|1 Corinthians 1:18-25
18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20Where 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? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
To the ancient Corinthians, wisdom was a big deal. Corinth was a multicultural commercial city that combined some of the best and worst elements of modern-day New York, Toronto, and Las Vegas. To get ahead, people depended on their ingenuity and competitive spirit—a human wisdom that altogether ignored God.
Not so for Christians, says Paul. The foundation of our calling and our conduct is the cross of Christ—a completely foolish idea for those who know nothing of the gospel. To them, the notion that anything positive could come from a shameful and repulsive Roman crucifixion was ludicrous. Yet God turned that “foolishness” on its head by accomplishing our salvation through the crucifixion of Jesus, along with his subsequent resurrection. Human foolishness became God’s wisdom, and he made it work precisely on our behalf.
In this passage, Paul mentions two groups for whom the cross of Jesus was considered foolish. Jews were “offended,” because the cross was a scandal(reflecting the Greek word often translated as “stumbling block”). They expected God to deliver them from centuries of oppression through a messiah who would demonstrate signs of power and glory. How could the crucified Christ possibly meet that criteria? For Gentiles (or “Greeks”), the cross was utter nonsense according to traditional Greek philosophy, which became the basis of a proud civilization that had spread throughout the then-known world.
Similar attitudes continue today. That’s why the “foolish” message of the cross remains imperative. We cannot water down the essence of the gospel in order to pander to contemporary demands for an easy path to God’s salvation. We must stick to our message, while letting it permeate our behavior as we patiently and lovingly share this truly good news—God’s wisdom!—among our neighbors.
Prayer: Lord, as I continue the journey of Lent, may the cross of Jesus become embedded in my convictions and in my lifestyle. Help me to live so that my friends who do understand why Jesus died may see in me the selfless love of Christ that led him to the cross. And when they ask me why I believe, give me the right words to explain that wonderful story. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.
Peter Ford has been an RCA missionary for 35 years, focusing on helping Christians better understand Islam and develop positive, Christ-honoring relationships with Muslims. He is currently serving in Beirut, Lebanon, with his wife, Patty, teaching at the Near East School of Theology.