14 Nov 2021

The Folly of Human Wisdom & the Wisdom Of God’s “Folly” [1Corinthians 1:18-25]


The gospel is foolish to many people. How can God's Son die such a terrible & humiliating death? How can this be the only way to be saved? Yet, this gospel is the very message God designed to cut down human pride. And this gospel is also the message that displays the power of God and the wisdom of God. Paul, in dealing with divisions in the Corinthian church, takes the people through a gospel-centered approach to dealing with pride. It is a rich, fascinating and masterful insight into the beauty of the gospel.


Sermon Transcript

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Once again, I'd like to welcome all of you in our worship service this Sunday morning, glad you can join us in our journey through the book of 1st Corinthians.

We realize, we learn, that the church at Corinth was quite a problematic church. It was besot with many issues, one of which was church division. They were a people divided not because they were persecutions or pressures from the outside, but because there were arguments and contentions and strife on the inside.

There was a group of people who said, "I belong to Paul," and another group that says, "I belong to Apollos," and then another group that says, "I belong to Cephas." And so because of this competitive; comparative carnal-mindset, because of this partisan and sectarian spirit, the church was split up! And it is all because they had a wrong value system. They begin to pride themselves on men and not on God. They were boasting in human powers and eloquence and influence and reputation, and not centering themselves on God and His glory.

And as such, the church was split, the church was broken up because of human pride. Now, in order for Paul to encourage them to be restored to unity, Paul needed to deal with the root issue, and the root issue is a wrong value system, isn't it? They were boasting in men and in human accomplishments.

So Paul, now, set out in the verses before us to show how pointless; how vain; how worthless; how empty it is to trust in human powers and human wisdom. He, therefore, seeks to show — "The Folly of Human Wisdom". He shows that ultimately, it is so foolish of any man to pride themselves in human-smugness.

But he doesn't only do that, but he also shows — "The Wisdom of God's Supposed "Folly"'. So, what Paul is trying to achieve here is to show how far apart God and men really is, and in so doing, reverse the wrong value system the Corinthians were having. They were priding in man and not on God, but Paul here is saying, "It's so foolish for you to do that, because God is infinitely wise and human wisdom is actually so foolish."

Now, if he is able to accomplish that, and if the Corinthians do see that, then there will not be a divided people, because they will now all focus, they will put their trust and hope and look to God alone.

So, how is Paul going to do this? This is the crux! Paul is going to show "The Folly Of Human Wisdom And The Wisdom Of God's "Folly"" in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, this is his methodology. He's going to show that the Gospel reveals the folly of man's wisdom — how empty human wisdom is, and the Gospel is also going to reveal — how wise God is.

[1] The Folly of the Gospel
So, let's take a look! Let's look at this 2nd phrase, "And The Wisdom Of God's Folly".

Well, there are people today who think that God is foolish, or the message of God is foolish. So let's take a look at the 1st point here - The folly of the Gospel.

Now, I took this directly from verse 18, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing." So the word here, 'the word of the cross' is being referred to, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no question! It is another term for the Gospel, because if you look at verse 17, we saw that last week, Paul says, "I am not called to baptize, but to preach the Gospel."

So now, he says, "The Gospel is the word of the cross," in verse 23, as you have read it just now, it also is Christ crucified. And maybe the most famous; well known statement in 1st Corinthians, chapter 15 is that Paul says, "The Gospel is this, Christ died for our sins."

So, all that to help you realize, 'the word of the cross' is about Christ crucified, it's about Christ dying for our sins. This is what the Gospel is in a nutshell. And this message of Jesus Christ, the Son of God dying for our sins to many people is folly. The word, 'folly' here is a strong word. It's the word, 'moria' in the Greek, which means to be silly; to be absurd; to be foolish.

You see to many people, the teaching; the message that the Son of God would die on the cross is absolute rubbish, is absolute folly, is ridiculous, is absurd, it's complete madness! You say, "Why?"

Well, you must understand that the death on the cross was a punishment reserved for the worst of criminals. I mean, it was a symbol of shame and pain. You wouldn't want to wish it for anyone you love, but that is how Jesus died. So to the people, they say, "Oh, if Jesus is the Son of God, He shouldn't have to die this humiliating and painful way!" But that's exactly what the Gospel is about, therefore, to many people this is absolute madness.

The cross or the crucifixion was a way to kill with the maximal amount of pain inflicted. I don't want to go through this elaborately, we have spoken about this explanation or the way a crucifixion is painful many times over in this church. But just in a nutshell, in a very quick way. Well, before a man is crucified, he is whipped, with this special whip that causes a lot of lacerations and tearing off of skin, so there'll be a lot of bleeding, he'll be very weak, he will be dehydrated, because he's almost in a state of shock with all this blood loss.

And then this man would be nailed on his wrists or by his wrists, and also on his feet. So, suspended on these three points, he is hoisted up onto the cross. Now, with all those nails through the wrists and feet, there will be excruciating pain, because it absolutely pierces thick nerves. So, it is not uncommon that they will have dislocations in their arms and the shoulders and on their legs.

But this man hanging on the cross is suffering, because he needs to breathe. And because he's fixed there, he can't breathe very well, unless he hoists himself up, and that also causes great pain to the joints and to his limbs. But he has no choice, he goes through this cycle of pain and breathlessness, pain and breathlessness. It is an extremely painful way to die! Not to mention this is a very humiliating form of execution.

You notice that the man is stripped naked, or almost naked. He would have to carry the cross, across the streets in a public manner. He will be nailed onto a cross that is in a very public space. It is not in some private room, it's on a hill! Everyone can and will see it! And then when the body hangs there, and when he's dead, carrion birds would fly and feed off the dead corpse. And even scavengers and animals will come and eat off the flesh, because the cross is not on a very high ground.

But all that is designed to show how humiliating this is. And Jesus, the Son of God had to go to the cross and die. To the people of Rome and to the Greeks, they do not know of any deity whoever has to suffer death on the cross. So, this was absolute madness to the people living in those days, that the Son of God will have to die this way, and that you're saying, this is the way of salvation, this is the only way for men to be saved, to them it is absolute madness.

Thousand of years ago, there was this carving that was found in Rome. It's found in a room there and it is called today, "Alexamenos Graffito". Well, it simply means, that graffito blasfemo or this is another name for it, this is the, "blasphemous graffito". Why is this carving blasphemous?

Well, it's because if you look at it properly, the graffiti is really about a man, who's worshipping someone who is nailed on a cross, but this someone has the head of a donkey. And so, this is what people say, or what this person who carved this graffiti had to say, "Anyone who worships Jesus Christ is a fool, because Jesus is just a donkey. He's not the Son of God! The Son of God will not die on the cross this way, only a donkey dies this way, and if anyone worships this kind of a God, he's a fool!"

So the carving also has these words, "Alexamenos worships his god". What a joke! But throughout the centuries, people have laughed at the message of the Gospel. They say, "It's a foolish message. It is ... it's a ridiculous absurd message. How can the Son of God die such a helpless, hopeless, humiliating death?"

No wonder Paul says, "The word of the cross, Jesus dying for our sins is folly to those who are perishing." [1 Cor 1:18] So man laughs at God's message, man laughs at God's offer of salvation.
But here is the twist, this very message of God's Son, dying in such a painful, helpless and humiliating way is exactly the message that would destroy human pride.

[2] The Felling by the Gospel
So secondly, in this text, Paul explains - The felling by the Gospel.

Like tall trees, human pride will be cut down. The Gospel is like an axe that fells the tree of human pride. Because verse 19, Paul says, "For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."
Now, "For it is written ...", I think this connects to the message of the Gospel. The Gospel is the means, the Gospel is the message that God uses to cut down human pride.

This is a verse taken from Isaiah 29, verse 14. The story then was that the Assyrians were attacking Judah, and Judah was trying to figure out how to get out of this attack; this mess. So, they were thinking about going to Egypt to seek help, they were trusting in their own human wisdom, so God says to them, "Don't you do that! Trust Me!"

And right now, Paul applies this to the situation of the Gospel - how can a man be saved? We like to think of our own solutions. God says, "Hey, look to My Gospel! My Gospel seems to be very foolish, but it is the only message that saves and it is a message that cuts down human pride." Why?

Paul goes on to say, "Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age ? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world."' [1 Cor 1:20] The point here Paul is saying, is gather all the smart people of the world, bring all the intelligentsia, gather the elites and see if anyone has ever come up with a plan that can really save men from his sins.

Anyone? None! But, "Here is My message that saves, I will send My Son to die on the cruel cross and He will save His people from their sins. Gather all the smart people, add up all their IQ, they cannot figure a way to save men from his sins, but I have sent My Son to do so." So Paul says, "Why do you pride yourself in human wisdom? Has anyone come up with a plan of salvation?"

I was listening to a TED talk, I think this week or last week. I can't quite remember, I chanced upon it and it was a TED Talk by Billy Graham. Now, I am not here to debate whether Billy Graham was a true preacher or not, I think you can make your own decisions there, but I just want to highlight something interesting. Billy Graham gave a TED talk on science and technology, and he was the last speaker. It was a talk on ... there were many speakers before him who talked about technological advances. It was his turn to conclude and he talked about technology and faith.

And he said that in the Bible, there were technological advances. He mentioned the Hittites, they were the ones who kind of discovered how to smelt or process iron, and David also learned how to do that. And that technological advancement changed their lives and change their world. But he also mentioned that despite all these technological advances in the Bible, there is no human solution to the problems of human evil, suffering and death in this world.

And I think he's right! Think about it! We have the microchip, we have our iPhones, we have internet. I realized internet really started in 1991, that's about 30 years ago. We have all these wonderful stuff around us, our laptops, our computers, mainframes, whatever, we've AI. We can now go under the earth, under the sea, we can look out into the galaxies, hundreds and billions of years in the future. We can go out and explore outer space, there's even a space program for ordinary people who can pay for it. But then there is still no human solution to human evil, suffering, and death.

There is still violence, and war and injustice. There is still racial inequality and rape and murder. No one has ever come up with a solution for human evil! Gather Apple, Facebook, Google, Tesla, get Elon Musk, Bill Gates and all these smart people, Warren Buffett, gather them together and ask them, "Is there a way to human suffering and evil?" The answer is NO!

All the human wisdom and powers cannot do what the "foolish" Gospel is able to do. It was Albert Einstein who said, "It is easier to denature plutonium than it is to denature the evil spirit of man." This is just beyond us!

So Paul says, "Hey, gather all your smart chaps! You like to pride yourself following smart people, well, gather all the smart people, is there anyone who can solve the problem of human evil and sin? Look at the Gospel! Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world."

"For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe." [1 Cor 1:21] Man has always tried to come up with complicated philosophies or ethos to reach God. They have never been able to do that! So, God now gives a foolish Gospel - Christ die for our sins. And this is the message we preach, and this is the message you believe, and this is how you are saved.

"For Jews demand signs." [1 Cor 1:22] Now, the 'signs' here, I think refers to powerful demonstrations. Jews are looking for power ... powerful demonstrations to prove something. And I think Jesus gave an answer in Matthew 12:39, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah."

They were looking for many things. They were looking for more and more powerful demonstrations. Jesus said, "There's only one ultimate sign I would leave you with, and that is a sign of the prophet Jonah," which is an allusion to the fact that He will resurrect on the third day.

"The Jews demand signs, and the Greeks seek wisdom." [1 Cor 1:22] The Greeks were people dedicated to learning. They loved learning, they loved intelligentsia! And we know that for example in Acts 17:21, "Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who live there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." They love to learn. So they have very complicated teachings and learnings and philosophies.

So God is saying or Paul is saying, "Jews want power, Greeks want complicated philosophy, "But we preach Christ crucified."' [1 Cor 1:23] What do you mean?

Christ crucified is a picture of absolute weakness. He's helpless in a sense. He's weak, He did not come as a mighty king in His first coming, He came as a humble servant. A man who will be crucified on the cross. To the Jews, that is unacceptable! "We want power!" No! No! No! Jesus comes in weakness.The Greeks want some complicated system, so that we can follow that and earn our way to God. God says, "I give you the simple message - Christ died for our sins."

So the Jews want power, the Greeks want complicated philosophy, but we preach Christ. We preach Christ crucified — weak and simple. And therefore, this becomes a stumbling block to the Jews who want power and folly to the Gentiles who want some complicated system.

And so, it shows, "The foolishness of God ..." [1 Cor 1:25] This looks foolish, it is the only way that works. So, "The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." [1 Cor 1:25] And so what are we saying here?

The church was a divided church, because they had a wrong value system. They prided themselves in human powers and wisdom. So, Paul sets out to show a few things. He establishes that to many people, the Gospel is foolish, but the Gospel functions like an axe to chop down human pride. That is the catch! That is the irony!

[3] The Feature
But finally in this text, I want to show you - The feature of the Gospel.

What do you mean? What the Gospel features and displays something powerfully, what does it feature, what does the Gospel display!

We go back to verse 23, "But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." But look at what the Gospel of Christ crucified, displays? "But to those who are called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."

Hah! The Gospel chops down human pride, but it exalts; it celebrates; it lifts up the power of God, and the wisdom of God. The Gospel, Christ dying for our sins is the only way human evil can be dealt with. Herein is the power of God! No nuclear power, no solar power, no human power can destroy human sin, but the power of the cross, oh yes, it is powerful to destroy human sin!

And then we see that Paul talks about the wisdom of God. This is the perennial struggle, or the question - How can God forgive men and yet remain just? How can God forgive sin, still be righteous? "If I forgive sin, close one eye and let you in, then I'm ... I'm not a righteous person, because I'm indulgent over your sin. Sin must be dealt with! But if I am to be absolutely righteous, there will be no ... there will be no forgiveness to you." How can this problem be solved?

The wisdom of God says, it is solved, "When I account your sin upon My own Son." So Christ died so that God might be both just, and the justifier of those who believe upon Him. That is what whole world, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, whoever else you like will never figure out on their own. The world may laugh at this Gospel, but this Gospel actually shows the power of God and the wisdom of God.

So in summary, Paul turns to the Gospel, what a ... what a masterful explanation this is from Paul, isn't it? I mean, this is ... this is just brilliant! Paul shows that in the Gospel, human wisdom is foolish, and in the Gospel, God's supposed "folly" is infinitely wise. His ways are not our ways and His ways are higher than our ways!

So folks, why would you want to be partisan and sectarian? Why would you want to say, "I belong to Paul, I belong to Apollos, I belong to Cephas? Why would you pride yourself in human abilities and be divided? But let us all boast in our God and be united." That is how Paul deals with the problem of division, and human pride.

So I want to conclude with two applications, one for the church, and one for you, if you are a seeker.

Let's remember Paul saying, "But we preach Christ crucified." [1 Cor 1:23] The Gospel here is not just a message to save man from his sin, but it is a message that we need to humble ourselves, to have the right value system, so that we make glory in our God alone, and bring praise to His Name.

So, no wonder, we, as God's people must keep preaching Christ crucified. Oh, the world may laugh at us! The world may say, "Don't you have something else more interesting to say?" I say to you, this is what I delight in, this is what I am compelled to preach, because this is the wisdom and the power of God. And if you really get it, you will praise God, not men.

A story is told of a church that had a sign over it, exactly with these words, "We Preach Christ Crucified". But over the years, vines begin to grow and the vines begin to cover the words. After some years, it covered the word, 'crucified', but "We Preach Christ". And then a few years later, the vine covers the other word, 'Christ'. And now, the church sign just says, "We Preach".

Can I say to you, that's also the danger if we are not careful. We must preach Christ crucified. The Gospel that the Son of God died and rose again to save man from his sins. But do you realize that some churches today can take away the word, "crucified", and we simply, "Preach Christ", not as the Savior, but as an example.

So we tell people, live like Jesus, follow Jesus, so that you can be good like Jesus. So that maybe as you do so, you earn your way to heaven. That's not what the Gospel is about! Gospel is not what you do, Gospel is what has been done for you.

And we must be sure in Gospel Light, whether it's in our Children Ministry, or Youth Ministry, or Chinese Ministry, whatever we are in, we preach a message - Jesus paid it all. Look to Him and be saved. It's not a religion, of do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, but it's a glorious message that says, it is already done, repent and believe in Him.

But there's another danger, we may still preach Christ, but there will come a day, where we simply say, "We preach". Huh! Instead of preaching about Jesus, and what He has done, we preach about events, we preach about issues, we center ourselves in politics and social problems. We talked about ... now, I'm not saying, that Christianity is absolutely divorced from politics or LGBT movement or injustice issues. I'm not saying, that it is divorced, but Christianity is not centered on these things.

And this ministry of preaching here at Gospel Light, I hope will never depart from this, "We Preach Christ Crucified". [Cor 1:23]
Oh sure, we apply the truths to the various realms of life, but let not this pulpit become a center to deal with social issues, political issues, as if they are the most important thing!

I hope you've never come to that. I hope we will never get tired and bored with this message of the Gospel, because it's the only message that saves. It's the message that chops down human pride. It's the message that features and displays the power and the wisdom of God. It's the message we need to have meaningful worship.

Let's preach Christ crucified. Let's follow Paul when he said, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." [1 Cod 2:2] "Are you saying Paul is an ignoramus? Are you saying that Paul is an ignorant man? He doesn't know anything?" No! No! No! He knows a lot of things! I can tell you he knows a lot of things from the way he writes, but he says, "I keep it focused."

I hope preachers in Gospel Light, teachers in Gospel Light, CG leaders, DG leaders, yes, deal with many issues, but let it all be flowing towards Jesus. Like all the rivers and tributaries in the mountains, it will all flow into the great ocean of the Lord Jesus Christ, that's what Paul said and we will do well if we follow him.

But I have a word also today for seekers, for friends here today who may not be Christians, and as yet. Just something from this text I like to observe together with you. There are two kinds of people mentioned here in 1st Corinthians 1, verses 18-25.

There's a group of people who are perishing, and there's a group of people who are being saved. There are only two kinds of people! And to those who are being saved, Paul says, "They are those who believe." And Paul also says, "They are those who are called."

In other words, I suggest to you, that there is a group of people being saved, because they are those who believe in the Gospel, believe in this message - Christ crucified for our sins. Because these are people, God is calling in their lives, God has called them and they have listened and they have believed. But there's another group who are perishing, because they do not believe, because they are not called.

Now, you ask me, "How can I know if I'm called or not?" I can say to you, that's God's department, that's up to God to call. But I know what's your department, your department is whether you will believe or not believe. And your response to this message you're hearing today will determine whether you are being saved or you will perish."

My question to you is this - What is the message of the Gospel? To some it is folly. To some ... you may carve on the wall, "Jason worships his God who is like a donkey, he's a fool!" But to some, it is the infinite wisdom of God to denature human evil, and to save man from his sin. It's your choice! But you have only this choice — to believe in the Gospel, or not to believe.

I confront you with this choice and I urge you and beg you today to humble yourself and look to Jesus Christ. He came in weakness, He was humiliated on the cross, He died a most cruel and painful death. Why? Because He was our sin bearer. He was suffering on our behalf. But one day, our Lord Jesus Christ will come back with power and glory and wrath, and those who believe in Him will be saved, and those who do not believe in Him will perish. I pray today, you will repent and follow Jesus.

Let's bow for a word of prayer together.

Father, I'm amazed at Your Word that so clearly reveals Your glory, Your power and wisdom in decreeing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray Your Church today will rejoice; exalt and celebrate the Gospel. I pray Your Church today will be a people centered on the proclaiming and living out of the Gospel.

I pray Gospel Light will always remain a light of the Gospel. I pray therefore, you will chop down all human pride. I pray therefore, we will be a people united because we boast, we boast in God alone. Unite our hearts in the Gospel.

And this morning, we also pray for friends and guests who are tuning in today. They have a choice to make, O God, they have a choice to see or to decide if they will believe this message or if they will cast it away as folly. I ask that Your Holy Spirit will grant to them understanding and conviction. O Lord, reach out to them, save them!

Thank You for this time. May we live a life of worship as we center ourselves, as we drink in the Gospel. We pray all this in Jesus' Name. Amen.

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