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The Foolishness of God March 11, 2012

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Third Sunday in Lent

March 10-11, 2012

Focus: God saves those who believe.

Function: That the hearers boast in the Lord.

Structure: Walking through the text.

 

The Foolishness of God

            I know we’ve talked about this before, but I just can’t help but notice how common it is for us to divide our Scripture readings like this.  It’s that Greek word, “gar,” (gar), you know the one that sounds like a pirate grunting.  It means “for,” like in the famous verse John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  It’s that little conjunction that signals the purpose or the reason.  It tells you that it’s explaining whatever came before it.

And that’s where we’re at again this morning.  Our Epistle starts with a “gar,” with a “for.”  It’s important for us to think about things like this, because the Bible wasn’t meant to be read in little snippets.  Letters and books were to be read as a whole.  Without knowing who the author was writing to and why they were writing it, their purpose, and even their overall theme or message, without knowing these things, it’s easy to get the wrong idea or just not understand what we read.

When Mark wrote his gospel, it was meant to be read in one sitting.  If you read it aloud today, you can do so in about an hour.  That’s how it was intended.  In the same way, when Paul wrote to his brothers and sisters in the church of Corinth, he expected them to hear the whole letter all at once.  The messenger who carried it to the church would read it to the people, because he would’ve known how to inflect his voice, to include anger or joy, sorrow or thanksgiving whatever Paul wanted to express.

So let’s frame what we know about the church in Corinth, about Paul writing to them.  Most of 1 Corinthians deals with the problems in Corinth.  Paul writes to them against their divisions.  He’s angry with them for the way they treat each other, for some of the specific sins he calls them out on, and for taking the Lord’s Supper in vain.  The letter as a whole has a lot of correction in it.  Paul encourages them to be united as one body of believers, just as Christ is only one body.  He encourages them to live lives that glorify God and points them to the resurrection and to life.

But he does all of this in a framework.  See Paul starts the letter by reminding them of his qualifications.  They can’t just throw the letter out saying he has no authority to correct them.  He’s called by God as an apostle of Christ.  He’s speaking to a church, called as saints, sanctified in Christ, to people who call on the name of Jesus as their Lord.  And then he gives thanks for all of them.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

So Paul starts out by affirming his relationship with them and their relationship with God.  And then he admonishes them that they would all agree, being of the same mind and judgment, with no divisions among them.  He had heard that they were divided.  Some following Paul, others Apollos, some Cephas, and others Christ.  He reminded them that they were in fact all baptized into Christ.  They are all followers of Christ and no one else.  “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

And now we’ve reached our text for today.  The word of the cross, the message of the cross, is folly, foolishness to those who are perishing, to those who don’t believe.  It just doesn’t make sense.  What good is the death of a man?  How can the execution of a man be good?  And if He really was God, how could He die?

The wise of this world, the intelligent, the scholars, the debaters, all of this world’s finest, are made nothing before God.  All of our best is nothing but foolishness.  Paul noted how the Jews were demanding signs, and the Greeks were seeking wisdom or searching philosophy for the answers.   We still see it today, as people try to use their reasoning skills and logic to figure out everything about life and this world.

Many of the intellectual elite rule out God’s existence altogether simply because it doesn’t make sense to them.  And for many more science has become a religion.  Theories of Darwinism and evolution are declared “fact,” despite the real fact that science, given enough time, typically moves forward by disproving itself.  The world isn’t flat, it isn’t the center of the universe.  And from those discoveries we’ve learned more about our solar system.  We’re still learning.  But we’ll never be able to understand God by our own power.

Which is why Paul said “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  There’s the message that God actually has for His people.  The message of the cross.  That in our sin, we failed God, we fell short of perfection.  We deserve nothing more than His wrath and the fiery gates of hell.  But that’s not God’s will.  To save us from ourselves, God sent His Son Jesus Christ down into the very midst of our imperfection.  And it’s through His death on the cross that our sins are forgiven.  Christ is the atoning sacrifice.  A neat way to remember what that word means is to break it up.  To atone is to make “at one” with something.  To restore a relationship. By Christ’s sacrifice, He made us “at one” with God.  Our relationship is restored.  We are His children, forgiven and saved.

As Christians, those blessed with faith by the Holy Spirit, the message of the cross is the power of God.  The cross is His work, not ours.  It’s His sacrifice that brings us back, that restores us to Him, not something we do.  It’s the power of God because it relies entirely on Him.

But it’s a message that doesn’t make sense.  The cross of Christ is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  Christ, the Messiah, is a stumbling block to Jews, because He’s not the messiah they expected.  They wanted a military man who could conquer the world for them.  Instead they got the cross.  It just doesn’t make sense in the way mankind thinks and operates.

That’s why Paul says what he does.  “For,” gar, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”  See, often when we hear that phrase, we get stuck trying to figure out how God can be foolish and weak.  He’s perfect, He’s holy, how can it be?  Is it hypothetical?  Is it, if God were foolish, He’d still be wiser than us?  Not at all.  The foolishness and weakness of God is the cross.  It’s the stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  That the Son of God could and would die on the cross for our sins.

But Paul wasn’t done setting the framework of this letter.  He tells them to consider where they come from.  God didn’t pick the rich, the wise, or the noblemen of the world.  There was a point to make, an example to set.  It’s like when Jesus ate with the sinners, the prostitutes, the tax collectors.  He ate would those who would believe.  He knew the Pharisees were too arrogant, too hard of heart, to listen to His words.  The wise and powerful of this world feel above God.  They think they don’t need God at all.

Instead, it’s all the power of God.  Everything that was, and is, and is to come, everything is from God.  He created the world, the universe, night and day, moon and stars, plants and animals, and mankind.  He breathed life into us.  But with the fall, man separated themselves from God, they chose to no longer be in a relationship with Him.  So we have no reason to prideful or to boast of our own doing.  We bring nothing but sin into our relationship with God.  Rather, we receive all that is good, we receive all of our blessings from Him.

“It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  The cross is the power of God given for us.

We won’t go into much more detail, but just to conclude our understanding of how Paul frames this letter, he admits that in his time among them he shared the message that needed to be heard, “nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  And he told them that that is the secret and hidden wisdom of God, the things that God has revealed to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit and the faith He created in us.  Now that we are children of God, “we might understand the things freely given us by God.”  In Jesus’ name, amen.

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