“For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, 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 cleverness of the clever I will set aside.’ Where is the wise man? 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 through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:18-24).
A mere fifty miles from Athens—the cradle of Western philosophy and home to such luminaries as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—Corinth was a cosmopolitan, materialistic, and idolatrous trading center. Greeks, and the Corinthians in particular, exalted the best, brightest, strongest, and richest, while most of the Greek gods were exalted projections of their own debauched humanity. And like its neighbor, Corinth took pride in worldly wisdom (philosophy = lover of wisdom). But, in contrast to most earlier philosophers, eloquence and persuasiveness often took precedence over truth. Corinth was quite modern in many ways.
To the redeemed in Christ, the message of the cross conveys and displays the power of God to save fallen people from sin and eternal death. As Christ displays the infinite perfections of God—the source and standard of all good and excellence—nothing stains His person and work. At the same time, those enamored with darkness and blind to the beauty of God’s holiness cannot bear the light of God’s purity and justice in the ministry of Christ. That unbelievers see the excellence of God’s attributes displayed in the Gospel as foolish, including His goodness, love, justice, wisdom, power, et al, speaks of the evil of the fallen heart, not defects in God’s purpose and works. God, then, makes foolish the wisdom that cannot meet mankind’s needs of reconciliation to God and significance to an otherwise pointless existence.
The worldly wisdom of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle saves no one, while contemporary atheistic philosophers continue the vain pursuit of explaining life apart from the God who made it and gives it purpose and meaning. When we ignore the only possible answer to ultimate questions, we reduce the particulars of life to irrelevance, including who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. Without God, no explanation or standard of truth exists, even as our darkened and limited perspective prevents us from answering transcendent questions apart from God’s revelation.
Moreover, from a desire to justify rejection of God and His authority, unbelievers dismiss the message and messengers of Christ as foolish. Money, accolades, and awards rain upon agents of indiscretion and death, while the envoys of eternal life face obscurity and scorn. Our awards ceremony remains future and will not be at the hands of the perishing.
Ministry to a dying world requires a willingness to be thought a fool by those we seek to help, to be despised by those for whom we desire everlasting happiness. Are you equipped? Are you willing to be viewed as ignorant, even as you speak words of divine wisdom and truth? Can you stomach being called “unscientific” for rejecting the impossible idea that life somehow arranged itself, that the fearfully and wonderfully made are the products of impersonal time and chance, rendering life and reality pointless? Christ was called demon-possessed, can you endure the false label of “bigot” for affirming that He is “the way, truth, and the life,” that no one goes to heaven apart from Him? Unbelief bites the hand that seeks to pull it from the fire, but if you seek the acceptance and accolades of a spiritually blind academia or culture, you are not yet ready to offer God’s true wisdom and life to a dying world. Jesus said,
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).
Our message offends the ears of the perishing, for “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). Yet, we present a Savior who, from the overflow of His infinite goodness and love for the unlovable, willingly suffered infinite wrath to purchase eternal significance and everlasting happiness for the undeserving. We bring wisdom that gives life to the dead, forgiveness to the condemned sinner, and purpose to everything under the sun. The patient may not like the medicine, but we dare not alter the only life-giving wisdom that satisfies the deepest needs of mankind.
Unless noted otherwise, Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995. Used by permission.
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