Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1336
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus February 4, 2018 1 Corinthians 1.18-31
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
"Faith Seeking Understanding"
18 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. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 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? 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. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 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. 27 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; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Note verse 30 in NRSV He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus
The Word of The Cross
Paul uses the phrase, “the word of the cross”. What is Paul writing about here? Well, it may seem obvious to us that he is preaching the gospel. The cross is at the center of our gospel message. It is not the whole of the message, but it certainly is a focal point. It is on the cross where Jesus died. He died as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He took upon Himself what we deserved in our sinfulness. He gave His life for ours. He was and is the blood atonement for sin. He is the ultimate sacrifice and the reason we no longer have to sacrifice animals for the forgiveness of sin. We no longer have to offer a sacrifice, except that we do offer something of a sacrifice in that we give our lives over to God in Christ. We take up our cross and follow Jesus. Paul said in best in Romans 12.1, I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Now, to the world, everything I just said sounds utterly ridiculous. But, I’m sure every bit of what I just said made perfect sense to you! This is why Paul is able to say 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. What the world calls foolishness is the wisdom of God. What the world calls wisdom is utter foolishness.
The Wisdom of the “Wise”
One of the things that I see in so many people who are what I categorize as overly dramatic and protest happy is what someone once called “a vague belief firmly held”. How many times have we seen interviews of protesters or people marching and half the time they have no idea about the issues they are protesting? It strikes me that some people are so determined to show themselves fools for something they know so little about. Here is the truth: they have no text, no story, no narrative, because what they have has no truth. It is something they read or heard somewhere or from the false narratives of the news or the prevailing cultural whims of whatever is getting attention for protests this week. There is no bread in their message, no nourishment to their “version” of truth. One of the popular programs on Christian radio plays a quote from Ronald Reagan at the opening of the show, “The trouble with our Liberal friends is not that they're ignorant; it's just that they know so much that isn't so.” Lots of very intelligent people have no idea about Truth. Lots of very intelligent people are wrong about interpretations of the world and very wrong about what it means to show compassion to people who are so desperately confused about their identity. Lots of very intelligent people have no problem taking away dignity from people by keeping them dependent on government welfare programs and calling it compassion.
It’s what Jordan Peterson refers to when criticizing political correctness that is rooted in Post-Modernism. Do you guys know Jordan Peterson? He’s a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology in Toronto, Canada. He says the motivation behind political correctness is “the demand for power disguising itself, most reprehensibly, as compassion and it's time for the mask of that to be taken off.” The wisdom of the wise is often masked in some virtue, but it has to be masked, because behind the mask is evil. Behind the mask is not wisdom, but folly. Behind the masks are the truly intolerant who continue to call for tolerance from everyone but themselves. Behind the masks are the true hypocrites who claim that no one interpretation of the world has any privilege over another except their own and you better accept their single (usually Marxist) interpretation or you will be silenced. This is the wisdom of the world and it is permeating college campuses and the fabric of society and culture. It rears its ugly head in politics and in Hollywood and on our TV screens and even on the football fields. It’s everywhere.
The wisdom of the world is perhaps best described today as Post-Modernism. We might think of philosophies that promote moral relativism, pluralism, political correctness, and most ideas in progressivism. It is the thought process that has built much of what we oppose as traditional biblical interpreters. And there is nothing there! I don’t mean to quote Jordan Peterson so much but I’ve been listening to and reading a lot of his work recently. One article about him says, “[He] states clearly more than once that grasping at political ideology is not the answer when your life goes wrong. There’s no refuge there.” You see, the wisdom of the world is not a refuge for us. But we know what is, or better said, who is our refuge.
The Power and Wisdom of God
I said earlier that what the world calls foolishness is the wisdom of God. What the world calls wisdom is utter foolishness. God uses the word of the cross to reveal the wisdom of God. His wisdom is found in His grace, mercy, and love. His wisdom is revealed in the salvation found in the cross. The cross is more powerful as symbol than all the words that we can bring to it or from it. It is a symbol of our refuge in times of trouble. It’s why we have the cross in this sanctuary and sometimes draped around our necks or placed somewhere for all to see, because the power of the symbol represents everything God have given us through that cross. It is the power and wisdom of God for the sake of salvation. It is the symbol of love and sacrifice and gift beyond measure.
Of course, the world has never understood God’s wisdom. Ponder for a moment this word from Proverbs 3,
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold (Prov. 3.13-14).
The world values silver and gold, consumerism and materialism, riches and wealth much more than wisdom and understanding. It values political correctness and resentment disguised as compassion and what is seen on the outside rather than the character of the inside.
But the Holy Spirit does something to the believer that affirms what we believe is right. The Spirit speaks to our spirit, Romans 8.16-17, The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. The Holy Spirit confirms through spiritual means the truth of God in our hearts. It is not measured by any scientific means. It is not detectable by sight or touch. It is spiritual and therefore spiritual discerned, 1Corinthians 2.12, Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
Faith Seeking Understanding
Why does the Gospel resonate within our being? It may not be because it makes the most sense from a human standpoint. It may not be because we can prove the gospel from an historical or archaeological standpoint. It may not be because we can show through scientific mean that it is truth. It is the work of the Spirit of God. Our spirit with God’s spirit (Rom. 8.16). It goes beyond cognitive abilities, beyond what is seen, beyond what the world can know.
This is not to say that we are not seeking knowledge and understanding of the things of faith. We are, but just not in the same way the world seeks knowledge and understanding. I was recently reminded about a verse in Jeremiah about the role of the shepherd in Israel and we might agree the role of the shepherd today in the church, And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3.15). We are seeking to know the faith and understand the things of faith. We are seeking to bring that knowledge to bear on our testimony and presentation of the gospel. But what we need not do that has been one of the failures of the church for some time now, is to give the gospel over to the world as if the gospel has to find its credibility from the world’s standards. That is, the gospel is the Truth and is credible in and of itself. It is what we proclaim as the self-attesting authoritative world. It does not need outside sources to guarantee it’s wisdom and power. But that is what the church has done for 500 years, since the Enlightenment. We have sought to make the gospel credible to science and history and in turn we have let the world rob the gospel of its ability to stand within its own wisdom and power. You see, what we should be doing is requiring the things of the world to justify its truth claims over and against the Bible. That is what we do, but the world takes no account of that.
The Gospel is power, not like the power defined by the world, but a power defined by God in vulnerability, in humility, in service, in faith, and hope, and love. It is not the hunger for political power we see demonstrated day after day in government. It is not the hunger for economic power that we encounter with people seeking riches as a life goal. It is not the illusion of entertainment power that so many in Hollywood believe they have.
We seek the knowledge and understanding given by God through His word because we know that this is the only hope for the Post-Modernist world in which we live. We know that the Gospel is the true refuge of our lives and nothing in this world can give hope and peace and eternal life.
Let the One Who Boasts, Boast in the Lord
The final word today from Paul is about boasting. What does it mean to boast in the Lord? Paul quotes the prophet Jeremiah in 9.23-24, Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
This must certainly be the scripture from which Paul wrote his thoughts in 1 Corinthians 1. The boast we are called to make is not in anything the world gives, not in anything I have outlined in worldly wisdom, but our boast is in this: that we understand and know God. This is faith seeking understanding. This was Paul’s boast in Philippians 3.8-11,
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Paul was referring to all that he had gained in the flesh as what he counted as loss. We could say the same about the wisdom of the world, it is all worthless in comparison to the knowledge of Christ. To know Christ and the power of his resurrection is the greatest value of anything in our lives. We do not boast of the wisdom we have of our own making, but of the wisdom that is Truth itself, the Gospel message, the word of the cross. This is what we have to offer the world. It is the truth the world needs to hear and believe, that all may come to salvation in Jesus Christ and find their refuge in Him. Let us be a part, even if a small part, of sharing the message of Christ crucified. Of that wisdom we can boast all day long. Amen.