Jews and Greeks and Wisdom Part 2 of 7 (series: Lessons on 1st Co.)
by John Lowe
To the great mass of the Jews, and to the heathen philosophers, and indeed to the majority of the men of this world, the preaching of the cross appears to them to be distasteful and foolish, or unworthy of belief. It has always been considered foolishness, for the following reasons:
(1) The humble origin of the Lord Jesus. They despised him because he lived in Nazareth, and was poor; he had no home, few friends, no wealth, and little honor among his own countrymen.
(2) They despised him because he was put to death as an impostor by his own countrymen. It was a disgraceful death, because he was crucified like a criminal.
(3) They did not see any particular usefulness in his death. They thought it was incredible for anyone to think that he could save them, when he couldn’t save himself.
(4) They were blind to the true dignity of his nature; to his power over the sick, the lame, the dying, and the dead; they don’t see the bearing of the work of atonement on the law and government of God; they did not believe in his resurrection, and his present state of exalted glory. The world looks only at the fact that the despised man of Nazareth was put to death on a cross, and smiles at the idea that such a death could have any important influence on the salvation of man. Therefore, his death on the cross was associated with the idea of all that is shameful and dishonorable; and to speak of salvation only by the sufferings and death of a crucified man, could only excite feelings of unmingled scorn.
but unto us which are saved
This clause is a reference to the initial salvation experience of the believer when he receives Jesus by faith. This truth is given to us in Ephesians 2.5-9 (see below). The word saved describes the present condition of the believer’s life here upon the earth, and it points to the final and permanent deliverance of the believer which occurs when the Lord Jesus comes for His saints in the Rapture. Between these two great events, we are being saved moment by moment by the blood of Jesus Christ which covers all our sins, past, present, and future.
The pronoun “us” is in a position of emphasis, suggesting the joy in the benefit bestowed upon the writer (Paul) and the reader (the believers in the church at Corinth, as well as you and me). Paul does not say “to THEM that are saved,” but “to US”, making himself one with the believers in Corinth, and also one with believers today.
Eph 2:5-9 (KJV) Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
it is the power of God.
The preaching of the cross, or what is called “The Gospel” is the means of making men alive when they are dead in sin, of enlightening their dark minds, of unstopping their deaf ears, of softening their hard hearts, of making them friends with God, Christ, and his people: and it is also a wonderful display of the power of God; which can be observed in those that were the first preachers. They were, for the most part, men who were poor, illiterate, and unimpressive; they were fishermen, tent makers, tax collectors, etc. Into these earthen vessels was put the treasure of the Gospel, so that the success they achieved would appear to be of God, and not man. The doctrine they preached, of a crucified Christ, was disagreeable to men; as was the method they used to spread it—not with the force of worldly weapons, but with spiritual ones; moreover, they withstood opposition from rabbis, philosophers, princes, kings, and emperors, and all the countries and powers of the world; and yet in just a short time they managed to carry the Gospel throughout the world, and to convert millions of souls, and to plant churches everywhere.
The Gospel is the only message that contains the dynamite of God (see 1 Corinthians 4:20). God's power is shown in the preaching of the Cross of Christ through all the ages, and it has never changed. No other preaching takes men and women from sin to holiness or can save them. The conclusion of Paul here is the verdict of every soul winner through all time
1 Cor 4:20 (KJV) For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. For the kingdom of God—The religion of the Lord Jesus is not in word—in human eloquence, excellence of speech, or even in doctrines; but in power, in the mighty energy of the Holy Spirit; enlightening, quickening, converting, and sanctifying believers.
19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
For it is written,
The passage referred to is Isaiah 29:14 (see below) where it says, "Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites with amazing wonders. The wisdom of the wise will pass away, and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear” (NLT). It is rendered this way by the Septuagint, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will hide the understanding of the prudent": which is very similar to the apostle's version of it: and the gist of the prophecy is, that during the present Gospel dispensation, the mysteries of grace would be hidden from the wise rabbis of the Jews, and the Scribes and Pharisees, who, despite all their wisdom and learning, would not be able to comprehend the doctrines of the Gospel, and consequently they would call it foolishness and reject it. It has been true for as long as the Gospel has been around.
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
This clause continues to replicate Isaiah 29.14 with only slight alteration. The Hebrew is, "The wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden." Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is making GOD the cause of their wisdom perishing, when he says, “I will destroy.” God will set aside the wisdom and understanding of wise men; these will not save, but he will save by what the world called foolishness. The wise men are the philosophers who try to find God in their research, and whose greatest discoveries amount to nothing in comparison to the magnificent truths concerning God, the spiritual world, and the true destiny of man, which the Gospel has brought to light. Let me add, that the very discoveries which are really useful have been made by men who feared God, and conscientiously credited Divine revelation for their achievement: for example, consider Newton, Boyle, Pascal, and many others.
But all the skeptics and deists (see below), through the ruse of a universal church and the morality of men, have not been able to save one soul! No sinner has ever been converted from the error of his ways by their preaching or writings: the Church of Scientology is such an organization.
There is such a thing as the ignorance of the learned, the wisdom of the simple-minded. God's wisdom as found in the preaching of the Cross rises above human philosophizing which is still making fun of the Cross of Christ, the culmination of God's power.
Deist—a person who believes there is a god, because there is order in nature; but, doesn’t believe in any formal religion.
and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
Here, those who are wise in the estimation of the world are called “prudent,” and God says He is going to destroy their wisdom (their opinion of Him and His kingdom.). The apostle proves that this should not seem strange, seeing that it was predicted so long ago by the prophet Isaiah: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent" (Isa. 29.14)… 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? (Isa. 29.19, 20)”.God often punishes the wise of the world in such a way that everything they worked for and considered to be important becomes worthless. This is the triumph of the cross over human wisdom, according to the ancient prophecy (Isa. 29:14). All the valued learning of this world was confounded, baffled, and eclipsed, by the Christian revelation and the glorious triumphs of the cross. The heathen politicians and philosophers, the Jewish rabbis and doctors, the curious searchers into the secrets of nature, were all put to shame. This Theology of the Cross was out of the reach of the deepest statesmen and philosophers, and the most respected men of learning both among the Jews and Greeks. Its success managed to confound and perplex them. They despise it, and they do not see its secret power: they witnessed its effects, but are unable to explain them. It has always been a mystery to philosophers why the gospel met with such success; and the various attempts to account for it, which have been given by its enemies, show how much they have been embarrassed. The reception of the Gospel demands a humble mind, (see Mark 10:15, 16). Sensible men with humble hearts and child-like temperament embrace it; and they see its beauty, and are won by its loveliness, and controlled by its power. They give themselves to it; and find that it is able to save their souls.