I apologize for the length of time in between posts. I really desire to spend more time on this project, but I have a lot going on these days. I may expand upon this post further later (much could be said), but the text really speaks for itself. All we have to do is take Paul seriously.
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For 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. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
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? 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. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 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.
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. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 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. 1:17-31)
The gospel message is “scandalous”, as one of my favorite preachers puts it. It is foolishness to the world and it is supposed to be that way. We should not be surprised when unbelievers mock and scoff. We should not be surprised when the message seems ridiculous. We should acknowledge, as Paul does in this letter, that it is ridiculous, and that God chose to make it ridiculous for a reason.
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. (v21)
The world could not know God through its wisdom, so it pleased God, according to his wisdom, that the gospel message be folly from the world’s perspective. It pleased him that, through that folly, people might come to know him.
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise… (v27)
The gospel doesn’t just happen to be foolish. It didn’t just turn out that way. God chose to make it that way. He did so “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (v29). God alone gets the glory in salvation because God alone saves.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (v25)
God does not need to save people through wisdom. He does not need to save people through signs. These were what the Greeks (Gentiles) and Jews demanded, and yet God gave them apostles preaching a crucified savior. How incredible it must have seemed to the Greeks, so proud of their wisdom, and how frustrating it must have been to the Jews, to whom Christ promised nothing but the sign of Jonah, that these Christians claimed to believe in a crucified and resurrected God-man. Yet that was exactly how God would have it, by the design of his own hand.
That this fact is simply ignored in modern day American Christianity is proven by what seems most important to modern day churches. We can talk all we want about reaching the lost, even those who are “farthest away from God” as one church mantra puts it, but where in the Bible do we get the justification for some of our strategies? When Paul says that he became “all things to all people” and used “all means” to save some (1 Cor. 9:22), do we really think he was suggesting that church leaders should become worldly in order to reach the worldly? Does he really mean that they should portray a carnal lifestyle in order to reach the carnal?
Why are all these so-called evangelical churches and evangelical pastors doing their utmost to make the message of the gospel palatable to the unsaved? They use every tactic possible to attract people to their churches and then water down the truth so that they don’t give offense and cause those people to leave. Here is what seems to be missing in their thinking: the gospel is offensive. The gospel causes negative reactions sometimes.
For 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. (1 Cor. 1:18)
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)
The goal to get as many people as possible through the church door is good and noble, but the bait used to lure them in is immoral and the message preached to them once they arrive is impotent. It is painful and frustrating to see churches rely on celebrity pastors, hip buzzwords, and a laser-enhanced “worship experience” (read: entertainment) to grab the attention of a lost and dying nation when the only hope this nation has is in the bold proclamation of the gospel. It is more important for these so-called churches to be referred to as “relevant” than “gospel preaching.”
Acts 17 should be our guide for relevance. Paul stands in the Areopagus, finds a connection in the Greek worldview to address them on (referring to their altar to the unknown god), and then unashamedly proclaims the gospel to them. He directly confronts their misguided understanding (“we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man” – v29), and immediately presents the foolish message of the cross. In fact, he preaches it in such a manner than some of his hearers begin to mock because, as Luke tells us, they find the idea of the resurrection of the dead to be foolish. Luke also tells us, though, that “some men joined him and believed” (v34). That is always the ultimate outcome of preaching the true gospel: some will reject it (because it is ridiculous), and some will believe (because God causes them to believe).
Notice again why Paul preaches in such a manner: “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:17). His primary concern is that the power of the gospel be found in the work that Christ did on the cross. His primary concern is not speaking in an eloquent manner so that people might be more inclined to listen.
The difference between Paul in 1 Corinthians 1 and modern day evangelicalism really boils down to a lack of faith. We don’t believe God. We don’t trust that he knew what he was doing with the whole idea of the cross. We don’t believe that his gospel is powerful enough in itself to save. In fact, we rob him of the glory when we try to make Christianity palatable. Christ crucified isn’t enough–we have to suck people in by their own worldly appetites and then keep them entertained and unoffended. How pathetic this “church growth” perspective is in light of John 10:
…the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (v24-27)
We should not be watering down the gospel in fear of losing unconverted souls from our churches. We have a guarantee from the Lord himself that his sheep will hear and follow him. When he says elsewhere, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear,” (Mark 4:23), he is not referring to everyone. It is as if he is saying, “Let my sheep hear my voice.”
True Christians will stand mesmerized by what God has done for them in the person and work of Jesus. All a pastor has to do for them is mention the work of Christ on Calvary and they will sit lost in amazement and appreciation. The entertainment the bolsters our modern churches is a distraction in light of the glory of Christ.
If we are still overwhelmed in our desire for relevance, perhaps we need to realize that we already have a deep, undeniable connection to every single person who has ever lived: the problem of sin. Only the true gospel, in all of its foolishness, is able to solve that problem. God alone saves, and he does so through his message of foolishness.
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:30)
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (v31)