the foolishness of God

The Foolishness of God: 1 Corinthians 1.20-27

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:20-27)

April Fool’s Day has been popular since the 19th century.  In the Middle Ages it was celebrated on March 25 in most of Europe because of corresponding holy days in the Roman Catholic Church.  The custom of setting aside a day for pranks is recognized everywhere. Some precursors of April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria, the Holi festival of India, and the Medieval Feast of Fools.  There are long-standing customs in many countries regarding April Fool’s Day and notable pranks that have accompanied the day throughout history.

The words “wise,” “wisdom” and “wiser” are found seven times in this I Corinthians passage.  The words “foolish” and “foolishness” appear four times.  In this text, Paul contrasts the wisdom of the world with the so-called foolishness of God.  Note several truths in this text about the foolishness of God:

1. God has made the wisdom of the world look foolish through His work in Christ.

Paul does not address who he is referring to as “the wise,” “the scribe,” or “the disputer of this age.”  This text was addressed to the Corinthian church.  These people were known for their philosophical and rhetorical abilities.   One group in the church was devoted to Apollos (1:12), who was known for his powerful speaking abilities (Acts 18:24, 28).  It also appears that Paul was being criticized for his lack of rhetorical abilities and philosophy because he agreed that he did not come to the Corinthians with “excellence of speech or of wisdom” (2:1).

Yet, God through Christ had made worldly wisdom look foolish because He chose to act in Christ in a way that no one would have thought.  Through the cross God has turned the tables on worldly wisdom.  Worldly wisdom would have never sent a Savior to the world in the form of a servant, born to an unwed mother who lived in obscurity and probably abject poverty for most of His life, only to be unjustly arrested and crucified.

2. God has made the wisdom of the world look foolish through gospel preaching.

In verse 2, Paul asserted that God used His own wisdom, which the world did not recognize, to spread the gospel through the task of preaching.  The result of such preaching is the salvation of those who believed.  The “world” is personified as the whole human order of things in its fallenness. Paul said that God was “pleased” to use preaching to spread the gospel.  Paul is not referring to the act of preaching itself, but to the content of preaching.

Jews in the audience wanted to see a sign, whereas Greeks sought wisdom (v. 22).  These two groups reflect the totality of humanity in a general way.  People in the audience were either Jews or Gentiles.  Jews wanted miraculous signs similar to those in the past history of their people.  Greeks wanted wisdom in the form of oratory, rhetorical skills and reason.  Their idolatry was to conceive of God as ultimate Reason.

However, Paul preached Christ crucified (v. 23).  The gospel message he proclaimed included a hero who died in order to save His people.  Who has ever heard such a story?  The Greeks may have thought, “Who would be so foolish as to believe a story like this?”  Paul agreed that such a story was a stumbling block to the Jews.  The word for “stumbling block” in Greek is skandalon, from which we get the English word “scandal.”  To the Jews the message of a crucified Messiah was the ultimate scandal.  This same message was foolishness to the Greeks.  They thought there was no wisdom in the story of a God who got Himself crucified.

3. God has made the wisdom of the world look foolish through those who have been saved.

Paul declared in verse 24 that both Jews and Greeks who have been effectually called to Jesus to be saved, thought He was the ultimate power and wisdom of God.  This same truth had already been stated in verse 18 where Paul said 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.”  In verse 21 Paul referred “to those who believe.”  Paul made it clear that those who had come to know Christ in saving faith did not consider Him, or the story of the gospel, foolish.  Instead they recognized the power in the gospel and that its center was God’s ultimate wisdom, Jesus Christ.

So how does this text apply to us on April Fool’s Day?

  1. God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom are not the same. Don’t confuse how the unsaved world thinks about things with how God thinks about things.  Worldly wisdom should not be considered when Christians and churches are struggling with decisions.  God does not work according to things in the world.  Many times God may work in direct opposition to things in the world.
  2. The world will never think the content of the gospel is winsome or attractive. Jesus was fully human and fully divine without compromising either nature.  He said you’ve got to be first to be last.  You must be a servant to be a real leader.  The path to greatness is submission.  Jesus died so that others would live.  He was dead but now He’s alive.  Christians are dead to sin but alive to God.  Not much of the gospel makes any sense when viewed through the lens of worldly wisdom.  Expect to be jeered at, laughed at, despised, misunderstood, misquoted or rejected when you share the gospel.  A fool for Christ will never been accepted by the world and its wisdom.
  3. God’s wisdom can only be received by God’s people. People do not understand the gospel and the wisdom of God by examination, careful study and consideration.  People can only understand the wisdom of God through a mind that has been transformed by the gospel and illuminated by the Holy Spirit.  Do not expect the unregenerate to accept truth that God intended for the converted.

On this April Fool’s Day whose fool are you?  Are you the world’s fool or a fool for God?

The Glory of God changes everything


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