Skip to content
Aug 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 1, 2021



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.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but life to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men 1 Corinthians 1:17-25

Intro: My wife, Barb, and I were told something lives in our home,

Something bad – and invisible to humans
– so a guy came to our home with a small electronic device
• it could supposedly detect the invisible presence
• we had to take his word for it — I had no idea how his gizmo worked
– this was not a “haunting,” and the technician was not a psychic
• we had water damage to our home and it had to be treated for mold
• the mold detector collected and measured spores in the air

We accept this story because it is grounded in rational science
– we cannot say the same thing regarding 1 Corinthians
• if not grounded in scientific fact, what then?
• one page back,
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God . . . . (Rom. 16:25)
and Ephesians
. . . the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ (Ep. 3:3-4)
– mystery in this context is not like a riddle – it is not a problem we can solve
• it is unknowable, because it belongs to another reality
◦ the only way it can be known is if it is revealed
• only way it can be trusted, is if we have a broader perspective of reality

Paul is leading the Corinthians into the realm of mystery

Christian education is not what we have be led to believe
– it is not Bible reading, Bible study, or Bible memorization
• it is not learning to decode clues that shed light on the end times
• it is not training in apologetics so we can defend the faith
– it is becoming conscious of another dimension of reality
• it is a process of coming to know God whom, we are told,
alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see (1 Tim. 6:16)
• the Bible is vital to our education, but it is not the goal
◦ if we do not wake up to God, we’ve missed the point
◦ we aren’t transformed, but stay same, only with a Bible education
(may God protect us from narcissists who are well-versed in scripture)

Paul is trying to bring the Corinthians along, but their growth was stunted
But I, brothers [and sisters], could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1)
– in this first chapter, he begins to unfold the problem
• to me it feels like Christian Spirituality 101
◦ or as I introduced this series last week, “A Primer In Things Unseen”
• one of the first lessons that must be learned:
◦ our concept of reality is too narrow
◦ we have to be open to more than the eye can see or the ear can hear
– this means our standard methods of knowing our world will break down
• they won’t work in this new reality
◦ it’s sort of like quantum physics
◦ the physics of Isaac Newton do not work at the quantum level
• for instance,
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord 1 Corinthians 1:27-31
God chose . . . things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are . . .
◦ that is not possible in our four-dimensional universe

Paul uses two well-known worldviews to illustrate the situation

The Jewish approach to truth and the Greek approach (vv. 22-23)
– we make similar distinctions: East/West, Oriental/Occidental
– Paul is addressing two systems of thought, that I will call, first:

A philosophical worldview – demands rational evidence

Paul says, Greeks seek wisdom, which is quite true
sophia (wisdom) + phileo (love) = philosophy or “love of wisdom”
• wisdom to Greek philosopher covered all that existed
◦ therefore, in its entirety it was was beyond the capabilities of the human mind
◦ however, philosophers could know something of it
• they developed methods of reasoning
◦ Socratic dialectic – use questions and criticism to challenge and clarify ideas and concepts
◦ Aristotle’s syllogisms – a way to test a statement’s logical validity
– a belief had to be “reasonable” for a philosopher to accept it
• before coming to Corinth, Paul had been in Athens
◦ there he had an interesting experience
◦ he was invited to address Epicurean and Stoic philosophers
Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new (Acts 17:21)
• Paul began with their shrines and an altar inscribed “To the unknown God”
◦ he described the God revealed in the Scriptures
◦ but when he began talking about Jesus, the meeting broke up
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst (Acts 17:32-33)
◦ he knew by experience that the message of Jesus crucified was foolishness to them

The journey of philosophy has progressed from then until now
– for the most part, it has moved even further from finding any kind of deity
• many cannot overcome arguments against God’s existence
• so all the wisdom of the philosophers has brought us no closer to God
– we cannot reason our way into God’s presence
• nothing in our prior has prepared us for the mystery of God–so get used to it
If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know (1 Cor. 8:2)

A religious worldview – demands supernatural evidence

We might assume the religious mind is more open than the philosophic mind
– but it can become biased and shut off to truth
• the central problem is that religion falls into human hands
◦ the tendency is to bottle spirituality – like a genie in a lamp
◦ then release it only under strict control – to grant wishes
• even our most wonderful spiritual experiences can lose energy
◦ but religion tends to hang onto those milestones of the past
◦ and then it suffers from a “hardening of the categories”
– institutions require management – but we cannot manage the Spirit
• so something new comes along, religion says, “prove it”
And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven (Mt. 16:1)
• it is often assumed that a miracle will win any argument
◦ but that is not what we see in the gospels
◦ Jesus’ miracles intensified the hostility of Jesus’ critics (Jn. 12:9-11)
◦ they credited his exorcisms to the devil, not God (Mt. 12:24)

Science was not on Paul’s radar

But we could add that worldview to our own challenge
– here I will only offer couple of quotation
• the subject has to do with the worldview of psychology
Arthur Deikman, “Freud’s view of reality and that of most contemporary theorists of psychotherapy is based on a nineteenth-century physical and biological scientific model that is far too narrow to encompass human consciousness. Consequently, certain sources of suffering cannot be dealt with from within a Western framework. We are faced with major problems that call for broadening our perspective and extending our science.”
“Human beings need meaning. . . . The religious framework that formerly defined meaning has been replaced by a scientific world view in which meaning does not exist. . . . According to this view, human beings are complex biochemical phenomena, of considerable scientific interest but not essentially different from anything else that science examines.”

Paul says that he was called to preach the gospel, but
not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (v. 17)
– for Paul, worldly wisdom did not enhance his message,
• but undermined it – nullified its power
• we’ve inherited a legacy from the Reformation
◦ and that is the attempt to clarify everything
◦ but some of the most important things cannot be clarified
– learning to drive – when you first pressed your foot on the accelerator,
• were you ready for the car’s response?
◦ we did not learn how to drive by studying it in “driver’s ed.” or a book
◦ we learned by feel – and today we drive our cars by feel
◦ spiritual education is not the same, but it is similar
• we need to wake up to the fact:
◦ there’s more to universe and ourselves than we have known or experienced

Conclusion: How do we go forward?

In the first part of this chapter Paul refers to Jesus repeatedly:
Christ Jesus, our Lord Jesus Christ, and simply, Christ
– Jesus was the lens through which Paul first saw the invisible God
And Jesus is the lens through whom we will see both God and ourselves
Jesus walks us into mystery, enlarges our perspective, and shows us his kingdom
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery which is Christ, in who are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:1-3)
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set you minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:1-3)

So now we are on our way,
and it is going to be a wonderful journey

Leave a comment