Powerful foolishness: I Corinthians 1-4

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Today’s reading: I Corinthians 1-4.

“Why does the world make fun of Christians?”

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. I Corinthians 1: 18

The foolishness of the Gospel

The gospel message seems like the utmost foolishness to unbelievers, and those who preach that message are counted as fools by much of the world. But the foolish words of the gospel have the power of God to save. The wisdom of the world has no such power. Believers shouldn’t be discouraged by the abuse of the world. Instead, we should take it as proof that we are on the right path and that God’s word is true.

The foolishness of Christ

The contemporaries of Jesus thought he was crazy, and little has changed today. Some call him a good teacher or a wise man, but few call him Lord. Most ignore him. He is a stone that God has put in the path of every person, meant to be the sure foundation that each one can build upon, but instead for most he is the stumbling stone over which they fall.

The foolishness of believers

The church took root and flourished among the unknown people. There were a few wealthy and influential persons, but most were poor and ordinary. Was this because the Gospel only appeals to the down and out? No, it was because God cares for all people, because he has compassion on those the world disregards, and it was to demonstrate the power of God’s word rather than the influence of men. The last became first, and those the world counted as mighty were shown to be powerless.

The foolishness of the Apostles

Paul called himself a fool for Christ, and his life was full of poverty and hardship. He said that even though the Gospel was advancing he and the other Apostles were still considered the scum of the earth. Yet he pressed on for the sake of the high calling and in order to bear many children in the Spirit. His foolish way of life was meant to be an example which his children should imitate.

The wisdom of the world

The so-called wisdom of the world does not lead men to God, and therefore it is ultimately foolish. Such wisdom is focused on the natural, material world rather than spiritual realities. It deals with the earth, not heaven. It cares about the present, not eternity. James says it is demonic.

The wisdom of God

God’s wisdom was secret, hidden from the world. He planned from before time and creation to reconcile the world to himself through his son, but the world couldn’t see his plan. Only those who were filled with the Holy Spirit could understand the salvation provided by Jesus. The natural man doesn’t accept or understand the things of God and they are foolishness to him.

The wisdom of Christ

Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God. He is the word, God’s wisdom in written or spoken form. He is the life, wisdom revealed in action. He is the light, wisdom guiding us through the darkness. The mind of Christ is the fullness of God’s wisdom, and through the Spirit we share Christ’s thoughts, his mind.

The challenge for believers is to forsake worldly wisdom and human power. We must become fools in order to become wise. We must preach a foolish gospel in order to save the lost. We must take on the mind of Christ though the world scorns him. We must imitate the foolishness of Paul so that we can become spiritual parents to a new generation of believers. If we do these things, even though we are nothing, the power of God will accomplish great things.

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul speaks of the man who is psuchikos (Greek #5591). He is the man who lives as if there was nothing beyond physical life and there were no needs other than material needs, whose values are all physical and material. A man like that cannot understand spiritual things. A man who thinks that nothing is more important than the satisfaction of the sex urge cannot understand the meaning of chastity; a man who ranks the amassing of material things as the supreme end of life cannot understand generosity; and a man who has never a thought beyond this world cannot understand the things of God. To him they look mere foolishness. No man need be like this; but if he stifles “the immortal longings” that are in his soul he may make himself like this so that the Spirit of God will speak and he will not hear. It is easy to become so involved in the world that there exists nothing beyond it. We must pray to have the mind of Christ, for only when he dwells within us are we safe from the encroaching invasion of the demands of material things. – William Barclay

Image by Tom Blackwell on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

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13 thoughts on “Powerful foolishness: I Corinthians 1-4

  1. I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chlo′e’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apol′los,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13

    For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apol′los,” are you not merely men? 1 Corinthians 3: 3-4

    Paul again advocating for doctrinal unity.

    • I agree he advocates for doctrinal unity, but in these verses isn’t he dealing more with the cult of personality? That is a problem also, elevating men above Christ.

      • I think you are right. I do not know much about this, but elsewhere I have read that Paul struggled against “false apostles” who came after him and preached a false gospel. This may have been especially true in Corinth. Even from the beginning Satan, the father of lies, spread half-truths and false teachings. The same goes on today. This is why doctrinal unity is so important and no doubt why Jesus prayed so fervently for unity in John 17.

    • The problem with doctrinal unity is, of course: under which doctrine do we unify? The flipside to Paul’s encouragement to unity is his call to oppose error – as he does constantly in his letters, even at the expense of unity!

      Paul’s call, then, seems to be an urge that everyone be united, yes, but that they be united in the truth – “the same mind” being the mind of Christ. What, then, do we do when sincere believers disagree on the mind of Christ – and, after reasoned consideration and understanding each other’s positions, still disagree?

      It seems like one of the best available answers is to disagree, but without quarreling: to say, “I follow Christ, as best I know how; as far as I can tell, so does my brother.” Which is, I think, what modern Christendom does for the most part.

  2. “According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble— each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” 1 Corinthians 3: 10-15

    If you have ever wondered where the idea for Purgatory originated, this is part of it.

    • But this says that every believer’s work will be tested with fire. Are you saying that all go through Purgatory? A more straightforward interpretation is that, independent of our salvation, God rewards our good works and destroys our worthless works – not at the cost of our salvation but at the cost of our heavenly rewards.

      • I think you are on the right track. Revelation says nothing impure will enter heaven. Though I have faith in Christ, I know I am impure. I have impure thoughts and desires. None of that belongs in heaven. Purgatory is a process through which my impurity can be purged. Much like a crucible purifies metal. It burns off the dross. Think of all the references to purifying in scripture (here are a few):

        “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments.”

        “And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the sabbath day holy.”

        “Depart, depart, go out thence, touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her, purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord.”

        “Many shall purify themselves, and make themselves white, and be refined.”

        “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver.”

        “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”

        “Purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

        “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind.”

        I praise God for Purgatory, because I know I need it. Yes, I want to be saved, but I also want to be justified, sanctified, and glorified. I am not sure I can accomplish all of that without God’s power to purify.

        Does everyone need Purgatory? Almost certainly not. Saints have bypassed it with the purification of their blood: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” It is an antechamber to heaven, a place where we can leave behind the cares, worries, obsessions, and distractions that weigh us down and obscure the glory God has imbued in us. Am I worthy of heaven? No. Can God cleanse me enough to enter? Amen, He can.

      • Maybe we are only discussing the name of the process. Believers are fitted with a heavenly body, including a heavenly mind, on resurrection day (I Cor. 15). Surely that is a big part of our glorification. After having removed the penalty of sin (justification), and the power of sin (sanctification), we shall then be removed from the presence of sin. But it seems to be in immediate process. The thief on the cross was with Jesus in Paradise that same day he died.

  3. “The thief on the cross was with Jesus in Paradise that same day he died.” Which is interesting since Jesus had not ascended to heaven yet. Which calls to mind Peter’s words: “in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey.” Could the thief have found himself in Purgatory the next day?

    I suspect it is a process, but possibly a process matched to the needs of the individual. I think of Dicken’s vivid image of Jacob Morley, dragging the chains of life’s worries behind him. Some of us have long chains, some short, some none at all.

  4. Pingback: Bible Daily Devotional – Powerful foolishness: I Corinthians 1-4 | ChristianBlessings

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