For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. — 1 Corinthians 1:18
My last term in university, I was assigned to work with a group of several students, including one young man in particular. The assignment came as no surprise to me, for although I cannot explain exactly how, the first day I sat in that class, I knew I was there for him. As I began to watch for an opportunity to speak a word to him about the Lord, it came. The young man shared his philosophies with me, and I shared the Gospel, from Genesis to Revelation you might say, with him.
We discussed the origin and purpose of life, and came to realize that we were vastly different in our beliefs. He held that God was not a being, but rather a force behind nature that we all collectively believe in, but just express in different ways. He was offended by my “intolerance” of other religions — although he admitted that his offense at my beliefs did violate his tolerance ethic, creating a distressing contradiction.
He was not at all impressed by the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. One man sacrificing himself for the souls of countless others, he indicated, was nothing different than what any combat casualty has done; an act he himself would perform, should the appropriate occasion present itself. Without a belief that Jesus is the Son of God, or that such a Supreme Being even exists, Calvary to him was simply one man’s death. That was when I realized that without the experience of salvation, the preaching of the Cross is only foolishness.
Then there are those who have been to Calvary — those rescued from sin-ravaged lives and others protected from such horrors by salvation at an early age. Ask the smoker, delivered in a moment from his addiction; the convict, forgiven of his crime; the prostitute, shown her worth by God’s love; the couple whose marriage was restored by their Savior; the child whose fears are calmed by that Friend. Ask those who have been to the Cross, those who have claimed its promise, and what a difference you will find! To us, it is the power of God and an experience that will never be forgotten or denied.
Foolishness? No, the preaching of the Cross is God’s faithfulness. And in that faithfulness, and with that power, He encourages even the unbelieving to realize that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
The preaching of the Cross of Jesus will not meet the expectations of the unconverted mind. This is true for every generation and society. Paul focused on two groups of people, the Jews and the Greeks (Gentiles), and indicated that the Cross was “unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
The Jews expected that their Messiah would be the one who would deliver them from the Roman government. They looked for a deliverer who would restore David’s throne and bring glory back to Israel as a nation. They also expected the Messiah to be accompanied by marvelous signs and wonders. Thus, they looked for direct evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, not just another great Rabbi. Jesus’ execution as a common criminal on a cross dashed their hopes of both political restoration and miraculous evidence.
Additionally, the Jews held to the Old Testament idea that God blessed with material prosperity those with whom He was pleased, and sent judgment, such as illness and death, to those who disobeyed His laws. Only those who were cursed of God were crucified (Deuteronomy 21:23). Crucifixion was such a horrible and shameful death that it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen. This instrument of execution was not discussed in polite conversation. Therefore, to preach that such a criminal was the Messiah was a great stumbling block, despite prophecies such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, which indicated the Savior would die just such a death.
The Greeks desired intellectual splendor. Their focus was on logic and rational evidence. They did not believe in bodily resurrection and, therefore, believed death to be the ultimate defeat; a savior dying on a cross — the instrument of death reserved for murderers — was even more ridiculous. They saw such a savior as weak compared to their mythological gods.
Corinth was filled with philosophers and teachers gaining followers through eloquent speech and wisdom learned through intellectual exercises. In order to keep worldly knowledge subordinate to the Gospel, Paul chose to preach only “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) to the Corinthians, although considering his Gamalielite education, he was no doubt capable of brilliant speech and argument. Paul realized that nothing but the direction of the Spirit and the power of God could convince anyone of the reality of the Cross and its meaning to mankind. He repressed his natural abilities and gifts in order to be certain the Spirit of God was leading in his ministry. He wanted people to follow God and His message, not the messenger, as there would always be someone who could argue more eloquently to turn hearts away from the Gospel. In order for God’s power to work, Paul’s words had to be guided by the Spirit.
Those Spirit-directed words, then, had to be received by the spiritual man. The Gospel is not to be understood with intellect or human wisdom. The natural man, guided by logic and emotions of the heart, cannot understand spiritual things. In the natural, the Cross is foolishness. Similarly, the carnal man, guided by bodily appetites, cannot understand the spiritual. One cannot receive the message of the Cross in its entirety if distracted and absorbed by physical appetites. The spiritual man, however, who has experienced God’s revelation, can learn and grow as the Spirit guides him. Paul encouraged the Corinthian church to focus on such learning and growth.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. Answer to reports
A. The problem of church divisions
2. The basis of the divisions
a. A misconception of the message (1:18 — 3:4)
(1) The nature of natural wisdom (1:18 — 2:5)
(a) Stumbles at the cross (1:18-25)
(b) Boasts not before God (1:26-31)
(c) Produces no strong Christians (2:1-5)
(2) The nature of true wisdom (2:6 — 3:4)
(a) True wisdom described (2:6-13)
(b) True wisdom compared (2:14 — 3:4)
 To natural men (2:14)
 To spiritual men (2:15-16)
 To carnal men (3:1-4)
Only the Spirit of God can draw people to the Gospel. Do not be surprised if others fail to understand your desire to follow Christ; in the logic of men it is foolishness. Pray that the Spirit will direct your life so that, through you, God can reveal His wisdom to others.