The Word of the Cross is Foolishness
1st Baptist Church,
Des Moines, NM
My goal in a Bible study is not to necessarily answer your questions, but rather to leave you with more questions, to fuel your thirst for a better understanding of God’s word. My hope is that you’ll leave this study with a burning desire to crack open your Bibles to see if these things are true. I hope that we have some points of disagreement so that we’ll both have to turn to our Bibles and seek God’s word for clarification.
The text we’re looking at this morning is:
1 Corinthians 1:18-2:14 (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, AND BRING TO NOTHING THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE PRUDENT." (20) Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? (21) For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (22) For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; (23) but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, (24) but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (25) Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (26) For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. (27) But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; (28) and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, (29) that no flesh should glory in His presence. (30) But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— (31) that, as it is written, "HE WHO GLORIES, LET HIM GLORY IN THE LORD." (2:1) And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. (2) For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (3) I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. (4) And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, (5) that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (6) However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. (7) But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, (8) which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (9) But as it is written: "EYE HAS NOT SEEN, NOR EAR HEARD, NOR HAVE ENTERED INTO THE HEART OF MAN THE THINGS WHICH GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM." (10) But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. (11) For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. (12) Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (13) These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (14) But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
You’ll note that the text I’ve selected is bracketed by two similar thoughts and they are
1) “… the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” and
2) “… the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. ”.
I’d like to examine these two statements first.
Let’s take the first statement first: “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing”. The King James calls it “the preaching of the cross”. My question is “Who are these people that are “perishing”?
Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”,
Romans 5:12 says that “death passed upon all men, for all have sinned.”.
Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” Furthermore,
Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 2:13 both say that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins”.
John 3 says that a man must be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of heaven.
John 3:5-6 says “Except a man be born of water and [of] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”.
In Romans 7 and 8, Paul says “if you are living according to the flesh, you must die;”
Ephesians 2:2-3 says that we “once walked according to the course of this world…and once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh… and were by nature, children of wrath, just as the others.
Titus 3:3 says “we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and eny, hateful and hating one another.”
The Bible seems to clearly tell us that we were, at one time, among the “perishing”.
The last verse I read in the 1 Corinthians passage said “… a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. ”. Once again, what is a “natural man”? It seems obvious that the “natural man” is well….a “natural” man, that is, a sinful man, but let’s see if we can run down this phrase “natural man” in the Bible.
There is relatively little mention of the “natural man” outside of 1 Corinthians, at least in the context in which it’s used there, but in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is talking about the resurrection and he says:
1 Corinthians 15:42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, "The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.
So, while Paul is talking specifically of the resurrection here, his contrast of natural versus spiritual and especially his statement that the natural comes first is important.
In the context of the 1 Corinthians passage where Paul uses “foolishness” twice; in seeing Paul contrast “natural” with “spiritual” in 1 Corinthians 15; and in light of our discussion of John 3 where we saw that one must be born again from fleshy to spiritual, it seems fairly safe to say that we were all “natural” before we became “spiritual”. To add some weight to this assumption, I would point out that in
Genesis 1, darkness comes before light.
In John 1:5, Jesus said “light shone into darkness….”.
John 12:46: "I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” This verse seems to plainly state that we were in darkness.
1 Peter 2:9 says that “God called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”.
The theme of these verses is that we once were “something” and then became “something else”. Therefore, I take the context of 1 Corinthians 2:14 to be that we were once, ourselves, natural men.
If that is the case, and it most certainly seems to be the case that we were once all “perishing”, then how is it that one can accept the “foolishness” of the message of the cross? 1 Corinthians 2:14 doesn’t beat around the bush. It says “the natural man does not (or “cannot”) accept the things of God”. It’s not like Mr. Natural Man sat down, studied the problem, and said “this is foolish, but I’ll accept it anyway”. The word “foolishness” in the Greek is mo-ree’-ah and it also means “absurd”. Therefore when 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “… the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” what it’s saying is “The word of the cross is absurd, it’s foolish, it’s ridiculous, it’s crazy, it’s absolute silliness”. Yet, the Bible says that to those who are being saved, the word of the cross is “the power of God.” How does one get from “foolishness” to “the power of God”??
1 Corinthians 1:21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
This acceptance of the “power of God” does not come from worldly wisdom. That is, we did not go down to the library and check out some books, hang out at the coffee shop and talk to some philosophers, watch a little TV, see a current movie, or read a popular weekly news magazine, get smarter, and then come to the logical conclusion that Jesus Christ died for our sins. I’m not saying that the power of God can not be present in some of those things, but I am saying that those things, in and of themselves, did not lead us to a saving faith. Remember!!-“the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing”. This is a catch-22 situation. The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but the only way to be saved is to accept the message of the cross!! Yet, how can we accept something that is clearly so foolish?
If we go back and read our selected verses again, we see that v. 30 says “…by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption…”. And there we have the answer to our dilemma. How does the message of the cross change from a perishing man’s foolishness to become “the power of God”? How can a natural man accept the “foolishness” of God’s message and thus save himself? He can’t. He’s blind, dead in his sins, and in darkness. According to 1 Corinthians 2:14, “he cannot accept the things of God”. It is not until the light of God, through the Holy Spirit, shines into natural man’s darkness that natural man can see his sin. Then, and only then, can the formerly natural man accept the things of God, begin to understand them, and see Jesus as “the wisdom of God”. Only then is man capable of repentance and belief and faith. Let us return to
v. 30: …by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."
Therefore let no man boast of his own will, but let him boast only in the Lord. May God be praised for his rich and abundant grace through Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen