We are really into credentials in our culture. We’re very interested in degrees and certifications. We want to be sure that everyone, from doctors to plumbers, know what they are doing when we have them working for us … or on us.
And the church at Corinth was into credentialing as well, that being something of the basis of what faction they belonged to, according to what teacher or leader they honored. From verse 12: What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
Paul shoots down this sort of thinking that measured effectiveness by visible evidences of such as who was the best and most eloquent speaker, or who put on the best worship service … concluding that the real power resided elsewhere. He will now assert that the reality of success in ministry is not to be found in credentials, but rather in the power of the message of the cross.
(1:17) – For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
It was time to stop thinking about messengers, but to rather recognize the life-changing power of the message of the cross.
(1:18-25) 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. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
How odd to speak of the cross as powerful.
- The cross was the ultimately most shameful death imaginable – designed to humiliate both the person hung on it and any who would associate with him.
- Secular writers of the early centuries mocked the cross message that was central to the Christian faith – calling it: “a perverse and extravagant superstition” … “a pernicious superstition” … and labelling Christians as people full of “sick delusions.”
- The true thinkers were those who reveled in “the wisdom” of the age – as in Corinth at the time of Paul’s writing (wherein was a culture much like our own) would be popularly found in one of several rational Greek philosophies … of the Epicureans, Stoics, Sophists, or Platonists. These were the Ivy Leaguers of the day.
But again, the real power is in the truth of the sacrifice achieved at the cross, and in the spirit-infused message of this truth through the mouthpiece of an ordinary person who possesses an undeniably changed life as a result …
1:26 – Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Here are three summary points …
- The world will never be sufficiently impressed with the gospel from a rational and logical point of view. There is a place for apologetics to give a rational defense, but the ultimate success will never be because it is the most rational message by human standards – there is an issue of faith involved.
- The power of the Gospel as evidenced in the changed life of a simple person is not only deniable, it is attractive!
- God especially uses the power of the message of the cross through an ordinary person. This is the sort of person God has always used – simple fishermen, converted tax collectors … you know – people like you and me.
To the natural man, the message of the cross is foolishness, and the messenger who proclaims it is a fool – especially if it is a person lacking in the human credentials du jour. But this divine foolishness, being from God, is above the most advanced human reasoning of the most learned, decorated, exalted human scholar and orator. Put this “foolish” message inside an undeniably changed life, and even the simple people of the world – people with humble backgrounds as our own – become effective communicators of the greatest truth ever, by His power.