The Folly of What We Preach
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:21 – “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.” Did you catch the interesting part of that verse? “…through the folly (or foolishness) of what we preach…”
To understand this we have to take into account what is going on here in Corinth. (1) There are divisions among them 1:10-17. (2) There is jealousy and strife 3:3. (3) There is arrogance and boasting 5:2, 6. All of these attitudes and mindsets play a part in the problems going on at Corinth. Going back to verse 18 Paul says that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” While Paul is primarily talking about unbelievers I think we can still see an application to those who believe.
The Jews Problem
The Jews problem is that they needed more signs. 1 Cor. 1:22 – “For the Jews demand signs…” In John 6 you see a clear example of this when Jesus had fed the five thousand and they find him the next day on the other side of the sea and Jesus calls them out on their motives for following him. Then they say “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” The Jews couldn’t accept the simplicity of the Gospel message and wanted more to go with it in order to believe.
The Greeks Problem
The Greeks (Gentiles) problem is found in the same verse when it says “…Greeks seek wisdom…” They were the ones that wanted the deeper philosophical language, the more eloquent speech and intellectual approach. It’s been said that many of those in Corinth were following Apollos because they liked him for his eloquence of speech and preaching style. They took pride in those kinds of things and liked the complex wording and understanding. They had a hard time accepting a message that was so simple and plain.
The Folly of What We Preach
The folly of what we preach is understood again by taking the entire context into view going back to v.18-31. “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (1 Cor. 1:19) Paul isn’t saying that the message was foolish but man’s wisdom is.
In v. 27 Paul says that God used the foolish to shame the wise. Not that Jesus was foolish but again speaking to the simplicity of Jesus Himself. He was of a simple nature and origin on this earth.
In v.27 Paul says that He used the weak to shame the strong. He’s not saying that Jesus was physically weak but rather speaking to the fact that Jesus didn’t come with great force or might. He didn’t come laying the foundation of His kingdom forcing and domineering others to follow and submit. Rather He came with gentleness and compassion and mercy.
In v.28 he says He used the low and despised to bring to nothing things that are. Your mind has probably gone to Isaiah 53:3 when he says “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Jesus wasn’t a man of great popularity that the masses flocked to and looked up to and esteemed highly while on this earth.
In v. 26 Paul related to them personally by comparison when he said “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” It’s not hard to see that what many expected Jesus and the coming of the kingdom to be like was not what they had imagined and thus they either needed more signs in order to believe or they needed grander speech and wisdom. Even John the Baptist…who had pointed to Christ, literally, and said with a great shout “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”…in Luke 7 would send messengers to ask “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Even John the Baptist doubted because Jesus wasn’t doing what he pictured.
Here’s the Point
In response to this Paul said “WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED.” I believe that these issues were just as true for those within the body of Christ as for those outside and it’s still true today. For many, like the Jews, the story is to simple or not what they’d like it to be and want to add more or to see more. There’s the old adage that if it sounds to good to be true then it probably is. Sometimes you present the Gospel of Christ to those that have yet to obey it and they’re taken back by the simplicity and stumble because there has to be more to it than that. People have concluded that it’s too simple and that they need to add to it, spice it up, offer more. The Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t need anything else.
Like the Greeks often times we take simple issues and make them complex with all our eloquent and lofty “wisdom”. The Gospel doesn’t need that either. Think about all the topics and subjects that are often debated not only between believers and unbelievers but also between believers. Marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Instrumental music. The observance of the Lord’s Supper. The need to assemble on the Lord’s day. Homosexuality. The list could go on and on. These topics aren’t difficult to understand what God has to say about them and what His will is but boy do we make a huge mess of them debating these topics with all our grand and lofty wisdom. I know that Paul is contextually talking about doing all things in order in regards to the collective worship in 1 Corinthians 14 but I can’t help but think of a broad application of his statement in 1 Corinthians 14:33 when he says “For God is not a God of confusion bur of peace.”
Let’s not rely upon and use our wisdom. Our wisdom is folly to God and according to James 3 it’s earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. But the wisdom of God is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. Take the Gospel message for what it is and it’s immeasurable and eternal POWER to save relying upon God and His Son and His Spirt. “But WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of god and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:30-31)