Our Nothingness

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Paul’s opening verse is a reminder of the gravity of salvation. The message of the Cross is nothing to those whose eyes are still closed. They may laugh at it, ridicule it, question it or simply avoid it. These people are perishing because Christ is not in them. They look at the message of the Cross as illogical.

During Paul’s time, the Greeks and the Gentiles are most known for holding on to human philosophy, understanding and reasoning. They look at themselves as the “rational” thinkers, dispelling faith and the supernatural as “irrational”

Yet, there is another group of people who are perishing in God’s standards. Contrary to the Gentiles and Greeks, they are very religious, very devout but it is exactly these that separated them from God. The Jews became very proud of their keeping of the law that they have emptied the Cross of its power. God is not the center of their lives, their rituals and legalisms are. Even to them, the Cross is foolishness because they cannot accept that everything they have done, the laws they have followed, the offerings they have made are nothing before God.

But to Christians, the Cross is central. Faith is never irrational. Study the Bible and see that it coincides with history and science. Study the prophecies and God’s marginal notes and see that He is pointing to Jesus as the Messiah. To Christians, the message of the Cross is the power of God. It is this that changes people. It is this message that challenges individuals to make the decision.

People may choose to believe and people may not. God never forces anyone because He respects the freewill He has given. But He blesses those who do accept for despite the lies that are so pervasive in this world, they are the people who responded to God in repentance and faith, allowing Him to restore the broken relationship.

In verse 19 we see that the message of the Cross is the destruction of this world’s wisdom and the frustration of its intellect because it is a message which cannot be grasped by the world apart from God. The world can boast that it is wiser than the Cross, but this very pride prevents it from seeing what God has revealed so plainly.

This point is nailed by Paul until the 21st verse. He deliberately compared everything this world has to the one and living God.

He asked, “Where are the wise men?” This is probably a reference to the Gentile philosophers who carry with them the human understanding of the world. Then he asked, “Where is the scholar?” The King James Version used the word “scribe” in lieu of “scholar” referring to Jewish teachers of the Law or the Torah.

Thayer’s Encyclopedia tells us that scribes are “learned in the Mosaic law and in the sacred writings.” They are interpreters and teachers, examining difficult and subtle questions of the law and offering advices and solutions to such. They are enrolled in the Sanhedrin where they study more about the Scriptures.

And from the secular world Paul asks, “Where is the philosopher of this age?” referring to the Greek sophists. These are men who loved philosophical debates and arguments, engaging in “long and subtle disputes.”

In the world’s standard, they are the wise, the intelligent and the learned because they have received the knowledge that the world offers. But Paul is actually telling us that they hold on to foolishness because God has made foolish the wisdom of the world.

They boast in what they have in the world but the living God is so much more that all of them are not even a fragment of God’s most minute.

God’s wisdom, “the infinite, perfect comprehension of all that is or might be (Romans 11:33-36),”made foolish the world’s wisdom for He designed the message of the Cross to be understood only through sheer depravity. The wisdom of the world is not the means for humanity to know Him.

In fact, Paul clearly states in v. 21 that God is “pleased” in the “foolishness of what was preached” because all the more these bring Him glory. For those who are saved testify to the emptiness of this world’s wisdom. They testify that their salvation, their knowledge of God are not products of the world but all of His grace.

Putting these in concrete terms, Paul notes in v. 22 that Jews seek “miraculous signs” and Greeks “wisdom” in trying to know God, but God’s design is for Him to be revealed in the message of the crucified Christ! Unfortunately, this very message is a “stumbling block” to the Jews because they cannot accept that the Messiah would suffer and die. In their wisdom they thought salvation meant the political and physical deliverance of Israel 9Acts 1:6). But God wanted much more, He promised the salvation of humanity from the bondage of sin.

The Jews cannot accept this because they are proud of their history and their devotion to the Law. The Law has desensitized them to the Gospel of Christ.

And the same message is foolishness, absurdity, silliness to the Greeks because of their secular upbringing. To them, God is very foreign and His revelations are essentially unknown. They sought the empirical and scientific in the physical realm, and wisdom and knowledge in philosophy that they view salvation as simply another topic of debate. Christ to them means nothing for they do not acknowledge God and they do not know who they are from His perspective.

Despite this, Paul in v 24 echoed v. 18 and was even more explicit. He said, there are Greeks and Jews who are called by God in His pleasure to know Him and salvation. And for them, what was once a stumbling block and foolishness is the “power” and “wisdom” of God—Christ Jesus. These people are testimonies of God for they were once like everyone else, but they are transformed not by the world but by God.

Paul closes this portion of the passage with a very powerful message: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthian 1:25).” He did not say that there is foolishness in God, he simply gave a comparison that showed that God is everything and humanity is nothing. However, our gracious and loving God allowed His fullness to be known only through the message of the Cross, Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, the world is engrossed with its imagined wisdom and strength that the plain revelation of Jesus and the simple Truth of salvation are considered stumbling blocks and foolishness. Once more it is pride in one’s efforts and acquired wisdom that prevent many from truly accepting Jesus. It is easier for those who feel nothing and inferior to see God for they know their worthlessness.

This is captured very powerfully by Jesus in Luke 10:21 when He said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

These things are hidden because humanity in its complexity and imagined wisdom refuses to see. However, to those who are humble and broken, the fullness of God is very clear. Let us pray that we will not be drowned by pride and that God will give us true humility like little children and true brokenness and repentance that we may know Him fully, completely. Amen.
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