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1 Corinthians: The Church the World Needs | Stranger than Fiction
September 26, 2021
1 Corinthians 1:17-25
17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Christ the Wisdom and Power of God
18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
In v.17-25, Paul begins to offer a remedy to the deep problems of division and fighting that is taking place in the church at Corinth. Paul’s prevailing message is this: true wisdom means embracing the foolishness of the cross of Christ. For Paul, Jesus’ death on the cross was the event that turned everything on its head so that what looks like folly is actually wisdom, and what looks like wisdom to the world is actually folly. Jesus’ death on the cross is actually God’s wisdom but it is so scandalous, so unexpected, so unfamiliar, that at first it looks like a foolish act of God and anyone who puts the cross at the center of their lives must be a fool as well. But Paul wants the Corinthians and us to embrace the foolishness of the cross, because it’s at the cross that we see the wisdom and power of God.
To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst
To cultivate mutually encouraging-relationships
To participate in God’s mission to the world
God of all hope, bring hope to our weary world and to our troubled hearts; ignite hope within our worship this day. Strengthen our faith as children of hope, that we may partner with you and share the good news of your steadfast faithfulness with the world. In Jesus name, Amen.
Responsive Prayer—Psalm 66:1-7
1Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
2Sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!
3Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
4All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.”
5Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.
6He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in him,
7Who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations—let not the rebellious exalt themselves.
1. Looking at the Bible: What does the text say?
- Try reading the text twice. Each time listen carefully and notice what grabs your attention.
Who might Paul be addressing or arguing with?
In v.22 how might Jews have demanded signs and Greeks sought wisdom in Paul's day? What are the ways that we seek signs and wisdom in our own day?
2. Looking at Jesus: If you are familiar with the crucifixion accounts of Jesus in the gospels, what specifically about that type of death made Jesus look foolish?
How does the cross of Christ reveal God's power?
How does the cross of Christ reveal God's wisdom?
3. Looking at our Hearts: How does this passage shape our life as a community? Paul here is not only talking about the message of the cross, but the community that is centered around the cross of Christ.
How should this community live if the foolishness of the cross is the foundation for our life together?
How have the Corinthians sought the world’s power and wisdom up to this point? (See previous sermon!)
How do we pursue worldly wisdom and power at the expense of our community?
4. Looking at our World: What are we to hope for?
- Consider v.24-25 as a call to hope.
In v.24 Paul continues the theme of “being called”. How might this offer us hope in light of his discourse on the foolishness of the world?
- In v.25, how do Paul’s words about the foolishness of God and the weakness of God offer us hope?
- Consider v.24-25 as a call to hope.
Lord, throughout this day you have rescued us from harm and despair, giving us instead the joy of your Spirit and fellowship with our family and friends. Give us the faith to take refuge in you and delight in your Word; in Jesus’ name. Amen.
View Study Guide Notes
Question 1: As we mentioned last week, this is an opportunity to look with curiosity at this passage. This is a great way to include those who are very familiar with this text but also those who are not very familiar. Leave room for questions that you can’t answer, and let those who might be seeking or new to the faith to talk about what jumps out at them. It’s often those with fresh eyes who can make a familiar passage come alive again.
Question 2: God has decided to meet us at the cross where his wisdom and power are on display. The cross tells us that in Jesus we have a God who understands our hearts and our needs and therefore, he goes to the cross so that we might have life.
Application question: How have you experienced or seen the cross of Christ serve as a stumbling block either to yourself or to someone in your life?
Below is a quote from 20th Century pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In it he gets at the foolishness of the cross and how often we want to avoid it. If you have time feel free to discuss, if not perhaps reflect on this later in the week.
“If it is I who say where God will be, I will always find there a God who in some way corresponds to me, is agreeable to me, fits in with my nature. But if it is God who says where he will be, then that will truly be a place that at first is not agreeable to me at all, that does not fit so well with me. That place is the cross of Christ. And whoever will find God there must draw near to the cross in the manner that the Sermon on the Mount requires. That does not correspond to our nature at all; it is, in fact, completely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only the New Testament but also the Old (Is. 53!). In any case, Jesus and Paul understand it in this way – that the cross of Jesus fulfills the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The entire Bible, then, is the Word in which God allows himself to be found by us. Not a place that is agreeable to us or makes sense to us a priori, but instead a place that is strange to us and contrary to our nature. Yet, the very place in which God has decided to meet us.”
Question 3: For Paul, the church in v.24 is not made up of the powerful and the wise, but the weak, the foolish, and the poor. What this passage reminds us is that the church God seeks to build in our midst through the power of his Spirit is a countercultural community that is a witness to the paradox of the gospel and therefore the foolishness of the cross. You could encourage your group to consider the implications of this, in that, God’s foolishness in the cross calls into question everything we value. So often we are in awe of the beautiful, the popular, and the wealthy; but the cross is ugly, unpopular, and poor. It represents the very poverty of Christ, who is emptied for the sins of the world. So often, we are impressed with power, but the cross means self-giving love. It was at the cross that God destroyed the wisdom of the world as he had promised so now we seek to be the foolish community of the cross giving ourselves for the sake of others. We take up our cross so that the world might see the wisdom and power of God.
Application question: Can you think of specific examples where you have seen others in our church display the community of the cross? What did it look like? What are ways we can continue to take up this call?
Question 4: The hope of this passage rests in the fact that God is not turned away by our constant and foolish desire to find wisdom apart from him. Even though we try to fit God into our lives and ways of thinking, and we rely on our wisdom to do it we too often find He just won’t fit. The cross doesn’t allow it. Jesus didn’t fit the wisdom of the religious or political leaders. He didn’t fit the wisdom for the Christians in Corinth. He won’t fit your categories, and that’s a good thing because the God we construct of our own wisdom: is way too small. We construct a god that we can understand but not a God who understands us. Paul calls us back to the God who dies on a cross, and who offers us true hope and true life.
Application question: One of the things Paul is doing in this passage is deconstructing the Corinthians view of God which was way too small and had led them to deep divisions. As Paul speaks of the cross and God’s wisdom and power, he offers us hope in a God who is far beyond what we can fully imagine. How ought that to give us hope this week as we return to the stresses, details, sorrow and boredom that are present in our lives?