I Corinthians 1:18–3:4 [Selections]
Foci: I Corinthians 1:18–25; I Corinthians 2:10b–16
The Wisdom of God: in the Cross, by the Spirit
Laura Miguélez Quay
January 29, 2017
After reminding these Corinthian believers that their salvation, their sanctification, their equipping for ministry, and their being called into fellowship with God and one another were all God’s doing, last week we saw Paul begin his long rebuke of this church since it wasn’t living in accordance with the oneness they shared by virtue of their unity in Christ. Instead they were playing a game of one-upmanship based, perhaps, on who had baptized them—Paul, Apollos, Cephas—rather than acknowledging that because of Christ’s sacrifice—which they all were enabled to receive only by God’s grace, his unmerited favor—they all were now children of their one and heavenly Father and therefore should be living as the brothers and sisters to each other that they already were.
This morning we’re going to focus on how God’s wisdom can provide a corrective to this division. We’re going to consider two points in particular. First, God’s wisdom is revealed through the cross (the first passage I read) and, second, God’s wisdom is revealed by his Spirit (the second passage I read). What I want us to notice is that Paul is essentially providing a Trinitarian solution to the problem of human division for just as God is one God existing as three Persons, he has saved us that we might live as one body using our many parts and gifts for the service of that one body.
But before turning to our passage, I want to begin by considering a definition of wisdom. My desktop dictionary defines wisdom as, “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” This is a good place to start. Wisdom isn’t merely having experience of something for we can have many experiences yet not learn from them. As the oft-quoted definition of insanity (attributed to Albert Einstein) states, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So we need something more than experience in order to be wise. But neither is wisdom merely having knowledge. Someone can be an expert at trivia and even win Jeopardy tournaments but be completely lacking in common sense. We’ve all met bright people who fit the “absent-minded professor” stereotype. So being wise is more than simply having knowledge. But when you add good judgment—an ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions—to experience and knowledge then I think we do end up with wisdom.
But considered from the perspective of God’s revelation in Scripture, this definition of wisdom is still lacking in one important regard. Biblically speaking, wisdom requires that we orient our lives not only by making use of our human abilities but also that those abilities be oriented towards the God in whose image we are all made. As Proverbs 9:10 states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” What this means is that judging from a purely human perspective we may appear to be the wisest of all people but unless we also acknowledge that we were placed on this earth by God and were made for him, all such wisdom is like chaff that is blown away by the wind. Scripturally understood, we cannot be wise if we don’t believe in—and live for—God. Conversely, Psalm 14:1 speaks of the fool, understood as someone who is morally deficient, as saying “in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” So if we are smart but don’t acknowledge God’s existence or live for him, then, Scripturally understood, we are fools. As we continue to work through I Corinthians, watch for how often Paul works from and builds upon this Old Testament understanding of both wisdom and foolishness. Paul understands that it’s impossible to be wise apart from living for God and it’s impossible to be foolish if one is living for him.
So beginning right in verses 18 and 19 of chapter 1, Paul’s first point in addressing the division within this church is, “18 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. 19 For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’” Verse 18 is something we can all attest to. Since the time that God in Christ first came to earth to die and rise that we might live with and for him, there have ever been those who have rolled their eyes at those who actually believe this. Those who are perishing, in other words those who don’t believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to our Father in heaven, view this message of God coming in human form, taking the guilt and punishment of human sin upon himself, and rising to banish evil, sin, and death once and for all, as foolishness—as lacking in good sense or judgment.
But in Paul’s day, this message would have been viewed as foolish for a second reason that is easy for us to miss. Whereas we’ve come to understand the cross as a symbol of our identity as followers of Christ, during New Testament times the cross was viewed as an instrument for putting criminals to death. As one commentator notes, it was “a method of execution considered so crude it was not even mentioned in polite company.” So the cross was foolish not only because the Christ to whom it pointed wasn’t accepted by all to be the promised Messiah, to be God in the flesh, but also because this Jesus who claimed to be God died in such a dishonorable way, hanging on a cross like a common criminal for all to see. God dying on a cross simply makes no sense to those who don’t accept it. But oh, for those who have been delivered from spiritual death to spiritual life in Christ, the message of the cross, the message of what God’s Son did to bring salvation to those who have rejected him, is a wonderful and important display of the power of God to save even us.
And when Paul speaks of God destroying the wisdom of the wise and frustrating the intelligence of the intelligent, he’s quoting from the prophet Isaiah. And the context there again points to a biblical understanding of wisdom and foolishness. According to Isaiah, the reason God says these things is because “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” Too, they “go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord” and “do their work in darkness and think, ‘Who sees us? Who will know?’” In other words these allegedly wise and intelligent ones will be destroyed and frustrated because they pretend to honor God—they come near and honor him with their mouths and lips—but, in reality they don’t believe in God and consequently they’re morally deficient—the very definition of a fool. Because they don’t believe in God, they think they can hide their evil deeds and do what they like in the darkness.
Building on this understanding, in verse 20 Paul turns to the allegedly wise in his own day: “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age?” and he then points to God’s unchanging nature who has “made foolish the wisdom of the world.” In all of its human wisdom, verse 21, the world nonetheless didn’t know God. Again human wisdom that doesn’t acknowledge its Maker is, in God’s eyes, foolish. And yet God used what humans considered foolish, namely, the proclamation of Christ, “to save those who believe.” So believing in Christ is true wisdom.
Paul goes on to explain, verse 22, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” We see many instances of this even during the time of Jesus’ ministry. Time and again, Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law asked him to show them a sign from heaven. Yet the only sign Jesus ever gave was that of pointing them to God’s Word. Paul contrasts these worldly outlooks by stating in verse 23: “23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” Again, the event of God coming to earth in human form;
of God living and suffering and undergoing all of the temptations and pains and joys that is our lot as humans;
of God in the flesh, though never once succumbing to evil or temptation, nonetheless being crucified;
of God in the person of Jesus Christ taking upon himself the guilt and punishment for our sins;
of God in Christ on the third day rising from the dead and ascending to heaven, opening up a path to heaven for all who believe.
This message, even for those living close enough to the time of these events to have heard many testify to their truth, was even then “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” The Jews stumbled because they didn’t believe Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah foretold in their Scriptures. They had been expecting a triumphant, political leader on earth, not God dying on a cross, rising, and then ruling from his throne in heaven and ruling among his people by his Spirit on earth. As we’ve already noted, for many Jews the message of their Messiah dying on the cross and becoming a curse would have been offensive at least, if not intolerable. And many Gentiles found this message foolish because they had their own views and authorities about the purpose and meaning of life.
And yet, verse 24, there were “both Jews and Greeks” “whom God…called.” And to those whom he called, this message of Christ crucified, of God’s eternal Son taking upon himself humanity’s punishment, was both “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” It pointed to his sovereignty in giving them eyes to see Christ for who he was, and it pointed to his goodness and kindness in enabling them to receive him and live for him.
So Paul concludes this section by stating in verse 25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” I suspect that part of what Paul is doing here is using proper rhetoric, persuasive figures of speech, to expose the poor rhetorical devices of some of those whom he was addressing and rebuking. Their teaching may have seemed wise yet was in fact foolish for it lacked meaningful content. For make no mistake—God isn’t foolish or weak. Paul is stating this in the sense that even if, for argument’s sake, we were to attribute foolishness or weakness to God, he would still be far wiser and stronger than even the wisest and strongest human. So, for instance, if even the weakest and most foolish adult is nonetheless stronger and wiser than a toddler, how much more is the gap that exists between God and us in these respects. God being God, any foolishness he might display is still wiser than any human wisdom and any weakness he might display is nonetheless stronger than any human strength.
And so Paul turns to his “brothers and sisters” at the end of this chapter and reminds them that they were called by God because of who God is, not because of who they were for they were neither “wise by human standards” nor “influential” nor “of noble birth” (26) but humanly speaking they were foolish and weak (27) and lowly and despised (28). And, as we saw last week, Paul places himself among those who are weak in the opening verses of chapter 2. Yet God still called them. God still chose them to shame the wise and strong of the world (27) “so that no one may boast” before (God) (29). For it is because of him, verse 30, “that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” So if God is the one who enabled us to know Christ Jesus as our Savior and Lord; if God is the one who through Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection enabled us, who knew no righteousness, to become righteous and holy and redeemed, then on what basis are these believers bragging about and dividing over those who may have baptized or taught them? For Paul, Apollos, and Cephas were but people whom God used to bring them to himself. As we noted last week, the only correct answer to “How many people have you saved?” is “Zero!” So on what ground is there any boasting?
Paul ends chapter 1 underscoring this point by again referencing the Old Testament in verse 31, this time the prophet Jeremiah: “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’” Let me read this verse for you in the broader context of Jeremiah: “23 This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, 24 but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord.” Do you see what wisdom, biblically understood, entails? What matters in life isn’t human wisdom or strength or even riches. It’s all about having “the understanding to know God”—that he is the LORD (all caps therefore it’s about knowing God personally)—that he exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth—that he delights in these things. And if God delights in these things, then so should we. We, too, should exercise and display kindness and justice and righteousness in our lives in the way in which we live with others that we might please him.
So knowing that the wisdom of God is revealed in the cross, how then does one come to know this wisdom of Christ crucified? This is the focus of our second passage in I Corinthians 2:10b–16. The way in which we come to know God’s wisdom in the cross is by God’s Spirit. He is the one who enables us to know Christ and all he has done for us and thereby enables us to know our loving and heavenly Father as well. Beginning in verse 6 of chapter 2, Paul shifts our gaze from the cross of Christ to the Spirit of God. He begins by noting that the wisdom he is speaking of is God’s wisdom (7), not the wisdom of this age or its rulers who are coming to nothing (6). He is declaring God’s wisdom among the mature—in other words among those who are wise enough to accept and recognize it as such—and it’s a wisdom that up until it’s revelation in Christ’s coming to earth, had been hidden, despite its having been destined for our glory before time began (7). And the evidence that the rulers of this age didn’t understand who Christ was is that they crucified him, the Lord of glory (8).
Then Paul yet again turns to the prophet Isaiah for confirmation of his message in verse 9 as he acknowledges that it is God’s Spirit, verse 10, who has revealed these things—who has made them known to us. Listen to the original quotation from Isaiah that Paul has paraphrased: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” What God reveals to us—what he tells us—what he discloses to us by his Spirit is that God does indeed exist and that he is a God who is for us, who “acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” Brothers and sisters, do we believe this? Do we believe that God acts on behalf of those who wait for him—that he has prepared good things for those who love him? Because he absolutely has!
Paul next turns to how it is that the Spirit is able to disclose these things and the answer, simply put, is because the Spirit, too, is God. In the latter half of verse 10 Paul states, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” How is this possible? Paul answers in verse 11 by using the analogy of how humans can know their own thoughts—it is by our “own spirit within” us. “In the same way,” Paul goes on, “no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Though we love and serve one God, he exists in three Persons. And this third Person of the Trinity, “the Spirit who is from God,” verse 12, is the one who enables us to “understand what God has freely given us”—namely, the knowledge and faith by his grace that Jesus Christ is God’s Son who died and rose for us that we might know him as the resurrection and the life and never die even though we die physically; and that we might know him as the way, truth, and life, the only way to our loving and heavenly Father.
And this is the wonderful, amazing, joyous message the apostle Paul brings, verse 13. But it’s a message that can only be received by someone in whom God’s Spirit is working. Listen again to what Paul states in verses 14–15: “14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments.” So the primary way that we can know that Christ is God’s Messiah and accept and believe him as such is by the activity of his Spirit. It’s not because we’re terribly smart. It’s not because we’re particularly insightful. It’s not because we’re good people. It’s not because we’re especially intuitive. It’s all God’s doing. It’s only by the Spirit of God. So Paul, again referencing Isaiah, asks in verse 16, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” And the only and right answer is “no one”! The only one who is able to know the mind of the Lord is the Lord himself. Therefore the only way we are able to know God’s mind is by means of the Spirit he sends us. God instructs us; we don’t instruct him.
But, since we do have his Spirit, he closes, “we have the mind of Christ.” Now to have the mind of Christ doesn’t mean that we are now all-knowing for he is ever God and we are ever his creatures, created to be dependent upon him. But it does mean that by his Spirit which he has given us, we have the wisdom of God. Again, which is to say that by his Spirit we have been enabled to understand and receive the truth that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place that we might know the love of our heavenly Father and never be separated from him, not in this life or the next. To have the mind of Christ means that we are wise, as God has defined, for we acknowledge and embrace the God who made us in his image and redeemed us by his love.
And to have the mind of Christ means that we are now to live in a way that pleases him which, as noted earlier in Jeremiah the prophet, means to live with kindness and justice and righteousness. This is in sharp contrast with the foolish way in which these Corinthian believers have been acting. As Paul states at the beginning of chapter 3, though at this stage in their walks with Christ they should be taking in spiritually solid food, they are still in need of milk for they haven’t understood that their inclusion in God’s family is God’s doing. Rather than praise God for his mercy and grace, they are acting with jealousy towards and quarreling with one another as exhibited by their divisiveness and claims to follow Paul or Apollos.
Brothers and sisters, let us learn from Paul’s corrective to the foolish divisive behavior of the Corinthians and let us, instead, seek to be wise. For God in Christ has called all of us by his Spirit to be kind and just and righteous even as he is. If we have the mind of Christ, it will be evident by means of our words—and thoughts—and values—and behavior. May the mind of Christ be our goal in our individual lives and as the family of Christ that we are.
Let us pray.
We opened with a hymn of invocation, inviting our Almighty King to be present. And we are closing with May the Mind of Christ my Savior which is a beautiful prayer that we can sing corporately as a closing prayer to our Lord and Savior. Let us think about these words as together we sing Hymn #568.
 I Corinthians 1:18–25.
 I Corinthians 2:10b–16.
 Crossway ESV Study Bible, emphasis added.
 Isaiah 29:14. The broader unit is Isaiah 29:13–16: 13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. 14 Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” 15 Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” 16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?
 e.g., Matthew 12:38: Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” Mark 8:11–12: 11 The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” Luke 11:16: 1 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven. John 2:18–20: 18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” John 4:48: “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” John 6:30: So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?
 Matthew 16:1–4: The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ 3 and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
 To some degree this seems true even of Jesus’ disciples, e.g. Acts 1:6: Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
 Jeremiah 9:23–24: 23 This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, 24 but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.
 Isaiah 64:4.
 John 11:25: I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.
 John 14:6: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
 Isaiah 40:13: Who can fathom the Spirit[or mind] of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor?