Connections 03.07.2021: Foolish Wisdom

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

I admit to being a little troubled by what Paul says in this passage. Or it might be more accurate to say that I’m a little troubled by ways people might use—misuse, really—what Paul says.

I’m talking about the negative way Paul talks about human wisdom: “Where 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?” (v. 20).

Some folks might read such words and declare that the Bible says that God is against wisdom and knowledge. They might say that we don’t need knowledge so long as we have faith.

It’s a short step from that kind of talk to the kind that says, “All human wisdom is dangerous. All knowledge is bad.” And we have too much of that kind of thinking and talking going on these days.

We don’t need more anti-intellectualism. We certainly don’t need more anti-intellectual Christians contributing to the anti-intellectualism that is abroad in the land.

But we take the Bible seriously, so we must take Paul’s words seriously. What is the apostle saying to us? I’d put it this way: Paul calls us to practice foolish wisdom. But what is foolish wisdom? Foolish wisdom is wisdom that adopts God’s perspective on wisdom. Where do we find God’s perspective on wisdom? We find it in the cross on which Jesus died.

Foolish wisdom sees the wisdom in God’s foolish ways as revealed in the cross of Christ. We need to remember that when Paul talks about God’s foolishness, he is talking about the death of Christ on the cross. Looked at from the perspective of human wisdom—a perspective that focuses on self-preservation and self-promotion—the crucifixion is utterly foolish. But from God’s perspective, the cross contains the deepest and truest wisdom of all. From the standpoint of human wisdom, Jesus’ death on the cross looks weak and foolish. But from the standpoint of God’s wisdom, Jesus’ death on the cross is strong and brilliant. That’s because the cross fully reveals God’s way, which is the way of self-emptying love.

Foolish wisdom seeks to follow God’s foolish ways as revealed in the cross of Christ. Christians follow Jesus. That means we follow him in the way of the cross, which means that we follow him in the way of self-giving love. It means that we are always looking to give ourselves away in service to God and to people. It means that we willingly embrace and seek to follow God’s foolish wisdom that the cross of Christ reveals. It means that we live in ways that run counter to the ways of the world. It means that we live to give rather than to receive and to serve rather than to be served.

Foolish wisdom seeks to use knowledge in a manner shaped by God’s foolish ways as revealed in the cross of Christ. I started out talking about my concern that some people might read Paul’s words and conclude that God’s wisdom is necessarily and inevitably the opposite of human wisdom, which might in turn lead to an anti-intellectual bias. But Paul doesn’t intend to create such a dichotomy. When he says that human wisdom didn’t lead the world to know God, he is making a statement about grace: Jesus died on the cross so we could know how much God loves us and so we could know how we are to walk in the ways of Christ.

Christians should seek knowledge. We should champion education. We should pursue truth and go wherever that pursuit leads us. And because we are Christians, we should use our knowledge in ways that reflect and demonstrate our commitment to follow the ways of God that the cross of Christ reveals.

Following God’s foolish wisdom that the cross of Christ reveals will cause us to use our ever-increasing knowledge to engage in ever-increasing service motivated by ever-increasing grace and love.

Discussion

  • How does “the message about the cross” demonstrate “the power of God” (v. 18)?
  • Why was the cross the focus of Paul’s preaching? Is it still the focus of the church’s preaching? Why should it be?
  • What steps can we take to keep the cross at the heart of our discipleship?
  • What challenges do we face in following God’s wisdom that the cross reveals? How can we confront and overcome them?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara, grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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