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Nothing but Jesus

Two of the dominant values of first century culture were power and wisdom.  That is why Paul speaks of Jesus as the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). Christ is much more than that of course, but Paul zeroes in on these two things because he wants the disciples at Corinth to understand the triumph of the cross in terms of their value system.  He wants them to understand why he is so content to preach Christ crucified (1:23, 2:2).

When the gospel is preached, human wisdom is exposed as folly – If there was anything that carried the day with the Greeks, it was wisdom. And even though Corinth was renowned for its worldliness, it’s clear from the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians that wisdom and rhetoric were highly valued.  Much of the Apollos-Paul divisiveness appears to have been rooted in who they thought best reflected their cultural ideal.

Paul wants them to see that the gospel doesn’t complement the cultural values they so desperately sought to associate with he and Apollos --- it repudiates them.  In a highly compressed section (v. 18-25), he shows:

  • The world in its wisdom did not know God (v. 21),
  • The message of the cross is regarded as foolishness (v. 18),
  • God made foolish the wisdom of the world (v. 20),
  • God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom (v. 25).

When the gospel is preached, human power is shown to be impotent - While the Greeks sought wisdom, the Jews looked for signs (v. 22) --- demonstrations of power. The cross was a stumbling block to them (v. 23), because the Messiah was supposed to be their deliverer --- not die the death of an insurrectionist on a Roman cross. In the same section, Paul weaves a complementary strand of thought showing the impotence of the world’s power.

  • The world in its power did not know God (v. 26),
  • The cross is looked upon as a stumbling block because of the “weakness” it portrays (v. 22),
  • God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (v. 27),
  • God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (v. 25).

When the gospel is preached, all basis for human boasting is destroyed - In showing the ineptitude of man’s wisdom and power, Paul has set the table.  For it’s not just that these things are true, they are this way because God desires it.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him,” (v. 28-29).

The power of the cross is evidenced by its deconstruction of the world’s wisdom and power so that no basis for boasting remains. God breaks down the things we take pride in so He can build us up through His Son, “who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption,” (v. 30).  In the end, it’s more than just that the cross is sufficient and there is no need to add to it. No, the truth Paul would have us to see is that when all things are seen in light of cross, nothing is able to stand on its own.

What does all of this mean to us? Paul tells us in v. 31 when he says, “Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” As he has shown, the cross destroys any basis for boasting anyone anywhere might have at any time.  It leveled the ground at Corinth and it does the same today.

The pride that was present at Corinth was an insidious thing.  It diminished their relationship with God and with each other. It does the same thing today.  If we want to build high we must dig deep.  We must dig past all of the vanities of the world until our foundation rests on nothing but Jesus (3:1-11).
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