True Wisdom Revealed – 1Corinthians 1:18-31

by Saju Joseph

The sermon is part of a series called “The Church: God’s Dwelling Place”, which focuses on studying the epistle 1 Corinthians.

In the previous sermon, we discussed church unity and recognized that the church in Corinth was far from perfect. There were clear divisions among its members, which Paul had to address and redirect their focus towards Christ. Not only were there internal conflicts, but there were also external influences confusing the people. In today’s passage, we see Paul addressing these issues. They were living under the influence of an ungodly culture that was constantly speaking to them and distracting them away from the Gospel as follows …

  1. Jewish Religious Leaders and Thinkers: Within the Jewish community, the influence of the Pharisees and Sadducees, along with various rabbis and teachers of the Law, would have been significant. Figures such as Gamaliel, a respected Pharisee teacher mentioned in Acts 5:34-39 and under whom Paul studied (Acts 22:3), could have indirectly influenced the religious landscape. The teachings and traditions handed down by such leaders shaped the Jewish understanding of the Law, ethics, and the expectation of a Messiah.
  2. Greek Philosophers: The teachings of Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle continued to exert a profound influence on
    Corinthian society. Although these men lived before Paul’s time, their ideas on ethics, metaphysics, and the nature of the divine permeated Hellenistic culture. The Stoics and Epicureans, with their respective emphases on living in accordance with nature and the pursuit of pleasure as the highest good, were actively discussed in Paul’s era.
  3. Pagan Priests and Religious Functionaries: The priests and priestesses of the various temples in Corinth, dedicated to gods like Aphrodite, Apollo, and Poseidon, played significant roles in the city’s religious practices. These individuals would have been central figures in performing rituals, sacrifices, and festivals integral to the Greco-Roman religion.
  4. Mystery Cult Leaders: Mystery religions, which offered initiates secret knowledge and promises of personal salvation or immortality, were popular in this period. Cults dedicated to deities such as Isis, Mithras, and the Eleusinian mysteries centered around Demeter and Persephone had their own leaders and hierophants guiding initiates through the mysteries.
  5. Itinerant Preachers and Philosophers: The first century saw various itinerant preachers, prophets, and philosophers traveling from city to city. These figures, some of whom might have claimed divine inspiration or wisdom, contributed to the eclectic spiritual milieu of the time, offering new religious ideas and practices.

If we observe closely, we will learn that our generation is not very different from today.

Similarly, religious leaders, new-age philosophers, cult leaders, and influencers constantly share their man-made wisdom, speaking into our lives and influencing our thoughts.

In this context, I believe Paul’s insight and encouragement are still quite relevant to us today. I want to share three lessons that we can learn from this passage.

1. Worldly Wisdom is Perishable Wisdom – 1 Corinthians 1:18-22

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul delves deep into the contrast between human and divine wisdom, particularly in 1 Corinthians 1:1822. This passage serves as a profound reminder of the transient nature of worldly wisdom compared to God’s eternal and unchanging wisdom. By carefully examining these verses, we are invited to reconsider our understanding of true wisdom and its source.

Paul begins by highlighting the paradoxical nature of the gospel’s message: “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” (1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV). This stark contrast sets the stage for exploring the limitations of human intellect and the transformative power of divine wisdom.

The pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding is a noble endeavor. Yet, Paul cautions us that the wisdom of this world is ultimately perishable and limited. He argues that worldly wisdom, no matter how sophisticated or advanced it may seem, falls short of capturing the essence of God’s plan for salvation through Jesus Christ. This divine plan appears foolish to the worldly wise because it challenges the conventional metrics of power, success, and intelligence.

In verses 19 and 20, Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate” (1 Corinthians 1:19, NIV). Here, Paul underscores the idea that God’s wisdom transcends human understanding and can overturn the established order of things. The rhetorical questions that follow, “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age?” (1 Corinthians1:20, NIV), serve to emphasize further the futility of relying solely on human wisdom for ultimate answers and meaning.

Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 1:18-22 is not a dismissal of human wisdom but a call to recognize its limitations and place our ultimate trust in God’s wisdom. He invites us to see beyond the temporary and often misleading allure of worldly wisdom to embrace the eternal wisdom found in the gospel of Christ.

The passage serves as a potent reminder that while human wisdom may provide temporary solutions and partial understanding, God’s wisdom offers true salvation and eternal life. This divine wisdom, symbolized by the cross, may seem foolish, but it holds the key to our redemption and the ultimate truth about our existence.

In a world that often prioritizes knowledge, achievement, and intellectual prowess, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18-22 challenge us to reevaluate our sources of wisdom. “Worldly Wisdom is Perishable Wisdom” serves as a poignant reflection on the enduring value of divine wisdom over this world’s fleeting and fallible wisdom.

2. Godly Wisdom is Wisdom with Power – 1 Corinthians 1:24-25

In the heart of his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul presents a profound theological insight that challenges conventional notions of wisdom and power. Through 1 Corinthians 1:24-25, Paul articulates a transformative idea: the wisdom of God, as manifested in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, is not only a different kind of wisdom but is indeed wisdom that comes with inherent power. This passage invites believers and seekers alike to rethink their understanding of true wisdom and its source of strength.

Paul writes, “But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:24-25, NIV). These verses encapsulate the essence of Christian faith, revealing that what the world often dismisses as foolish or weak is, in reality, the embodiment of divine power and wisdom.

The Paradox of the Cross

At the core of Paul’s message is the cross—a symbol of shame and defeat turned into the ultimate expression of God’s power and wisdom. The
crucifixion, seen through worldly eyes, represents the utmost folly and weakness. Yet, Paul asserts that it is precisely in this apparent defeat that the infinite wisdom and invincible power of God are most clearly displayed. The cross, therefore, becomes a paradoxical sign that overturns worldly values and expectations.

Divine Wisdom as Transformative Power

God’s wisdom, as revealed through Christ and the cross, is not merely an abstract concept or a philosophical proposition. It is dynamic and
transformative, capable of changing lives and destinies. This wisdom goes beyond mere intellectual understanding; it is a living, breathing force that brings salvation, healing, and hope to a broken world. It is wisdom with power because it accomplishes what no human wisdom could ever achieve— reconciliation between God and humanity

The Strength in Divine “Foolishness” and “Weakness

Paul’s reference to the “foolishness” and “weakness” of God is a rhetorical strategy designed to highlight the vast difference between God’s ways and human ways. What humans perceive as foolishness in God’s plan (the sacrifice of His Son) is, in fact, a wisdom far surpassing the greatest human insights. Similarly, what appears as weakness (Christ’s suffering and death) is strength unparalleled, for it conquered sin and death itself. Thus, God’s wisdom and power are most profoundly known in what the world underestimates or overlooks.

A Call to Reorient Our Understanding

1 Corinthians 1:24-25 calls us to reorient our understanding of wisdom and power. In a world that often idolizes strength, success, and intellectual achievement, Paul invites us to find our ultimate trust and hope in the wisdom and power of God as revealed through Jesus Christ. This passage challenges believers to embrace a wisdom that may confound the wise and a strength that may baffle the strong, according to worldly standards.

The Implications for Believers

For believers, this understanding has practical implications. It means that in our weakness, we can find God’s strength. In our confusion, we can seek God’s wisdom. And in our trials, we can trust in the power of the cross. The wisdom and power of God are not abstract concepts but tangible realities that can guide, sustain, and empower us in our daily lives.

“God’s Wisdom is Wisdom with Power” is not just a theological assertion but a call to experience the transformative power of divine wisdom in our lives. Through 1 Corinthians 1:24-25, Paul reminds us that the ultimate measure of wisdom and strength is found not in human achievements but in the depth of God’s love demonstrated on the cross.

3. Evidence of God’s Wisdom is our Transformed Lives – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

In his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul highlights a profound principle that underlies the Christian faith: the evidence of God’s wisdom is not seen in the grandeur of human achievements or the eloquence of our words but in the transformative power of our lives. Through 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, Paul invites us to reflect on the divine strategy that employs what the world considers foolish and weak to manifest His wisdom and power. This passage provides a compelling argument that the accurate measure of divine wisdom is the profound transformation it brings to individuals and communities.

The Divine Choice: The Foolish and the Weak

Paul begins by reminding the Corinthians of their own stories: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth” (1 Corinthians 1:26, NIV). This is not merely a reflection on social status or intellectual capability but a profound commentary on God’s choice to use the ordinary, the overlooked, and the undervalued as primary vessels of His work. In doing so, God ensures that His wisdom and power are the focal points of transformation, not human merit or ability.

The Purpose of Divine Wisdom: To Confound the Wise

Paul explains that God’s strategy is to confound this world’s wise and the strong by choosing what they deem foolish and weak. This approach is not aimed at belittling human wisdom or achievements but at redefining the source and nature of true wisdom and power. The transformation of lives previously bound by sin, ignorance, or despair into testimonies of grace, knowledge, and hope is a powerful counter-narrative to the world’s definitions of success and significance.

The Outcome of Divine Wisdom: Transformation

The most striking evidence of God’s wisdom is the transformation it brings to individual lives and, by extension, to communities. When individuals who were once lost find purpose, when those who were broken find healing, and when those who were marginalized find a place of belonging in the body of Christ, the wisdom of God is vividly demonstrated. This transformation is not merely moral improvement but a fundamental reorientation of identity, value, and purpose.

The Basis of Boasting: In the Lord

Paul concludes this section with a powerful warning: “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord'” (1 Corinthians 1:31, NIV). This is the culmination of his argument that the actual evidence of God’s wisdom is not in human credentials or achievements but in the transformative work of God in our lives. Our boasting is not in our wisdom, strength, or status but in the Lord, who is the source of our transformation and true identity.

Practical Implications for Believers

This passage calls believers to a humility that recognizes the source of our transformation and to a confidence that rests not in our abilities but in God’s power. It challenges us to view our lives as testimonies of God’s wisdom and embrace our identity in Christ as the accurate measure of our worth. Furthermore, it encourages the church to be a community where the transformative power of God’s wisdom is evident and celebrated, a place where the stories of changed lives offer hope and inspiration to a world searching for meaning.

“Evidence of God’s Wisdom is Our Transformed Lives” is more than a theological assertion; it is a call to witness the remarkable ways in which the wisdom of God manifests in the everyday lives of believers. Through 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, Paul invites us to see our own stories as part of the broader narrative of God’s redemptive work. In this narrative, the most compelling evidence of divine wisdom is the transformation of lives once bound by the world’s limitations but now set free to embody the fullness of God’s grace and power.

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