In our study of 1 Corinthians chapter one, we will look at the "foolishness of God" which is Jesus Christ. We will look at the practical implementation of the gospel of Jesus Christ into our lives. We will see how knowledge of Jesus is needed to come to salvation but it is by faith that we accept Him as Lord and Savior.
We begin with a little bit of background information concerning the city that was Corinth. This city was the "sin city" of the Roman empire and there were about 400,000 residents in the city during the days of Paul. It was a great commercial center as well as a place where sex had become a religion for people. There was a temple of Aphrodite (the "goddess" of love) there at the time which had about a thousand priestesses which were in fact prostitutes. The city had also been a center of Greek philosophy with its endless discussions and moral relativity but this was in decline at the time of this letter. The church in the city had gotten away from focusing on the work of Jesus Christ and had even come under the influence of the ways of the city itself.
"Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes," NIV translation
This man Sosthenes had been the synagogue ruler in the city until Paul was seized there and brought before the proconsul of Achaia (see Acts 18). During those events, the Jews had turned on him and beat him which must have led him to join with Paul. Paul describes himself here as a "called" apostle which reminded them that it was God that chose Paul and gave him knowledge as well as a ministry of sharing that knowledge. There were those that were saying that Paul was kind of a lesser apostle than those that were in Jerusalem but Paul reminds them that he, too, was personally called by Jesus.
"To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - their Lord and ours:" NIV translation
Paul addresses this letter to all believers as he realized that we would all face the same type of struggles that they were facing in Corinth. He reminds them and us that we are called to be set apart from many of the things that are around us. We can be in the world but we do not want the world to be in us as was happening to the church in Corinth. He stresses the fact that Jesus is not only our Savior but also our Lord. That means that He is in control of our lives as we willingly trust and allow Him to work through us.
"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." NIV translation
Paul continues with his usual opening by asking for God's grace and peace to be upon the Corinthian believers. Once again, he is deliberate in that he places grace before peace as a reminder that, without it, we could not have peace with God. Without peace with God, there can be no peace in our human relationships either.
"I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way - in all your speaking and in all your knowledge - because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you." NIV translation
God is the one that grants wisdom and abilities and Paul reminds them of that fact. We must remember that they were in a city where many so called "great thinkers" did not even believe in God. He is reminding them that the knowledge that they possess can only come from God. He also reminds them of how God used him and his ministry team to tell them of the gospel. They heard and responded to that grace and were given the knowledge of the things of God.
"Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed." NIV translation
When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because of the very presence of God inside of us, we do not lack any spiritual gifts. These spiritual gifts are what Paul called the "fruit of the Spirit" in Galatians chapter five. The very fact that we have the Spirit assures us that we have the tools we need to live our lives to please God until Jesus returns.
"He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." NIV translation
God has given us the tools to live a life that honors Him and these tools will keep us growing stronger in our walk with Him. The word "fellowship" here describes a partnership with God in which we do our part and He does His part. Because of the nature of God, He will not look at our failures and turn His back on us but will still do His part in and through us. When we take those tools out and begin using them, we will get better and better at using them.
"I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." NIV translation
Divisions had started among the believers at Corinth and Paul urges them to put aside those and stay united in Christ. We are called, as believers, to be a part of the body of Christ and so we should be focused on Christ and unified in our faith in Him.
"My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, I follow Christ.'" NIV translation
The believers in Corinth were confused and becoming divided because they started following a teacher instead of the teaching. A teacher is to simply proclaim the Word of the Lord using the talent and wisdom that God has provided. God may use one person to speak to a certain group of people and another to speak to a different group. It seems that even more today, people get caught up with the method instead of the message but we must remember that it is all about sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Speakers may come and go but the Word of God will stand forever.
"Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?" NIV translation
Paul asks some ridiculous questions in order to get them to see how these quarrels are just nonsense. The obvious answers to them are no! These divisions are just as big if not even bigger today. It seems that many people elevate the teacher to a place that is above the Word and that, my friends, is not right.
"I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except for Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.)" NIV translation
Paul always kept things about Jesus and he even goes so far as to be thankful that he did not baptize many people. He always wanted to point them to Jesus and instead many were trying to elevate a man to the place of Christ (the head of the church).
"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel - not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." NIV translation
Paul reminds us that it is all about sharing the fact that Jesus died as payment for our sins and rose again. He reminds us that, if he could have done it on his own, then there would have been no need for Jesus to die on that cross. Because Jesus rose again, death has been conquered and God's power displayed for all the world to see. It is that same power that gave Paul and gives us the ability to preach the gospel.
"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. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'" NIV translation
Without the Holy Spirit, it is not possible to understand the things of God and so the fact that the Son of God would come and die on a cross is foolishness to those that do not have the Spirit. Those that rely on their own wisdom are the hardest to reach with the gospel (just try to tell your college professor about Christ). This is nothing new as Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14 and we see that God has already told us of this.
"Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" NIV translation
There have been many so-called great thinkers throughout the history of man. They have come up with many ideas (religions) to have a right relationship with God. Every one, except faith in Jesus, relies on the effort of man to get to God. To them, it is foolishness that God would sacrifice His only Son to make a way. It's too easy and so they come up with another ritual or list of things to do but, in the end, those ideas lead to death (continued separation from God).
"For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." NIV translation
These same scholars were the ones that did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah that they were looking for. He was not the military leader or earthly king that they expected and so they did not accept Him. Even though they did not understand it, God went ahead and sent His Son to the cross for us and them. Even today, people can get hung up on their own wisdom and not believe but, to those who do, this "foolishness" becomes the ultimate gift of grace.
"Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles," NIV translation
Both Jews and Greeks wanted God to show Himself but they wanted it on their terms. When God showed up by sending His Son to the cross, it was not what they expected and so many rejected God. The same type of thing happens even more today in that many people want to have God's presence but they want it on their own terms. Jesus said that He was the only way and it was proven true by His resurrection.
"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 man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." NIV translation
As Christians, we understand that there was no other way to restore the broken relationship between ourselves and God except for Jesus to suffer and die on the cross. Although the world sees those events as weakness, we see God's power on display as He raised Jesus from the dead.
"Brothers, 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. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." NIV translation
The wisdom of the world says that, in order to be heard, you must use those that hold the keys to power such as politicians and those with money. The wisdom of God says take a group of common men that are willing to be used by Him and change the world. That is what happened with Jesus and the apostles. Most of them were common fishermen and Jesus was the son of a carpenter. But, with God, they were used to change the world. The same is true today in that God still uses the common people more than the well educated or the rich. There are two main reasons for this and the first is that "common people" are more willing to listen and obey the Lord. The rich and powerful get so caught up in themselves that they often do not have the time or the desire to listen to the Lord. The second reason is that using the "weak things" brings greater glory to God as people can see that it is only possible with God.
"He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." NIV translation
God usually uses the lower class people of the world to carry out His work. He does this so that people will see that it is only possible through the power of God. Through these "lowly things" people will see what faith in God can accomplish.
"It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'" NIV translation
None of us came to faith in Jesus on our own. We are in Christ because God called us to Himself and He has become our wisdom. Though it does not make sense to most of the people in the world, we are made right with God through Jesus. Since, it had nothing to do with our own work, the only thing that we have to brag about is God's love and mercy.