Paul now writes a letter from Ephesus back to the Corinthians, after having spent about a year and a half in Corinth establishing a church there in that city. Corinth was an extremely worldly city, known for its excesses in sexuality and drunknness, but also in business, wealth, and even religiosity based on the Greek gods. Between the two letters to the church in Corinth that we have, and a third that was lost, the Corinthians give us the greatest insight into how Paul had to work with its church and deal with some of the issues of that time within its community.

One of those issues is how the Corinthians saw their standing within the society based on their understanding of the Gospel. There were divisions amongst them with regard to who they followed, and there was pride about their knowledge of the Gospel.

Paul, however, says that this knowledge is probably nothing to be proud about, at least in front of the people of the world. If their intent is to be considered to be special by the world, they have it all wrong. They will simply be considered to be fools:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Paul is saying that the world is looking for different things that what they are preaching. Human wisdom is completely different from God’s wisdom and those differences come out within the cultures within which that wisdom is grown.

For example, the Jews demand signs, Paul says. Why? Why would the Jews demand signs? The Jews have grown up telling the stories of the Old Testament, the stories of Moses leading the people out of Egypt through the Red Sea, the water coming from the rock, the manna falling from heaven. These were signs that the Jews of Paul’s time recognized as God’s work, even if there were points at which the people who experienced the signs didn’t actually recognize God’s hand in the demonstration of the original sign.

On the other hand, Paul says that the Greeks look for wisdom. The Greeks believed that they could understand the world through reason. Through their own human intellect, through what they could observe, they tried to answer some of life’s great questions, including human origin, human purpose, etc. Of course, we humans are very limited in our ability to observe, and thus limited in our ability to reason based on limited understanding, so we fail to come to the right conclusions.

In any case, regardless of the human system within which the Gospel is preached, Paul says that those who are listening with human ears and reasoning with human minds are doomed to call the Gospel simple foolishness. How can it be good news that a Messiah, the one that God has sent, is crucified and killed? What good can that possibly produce?

And yet, Paul says that is exactly the message that he is preaching. Why? Because this is the wisdom of God. God isn’t simply looking at our short span of time that we call life as humans on earth. He isn’t even looking at the timeframe of what we would call “history”, a few hundred years. He is looking at eternity. Eternity past, eternity present, and eternity future. Or simply, just eternity. God knows that the human soul will continue to live on forever, but in the context of God’s glory. Not simply in the context of our world. Not in the context of this life. In the context of eternity.

In that context, if we can even begin to imagine it, the foolishness that Paul is preaching begins to demonstrate the wisdom with which God is acting and moving. Everything else fades. All of the kingdoms of this world. All of the politics of the world. Everything else becomes nothing at all. Why? Because when we understand our lives in the greater context of eternity, we understand that we either give glory to God, the One who created and made all of eternity, or we run against Him, the one who made it all.

Christ is crucified as a payment for the sins that we have committed, allowing us to enter into the Kingdom of God. Now, as we understand this, we see the reason for this message. We see why God’s wisdom is different than human wisdom. God is allowing us to enter into his presence, to give him glory. Not glory for ourselves, but glory for God, and him only. Without this perspective, this message seems like foolishness, but for those who are being saved, it is the power of God.

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