1 Corinthians 1:18–31 (ESV)
18 For the word of the cross is folly 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,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 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? 21 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. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 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; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
We’re departing for a week from our summer of Psalms.
I was given the pulpit to preach and I have a burden for this text and what it says to us – what it preaches to me.
The Christian life is one of remembering who we are in Christ because we are often distracted by the world around us and forget who we are.
I’ve said this before but I think that, if we can understand the nature of death in sin and life in Christ, then we’ve understood a great deal about the work of the Gospel.
This passage puts underlines, italics, and bold face throughout about the nature of our redeemed community.
Paul begins by contrasting the seeming foolishness of the Cross in the eyes of the world.
I think we’re so accustomed, even culturally, to think of the Cross of Christ in a foreign manner that we do not consider its offense.
Beloved, the Cross is an offense to those who are perishing.
Who is perishing?
All those apart from Christ.
Man is born to slavery to sin.
That very statement is foolish to the world.
It is unnatural to the world.
What does the world tell us?
It tells us that death is just a part of biology. All things die due to natural causes.
Death is normal.
The Scriptures teach a different story.
They teach that death is the result of the Curse of God upon the rebellion of man.
The Scriptures teach that men, women, and children die because the world is under a Curse.
It is a curse that binds all men in a pattern of thinking that is hostile to God.
Consequently, the only way that the spiritually dead can see the Cross is foolishness.
The message is this: the Son of God died for sin on the Cross and rose to give newness of life to all who look upon Him in faith.
The wages and penalty of sin are taken away.
It’s utter folly.
The Jews of Jesus’ day stumbled over it. Even Christ’s disciples stumbled over it.
Good men are not cursed. Only criminals. Only bad people are cursed.
Sure, the grace of God was necessary to put us in a place where we could obey and inherit blessings for our obedience but it would be our good works that would give us favor with God.
Or so many reasoned.
But that was never what God revealed in His Word.
The Word reveals that we’re all dead in sin and need of spiritual life through a Savior.
The Greeks were like our culture.
The Cross is foolish.
Above all, it prizes wisdom as men have discovered it.
It prizes accomplishment and those who have reached the zenith of culture and society.
The problem with people is not hostility with God but a lack of education and enlightenment with the right information.
Tell a man that he cannot trust his own wisdom apart from God and he’ll tell you you’re a fanatic.
You’re leaning on a crutch.
The truly great person is the one who strikes his own path and discovers the way of the world.
Jew and Greek.
Free man or slave.
They were in need of the same Savior.
It’s because the true wisdom, which is folly to the eyes of man, is found in the Son of God Who became Man.
We could not climb by our religious efforts to God.
We could not climb to the knowledge of the created world through our thinking and culture.
Ultimately, regardless of cultural or ethnic or religious status, we needed the Christ Who is both God and Man.
It is only by trusting in His death and resurrection that we are freed from the bondage of sin.
It is only in Him that the penalty of our sins is judged in Christ and taken away.
It is only in Him that we are adopted as children.
And it is only in Him, by His Spirit, that our minds are raised to truly love God and to desire to serve our redeemer and our God.
We need look no further than Christ for true wisdom.
That which the world considers folly is the wisdom of God.
But, in addition to seeming foolish, our faith in Christ looks weak.
A pitiful, poor Carpenter who had no formal training as a Rabbi.
The rumor was that he was a bastard and his parents so poor they could only afford sacrifices reserved for the poorest.
The Jews constantly demanded signs from Him because, ultimately, like us, they wanted to be aligned with someone with power.
If Christ could perform signs and had power then maybe He would lead them to another golden age.
After all, isn’t what we all want is prestige and being aligned with the right group?
But Christ repeatedly refused to perform signs simply to prove to others what He was not.
His death seemed powerless.
Those that tried and ridiculed him seemed to have the upper hand.
Death itself and Satan seemed to have won.
The Man Who claimed to be equal with God died a pitiful death.
No power seemed to come down that day to free Him.
And yet, as He died, the perfect Son of Man crushed death!
No longer would sin and death enslave man because the Son of God became man and took all that the Curse demanded of transgressors.
Hell itself was meted out upon His broken body.
And then, when the world thought Him defeated, His life burst through the chains of death!
The stone was rolled away and the Son of God is the source of eternal life for all who believe upon Him.
The Power of the Cross is that Christ defeated our real enemy – sin and death.
The Power of the Cross is that we are raised to indestructible life because we are in union with a Man who is also God in One Person.
That perfect Man ascended and ever lives to rule and reign for all His people.
All authority in Heaven and Earth belongs to Him and He is on our side!
He prays for you.
He knows what it is to be tempted and He takes pity on you.
He knows what it is to weep and comforts you.
He knows what it is to be forsaken and stands with you.
And so Paul reminds us all that there is no true wisdom apart from Christ.
It looks like folly to those who are perishing but we continue to proclaim Christ and Him crucified and risen because it is the wisdom from above.
It looks like weakness but it the power of the Son of God to free those who are perishing from sin and death and grant to them spiritual life.
It is the promise that they will one day have no enemies because they are Christ’s and He will have the last Word for them.
And so, where is boasting?
We could do nothing for ourselves and so how can we boast?
There is nothing we have: gifts, power, wisdom – that we can say is worth anything to compare to the wisdom and power of Christ. It all pales in the marvelous light of Christ.
But, beloved, I want us to apply this very tangibly to our personal lives.
I don’t want this to be left with vague notions about how Christ saves some people and that some people no longer boast.
Let us ask the question of ourselves: In what do we boast?
I was very blessed recently to hear a sermon by Tim Keller and it helped put some more pieces together for me and give me a richer appreciation of the glory of Christ and my identity.
When we think of boasting, we often think of being arrogant or just coming out and bragging to people about our lives.
But the reality is much more pervasive and I realized that I boast in many things apart from Christ.
You see, the notion of boasting is ingrained in us.
I want you to get a broader understanding of this idea because one clear example is how boasting has been used in military contexts.
We’ll apply it to something more tangible for you but think about how boasting works.
Warfare is a dangerous and scary thing.
Warriors train to be proficient with their weapons and are disciplined to work together but a critical part of any battle is boasting.
We could call it a pep rally if you like.
Think about the oration from Henry V about those who stood on the field of battle in St. Crispin’s day.
Think about the movies you’ve seen like the Lord of the Rings where the King of Rohan gives a rousing speech about honor and that shields will be broken. He then rides up and down the line hitting spears as everyone roars: Yeah!
I can’t watch that scene without being teared up. It wells up in you and you think: “Yes, I too will ride to my death because Sauron will not put an end to men this day!”
We see it in 1 Sam 17 as Goliath comes out for the Philistines and challenges all comers. The Philistines boast with Goliath: “We’re with him. Oorah!”
But then a shepherd wearing nothing but his tunic.
Armed with nothing but a sling and stones steps forward.
Nobody is boasting in him.
Even his King thinks he’s toast.
In Whom does this shepherd boast?
In the Living God!
That’s the picture.
I still remember pep rallies at school.
We stunk at football but I still remember the chants: “We’ve got spirit yes we do, we’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you!”
I was caught up in my group.
I prized, above all, that my class would receive the spirit stick.
I was with them. I boasted with them.
But, surely, we don’t do this with the most important things in our lives.
Think about Facebook.
The post goes something like this.
Society says this is wrong but that’s just a social construct.
Society says I’m a creep and I’m pushed around at school.
But I’m beautiful.
I’m my own person.
And all our Facebook friends exclaim: “Yeah! You’re beautiful!”
Beloved, I’m convinced that we cannot make it through life unless we have something to boast in.
I’m not thinking hateful thoughts to those who cry out with words of despair because people at school, at work, or in society shun them or make fun of them.
These are people created in the image of God.
Herman Bavinck wrote about Adam before the creation of Eve:
Adam had received much. Though formed out of the dust of the earth, he was nevertheless a bearer of the image of God. He was placed in a garden which was a place of loveliness and was richly supplied with everything good to behold and to eat. He received the pleasant task of dressing the garden and subduing the earth, and in this he had to walk in accordance with the commandment of God, to eat freely of every tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But no matter how richly favored and how grateful, that first man was not satisfied, not fulfilled. The cause is indicated to him by God Himself. It lies in his solitude. It is not good for the man that he should be alone. He is not so constituted, he was not created that way. His nature inclines to the social — he wants company. He must be able to express himself, reveal himself, and give himself. He must be able to pour out his heart, to give form to his feelings. He must share his awarenesses with a being who can understand him and can feel and live along with him. Solitude is poverty, forsakenness, gradual pining and wasting away. How lonesome it is to be alone!
Beloved, it is poverty to be alone.
Our culture gives language to this pining in the lyrics of the song Creep:
I don’t care if it hurts
I wanna have control
I wanna a perfect body
I wanna a perfect soul
I want you to notice
When I’m not around
You’re so special
I wish I was special
But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.
I heard those lyrics sung by a man who is among those in this world perishing.
My heart broke for him because his solution to the problem of this pining was to accept himself in his fallen condition.
And then he received the adulation of the crowd as they boasted in him.
People need someone who can tell them that they’re special.
And we are – we’re created in the image of God.
But we need Christ, beloved, to redeem that image that has been marred by sin.
We need to be set free and washed.
We are not called to judge others.
We ought to understand why they’re boasting.
We ought to be patient and kind knowing that we did not do anything to deserve the life that Christ has given us.
But we also need to be reminded that we have our own things that give us an identity.
We have our own crowds to whom we turn because we need someone to boast in us.
We need others to tell us that we’re not alone in this cursed world.
My question then becomes: With whom do you boast?
What’s the object of your boasting and who encourages you to press on?
I was reading an interesting article in Wired Magazine about a fitness craze that is going on throughout the country called the November Project. See if what I’ve just been telling you now makes perfect sense from this quote:
IF YOU JOIN November Project, you’re going to get a lot of hugs. Hugs when you show up. Hugs when you’re introduced to new members. Hugs when you finish a workout. Sometimes, hugs just because.
… While nobody tracks the numbers, it’s safe to say that thousands of members show up multiple times a week for intense presunrise workouts—and they’re all ecstatic to be there. They love each other so much.
…What distinguishes November Project is not just the fact that it’s free…but the degree to which it actually is a social identity. The movement extends beyond exercising to encompass rituals and customs, social expecta¬tions, and repercussions for failing to participate. That’s right: If you skip a November Project workout, you’re not out any cash, but the fallout is arguably more severe. You’re, well, shamed. Online. It’s weird.
…One member compared November Project to a church. More commonly, people refer to it as a cult. Never in the pejora¬tive I’m-trapped-and-I-can’t-escape sense, though. More like, This is the greatest-tasting Kool-Aid in the world!
What makes this project so successful is that it gives people something to boast in and be boasted about.
It’s not that they’re bragging, per se, but they are celebrating that they have an identity in something and they are celebrating together.
People care that they show up and they go to the ends of the earth to make sure they keep showing up.
But what about us?
Do we have something that’s worth that much effort?
Do we have something to boast in?
Is the Cross of Christ really worth getting that excited about that people might think it’s almost cultic?
Could we say: “Yeah, it might look extreme but Christ is the greatest tasting Kool-Aid in the world!”
Like I said, a lot of pieces have been falling into place for me lately.
I’m going to be honest with you that I don’t think that I boast in Christ and get excited to see you boasting in Christ with very much zeal.
I have some friendship groups and activities that I find much more attractive and spend more time encouraging them than I do you.
I even started to think about why it is that we struggle to form intimate relationships as a Church and people sometimes feel like they can’t form close bonds or that some people seem unfriendly.
When I’m thinking about these things it seems that all of life suddenly becomes a teaching point.
You see, we tend to think that if we just put ourselves together in smaller groups and spend time together that friendships and intimacy will naturally form.
It could work like that but I think I know why it hasn’t and then I read some things that C.S. Lewis wrote that are so spot on. He writes the following things on friendships:
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
“What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it.”
“True friends don’t spend time gazing into each other’s eyes. They may show great tenderness towards each other but they face in the same direction – toward common projects, goals – above all, towards a common Lord.”
“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question “Do you see the same truth?” would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise – though Affection, of course, may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.”
Do you understand what Lewis is writing?
We make friends with people when we share a common truth.
When we go looking for friends we don’t find them. It’s when we’re engaged in something we love and care about that we end up running into people that are passionate about the same things.
When I was newly married with Sonya we both used to hate being in care groups with families who had lots of children.
Because all they talked about was their children.
We didn’t dislike their children but we had different passions.
We had different things that gave us an identity as a young married couple.
Of course, I’m the chief of sinners in this regard because I have a common identity with a Marine who walks into this Church while others might find me distant and unfriendly. They can’t find a connection.
What I’m afraid of, beloved.
Is that we boast in many things – our kids, our sports teams, our employment, our activities.
And we find our identities and greatest interests in them and then find friends who can encourage and boast in us.
But we scarcely boast in Christ.
We scarcely boast in Christ together.
Paul is drawing us back to our the real truth.
All these other boastings, all these other pep rallies, all these other common identities should pale in comparison to our Christ and His salvation.
Imagine, if you will, if we were all passionate about Christ and His Work in our lives.
We would be aiming at the same Savior and, in the process, we’d find each other.
We’d say: “You too! You love Jesus like me! That’s fantastic!”
Imagine, if you will, if we were excited when people walked into Church. Imagine if we showered them with excitement: “I’m so glad you’re here! Jesus Christ is proclaimed here and He saved me and my family from my sins.”
Hugs are optional but encouraged for people who might need that encouragement.
Imagine, if you will, if we thought we were in a spiritual battle and every day we were struggling with our sins.
And then we called up a Brother and said: “I’m struggling with sin right now. I keep yelling at my kids. I’m not motivated to pray with my wife. I so want to see the power of Christ and His resurrection in my life.”
And the person on the other line said: “Me too! I want to serve Jesus! You love Him too?! Can I pray with you? Can I encourage you?”
You see, beloved, our fellowship should be marked by a common passion for the risen Christ and what he’s doing with our lives but if all we do is talk about everything else that gives us identity then it is no wonder why we seem distant from one another.
To be alone is poverty. How lonesome it is to be alone!
Did you know that last Thursday was our monthly time of prayer?
I admit I totally forgot about it.
I actually believe that a Church that does not pray together is an impoverished Church and, yet, I had more important things to boast in that evening.
I had other things and other events that I said: that’s more important than Christ.
When we lose sight of our true delight and lose sight of how beautiful Christ and His Cross is then everything becomes drudgery.
It becomes a bare duty.
It is never a burden to be with our friends, though.
It doesn’t feel like effort when we are with those we identify with and share a passion with.
Beloved, I’m not chiding you.
I’m admitting my own sin and I believe that, until we all start pursuing Christ as our greatest boasting, we will find the solution to the poverty of isolation in other areas.
We will only find in the Church a duty.
We will only see Christ as a good for us and our families but not the only thing worthy of our ultimate excitement.
I thank God for the ladies of this Church and the new women’s ministry program because it’s aimed at pursuing Christ and the fruits that result as women find their identity in Him.
I told them at the time that I hoped that it would be the women of the Church that would create a zeal for Christ that their husbands and friends would emulate.
It is only when each of us starts to find true wisdom that we’ll stop delighting only in the folly of this world.
It is only when we see the power of Christ and His resurrection in our lives that we’ll stop seeking power and affirmation from those whom we envy and emulate.
And it is only when Christ is our only boasting that we’ll find a true solution to the poverty of loneliness.
And, suddenly, we’ll look around and find others of like passion and say to each other: “You too?!”
Let us pray.