wisdom and power

Christ Covenant Church
Marq Toombs
Series: Sex, Drugs, Rocks & Roles and the Message of the Cross
Text – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
The Message of the Cross

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Today we are starting a new mini-series called Sex, Drugs, Rocks, and Roles and the Message of the Cross. It will be based on texts from 1 Corinthians.

We will begin and with a look at the message of the cross, which is the wisdom and power of God for all who believe (1 Cor 1:18-25; 15:1-3). In between we will look at some of today’s hot topics and trends through the lens of the cross.

Think of these messages as conversation starters that will help equip us to carry, communicate, and connect the cross to the culture.

Our sermon text for today is 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. He who has ears to hear, let him hear the word of God:

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. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 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? 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 believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

May God bless the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word.

(1) The Message of the Cross is Polarizing – 1:17-18

17 For 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. 18 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.

In context we learn that the church at Corinth was fragmented into personality cults. One group said: “I am of Paul.” Another said: “I am of Apollos.” And another said: “I am of Peter.” (That’s sorta like saying “I am a Lutheran” or a “Calvinist” or a “Wesleyan.”)

Ironically, the church was divided over baptism — the sacrament of union with Christ became the source of divisions within the church.

Christians ought to know better than to elevate baptism, churches, and ministers above the gospel, nevertheless it is a common mal-practice in the Christian church.

Notice how Paul responded to the Corinthians’ trend towards sectarianism and ritualism: He marked a distinction between the gospel and baptism.

“Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel.” 

According to Paul, the gospel and baptism are not one and the same thing, and they should not be confused with each other.

That is why we say that any minister who preaches “Christ crucified plus water baptism equals the gospel” is not really preaching the same gospel that Paul preached.

Paul insists that the basis of our unity is Christ crucified not water baptism. The cross is greater than the font, the reality is greater than the sign. So we must bear in mind that the work of Christ at the cross is greater than the service of pastors at the baptismal font.

Another thing Paul does here is assert that the message of the cross divides the human race, and the cross unites the human race.

The cross divides the human race along along spiritual lines, not racial, ethnic, social — or even denominational — lines, “for the cross renders all of these divisions redundant and obsolete. The only separation that counts is between those who are perishing and those who are being saved.” (Ciampa and Rosner, Pillar, pp 90-91)

The cross also unites the human race along spiritual lines, for all those who believe the gospel are baptized by one Spirit into one body.

Yes, in reality it is the Holy Spirit who baptizes people into Christ and his church, not gospel ministers.

As the scripture says, “For by one Spirit we were baptized into one body, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, and we are all made to drink of one Spirit.”

The cross divides and it unites. It is polarizing.

The cross saves and the cross destroys.

It destroys those who desire something other than Jesus; it destroys those who demand something other than Jesus; it destroys those who depend on something other than Jesus.

But, it also saves those who depend on nothing other than Jesus; it saves those who demand nothing other than Jesus; it saves those who desire nothing other than Jesus.

We do not need any help with perishing; perishing is what we do to ourselves by nature; we need to be saved; and being saved is what God does for those who believe the gospel by grace.

By nature all people are in the process of perishing through the weakness and folly of sin. Perishing is the default mode of all people who are outside of Christ, not in Christ. By grace many people are being saved through the message of the cross.

More on that in a moment.

(2) The Message of the Cross is Supra-rational, not Anti-intellectual – 1:19-21

19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 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? 21 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 believe.

Worldly philosophers, scholars, and scientists think they know everything about everything. They confidently assert what they think they know about gods, religion, history, science, ad nauseam. (Garland, ECNT, p 66)

They consider the message of the cross to be foolish compared to their knowledge, wisdom, and understanding; and they consider it to be weak compared to their strength.

To them the cross is a tragic story, a religious myth, or a stupid doctrine.

They accuse those of us who believe the message of the cross of being superstitious, irrational, and anti-intellectual.

Yet Paul was none of those things, and neither are we.

We believe the message of the cross is neither anti-intellectual nor irrational nor superstitious — rather it is supra-rational. It transcends mere human rationality because it is based on divine rationality.

In other words, the word of the cross is not simply a matter of what we think or how we feel, rather it is a matter of what we believe. And what we believe is based on what God has revealed by his Spirit in his word. Apart from the Spirit’s work, we would only see the cross of Jesus as a tragic death in human history; we would not see it as a triumphant death in redemptive history.

“We walk by faith, not by sight” and “by faith we understand” what the message of the cross means for life.

Now, it is true that the gospel poses a real challenge to the intelligence and competence of sinful-natural man. On the surface, it looks like Paul is challenging the intelligentsia of the world to a public debate in the marketplace of ideas.

In reality, that is not the case.

Paul is simply asking a set of rhetorical questions in light of what God says he will do to the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning.

In the aftermath of Christ crucified, Paul looks around the battle field and asks “Where are the thinkers, leaders, and scholars who claimed to show us how to make sense of the life, the universe, and everything?”

These questions are not invitations for philosophers, scholars, and scientists to enter the fray and square off in debate; “these questions are more like the cries of a victor after the battle has been fought and won.”

The wise, the teacher of the law, and the philosopher of the age are nowhere to be found, for their wisdom has been destroyed and their intelligence has been frustrated. They have been outsmarted and upstaged. They have nothing more to offer. They have slunk away in defeat.” (Pillar, 94)

But notice that Paul is not the victor. They were defeated in the public square by Jesus Christ, not in the marketplace of ideas, but on the rugged cross of a skull-shaped hill. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in the cross.” (Col 2:15)

Contrary to the critics, the message of the cross shows us how to make sense of the world, how to make sense of life, the universe, and everything, how to make sense of God in light of Christ crucified.

The cross is the lens through which we see everything, and the lens that shapes everything we see.

(3) The Message of the Cross is “Irrelevant” yet Totally Relevant – 1:22-25

22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

In Paul’s time, Jews demanded signs/power. Like their forefathers, they demanded miraculous displays of power. But when God became man, they rejected him. When the God-man preached and healed with power, they persecuted him. When Jesus confronted them they crucified him. When they heard the gospel message of the cross, the power of God for salvation, they considered it weakness.

And Greeks sought wisdom. Like their forefathers, they were seekers who wanted knowledge, insight, and understanding. But when they heard the mysteries of the gospel, the message of the cross, the wisdom of God, they considered it to be folly. Why?

The problem is that unbelievers, those who are perishing, are corrupted by sin. They operate with a natural, man-centered, worldview. Their hearts are calloused by sins, and their minds are blinded by the god of the age. That prevents them from properly evaluating, understanding, or believing the message of the cross, and other things of God.

Not only that, they think all these things are foolish and weak and irrelevant to life in the real world.

So what are we to do?

In our time, religious folks still demand power. And irreligious folks still demand wisdom. Rationalists demand scientific evidence. Mystics demands ecstatic experiences.

Everyone demands something from God.

In the church some demand that we acquiesce to social pressures; that we adopt new styles of worship;  that we alter the biblical teaching on roles of men and women, that we abandon the biblical story of creation, and much — or else.

In the culture some demand that we abandon biblical teaching on sex, marriage, and gender; that we alter moral and ethical standards; that we adopt the theory of evolution blindly and without question, that we accept the homosexual agenda — or else.

How shall we respond to all these demands?

We must respond to all these demands the same way Paul did — we respond by preaching Christ crucified, the message of the cross as the wisdom and power of God.

We preach Christ, not ourselves. We testify about his story, not our stories. “We believe therefore we speak” spiritual truths in spiritual ways, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now, what is completely “irrelevant” to those who demand signs or seek wisdom is totally relevant to those who are called by God.

What is relatively absurd to those who are perishing is absolutely meaningful to those who are being saved.

The message of Christ crucified is a stumbling to some, and a stepping stone to others.

One more thing before we move on:

Let’s keep in mind that God demands something from us as well. God demands that everyone who hears the message of the cross turn away from their sins and trust in Jesus Christ. He is well-pleased to save anyone and everyone who believes the gospel of grace, who trusts his wisdom and power.

In the cross the wisdom and power of God collide with the wisdom and power of man. This collision of worldviews results in salvation for those who believe the divine “absurdity and infirmity” of the gospel and destruction for those who believe the human rationality of philosophy, science, and religion.

Contrary to popular opinion, when we preach the message of the cross, we are actually meeting the world’s demands for power and wisdom at the deepest level. We are doing it on God’s terms not man’s terms, but we are giving them what they ask for, what they demand — wisdom and power. Their complaint is that it is from God and not from man.

That leads us to the final point for today.

(4) The Message of the Cross is Redemptive – 1:18, 21, 24

18 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. 21 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 believe. 24 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

It is not uncommon to hear people grumble and complain about preaching: “Preaching is irrelevant. Preaching is boring. Preaching is absurd.”

And that is true of some preaching.

But God does not use just any and every kind of preaching. He uses gospel preaching. God is well-pleased to save those who believe by means of the so-called “folly and frailty” of what we preach — which is the message of the cross.

God is well-pleased to save those who believe by means of the so-called “folly and frailty” of what we preach — which is the message of the cross.

Gospel preaching is primary ordained means that God uses to call his chosen people out of world-culture into Christ’s church.

So, it is not the style of preaching that saves, but the substance of preaching that saves. It is the content of the message that counts, not the charisma of the messenger. It is not preaching in and of itself that saves, but gospel preaching that saves. Gospel preaching saves those hear and believe, not those who only hear.

CONCLUSIONS

So, what does all this have to do with sex, drugs, rocks, and roles?

As we will see over the few weeks, the message of the cross teaches us the truth about sex, drugs, rocks, and roles. The cross teaches us what it means to deny our sinful passions and lusts, to discipline ourselves for life and godliness, and to devote ourselves to Christ and the church.

Martin Luther said: The cross puts everything to the test. That includes sex, drugs, rocks, and roles.

The wisdom of the cross teaches us that sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed by a man and a woman inside a marriage covenant. It is for pleasure and for procreation. It also teaches us that sex outside a marriage covenant is both a misuse and an abuse of God’s gift. It teaches us that sex is lawfully expressed in heterosexual not homosexual unions; and that it is monogamous not promiscuous. The cross says, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, will inherit the kingdom of God.” The power of the cross enables us to obey God.

The wisdom of the cross teaches us that food and drink are gifts from God, and may be enjoyed to the glory of God. It also teaches us about the proper uses and the improper abuses and misuse of food, drink, and other substances. It says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. And whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” The power of the cross enables us to obey God.

The wisdom of the cross teaches us that a personal-infinite Creator made the heavens and the earth and everything in it. It teaches us that man was created in the image and likeness of God; that there is order over chaos, design over chance, purposefulness over randomness. It teaches us that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it; that space, time, and matter are finite and temporal, and that history has meaning and purpose in Christ. It teaches us about the unity and diversity of creation — that all things are from God, that one body has many parts, that not all flesh is the same, and there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, and each has different kinds of glory. The power of the cross enables us to obey God.

The wisdom of the cross teaches us that there are real differences between men and women, and that those differences should be appreciated and cultivated. The cross teaches us to celebrate the unity and diversity of human beings who are made in the image and likeness of God without blending and blurring male-female gender distinctions. It teaches us to respect the order of creation and the distinct roles and responsibilities of men and women, inside and outside the church. The power of the cross enables us to obey God.

Finally, the message of the cross teaches that anyone who struggles or stumbles in matters of “sex, drugs, rocks, and roles” can still be saved by turning away from sin and trusting in Christ. For God is pleased to save those who believe the wisdom and power of the cross.

In his book The Cruciform Church, Leonard Allen says:

The cross so permeates the New Testament that it stands as the inescapable center and source of Christian life and identity. As a result Christian people throughout the ages have readily affirmed the centrality of the cross. They have sung its praises, lifted up its symbol, extolled its benefits. But, at the same time, they have most often removed its scandal. They have cherished its symbol, but shunned its discipline. They have lauded its blessings, but sought to remove its burdens. There has always been something deeply disturbing about the cross, something that deeply offends human pride and achievement, something that insults human self-reliance. And so, while confessing the importance of Jesus’ death “for us,” Christians have been tempted in many ways to alter the radical message of the cross into something more in harmony with human reason, human sensibilities, and human wishes. What does it mean for the church to live under the cross? What does it mean to worship a crucified God and for the church to live in this world as a cruciform church? What does it mean, in a secular culture that values nothing so much as comfort and self-fulfillment, to find one’s most basic identity in the cross? (p114)

These are just some of the questions we hope to answer over the next few weeks.

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