God's Wisdom in the Cross

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Paul masterfully illustrates God’s wisdom in the action of the cross. The thing that makes this “masterful” is worthy of note: it is not Paul’s wisdom; otherwise, power is taken from the cross (1:17). It is God’s wisdom—both in explanation (2:10-12) and execution (1:17-18, 21)—that establishes the mastery in this wonderful text.

Verse 18 opens this section and serves as a summary of what will follow: “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.”

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing…” (1:19-25)

Those who are lost and dying do not see the power of the cross; in fact, such preaching is foolishness to them, and the very nature of this preaching lends itself to not being “gotten” by those who don’t want to “get” it because it turns their “wisdom” into foolishness.

In the world’s wisdom, Jesus and the cross do not make sense. Jesus wasn’t who the Jews expected him to be; they weren’t looking for a humble servant who came to die for the world. The preaching of Jesus was “strange” (or foreign) to the wisdom of the Greeks (cf. Acts 17:16-21); in their search for wisdom, they had not envisioned the story of the Christ and did not count it as being wise. Because of this, the Jews stumbled over the unexpected, and the Greeks looked upon God’s wisdom as foolishness—after all, it was not their wisdom.

God, in his great and true wisdom, shows the foolishness in such thinking; truly, he has made the wisdom of this world foolish (1:20). How has he done so? By acting according to his wisdom, not our wisdom. The Greeks sought divinity through wisdom, but God says that he can’t be found this way (1:21). Both Jew and Gentile had a plan and expectation for what divinity should be and how it could be found, but God says he will neither be conformed to man’s thinking nor, again, will he be found in this way (1:22-23). Though we search unendingly, we will not find God if we are looking in our expectations, the plans we devise, or our wisdom!

Ultimately, God says that he is bigger than us! If he could be foolish, his foolishness is greater than our wisdom. If he could be weak, his weakness is stronger than our might. There is only one way to find God: the plan that his great wisdom devised.

“…but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1:26-31)

Those who are called (i.e. those who heard the gospel and obeyed, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14) recognize God’s power and wisdom in Christ (1:24) because they (we!) know that it isn’t to be measured by worldly wisdom and strength. Hence, Paul tells them to consider their calling: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth (1:26). They did not let pride get in their way! Notice that he described “not many of” them in this way—this means there were some who laid their earthly wisdom and power aside in order to gain Christ (cf. Acts 17:32-34; Philippians 3:8).

God’s wisdom is utterly profound in its revealed simplicity! God used what the world considers foolish to make the world’s wisdom folly, to make their strength weak, and to bring them to nothing! How astounding is the wisdom of God!

While only one of them is contextual, I believe there are two sound points to be made from verses 27-29. First, Paul is contextually saying that this plan is God’s wisdom. No man can say he came up with this plan! No one can say he shaped this plan and brought it to fruition! God did these things; therefore, no man can boast! It is the power of God, and we are being saved by him!

Second, in this “foolish” plan of God, the high are made low. When I lay my “wisdom” aside and see the things God has done in true wisdom, I realize exactly how foolish I am. When I set my “strength” aside and stand in the strength of the Lord’s might, I realize exactly how weak I am. When I set my pride aside and see all of my failures, I realize exactly how little I am.

This being the case, praise God for his wisdom! Praise him for his power displayed in the sending of his Son. Praise him for making me righteous, sanctifying me, and redeeming me! None of these things are accomplished in my wisdom or through my power; therefore, I have no room to boast in myself. Because of what God has done for me, though, I boast in the Lord.

What is your boast? Is it in self? Have you sought God out in your wisdom or shaped God according to your thinking? If so, you haven’t found the God who saves because he can’t be found in this way. He is only found in the way that he, in wisdom, has decided to reveal himself, and this is through his Son (John 14:6). Have you entered into him (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-27)?