This sermon is number 5 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 5
"The Foolishness Of God vs The Wisdom Of Men"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2002 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 1:18-2:5
First Corinthians chapter 1, and we are in our fifth study tonight - we took a break last week, and were mightily blessed through the ministry of our brother Bill Freel. We're taking up again, and we're hopefully finishing the first chapter of 1 Corinthians and entering into even the second chapter tonight, God willing, if time permits us. So we want to take up where we left off in the last study two weeks ago, but we'll just read the last verse that we studied on that last week, verse 17, to get the flow right through the whole of this chapter and the first five verses of chapter 2.
Verse 17: "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God".
So we look tonight at this study under the title of 'The Foolishness of God vs The Wisdom of Men'. Several weeks ago I give you a bit of a biography of the Moravian people, that great movement of Jesus Christ that was moved of God to take the gospel right across the world - they were really the beginning of the modern missionary movement as we know it today. You remember that they had that 100 year prayer meeting, where 24 women and 24 men separated themselves and took an hour each and each day worked around it; and everyone that was sick, someone took their place; and everyone that died, someone stepped into the gap - and for 100 years they had this prayer meeting that gave birth, for 300 years, to missions right across Europe. Well, I was reading about the Moravians this week, and one thing I picked up was that when they were beginning their mission in Greenland they found that the natives were so ignorant that they were at the end of their tether as to how to share the gospel with them. Because they couldn't even understand language, or they couldn't read or write, they decided that they would first and foremost educate the people of Greenland. The results were so disappointing, they felt they were banging their head against a brick wall, that they decided to give up and pack up and leave Greenland.
While one of the missionaries was awaiting a ship to take him home he began to translate a portion of the Gospels in the New Testament. After he had finished translating that portion, he decided that he would test the translation by opening the word of God and reading it to the native people. As he did that he read to them about the death, the crucifixion, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. After finishing reading the portion of Scripture in their own native tongue there was a pause and there was silence for a period, and after that period of silence the chief of the tribe stood up and asked that the missionary would read the portion of the gospel again. After he finished reading it again the chief said: 'Is what you read true?'. He said again: 'Is it true?'. When the missionary replied: 'It is true', the man from Greenland asked the question: 'Then why didn't you tell us this at the first hand? Why did you have to leave it until now? We will listen now to the words of this Man who suffered for us! You cannot go, you will have to stay and tell us about this suffering Man who suffered for us!'.
What I want you to see is simply this: that even way back hundreds of years ago, and even in the passage that we're reading tonight, Paul could testify, the Moravians could testify, and we ought to be able to testify tonight in our gospel outreach and proclamation that the cross always conquers where the wisdom of man fails. Paul, in this passage, is addressing those in Corinth who claim to be wise - of course, they're in the church of Jesus Christ, but they're very proud of the human worldly wisdom which they have. In fact, if we reminisce to the previous weeks of our studies, you'll remember that they were using this worldly wisdom to divide the church and to promote personalities - even their own personalities, to push themselves forward in the place of Jesus Christ. But Paul is showing them, and we'll see in this study this week, that their so-called worldly human wisdom means absolutely nothing - it is worthless in the sight of God. The reason why he says that is: one, that wisdom that they have and are purporting and have pride in cannot save anybody, and that wisdom cannot further the cause of Jesus Christ.
In fact, the wisdom that they are purporting to have does the exact opposite: it destroys things. It's destroying this church in Corinth. Those who are saying: 'I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ', it is bringing division into the church of Jesus Christ - but we'll see it's more sinister and devastating than that this week, because it actually opposes the tenets and the fundamentals of the gospel of God's grace that is in Christ. Paul is saying that to adhere to such worldly humanistic wisdom is to oppose, is the exact opposite and antithesis of everything that the gospel is, and the gospel of Jesus Christ stands for. Their fundamental problem was that they misunderstood what true wisdom really is, the nature of true wisdom. Paul was telling them right at the outset: human wisdom, the wisdom that they are priding themselves in, the wisdom that they are using to divide the church of Jesus Christ, is based on human arrogance and leads ultimately to destruction - but true wisdom, the wisdom of God, is based on the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed from heaven and that gospel is the only thing that leads to life and leads to health.
I hope you see the difference. In verse 17 he tells us quite clearly and categorically: 'That is the reason I did not come to preach baptism unto you, but I came to preach the gospel, and I didn't come to preach it with the method of wisdom of words' - why? 'Because I didn't want the cross of Christ, the message of the cross, to be of none effect. I didn't want you to miss the point, because the most important thing of all that I will preach is the cross - and if you miss that you will miss the wisdom of God!'. Corinthians, Paul is saying, Christians tonight in Belfast, never ever allow human wisdom and human eloquence to obscure the power of the cross. Make sure that you don't have human wisdom, even theological wisdom, make sure that you have the wisdom of God because there is a difference! We're going to see the difference in the three points that you have before you, which really outline the chapter that we've read together.
The first difference is this: the gospel message is the opposite of worldly wisdom. The gospel message is the opposite of worldly wisdom. What we have to realise, and this is elementary stuff but it's necessary to lay down this foundation, is that there's only two types of people in this whole universe. I don't know whether there's anybody here tonight that's not converted, but you need to hear this and I want you listen specifically to this: there are only two types of creatures, those who are perishing and those who are being saved. In verse 18 Paul tells us that: 'For the preaching of the cross is to them that are perishing foolishness; but unto us which are being' - literally - 'which are being saved it is the power of God'. Those two positions - those who are perishing, and those are continually being saved and going to glory - are two diametrically opposed positions. They are not the same, they cannot be merged, the lines of demarcation cannot be smudged. They are two black-and-white, fundamental absolutes that are not the same and cannot ever be confused.
One of the fundamental evidences that they are not the same, that they are absolutely different, is because they have two different responses to the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ. If you want to know whether you're saved or not you don't ask the question: 'Well, do you believe in God? Do you believe the Bible? Do you believe Jesus was a good man, a prophet, or even the Son of God?'. Those aren't the questions, the great demarcation line that will decide whether you're among those who are perishing at present and will perish in the lake of fire or those who are being saved by the grace of God at present and one-day - ultimately their salvation is now sealed, but will be realised in a future day - is: what do you think and what is your response to the cross of Christ?
Of course these two groups respond in two absolutely diverse ways. For those that are perishing their human wisdom that they stand upon, that they use as the foundation of their life, causes them to conclude that the cross is absolute foolishness. You see, human wisdom is for those who are perishing, and if you stand upon intellect or reason or rationale, you must know that you are perishing! That is one good reason for not choosing human wisdom, because it ultimately leads to the place the Bible calls hell. But those, the Bible says, who the Spirit of God is working in, has initially done a work in salvation and is doing a work in day-to-day and ultimately would bring to fruition when we go to glory and are made to be perfect in the image of Jesus Christ, their whole perspective of what wisdom is has been changed. The Spirit of God has wrought a work in their mind and in their heart so that they're changed from this camp of those who are perishing, who see the cross as foolishness, and they begin and are brought by the Spirit to see the cross as the power of God unto salvation!
I'll tell you this: that change cannot be made by anything or anyone but by the Spirit of the Living God, for that is the greatest change, the greatest turnaround, the greatest transformation that is known in the universe. What is the point that Paul is making? He's saying that the wisdom of this world is diametrically opposed to the very message that saves! He is appealing to the Corinthians upon the grounds of the message that you have believed, and that has saved you and has placed you in the church of Jesus Christ, and has set you on your way to glory: 'I plead with you, you're now believing something that is totally opposed and the opposite and antithesis of everything that has saved your soul from hell!'. To support that claim he appeals, and he quotes the Old Testament as he often does, he quotes Isaiah chapter 29 verse 14 and verse 19. If you look at verse 19 of this passage, this is him quoting it: 'For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent'. He's quoting how Isaiah was speaking to the Israelites of old, and whenever they were in trouble, when they were facing judgement and wrath from other nations, what did they do? They failed in this as well, rather than looking to God in faith for help, what did they do? They looked to their own human worldly wisdom, as James calls it: earthly wisdom.
So in verse 20 he asks these questions, the first two are inferring, talking about the Israelites: 'Where is the wise man?', Isaiah 19:12, he mocks the Egyptians because they thought that their wisdom was as great as the ways and wisdom of God. Remember Pharaoh and all Pharaoh's magicians before Moses, they thought that they could reciprocate the great wisdom of the God of Israel, but God is saying in Isaiah and also through Paul: 'Where is the wise man now? Where is the scribe? Where is the scholar?'. Isaiah in his book also ridiculed the Assyrians because they had great arrogance, they thought that they could outwit the God of Israel, that they were cleverer. I think Paul is alluding also to the Jewish scribes that were probably in the camp of Cephas in this church specifically, who were still adhering to the law of Moses - circumcision and all the rest of it. Paul is saying: 'Where is the scribe? Where is the legal scholar of Judaism now before the wisdom of God?'. It's all the wisdom of this world.
He goes on: 'Where is the disputer of this world?'. Some translations but it: 'Where is the philosopher of this age?', and this is specifically contemporary to Paul's day, for he's moving now within the Greek world of Corinth where there's all the philosophers standing in the marketplace, philosophising and debating about what is truth and what is the universe that we live in. Where are they now? This is all human wisdom. So Paul asks the rhetorical question to end them all, and of course the answer to it is 'Yes': 'Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?' - has He not? Did He not in Isaiah's day? Of course He did! He defeated the Egyptians, He defeated the Assyrians, and there's a day coming when He will defeat all of the wisdom of this puny little futile world! One day, praise His holy name, everything that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, everything that sets itself up opposed to the revelation of God's word and God's gospel, will be pulled down and will be frustrated finally! Isn't that wonderful to know?
I'll tell you something even better than that, for us presently at least, it's this fact that Paul is telling us in Corinthians: that all the wisdom, the human earthly wisdom of this world, is confounded and frustrated here and now in the person and in the truth of Jesus Christ. It's already defeated! That's what Paul is really meaning, that's what Paul is really getting at. One day, finally and ultimately, all human wisdom will be frustrated - but today as we, week after week, faithfully we hope, try and preach the gospel, we are frustrating the human wisdom of this world - why? Because the human wisdom of the philosophers, of the scholars, of the Judaisers, of the intellectuals, all over this world in Paul's day and in today's day, would never ever lead them in their mind to the conclusion that God, to save human beings, would send His only begotten Son to die on a cross, to bleed, to be buried, and to rise again the third day - never happen! That is how God frustrates today the wisdom of this world, the wise ones who exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. Do you see the wisdom of God? This is tremendous, that actually by acting in this way God is frustrating human wisdom, because they label this gospel of a dying Redeemer as foolishness! In doing so God has actually frustrated their human wisdom!
You'd be forgiven for thinking: 'Well, if these wise men are really seeking after truth surely whatever path they follow, whatever religious path or philosophical path or scientific path, would ultimately lead them to truth?'. What is God doing? He sees that ultimately in the depths of their heart there is a depraved, rebellious human nature - and professing themselves to be wise, if they continue to lean on their own understanding and rely on all their intellect and all their prideful human wisdom, their mind will never ever bring them to the truth of God - why? Because to their wisdom it is folly! Do you see it? I do not think I am wrong in saying that God is actually confirming man in his sinful rebellion by choosing something that the wise think is foolish. Making their wisdom foolish...and as Romans tells us 'professing themselves to be wise, they are made fools'.
Verse 21 tells us that: 'For after that in the wisdom of God the world by its human wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe'. Isn't that wonderful? They're all sitting in their seats of learning with their beards to their feet, and philosophising about what is truth, when we will know God, when we will be as high as God, and in a carpenter's shop in Nazareth the God of heaven has come to dwell with men and they're missing it because they can't get off their high pinnacle of human learning and get down to God's foolishness which is above their learning! T. S. Eliot, the author who was not a man of God, far from it, said in a poem: 'All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance, and all our ignorance brings us nearer to death, but nearness to death no nearer to God, where is the life we have lost in living?'. That is where the wisdom of men leads you. It's not that men can't know about God, Romans 1 tells us that we can know about God from creation around us, the law of God is written on our hearts - but what it's talking about is in their own wisdom they couldn't be brought into an intimate knowledge of God, a relationship through salvation, and cleansing, so God chose a way that confounds their wisdom - what is it? It is the way of faith. It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Not 'that think', not 'that philosophise', not 'that intellectualise', but those who believe.
In verse 22 he expands this assertion and he says: 'For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom'. These were the particular ways that their various versions of worldly wisdom had been foiled through the gospel of Christ. The Jewish standard of what was wise was to be able to see signs. You remember when the Lord was on the earth the Jews were always asking Him for a sign, you can read about it in Matthew 12, John 2, John 6. Even when He performed signs, He never performed them at their bidding, but even when He did perform them it didn't satisfy them - and they thought to themselves: 'I think if He's really Messiah, He would never deny the Jewish people a sign to show that He is who He says He is', so they rejected Him! What upon? The grounds of their own worldly wisdom. So He became a stumbling-block to them.
The Jews required a sign, the Greeks seek after wisdom - what was the wisdom the Greeks sought after? What was their foundation of human understanding? Well, it was the exalted standards of the pagan philosophers, the poets. They thought it was absolute idiocy to think of a suffering God. How could God suffer? It's not rational! They wanted a gospel that was based upon their own human intellectual speculation, but the gospel that Paul is preaching, the gospel that is in the word of God is not down to speculation, it is revelation! 'Can I have no part in it?', the Greeks thought to themselves, so they rejected it too.
But here we have the wonderful contrast, and praise God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - that we are found in that contrast tonight. Verse 23: 'But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness'. What did Paul do? Did he intellectualise the gospel for the Greek? Is that what he did? Did he Judaise the gospel for the Jews? Did he make it more acceptable? Did he do signs and wonders to prove that he was an apostle of God? Did Christ pander to all their fleshly lusts to see with their eyes rather than to have faith? No, what did Christ say? 'An adulterous and perverse generation seeketh after a sign', but what did he do? He preached the message that had been delivered unto him of God, and he didn't change it one iota!
Oh, we need to hear this message today! He didn't dilute the gospel, he didn't reduce the message to something that they could accept, but it was a stumbling-block and he gave it to them as a stumbling-block - a 'scandalon', that's literally the Greek word. It was a scandal to them, the Jew, to think that their Messiah could be nailed to a cross, because Deuteronomy 12 told them that cursed is anyone that hangs upon a tree, he was a malefactor, he is a criminal, and my Messiah could not die in that way! Boy, was it a stumbling-block for a Jew to die on a Roman cross. To the Greek it was foolishness to think of this little Jew, as far as they were concerned, dying as a common thief - not even able to overcome His human enemies, yet it is testified that He's overcoming sin and death and hell there and He's saving the world from all their sins? Foolishness! It cannot be!
Well, thank God tonight that there was one group that embraced it. Look at it, verse 24, and you mark every word in this verse and don't make any mistakes about it: 'But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God'. The only difference between those who rejected the gospel and those who accepted the gospel was the power of the Holy Spirit in their life calling them! How does a person change from being one of those who are perishing to one of those who are being saved? I'll tell you what has to happen: the grace of God through the Holy Spirit has to touch their understanding and make it melt until they no longer see the gospel as foolishness, but they perceive it as the power of God unto salvation, and they believe!
Thank God that He touched me, and I can accept that - I don't understand it. Do you understand it? Why there are millions out there who have never been touched, but you're touched? I can't understand it, but do you know why I can believe it? Because of verse 25: 'Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men', and the is fact that I can't understand it unless I'm God, and my ways become His ways, and my thoughts become His thoughts, I'll never understand it! But thank Him I can believe it! As the song says: 'Because He touched me' - He touched me! I no longer see Him as a fool, I no longer see His message as foolishness, but I see Him as the Christ and I see His message as the power of God unto salvation!
I hope you're seeing the difference tonight that the gospel message is the opposite of worldly wisdom, it turns worldly wisdom on its head - and we shouldn't be afraid that we don't understand everything to do with the gospel or God or salvation! Do you understand it all? Talk to me afterwards if you do, 'cos I'd love to have a chat with you! I'll never understand it, but would there not be something wrong if we believed in an omniscient, omnipotent Deity and we could understand it all? Sure that would be a contradiction in and of itself. Those who know the reality of the wisdom and the power of the gospel, do you know what they will never do? They will never exalt man's wisdom over it.
Let me ask, we're going to fly on here, but let me ask: in our methods, how we present the gospel, do we reflect this? Do we? Or do we find ourselves finding in our hearts, or even in our actions, trying to marry in some way Christianity to the world's beliefs or to the world's value systems or standards, when it is utterly and diametrically and fundamentally opposed to everything that this world has or believes or stands for? It's not the world's standard that we need to adjust to to give them the gospel, it's God's standard! We ought to be changing, we ought to be changing, but not to the world, to the standards of God. I heard a story today about a man hanging on a cliff shouting for help, and a voice from heaven said: 'Let go'. He shouted back: 'Who's saying that?'. The voice came back: 'God'. He thought for a minute and then he shouted back: 'Is there anyone else up there?'. God tells us to give the gospel, He tells us the way to give the gospel, He tells us what the power of the gospel is, and we ask: 'Is there not another way?'. Surely this isn't working, surely there must be other wisdom - listen tonight: the gospel message is the opposite of our worldly wisdom!
Secondly, Paul develops his argument in inviting these believers to look now at their own personal experience of what their conversion was. He shows them that the gospel's grace is the opposite of worldly pride. Verse 26: 'For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called'. 'Remember when you were called, Corinthians, there wasn't many of you who were wise in worldly standards, very few of you were influential, very few were noble' - now that doesn't mean that not any noble, or any wise, or any of these types of people can be saved, you need to think of the Moravians themselves and Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf, and even Lady Huntingdon who in the 1700's was a great force for good in our land, and we could name many others. In fact Lady Huntingdon said that her salvation was owed to the letter 'M' in this verse! 'Not many', it doesn't say 'not any'! But generally speaking Paul is saying: 'Look, you're the big men now, you're putting your chest out and asserting your authority in the church, and you're even using this proud worldly wisdom to divide the church of Jesus Christ - but you weren't like that when you were saved! The world wouldn't have looked at you when you were saved'.
Well, that brings them down to size because they had forgotten what they really were, and they had appealed to human wisdom. You see men like that in the church, they get saved and all of a sudden they get into some dry theory of an argumentation about some insignificant doctrine, and before you know it they lose their zeal and they lose the simplicity that is in Christ, and they get this sort of aura around them: 'I know more than you because I have this doctrine!'. It's sad because the experience that we have when we are saved is forgotten, and this makes clear in this passage the way that God sees us all at conversion and right throughout our lives, and this is it - now you mark it, if you've got a superiority complex you watch this, and if you haven't watch it because you should have because we've all got one - it's called an old nature. 'But', verse 27, 'God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are' - that's how God sees you!
People who the world wouldn't have respected before you were saved, God still sees you like that! Do you know why? We often think: 'You know, this grace business, God chose me and it means that I don't really know why He chose me', and that's true in the sense that there was nothing in you, qualifications or attributes or morals, for God to choose you and say: 'Well, there's a good man, I'll have him, he's useful to me'. That's not the way it works - but I'll tell you this: there is a reasoning behind why God chooses you, but you're not going to like it! It's because you're base, it's because you're wicked, it's because you're despised, it's because you would never get anywhere outside the church of Jesus Christ! And do you know what ultimately the reasoning of it all is? To shame the things in the world that profess to be wise, God takes up an old sinner and uses him, and that is the greatest confounding of worldly wisdom that you will ever see!
That is the only basis for boasting. Paul is not trying to belittle these believers, he's trying to remind them that their only basis for boasting is the fact that God chose them to shame the wisdom of the world. When you first experience grace, you don't feel superior, do you? When you were saved at first did you feel superior? If you did you're not saved at all! Because it is that humility that comes through the mourning, the sorrow that leads unto repentance with the weight of your sins, conviction upon your shoulders and the guilt and the blame that makes you cast yourself on God for mercy rather than judgement! Now here's the question: how do you feel tonight? Do you feel a little bit better than you were then? Do you? You might know a bit more, you might have learned a bit more, you might be a wee bit more mature, but do you know what the grace of God teaches us? You're no better, and if you think you're any better the possibility is that you're worse.
Oh, there ought to be no superiority complexes, from God's position and perspective nothing has changed. Rather He has chosen the lowly, why? To confound the things that are mighty, why? Verse 29: 'That no flesh should glory in his presence', that no-one should glory! If you're elect of God, you're called of God and you've put faith in God, that's who the Bible calls the elect of God - it doesn't mean the elite of God! You're not anything special, only that God has made you special by choosing you and by saving you! I praise God tonight, if there's anybody in this meeting and they're not converted, they're not saved, and they're a deep-dyed sinner just like all of us - for there is no difference, and all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God - is it not good news to you tonight that God chooses the weak, God chooses the despised and the wicked things of this world! Those are the people He saves!
To dispel any remaining pride or doubts in their minds he reminds them why they believed in the first place. I think there were some of them walking around thinking: 'Well, I know it was grace, but I really believed because I was wiser than those people out there, I sought after God. I sought God's way. I was more powerful, I was powerful enough to receive salvation' - but do you know what verse 30 says? 'But of him' - of Him - 'are ye in Christ Jesus'. The reason why you're saved is not because you had more sense, or you were wiser, or you were more powerful, but by grace were you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves - but because you are put in Christ by His grace, the wisdom of God to us is Christ, and it is of Christ and His God and Father Jehovah that you are saved! It is of Him!
That means we ought, as believers, to stop following worldly wisdom and recognise that it is in Christ, He is the total and utter embodiment of all divine wisdom. The wisdom that He engenders, it produces in verse 30: righteousness, holiness and redemption - and if you want to have any of those things it's not through theology, although theology is good, it's not through learning, but it is through a relationship where you become more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ through fellowship with Christ and in Christ! The purpose of all that is verse 31: 'That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in his learning'? 'Let him glory in his denominational persuasion'? 'Let him glory in his theology'? 'Let him glory in his great preaching ability'? No! 'Let him glory in the Lord'!
The Gospel's grace is the opposite of worldly pride. Thirdly and finally, the gospel's power is the opposite of worldly persuasion. You see this all affects the way that we present this message. Paul tells us in the first five verses of chapter 2 that this message is not to be presented according to the world's wisdom. If it's the opposite of worldly wisdom, if it's the opposite of worldly pride, therefore it's the opposite of worldly persuasion. You don't present it the way that the world would present it! The Corinthians were obviously, like those in their world, presenting it with logic and argument and with rhetoric. They were more interested in the way they were doing it rather than what they were saying. But Paul says that if you're presenting the Gospel here's the way to persuade people: focus centrally and fundamentally and essentially on the message of the cross!
Is that not what he said first of all in verse 17? 'He sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest' - what? - 'the cross of Christ', it's a synonym for the Gospel. It is the gospel! I have to be careful, and I didn't want to allude to it last night in the Gospel because we have to beware but we say in front of unbelievers, but there are certain methods today on television and in the media to get people to believe the Gospel and to persuade them, and I have no doubt that God in His sovereignty can take up absolutely anything. In Philippians He took up people who were preaching Christ in contention and saved people through them - but I'm telling you this: this is not the method that we are to adopt, to tell people 'Oh, you'll have a better life, you'll fill the void within your soul, this is what you've looking for, you would pay a million dollars to get it but you can get it by faith in Christ and all your worries will be away!' - this is a gospel about blood! It's a Gospel about nails, pain, anguish, wrath, hell! It's a gospel about taking up that cross and following that crucified Christ! It's no picnic, but I'll tell you this: that's where the power of God is, in that cross.
Paul says this is the divine mandate and design that I have been given to preach this gospel, and he was fulfilling it right across the Mediterranean world and he wasn't going to stop with the Corinthians. It was the opposite of the message that those who were splitting the church were preaching. They had all their difference slants on the Gospel, their different slants on God's truth - but what does he say? Look at verse 1: 'I declared unto you the testimony of God'. Oh, let's be done with worldly wisdom, let's be done with the methods of worldly persuasion, and let's take God's design - it's not the foolishness of preaching now, literally it's the foolishness of the message that is preached, the foolishness of this cross, this blood, the judgement of God upon His Son - take it! Why? Because the power is in it, that is what will save people: the cross! If you present a message in arrogance like the Corinthians, or in eloquence like the Sophists, people may be swayed by your rhetoric or your sophistication or your method, but Paul is saying they'll not be swayed by the Holy Spirit!
We need to avoid this today - I love singing, and you know that, and we could do with a bit more lively singing sometimes in this place - but I'll tell you this: you see working people up into an emotional state with music, and then coming and lingering with them and pleading with them over and over again, and almost in a sort of hypnotic trance moving them emotionally to the decision? That is not the Holy Ghost! It's taking the testimony of God, and I'll tell you: if you take the testimony of God the best thing that you can do is just give it and walk away, and leave the Holy Spirit to do the work.
Well, in verse 2 he says: 'For I determined' - you can't get much clearer than this - 'not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified'. Jesus, He's central; the cross is central in all of its magnitude, yet in all of its simplicity - this is the most effective dimension of the gospel, and what is this that he took? This is what he presented to the Greeks, not some kind of intellectual argument, he presented the cross! What did he present to the Jews? Did he go into the tabernacle? He went to the cross! He went to the cross because it is the most offensive dimension of the gospel. Isn't that amazing? We shy away from preaching hell, but you know that's not the most offensive thing about the gospel, the cross is because that was hell on the Son of God! Perhaps that's why people aren't preaching it today. I happen to agree with C.H. Spurgeon when he said: 'Whatever text I preach the gospel from, by hook or by crook I will find a way to Calvary from it'.
Friends, we need to preach the cross, and we need to be assured of the effectiveness of the cross because it alone is the power of God unto salvation. In verse 3 he personalises it, he says: 'When I was with you, you can't deny that when I was there that this was the message I preached, this was the message that you first believed. I didn't come in arrogant pomp and pride, not in human strength', but what does he say? 'In weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching', verse 4, 'was not with enticing or persuasive words of man's wisdom', but what was it in? 'The power and the demonstration of the Spirit of God'! Do you know what that word 'demonstration' literally means? It's a technical legal term to describe an irrefutable evidence offered to a court, and Paul is saying: 'You saw it with your own eyes'. The power of God!
I must close, but do you know something? Don't misunderstand me, but we don't need to resort to the arguments of worldly wisdom to get people saved. In fact, if we're doing that that's maybe why people don't get saved. We don't need pop stars that are converted, we don't need actors or sports personalities, we don't need to sit scientists in the pulpit and get them to argue to show us that science is wrong and the Bible is true - we don't need that, why? Because the cross is the power of God unto salvation, this is supernatural! But also you don't just want anybody to preach the cross, why? Because it has to be preached - and God help me here - in the demonstration of the power of God! E.M. Bounds, that great man of prayer, said: 'The preachers who are the mightiest in their closets with God are the mightiest in their pulpits with men because our sufficiency is of God'.
I have to close but I've one story to tell you, and this details it all. Before I mention these men I want to say to you, you've maybe heard of D.L. Moody, you've maybe heard Billy Sunday, you've maybe heard of Billy Graham, and all these men if you listen to them there's nothing too spectacular - and I say this humbly, knowing my own station - about these men and their preaching. I've listened to tapes recorded years ago in the Iron Hall of Pastor Tocher, I've listened to W.P. Nicholson, and I'll be honest with you: my heart dropped when I heard them. Not with wisdom of words...so what was it about them? The demonstration of the Spirit of God!
This is the story: G.H. Lang in his book 'God At Work In His Own Lines' tells of an illiterate draper in Cornwall called Mr Gribble. Mr Gribble invited people into his home and he used to read a penny sermon to them, and there were people saved. After a while he got confidence and he was able to say a few words of his own free will, and there were hundreds of people getting saved. J.M. Darby wrote to S.T. Tregelles in a letter, and he wrote this: 'There are few men who can preach the gospel more fluently than you and I can, and we see few souls saved, and they tell me there is an illiterate brother called Gribble, and when he quotes scripture there are people swept into the kingdom'. G.H. Lang in his book says: 'Mr Darby's question is well worth pondering'. Why? Because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.
'Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness,
My beauty are, my glorious dress.
Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
When from the dust of death I rise
To claim my mansion in the skies,
E'en then shall this be all my plea:
Jesus has lived and died for me'.
We love Him, Father, because He first loved us. We pray that we will see His dying love and boast in nothing but that cross, and take up that cross and follow Him, and lose our lives of earthly wisdom down here, and gain a life of heavenly joy up yonder. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "The Foolishness Of God vs The Wisdom Of Men" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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