By Derick Parfan
January 25, 2009
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (ESV)
For 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. 26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
We make decisions everyday. Some of it are major decisions. Last Sunday, you have decided to confirm God’s calling for me to be a pastor of this church. A few weeks before that, I have decided to accept the challenge of the leaders of this church to serve as your pastor. The elders of this church decided to recommend my candidacy to this congregation. We made a major decision as a church.
These are examples of the major decisions we face at some point in our life. We ask decision questions like: Where will I go to college? What course will I take? Where will I work and what kind of work will I take? Shall I pursue this business or not? Being a new pastor, I’m asking myself, “What will I do now? Where will I start?” For me and my wife, we need to make major decisions regarding when to move and what to do with her job.
Some of the decisions we made everyday are relatively minor. Shall I stay at home or go and visit this friend who has something against me? Shall I watch TV or spend some quality talk time with my kids? What shall I cook today for my kids?
Whether major or minor, our problem is that we do not know perfectly if we have made a wise decision or not. Time will tell us if we did. But before making those decisions we cannot know for sure. Although we can evaluate based on what we know, we can still commit unwise decisions. But God does not have any of that problem. He perfectly knows what to do and how to do it. Unlike anyone in this world, our God is a perfectly wise God.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18-30, Paul talks about God’s wisdom made evident in the gospel. He spoke of this in the context of the divisions happening in the church at Corinth. He appealed to them that there be no divisions among them, “that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1:10). Some of them decided to follow Paul, or Apollos, or Peter, or Christ. This problem of division has its root in the misunderstanding of the wisdom of God shown in the gospel they received. When they misunderstood the greatness of the wisdom of God, they also misconceived that human wisdom amounts to nothing compared to God’s.
When applied to man, wisdom is our ability to use our knowledge to decide what course to take in achieving a certain goal. But “God’s wisdom means that God always chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 193). The key words here are “always,” “best goals,” and “best means.” This means that God’s wisdom is perfect. He does not make any mistake in his judgments or decisions. Let me give you five observations regarding the wisdom of God, as shown in our text:
1. God’s wisdom is incomparable. “Where is the one who is wise…Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world. For 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 believer…For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (vv. 20, 21, 25).
Since God has perfect knowledge, he knows everything that will result from his decisions. He knows what means to take to achieve his goals. What is his goal? Ultimately, it is to bring glory and honor to his name. That is why he created the world. That is why he redeemed sinners like us. And whatever God is doing is directed toward that end.
How about us? We do not have the same goal as God. We tend to go our own way and that is not wise. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 1:7). And even if we have the right goals, we still make bad decisions. God is not like that. “The foolishness of God is wiser than men” (v. 25). Not because there is foolishness in God but in order to set the huge gap between God’s wisdom and man’s.
2. God’s wisdom is inseparable from his power. Many times in this text (and in other parts of Scriptures also) his wisdom is coupled with his power. “…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God…the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men…” (v. 24, 25). “With God are wisdom and might…” (Job 12:13). “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might” (Dan. 2:20).
God’s wise plans cannot be frustrated by anyone because with that plan comes the power to accomplish it. A wise businessman, who works to make profit, can make a wise plan to make more money. He laid it out, pulled in the necessary resources to execute his plan. But the economy collapsed. His business is badly hit by a financial crisis. There’s nothing he can do. He does not have any power to execute his plan to prosper his business. God cannot have this kind of problem, because with his wise plans comes the power to accomplish it. God’s wisdom and power go together in accomplishing his goals.
3. God’s wisdom is revealed in his plan of salvation. One of God’s best goals is to accomplish salvation for fallen humanity. When human beings fell into sin, God did not say that he made a wrong decision in creating man. He has a plan, and it is wise although the world may see it as foolish. “For 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” (v. 18).
Is God unwise in choosing Abraham to make a people for himself? Is God unwise in choosing Jacob over Esau? Is God unwise in letting Joseph suffer in Egypt? Is God unwise in using Moses to deliver his people out of Egypt to the promised land? Is God unwise in choosing David, a murderer and adulterer, to be king over Israel? Is God unwise in letting his people endure many years of exile in Babylon? Is God unwise in sending his Son and letting him suffer humiliation and death on the cross? Is Jesus unwise in choosing the Twelve as apostles, and one of them turned out to be a traitor? Is he unwise in commissioning his few disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel, even if they will suffer persecution and death in the name of Jesus? Is God unwise in bringing to you the salvation he has planned before you were even born? God’s wisdom is evident in his plan of salvation for lost humanity. No mere human being can devise a plan as wise as that.
4. God’s wisdom is revealed in Jesus Christ. “Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God” (v. 24). “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (v. 30). We know that Solomon was the wisest human being that ever lived. But that is not quite true. When Jesus came, he testified about himself, “Behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:42; Luke 11:31).
Jesus Christ is our wisdom. We do not have wisdom apart from him. Many people look for wisdom in anyone other than Christ. Our bookstores are filled with books on how to be successful, how to have a happy marriage, etc. People look to the wisdom of these authors in trying to get their life right. But only through Christ can we have the wisdom to live a life pleasing to God. We believe Jesus’ words were full of wisdom but we do not abide in his words. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16).
5. God’s wisdom is revealed in His Church. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (vv. 27-29).
What if you are uneducated, or unskilled, or poor? Does it make God unwise in his decision to choose you? No! He accomplishes his goal by choosing the foolish, the weak, the low and despised in the world. What goal? To shame the wise and the strong, so that no man will have any reason to boast before God. All the glory belongs to him. God is wise.
God is also wise in putting together different kinds of people in this church. We have different personalities and backgrounds and temperaments and strengths and weaknesses. Yet we are one in Christ. We can celebrate our differences! God is wise. Although it may be a cause of conflict for some, if we will be wise enough to see God’s design, we can rejoice because we are not the same. I had just talked to one lady who had quarrel with another lady. They are now friends again. They learned to forgive and see each other’s differences. They can now rejoice because God made everyone different yet we are one in Christ. Only God’s wisdom can accomplish that.
Let me summarize our observations:
1. God’s wisdom is incomparable.
2. God’s wisdom is inseparable from his power.
3. God’s wisdom is revealed in his plan of salvation.
4. God’s wisdom is revealed in Jesus Christ.
5. God’s wisdom is revealed in his Church.
Truly, our God is a perfectly wise God. Based on these observations, how then shall we respond to God’s wisdom?
1. Marvel at the greatness of God’s wisdom. Paul exclaimed in praise after telling Christians in Rome about God’s wisdom in his salvation plan for both Jews and Gentiles. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways” (Rom. 11:33)!
Many of you may have heard US President Barack Obama’s inaugural address a few days ago. Some of you were awed by his wisdom and brilliance that gripped many people’s attention. When was the last time we feel a sense of awe and wonder at God’s wisdom and exclaimed, “You are so wise, God. I could have never thought or planned for that. But you did because you are wise”?
2. Admit your need for God’s wisdom. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Prov. 11:2). Many of us are too proud to admit that we need God’s wisdom. We thought we are wise enough to make independent decisions. Admitting lack of wisdom on our part requires a lot of humility.
What happened last night made me and Jodi aware of our need of God’s wisdom. We visited her friend needing counsel. Jodi found it difficult dealing with her situation. While they were talking I am having a chat with her friend’s dad. I don’t know how I can continue sharing the gospel to him because he’s always interrupting me. I need God’s wisdom. Whatever situation we are faced with or decisions we have to make, we need God’s wisdom. Admit it. You don’t have to presume that you know what to do in every situation.
3. Ask him to give you wisdom that you need. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).
As much as your dad wants to give you what you need, there are times that he can’t. But that kind of thing won’t happen when we ask from our heavenly Father whatever we need. When we neen we wisdom and we asked for it, he will give it. Surely. God gives generously to those who will ask him wisdom. Solomon asks, God grants it. Do we have a God different from Solomon’s? Why don’t you ask him now?
That’s what I first did as a new pastor. Honestly, I do not know what to do first. But it looks like God told me, “What you need to do first is come to me and ask me for wisdom.” As pastor of this church, I appeal to all of you to depend on God’s wisdom not on man’s wisdom – not the wisdom of your leaders, your pastor, or your own wisdom. We do not need new programs or more activities in this church. (I am not saying that we will not have new programs.) What I am saying is that what we need more is God’s wisdom. That is why we need to pray more and more. Join me in asking God to grant all of us wisdom on how to conduct ourselves in the body of Christ.
Are you in a situation right now that you need to make a major decision and you are unsure what to do? Why don’t you ask God? He will show you the way. But it will not be in a way most of us expected, a clear voice of God speaking to us. He speaks through the wisdom of his Word, so we need to saturate ourselves with his Word. He speaks through the counsel of friends also, so we need to ask other’s counsel. But before going to anyone for advice, be sure that you went to God first and consulted what he had to say in his Word.
A friend approached me and ask for advice regarding his burden for the ministry. He wants clear confirmation from God. But I told him, God may not give us all the answers to our questions. But we need to trust him that the wisdom he will give is enough and even if we don’t understand everything else.
4. Trust his wisdom even when you don’t understand everything that’s happening. When God gives us wisdom, it does not mean that we will understand all that is happening. No, we won’t. But we can rest assured that God knows what he is doing. He has our good in mind, even if we fail to see it now. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” And what’s the purpose? “To become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:28-29 NASB). That is why we need to trust him: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6).
Maybe you are in a situation right now that you don’t fully understand what’s happening. Like Job. God has taken almost everything he has, though he walks blameless before God. Yet he can still say, “He is wise in heart…With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding” (9:4; 12:13). Maybe a loved one is battling cancer or a well-planned business is doing badly or a boyfriend left you for a reason you cannot comprehend. Like Job, we must trust God that he knows what he is doing in allowing us to experience these things. We don’t need to understand everything; but we have to trust him even if he does not reveal to us everything we want to know because we can be confident that he will reveal to us everything we need to know to live a life pleasing to him. Like what Grudem said “God is infinitely wise and we are not, and it pleases him when we have faith to trust his wisdom even when we do not understand what he is doing.”