wisdom, saying that human wisdom is defeated by the simple preaching of a message that the world counts as foolish. The Christian Gospel is not a philosophy to be discussed or debated – it is rather the power and wisdom of God. It does not primarily appeal to the reason of man, but to something deeper within him; and as such, it is to be proclaimed and believed.
In verses 22-25 Paul divides the unbelieving world into two classes – Jews and Gentiles. These Jews and Gentiles remain in separate parties, because they are unconverted. The unbelieving Jews required a sign – some visible demonstration of power. To the Jews, a crucified Messiah was unthinkable – an accursed thing (Deut 21:23, Gal 3:13) – the very opposite of a visible demonstration of power. They actually counted Jesus’ death on the cross as proof against his Messiahship. Meanwhile the unbelieving Greeks attempted to approach God through reason and logic. The idea of God taking on human form to die was completely illogical, and therefore unacceptable.
But because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:25), the apparent weakness of God in having his beloved Son hang on a tree is stronger and more effective than any sign or any human argument. What God did in a crucified Savior seems to be in direct contradiction to the human idea of power and success; however it accomplished what the greatest of human minds in the world have failed to achieve – freedom from bondage, the salvation of Jew and Gentile alike, as evidenced by the countless number of lives changed by the power of God in the early church, and their union together in Christ.
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