I Corinthians 1:17-31
Paul says a lot with few words in verse 17. He announces that he was sent, who sent him, what he was sent to do, how he was to do it, and why he was to do it in the manner by which he was to do it.
Paul was sent by Christ, God manifest in the flesh. The Father and the Son are not separate. Paul’s mission is directed by God Almighty. Paul was to preach the gospel “not with the wisdom of words.” The message which God had Paul deliver had no appeal to the wisdom of men. God’s ways are not the ways of men.
In this epistle to believers at Corinth, Paul is addressing a divided congregation (see v. 10). Divisions result when individuals esteem themselves to possess understandings that distinguish them from others. Understanding the gospel, however, is the same for all believers. The cross of Christ unifies believers. The cross separates believers from them who believe not. Believers are united into one body by the righteousness of the blood of the Lamb. The blood covers our failings (past, present and future). The same blood was shed for all. There is no special understanding — believing is the same for all. That Christ died for others makes no sense to them who perish (v. 18) and all who do not believe shall perish. Salvation is solely dependent upon believing on that which was done upon the cross.
In verse 19, Paul applies Isaiah 29:14 to the gospel message. In so doing, Paul declares the gospel to be the destruction of the wisdom of the wise which Isaiah prophesied. Paul is also saying that the understanding of the prudent is brought to nothing by the gospel. Isaiah 29:14 is God’s judgment upon them who worship Him with their lips but not with their hearts. It also declares God’s judgment upon them who teach an outward reverence of the Lord (see Isa. 29:13). The gospel destroys the wisdom of the wise because it replaces going-through-the-motions of worship with true worship. True worship is built upon believing God as Abraham believed God. True worship is dependent upon that which proceeds from the heart. Reverence of God is not built upon check marks on some ceremonial listing.
In verse 20, Paul asks, “Where is the wise?” What is wise? Wise in this particular instance is the translation of the Greek word sophos, an adjective used to describe one who is expert or skilled. It is also used as a noun to identify those possessing expertise.
The wise were made of no account by the God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for all who would believe. The wise of the world attempt to place God in a box which is subject to their understanding. God cannot be known by the will of man. Believers know God because He has revealed Himself to us in that He commended His love toward us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8).
The wisdom of the wise disappears within an individual upon believing that salvation is solely of God. The cross is the fulfillment of Isaiah 29:14. Paul is not different from any other believer. Paul was changed when he came to know Jesus as the Promised One sent by God the Father (Acts 9).
What is wisdom of the wise? The wisdom of the wise embodies man’s best effort. One must cast aside his best efforts before one can embrace the wisdom of God. Christ has done that which the wise thought to do. He satisfied every righteous requirement of the law. The wise force their will upon others. God does not force His will upon men. God reaches out to all with the foolishness of preaching.
Preaching is a stumbling block to the Jews because they seek a sign. Jesus stated that there be no sign except that He would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40). Preaching is foolishness to the Greek because spiritual things cannot be discerned by natural man (I Cor. 2:14).
“But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (v. 24). Them which are called respond to preaching. Preaching is not a stumbling block nor foolishness to them who hear. God, in His wisdom, chose preaching by which to reveal spiritual things to all who have the ears to hear. God, in His wisdom, chose preaching to confound the wise and weak things to confound the mighty (v. 27). God chooses things of which we have no understanding to counter that which we understand. God uses the spiritual to confound the flesh. The wise and the mighty are of the flesh. In verse 29, Paul reveals to the church at Corinth (and to us) why God chooses to shame the wise and the mighty. No flesh may glory in His presence.
The church at Corinth had separated into factions because believers gloried in themselves rather than in Christ. Believers in every place have cause to glory because of that which Christ has done. He is our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification and our redemption (v. 30). We (believers in every place and in every time) are the recipients of grace, abundant grace. By grace, we know the Lord. Let us glory in that which we know.