1 Corinthians 1:18–25: The Foolishness and Weakness of God
In the previous passage, Paul addressed the growing divisions within the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 1:10–17). Why, though, have those divisions arisen? More importantly, what is the antidote to those divisions? As Paul moves into his next section, he makes clear that much of what stands behind their quarreling is the desire to be wise according to the standards of this age and this world. This world admires those who build the tallest towers of human learning, as though human wisdom could assist humanity to climb their way up to God. Fundamentally, this was the same sin committed by the builders of the Tower of Babel, but this desire to be wise goes all the way back to the Fall itself: “So when the woman saw…that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6). The desire to seek wisdom apart from God has been the fundamental characteristic of human sin from the beginning.
Against this human arrogance, Paul holds up the shameful, scornful, despised cross. Jesus prayed to avoid the cross (Mark 14:36), and Jesus knew that he could demand that his father send twelve legions of angels to his defense at any moment (Matt. 26:53). Nevertheless, he submitted to the cross in obedience all the way to death, even when his Father forsook him (Matt. 27:46). He did not seek his own human will, according to the wisdom of his human nature, but he submitted to the will of his divine Father. In doing so, the cross became the power of God unto salvation for all those who believe. In 1 Corinthians 1:18–25, Paul explains how God calls fools to faith through the folly of the cross.
1) Which human wisdom(s) are you tempted to trust? The political wisdom that promises a better world? The psychological wisdom of soothing your conscience without dealing with your sin? The American Dream wisdom that hard work will lead to success, ease, and comfort? The pluralistic wisdom that everyone may define their own truth? How does the cross overturn these wisdoms?
2) If you profess faith in Christ, to what degree does Isaiah 29:13 apply to you? Do you draw near to God with your mouth? Do you honor God with your lips? Do you merely obey human commandments taught by men? In all of this, is your heart nevertheless far from God? Why are we tempted to this kind of hypocrisy? How does the cross confront the hypocrisy of professing believers?
3) Why has the pursuit of wisdom apart from God always characterized sin (Gen. 3:6)? Why have human beings always attempted to build towers to reach up to God (Gen. 11)? What kind of tower are you trying to build? What actions do you take each day to make your tower a little taller? Why do you think those actions will enable you to reach God? How does the cross thwart your progress?
4) Why do human beings reject the proclamation of Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23)? Why do we need the effectual calling of God’s Holy Spirit in order to believe that the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24)? How does this doctrine affect our evangelism? Does this doctrine tempt us to passivity or drive us to prayer? For whose effectual calling are you praying right now?