My pastor covered 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 recently in a sermon, and did a great job, pointing out how God’s wisdom is so far above human wisdom. Let’s keep looking into this passage, and see what else it has to offer.
When Jesus Christ came to earth, there were two main schools of thought that predominated in the Middle East:
- The Jewish people (of which Jesus was a part) wanted proof. Their nation’s liberation from Egypt was born out of amazing signs (see the book of Exodus), and God had continued to intervene throughout their history. (See Matthew 12:38-42.) This people generally had a specific idea of how God would fulfill His promises to them, but – as I see it – they wanted to verify that anyone claiming to be the promised Messiah was who He said He was (preferably culminating in the restoration and freedom of their nation).
- The Greek people (whether the Hellenistic culture that had preceded the Romans of the time, or a general term for non-Jewish people – Gentiles) were intellectual and philosophical. See Acts 17:21 for some context – I think of this “Mars Hill” as the ancient Internet, where ideas got passed around and rehashed, to the point of becoming a pastime. This group considered the claims of others, from the framework of existing points of view.
Now, these are generalities, and not everyone in a given group can be categorized so simply. However, their examples provide some food for thought to us.
- For the Jewish people expecting liberation from Roman rule (see Acts 1:6), Jesus’ death on a cross was exactly the wrong kind of sign – a sign of defeat, rather than of victory. (From a larger point of view, Jesus’ payment for our sins on the cross and God’s raising Him from the dead were exactly what all people needed, but we have the benefit of hindsight.)
- For the Greek people, expecting the world to work according to their own philosophies and rationalization, the idea that a leader would need to die, or that God (of which the Greeks had many) would willingly sacrifice for people (even those who didn’t obey Him), was just nonsense.
To understand the historical context of this passage is one thing, but to consider how it impacts our lives today is another. Like the first followers of Jesus, we also live in a world where people come with their own preconceptions of how the world works.
- For those who have already made up their mind about what God is like, without consulting God Himself, their god(s) typically look and act a lot like themselves.
- For those who believe that rational thought, logic, and observation can explain everything in the world, the concept of a God who transcends what humankind can fully comprehend is – by definition – out of bounds.
However, for those who follow Jesus, it is easy to take bits and pieces of what we have learned, combine it with our own ideas, and – believing that our partial knowledge is sufficient – start to think that we have it all figured out. This is the start of a slippery slope of using our “favorite” Bible passages out of context, or acting superior to those who “haven’t figured it out, yet” (as if any of us have learned all there is to learn about the Christian walk!). When we believe that our personal wisdom – even if based on input from Scripture – even comes close to rivaling that of God, we have become prideful and perhaps unteachable. If we want to continue learning the wisdom of God, the first step – as the Socratic method suggests – is to admit that we do not have all the answers.
Today, I know that I need to open my mind and open my heart, and pour the wisdom of God into both of them. I need to be ready to learn what “wisdom” of my own needs to be superseded by the wisdom of God. Maybe that’s why I like James 1:5 so much (although, if you look up that verse, the entire book of James is a great 1-week read).
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
James 1:5 NASB
If you face the same challenge as me, I pray that you will achieve the joint goals of humility and God-taught wisdom, as well.
For more reading, see also God is Not an Elephant.
For more about wisdom:
- Tough Questions
- One Free Request
- A Longer and Better Life
- Hosanna? What Does That Mean?
- A Prayer for All People
- Prove It!
- Why Did the Authors Need to Write That?
- How Do We Pray for Them?
- How Good Do Your Words Taste?
- “You Think You’re So Smart”
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.