Jews and Greeks and Wisdom Part 1 of 7 (series: Lessons on 1st Co.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

August 5, 2012
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe

Lesson 2.2: Jews and Greeks and Wisdom
Scripture 1 Corinthians 1.18-1.25

1 Cor 1:18-25 (KJV)
18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Paul had the best Jewish education available at that time; but the plain preaching of a crucified Jesus, was more powerful than all the oratory and philosophy of the heathen world. This is the essential point and substance of the gospel. Christ crucified is the foundation of all our hopes, and the fountain of all our joys. And by his death, we live. The preaching of salvation for lost sinners by the sufferings and death of the Son of God, if put in plain words by a child of God, appears foolish to those on the road to destruction. The immoral, the greedy, the self-righteous, and pompous, know that the Gospel opposes their favorite activities. But those who receive the gospel with faith, and whose minds are enlightened by the Spirit of God, see more of God's wisdom and power in the doctrine of Christ crucified, than in all his other works. God has allowed most of the world to follow the dictates of man's corrupt nature, and the outcome has shown that human wisdom is foolishness, and is unable to discover or retain the knowledge of God as the Creator. It pleased Him, through the foolishness of preaching, to save those that believe in Christ. By the foolishness of preaching, I don’t mean foolish preaching; what I mean is that the subject matter of the message was foolishness to men who were wise by the world’s standards. The Gospel has always been, and forever will be, foolishness to all who are on the road to destruction. The Gospel of Christ, plainly preached, has always been a decisive factor by which men may determine the road they are traveling. But the despicable doctrine of salvation by faith in a crucified Savior, who was God in a human being, and who purchased the church with his own blood, to save all that believe in Him from ignorance, delusion, and vice, has been blessed by Holy God in every age. And the weakest instruments used by God are more powerful and effective, than the strongest men can use. It is not that there is any foolishness or weakness in God, but what men may consider foolishness or weakness, overcomes all their wisdom and strength.

18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

For the preaching of the cross
The cross mentioned here is not the Christian’s cross, which He must take up and bear for Christ’s sake; although it is a doctrine that Christ and His apostles taught, and all His saints down through the ages have found to be true. It is the cross that was held in contempt by those who love the things of the world instead of Christ. It is the cross of Christ; the doctrine of salvation through faith in a crucified Savior; or the doctrine of peace and reconciliation with God by the blood of the cross, and the doctrine of righteousness, pardon, and atonement by Christ offering himself on it as a sacrifice for sin.

What follows in this verse are the two effects of the preaching of the cross. To those who perish it is foolishness, but to those who are saved, it is the power of God. It is to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but unto those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God, v. 23, v. 24. Christ crucified is a stumbling-block to the Jews. They could not get over it. They had a smugness that came from the belief that their expected Messiah was to be a great earthly prince, and therefore they never would accept One who had such a poor appearance in life, and died such a shameful death, for their deliverer and king. They hated him, and thought He was despicable, because he was hanged on a tree, and because he did not humor them with a miracle, though his divine power had been on display in numerous miracles. The Jews require a sign (See verse 22 and Mt. 12:38).

Today, there are those who like to say that Christ died as a martyr on the cross. But that is foolishness, because if that was all it amounted to, there would be nothing that would appear contemptible, or would excite the opposition any more than the death of any other martyr. The statement that Polycarp, and Ignatius, and Paul, and Cranmer, died as martyrs, does not appear to be foolishness, because it is a statement of an historical truth, and their death excites the high admiration of all men. And if, in the death of Jesus on the cross, there had been nothing more than a mere martyr's death, it would also have been the object of admiration for all men. But the "preaching of the cross" must mean something more than that; and must mean:
(1.) That Christ died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of men, and that it was this which gave such significance to his sufferings on the cross.
(2.) That men can be reconciled to God, pardoned, and saved only by the merits and influence of this atoning sacrifice.
Matt 12:38 (KJV) Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. we would see a sign from thee -- "a sign from heaven" (Lu 11:16); something of an immediate and decisive nature, to show, not that His miracles were real, because they seemed willing to concede that, but that they were from above, not from beneath. These men were not in the same class with those who charged Him with being in league with Satan (as we see from Lu 11:15, 16); but since the spirit of both was similar, the rebuke they received from Him was similar.

is to them that perish
There are only two classes of men known to exist in those places where the Gospel is preached: the unbelievers, who are perishing; and the obedient believers, who are in a state of salvation. To those who will continue in the first state, the preaching of salvation through the merit of a crucified Savior is stupidity. To those who believe this doctrine of Christ crucified there is the power of God to their salvation; it is divinely successful in delivering them from all the power, guilt, and pollution of sin.

All mankind, male and female, at one time or another, are in a lost and perishing condition, because of sin, and a lack of righteousness. There are some, however, who will not perish; because the Son has redeemed them, and the Spirit sanctifies them; but there are others who do perish in their sins; wicked and ungodly men, captivated by their own lusts and blinded by Satan, the god of this world. These people are lost, and the Gospel that they consider foolishness is hidden from them; but why should we care what they think about it, since they are no more capable of judging the wonder and wisdom of the Gospel, than a blind man is of identifying the color of something. But for us who are saved by faith in the Son of God; whose souls are securely kept for eternity in Christ, for whom Christ has fashioned and worked out our salvation; and to whom it is applied by the Spirit of God; we are able to enjoy fellowship with Christ and abundant grace.

them that perish (see 2 Cor 2:15-16)—is better stated, "them that are perishing," namely, by preferring human "wisdom of words" to the doctrine of the "cross of Christ." It is not the final state that is referred to; but, "them that are undergoing the process of perishing.” The reason men perish is simply because they stubbornly reject the only name whereby they can be saved.
2 Cor 2:15-16 (KJV) For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?

A lot of people don’t like the preacher when he uses the cross as the subject of a sermon; and the reason they don’t like it is that it didn’t originate from man's wisdom, and man didn’t have a part in designing it or discovering it; and when it is revealed it is very disagreeable to carnal minds. They say this way of preaching is very impolite and out of fashion, and therefore it is despised; it is a doctrine which is not acceptable to the wise and highly educated. In every age it has been disliked and stigmatized as either a strange or shameful doctrine. But it is the only doctrine God has given for conversion, which gives comfort to troubled souls, and is food for the faith of believers; it contains the highest wisdom; is wiser than the wisdom of men; it has made foolish the wisdom of this world, and is the only thing able to make a man wise unto salvation; and yet this doctrine is labeled foolish by those who are perishing.

The Greek philosopher and the Jewish scribe scoffed at the thought of a Savior who had been crucified. They said publicly that his crucifixion proved that he was not divine.

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