The apostle Paul is laying a foundation for how to deal with divisions. The first four chapters deal with divisions as it has been reported to the apostle that there is fighting and divisions among the Christians at Corinth. In the last paragraph the apostle Paul showed how God was pleased to confound worldly wisdom through the message of the cross. Preaching Christ crucified was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Christ is the display of the power of God and the wisdom of God. What else do we need to know so that we can keep from fighting and divisions? The apostle Paul continues to teach these Corinthians more foundational truths.
Remember Your Weakness (1:26-29)
Being wise, influential, or well born cannot possibly be the criteria for being a Christian. Paul proves this by asking them to consider themselves when they were called. Who are the ones that received the message of the cross? Were you wise, mighty, and noble? You were not wise according to worldly standards. But here is a wonderful truth. God is not impressed with who we are or our achievements. The very things that put these people ahead in this world do nothing before God. In fact, these put one behind with God. Being wise by the world’s standards, or powerful or noble are things that are written off by God as having no eternal significance. It is the feeling of inadequacy that makes people aware that they have need, and often draws them to the gospel.
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. (Matthew 11:25–26 ESV)
God is always telling us to understand who you are. We must always remember that of ourselves we are nothing. It is only by God’s love, grace, and power that we are made to be something wonderful in God’s kingdom. Rather than thinking in terms of what makes one valuable or important in a worldly way, consider what God has done. God did not choose the kinds of people the world would praise. God chose us to light to the nations and bring glory to the Lord.
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. (1 Corinthians 1:27–29 ESV)
Notice it was God’s purpose to shame the wise and the strong and to bring to nothing the things that are. God delights to prick all the pretensions of this rebellious world. Where the proud parade the intellect, God chooses the simple. Where the strong display their might, God chooses the weak. Where those who think they are something proclaim to others how important they are, God chooses to bring them to nothing by making much out of nothing.
John MacArthur states, “God’s wisdom is a kind of paradox. In human thinking, strength is strength, weakness is weakness, and intelligence is intelligence. But in God’s economy some of the seemingly strongest things are the weakest, some of the seemingly weakest things are the strongest, and some of the seemingly wisest things are the most foolish. The paradox is not by accident but by God’s design.”
Why did God do this? What is the goal? God’s purpose so no human being might boast in his presence. God is shattering human boasting. Do we see how this destroys division and fighting? It’s all about Jesus and not about us. Fighting and divisions come because it is about us. It is about our way. It is us having our say. It is us forcing our way upon others. It is us making much of ourselves. This appears to be exactly what these Corinthians are doing when they boast in who they are following. It is about them and the choices they have made. In doing such it is no longer about Christ.
Christian Boasting (1:30-31)
It is because of Christ that we have everything. It is because of the wisdom of God and strength of God that we are in Christ who gives to us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Jesus brought these things to us. Jesus is the revelation of God’s plan. He causes eternal changes and brings people into a deep relationship with God. We are not only saved by God’s wisdom but we are given God’s wisdom to replace our own human, worldly wisdom (cf. Isaiah 55). We do not live or stand on our wisdom but on the wisdom of God given through Jesus. Further, we are made right with God through Jesus. In Christ we are made holy and set apart for service in God’s kingdom. God has redeemed us from the curse of the law and from our sins through Christ. So how can we boast in ourselves? Our wisdom and strength cannot produce any of these things. If we boast in the things the world boasts about or boast like the world boasts, then we are boasting in the wrong things. God has undermined every status category that we may value so that no living being can boast before God. Jesus is the wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption so that any glory and any rejoicing is only in the Lord.
Paul validates his point by quoting Jeremiah 9:24. Listen to the words of Jeremiah:
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23–24 ESV)
Notice that our joy, hope, and rejoicing is to exist only in the fact that we understand and know the Lord. It is not about us. We do not glory in our wisdom, might, or wealth. All status on earth has been torn down through the message of the cross. It is shameful when our eyes leave the cross of Jesus.
Paul’s Personal Example (2:1-5)
To show the validity of this truth all the more, Paul shows these Corinthians that this is what he practiced when he was with them. Paul did not come to Corinth with superiority of speech and wisdom. He did not bring to them the things that the world values. Paul did not engage in self-promotion like the typical orators who traveled from city to city. Paul brought one message. Paul proclaimed the message of Jesus and him crucified. People are supposed to hear the word of God proclaimed and declare, “What a wonderful Savior,” not “What a wonderful preacher!” Paul was not trying to impress. He simply brought the message. We must not come together to hear the preacher’s opinion on politics, psychology, economics, finances, or even religion. We come to hear the word of God through the preacher. Our lives must be shaped by this idea. We are pointing people to the cross. People will hear the word of God from us, not the opinions and wisdom of the world. We want them to see Jesus and not see ourselves. Paul admonished Timothy “to give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). This is what the proclaimer must do and we must expect the individual to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
Rather than making an external impression, Paul came to them in weakness, fear, and much trembling. We should not fear this. God is glorified through our weakness, not our self-sufficiency. We can show weakness, emotion, and failures. Our weakness help people see Jesus all the more. When we put our success, power, wealth, eloquence, abilities, talents, intelligence, and the like to the forefront, people are not going to see Jesus anymore. We are promoting ourselves in such instances. Paul did not use manipulation techniques, emotional appeals, or calculated theatrics. We do not present ourselves as “know-it-alls” to one another and certainly not to the world. Thus, in verse 4 Paul says that the message was not about his eloquence. The message was a demonstration of the Spirit and the power of God. He was persuasive with the cross (2 Corinthians 5:11), not through manipulation or superiority of speech.
Now, why is this so important? Why does this matter? The big point is made in verse 5. So that faith would be in the power of God and not rest on anything that would be worthy of human praise. He did not want their faith to rest on him, or Apollos, or anyone else. Faith is only supposed to rest on the power of God and the wisdom of God as seen through the cross of Christ. The only preaching that honors God is that in which his wisdom and power are expressed, not ours. We must be willing to be shown as weak so God can be shown as strong and wise. The gospel is the cross of Jesus for through it Jesus was glorified and enthroned.
I am sad today to see how often people’s faith rest in the preacher or rest in a church. People think they are saved because they belong to a particular church or follow a renown preacher rather than connecting their lives to Jesus. People will say that they are “church of Christ” or they will name some denomination as their identity. They will follow a preacher rather than follow Jesus. But our identity is only to be a Christian whose faith is in Jesus alone. You must not be a follower of a person or religious group. You are to follow Jesus. Christ is the basis for our faith.
The message of the cross smashes our idols. It particular smashes our idols of self-promotion and glory. We will be united when we are centered on God’s wisdom and power, not ours. We cannot divide over opinions or personalities. We must stand on “thus says the Lord” or else it is just an opinion. I have seen all kinds of theology built upon fanciful stories and calculated logic that is simply not declared in the word of God, but yet are purported that way. One of the most widespread notions is when Jesus was on the cross, when the land went to darkness during the day, it was because God was turning his back on him. God’s word never says that! Where do we think we get the license to make human wisdom greater than the wisdom of God? I have heard people argue that a man can only be an elder of the congregation if he has many children because you are a better leader and manager of the house because you raised many children. God’s word never says that! Where do we think we get the license to make human wisdom greater than the wisdom of God? I have said many times that if I were king for the day, I have all kinds of opinions that I would want to apply to this congregation and make changes. But these things are just opinions and do not have the command or authority of God to carry it through. So many divisions and fights come because someone is not standing on the clearly revealed word of God, but stand on their opinions, feelings, or self-promotion. The message of the cross smashes these idols and causes us to submit our will and desires to God and his word. This is what the cross must mean to our lives.