We preach Christ crucified. 1:18-25
In our passage for study Paul develops a contrast touched on in verse 17. The contrast is between "words of human wisdom" and the gospel of the "cross of Christ." Paul argues that the gospel is not something that needs improving by the addition of human wisdom. In fact, the message concerning the cross of Christ has no sense to it. As far as human reasoning is concerned, the gospel is foolishness. So, beware of testing it by human wisdom.
v18. Paul begins by exposing the contrast between the message of the gospel and human wisdom. Those who follow the wisdom of this world find the gospel foolishness, but then they are perishing, while believers are "being saved".
v19. Isaiah 29:14 originally served to warn Israel against thinking they could outwit God. Paul uses the warning as a prophetic reminder to his readers.
v20. The rhetorical questions used in this verse follow on from v19. Christ's work on the cross has already, in a sense, destroyed the wisdom of the wise. Where do they stand now? The grace of God, exhibited in the cross, has bypassed worldly wisdom.
v21. It is plain enough that worldly wisdom is limited. It has not even succeeded in perfecting the human race, let alone open the way to a knowledge of God. The pagan has ended up playing with idolatry, the Jew with legalism.... In the midst of this confusion, God has chosen to gather a people to himself and perfect them through the preaching of a message which rests on the crucifixion of Christ. By believing this message, a person can appropriate the benefits of Christ's work on the cross, namely salvation.
v22. Jews demand miraculous signs to confirm the truth, but the only sign given is the sign of Jonah - the preaching of the gospel. Gentiles demand worldly wisdom to confirm the truth, but the only wisdom given is the foolishness of the cross of Christ.
v23. God's revelation to humanity in Christ is a contradiction - a messiah under the curse of God (cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree, Deut.21:23). The Jews believed that the coming messiah would be a glorified figure of power and might. Therefore, "Christ crucified" is certainly a "stumbling block to Jews", and as for Gentiles, it is "foolishness".
v24. The called-out ones, that is, invited seekers, hear the foolishness of the gospel and find in it the power and wisdom of God. They find that the gospel is able to move them into a right relationship with God. Thus, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The seeker also finds that the gospel is a message of majestic wisdom. The gospel is indeed wisdom to those who are being saved.
v25. If the cross is foolishness, then it is God's foolishness, and God's foolishness is always wiser than human wisdom.
Sugar coating the gospel
Some years ago a youth fellowship committee approached their senior pastor for his guidance on the fall in membership that they were experiencing at the time. They were having difficulty getting the local young people involved in their youth programme. They were trying everything, but the numbers were still low and they didn't seem to be getting anywhere. The pastor's response was right to the point; "If Christ can't attract them, then nothing can."
The pastor had gone to the heart of the matter. Believers are really not in the business of making Christianity attractive and acceptable - "environmentally friendly." We are simply in the business of displaying Christ and him crucified. If that doesn't grab the lost, then nothing will.
Yet, it seems that we are often unable to leave it at that. The business of making Christ known often becomes a subtle marketing exercise, a sociological experiment, an issue of group dynamics. And as for living the Christian life, progressing in the Christ life, the cross of Christ is left far behind as we explore the depths of piety, religiosity and spiritual ecstasy.
The business of evangelism is simply a matter of communication - "we preach Christ crucified." Evangelism that rests on institutional management, marketing, or group dynamics has sold out to the "wisdom of the world" and serves only to empty the cross of its power. All we need to do is communicate the message as a banner. We are not to manipulate a response, but rather provide the key to salvation for those who are seeking it.
For those who "seek" and "knock", the gospel is wisdom and power.
1. What is so foolish about the gospel?
2. Consider some of the ways we may use worldly wisdom to empty the gospel of its power, eg. packaging.
3. If evangelism is the communication of a message, what are the best avenues of communication open to us today?
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