1 Corinthians 1:18 – 2:5
“All Glory to God Alone”
January 5, 2013
Grace Covenant Church (PCA) – Grand Island
Paul began his letter by addressing divisions in the church. The Corinthian believers were following different teachers, apparently over the different abilities, and forming divisive parties. They were proud of their speaking gifts, and had an unhealthy regard for Greek rhetoric and philosophy. Paul called the church to unity, and asserts in v. 17 that he was not sent to preach the gospel with “words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross be emptied of its power.” He now defends his simple preaching of the cross…
“It can clean even your worst.” That was the message of a commercial for Tide laundry detergent I remember. Bring on those dirty, grass-stained clothes that the boys have been playing football in. Tide can get them clean. That is how they sought to show the power of their product – by its ability to transform even the worst, the dirtiest of clothes.
Paul shows in this passage that God’s glory is displayed in our salvation because He has chosen to work through what is lowly, weak, and even foolish in the eyes of the world. He has chosen to use what is inglorious (without glory), to make clear that our salvation is all His doing. The call that goes out to us from this passage is: Since salvation is all of God, we must glory only in God
Paul shows us that the inglorious message of salvation is of God, the inglorious members who receive it are of God, and its inglorious messengers are of God.
I. The inglorious message is of God (18-25)
Paul seems to address each issue from both a negative and a positive angle. From the negative angle, Paul says that the message of salvation is not according to human wisdom. In fact, he says that 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. Paul sees two opposite reactions to the gospel in the world. To those who are unbelieving and bound for destruction, the message of the cross seems foolish. It doesn’t make sense to the wisdom of the world that a man who was put to death by crucifixion as a criminal could be a savior.
But Paul says that through the cross God has confounded human wisdom, just as He had said He would in the OT, which Paul quotes in v.19 from Isaiah 29:4…
NIV: “the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate” Paul says that God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. He challenges the wise men of his time in v.20…
Scribes – Among NT Jews: experts in the law. those charged w/transcription, exposition, even administration of Law. Educated class among the Jews.
The “debater” was perhaps a Greek teacher or Philosopher. In our day, Paul might ask: Where is the Ph.D.? The Rhodes Scholar? God has made their wisdom foolish, Paul says.
How? He goes on to say in v. 21 that in the wisdom of God, the world did not come to know God through wisdom. God did not decide to save people based on their ability to work their way up and become more wise. For all of his learning and education and discovery, man in his own wisdom cannot come to know God in a saving way. So, Paul says that God was pleased to save those who believed the message of the cross, even though it was foolish according to human wisdom.
Here Paul implies that God’s primary means of salvation is the proclamation of the gospel (the good news of Jesus Christ, centered upon His saving work, which is centered upon His death on the cross). It is the cross specifically that cut completely against the grain of human wisdom. The Jews requested signs of God. They looked for supernatural acts from God. The Jewish Scribes and Pharisees often asked Jesus to perform a miraculous sign to prove Himself.
The Greeks sought after wisdom. They were interested in rational evidence and were unwilling to accept anything that seemed to go beyond human reason. The cross did not satisfy either of these groups. To the Jews, the cross was a stumbling block – that which gives offense or causes revulsion, because according to the Old Testament, anyone who was hung on a tree was cursed by God. A cursed Savior didn’t fit in the mind of the Jews. They had not understood God’s Word and were expecting instead a powerful warrior to come give them victory over their Roman enemies. To the Greeks, the cross was foolishness, because they did not accept the resurrection. To them, a dead and defeated Savior was no savior at all. It just didn’t make any sense.
The commentator Leon Morris mentions a well-known work of graffiti in ancient Rome that depicts a worshipper standing before a crucified figure with the body of a man and the head of a donkey and the inscription “Alexamenos worships his god.” That was the way the worldly-wise regarded the message of the cross.
But, Paul says in v. 24 that to those who are called by God to be His children, whether they are Jews or Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. The world seeks salvation by trying to work its way up, but God has chosen to save by coming down and meeting man in his need at the bottom, where he is helpless and hopeless. The message of the cross is that in Jesus Christ, the Son of God became man and died for our sins, that we might be saved and have eternal life. When the message is believed it makes believers wise, holy, righteous, blessed by God Himself. So, Paul concludes in v. 25…
Only the cross of Jesus Christ, where sins are paid for and forgiven, can bring us into a saving relationship with God. So Paul says that salvation is all of God, beginning with the message itself.
[Ill] Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army, but also a leper. An Israelite girl who served his family told him of a prophet in Israel, Elisha, who could heal him. Naaman came with servants, horses, chariots, stood at Elisha’s door. Elisha sent a messenger out to him: “go and wash seven times in the Jordan river, and you shall be clean.” Naaman was furious and said: “I thought he would come out to me, waive his hand, call on the name of the Lord his God, and heal the leprosy. Aren’t the rivers of Syria better than the Jordan? Could I not wash in them? He was offended by the simple, inglorious means that Elisha suggested would heal him. He turned away in a rage.
His servants came to him and said “if he had asked you to do something great, would you not have done it? Then why not much more if he says “wash and be clean.”” So Naaman went, dipped 7 times into the Jordan, was restored. He had his own idea of how he would be healed. Message was not according to human wisdom, it was of God.
[Ap] The gospel is not a message we would have come up with. We wouldn’t say we are so bad off that the only way of salvation was for God to send His only Son to live as one of us perfectly, because none of us could do it, and die a horrible death for our sins, because that is what they deserve. Yet the gospel says “come to Jesus, crucified for you; wash and be clean.”
Francis Schaeffer said the gospel was both the easiest and the hardest message to respond to, because we come with nothing. Jesus has come and died to save us, and we need come to Him with nothing. To the one who recognizes his need to be saved and his own inability, this is not foolishness, but the power of God.
God has chosen an inglorious message, and…
II. The inglorious members are of God (26-31)
Paul invites the members of the church at Corinth in v. 26 to look at their calling – that is their calling by God to salvation. He invites them to notice that not many of them are on top according to the world’s standards. Not many of them are wise “according to worldly standards.” Not many of them are powerful according to the world. Not many are of noble birth, having positions of influence in the world. Paul invites the church to look at itself and see that it is not made up of the power brokers of the world. But Paul says that God has planned it this way. Vv.27, 28….
Paul says that God uses those who are looked down upon by the world who respond to the simplicity of the gospel to show that real foolishness and weakness belongs to those who oppose Him. He gives His reason in v.29…
God has chosen those who are deficient in the eyes of the world, so that they might not take credit for themselves, but give Him all of the glory. Then in v.30, however, Paul moves to the positive angle…
Our salvation is not of ourselves, it is all of God. It is because of Him that we have been united to Christ Jesus by faith. In that union with Him, He has become for us true wisdom – not wisdom from the world, but wisdom from God. In Christ we come to know true wisdom through coming to know God and His ways.
But Paul goes on. Christ is our righteousness. He gives us His righteousness, that we might be declared “innocent” before God our Judge. He is our sanctification, our holiness. He has given us His Spirit that we might grow in obedience to Him. And He guarantees that He will perfect us. He is our redemption. To “redeem” means to buy back and deliver from bondage. He has purchased us with His blood. In our union with Christ, He is everything we need for salvation. So Paul says in v.31…
That is a summary of a beautiful passage in Jer. 9:23,24. Even those who have the gifts the world prizes are not to glory in them. They are to glory in the fact that they understand and know the Lord, by His grace. For it is only of Him, and by Him, that we are members of His church.
[Ill] Throughout His ministry, the Jewish religious leaders opposed Jesus. At times they even plotted to seize Him and kill Him. On one such occasion, Jesus was teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles. Certain officers had been sent out by the chief priests and Pharisees, but the came back empty-handed. Why haven’t you seized Him? “No man ever spoke like this Man” Pharisees: “Have you also been deceived?” Then they offered their evidence that Jesus was a hoax: “Have any of the Rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?” Have any of the powerful, intelligent, influential people believed? Have any of the religious leaders? “But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Jesus’ followers were simple, common, and ignorant in the eyes of the “elite”. Even the 12, whom Jesus chose to be with Him, were not recognized, influential people. They were uneducated, common people, not from Jerusalem or Judea, but from Galilee. They were fishermen and lowly tax-collectors. The people Jesus spent His time with were not the powerful, influential, religious, but the common people, tax-collectors, sinners. The members of Jesus’ Church are not gathered according to the wisdom and power of the world, they are of God.
[Ap] If you are not among the wise, influential, the privileged, then you are qualified to be used by God for His glory. He loves to use those who are considered lowly to show His power. But perhaps there are ways you are respected according to the world’s wisdom. Nothing wrong with that. Doesn’t say “none” are called that are valued in the world’s eyes, but “not many.” Perhaps you are regarded in ways as wise, influential. Perhaps you have been born into a family which has some recognition or influence. That’s good, if you use your gifts for God, and not your own glory. Let us not be defined by what we are in the eyes of the world, but by what we are in our union with Jesus Christ. We have received all that we need from Him for salvation and ministry. The message and members are of Him, and…
III. The inglorious messengers are of God (2:1-5)
Paul says that he himself did not come to the Corinthians with impressive speaking techniques or impressive wisdom according to the world when he declared the testimony of God, or the gospel to them. Influenced by Greek culture, some of the Christians in Corinth may have been critical of Paul for not using the rhetorical techniques of their contemporaries.
2 Cor 11:5,6 – “For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles. Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge.” Paul is saying: I did not come to you to give you human wisdom, but the revelation of God. Paul’s sole purpose was to preach Christ– not merely as teacher, philosopher, but as crucified for sinners. Paul was determined to stick to the message which had been given to Him by God, and he was overwhelmed with his own inadequacy to deliver that message. He says in v.3…
He had encountered much opposition and discouragement before and during his time in Corinth. Paul counts himself was one of the “weak things” that God is pleased to use.
But those of us who know of Paul’s life would hardly call him weak. He was resisted by the Jews everywhere he went yet he stood firm. He endured shipwreck, famine, beatings and even being stoned for the sake of the gospel, and kept coming back for more. Luke’s perspective is in Acts 19:8 – “he went to the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.” Yet Paul says in v.4a…
Paul was not confident in Himself. His confidence was in God, who had sent Him and who empowered him (v.4b…5…).
Paul did not seek to persuade his hearers by human wisdom. He looked for the Holy Spirit to persuade them as he preached the simple message of the cross. Though his message was simple, his ministry was accompanied by signs and wonders, the marks of an apostle, and of the power of God changing people’s lives through salavation. God used the weakness of Paul and the simplicity of the gospel to display His power and wisdom, so that men would trust in Him rather than themselves. Salvation is all of God, including the messengers.
[Ap] May not think you have a way with words. May not have the gift of evangelism. But, if you can explain the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross for sinners, God can use you to take His message to His people. He loves to use those who have humble gifts. If we feel inadequate, that’s good, because we are inadequate. We cannot make anyone accept it. It is foolish to them unless the Holy Spirit works. All we can do is to be faithful to proclaim it whenever God opens a door for us.
If we have gifts in that area – speaking, persuasion, personality. Do not rely on our gifts, but upon the message. We are not to put our trust in some technique in talking to people, but in the message. Lead people to faith in Christ through the Scriptures, not in our arguments, abilities.
God receives the glory for all – including the messenger.
[Ill] As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper today, we are reminded that the cross of Jesus continues to be the power of our lives. It is not something we embrace and then move on from. We must continue to gain our life from what Jesus has done for us. So we have bread and wine, representing Jesus and His saving work. We feed, by faith, in His presence, and have life.
We continue to be reminded that our salvation is from God, and not from ourselves. We are to glory only in Him. in His message – the message of the cross. Let us glory that we are members of His family, by His doing, and that we are His messengers, by His power. Let us serve Him with His wisdom and power.
- 1 Corinthians 1:18 - 2:5