I Corinthians 1:18-31

Dr. Steve Viars July 9, 1991 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

- This evening we're moving into a new section in the book of
  I Cor.

- Paul's been talking about divisions in the church, and
  you may remember that he concluded that section by saying,
  "Christ didn't send me to baptize, but to preach the
  gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ
  should be made of no effect

- now undoubtedly, that phrase alone would have pricked up
  the ears of many of Paul's readers, but now he's going to
  move into an extended section beginning in verse 18 where
  he addresses the subject of man's wisdom and God's wisdom

- read 1:18-25

- we're talking tonight about "Understanding God's Wisdom"
- we know this passage is about wisdom because Paul uses the
  word 21 times
- Tonight I'd like us to see 4 truths we need to know about
  God's wisdom

- the first one is a purposeful shock statement, but here it

I. God's Wisdom is Foolishness

    - now please write next to that statement that "Pastor
      Viars thoroughly balanced this off and is really a
      swell guy."

    - I worded this point this way because that's exactly the
      way Paul described God's wisdom
    - cf. verse 25 - "Because the foolishness of God is wiser
      than men"

    - we'll balance that statement off in a minute, but we
      first need to discuss what Paul's talking about when he
      uses phrases like "the wisdom of God", "preaching of
      the cross", "foolishness of preaching", "foolishness of

    - Paul is setting up a contrast in these verses

    A. Some introductory questions

        1. What is Paul contrasting? (and how do we know

    - IN YOUR NOTES, we've reproduced verses 17 and 18 from
      both the KJV and NASB.

    - you'll notice that we've got a word circled from each
         - if you have KJV, we're circled the words "word"
           (17) and "preaching" (18)
         - if you have a NASB, we've circled the words
           "speech"(17) and "word" (18)

    - the reason we circled them is because those words are
      the same in the original language
    - In other words, Paul is contrasting the words of men
      (cleverness of speech) with the Word of God, (His

        2. What is the "wisdom of men?"

    - when we talk about this subject tonight, and when Paul
      was talking about it to the Corinthians, he's not
      knocking man's objective intelligence.
    - there's nothing wrong with some of the technological
    - I'm glad we were able to drive cars here tonight
      instead of having to walk

    - I'm glad when my child is sick, we can take her to a
    - when Paul talks about the wisdom of men, he's not
      knocking the intelligence that God has given men.

    - Instead, he's talking about what was called in that
      day, "philosophia", or philosophy
    - the "love of wisdom"
    - that branch of learning that tried to explain the
      meaning of life apart from God
        - it tried to explain where man came from, or why he
          was here, or where he was going, or how he was to
          live, apart from God and his truth

    - of course the people of Corinth loved philosophy
    - they loved to sit around and muse about the meaning of
    - they loved to hear some new idea

    - Paul says – that’s the wisdom of man

    - contrasted to that is the wisdom of God
       - especially in this passage, Paul is talking about
         God's message of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ
       - instead of all the "new-fangled" and complex
         philosophical systems, with all their orders of gods
         and rituals and explanations

       - instead of all that, is the simple message of
         salvation through the shed blood of Jesus Christ
         available to all who will believe

- and Paul says this - "Corinthians, you need to know
  something about God's wisdom--its foolishness"

- Paul didn't say God's wisdom was intrinsically foolish
- instead, according to verse 18, he said it was foolish to
  certain individuals

    A. To those who are perishing

- that’s the same word that Jesus used when he said he came to
  seek and to save "that which was lost"

- we're talking about to those who don't know Jesus Christ as
  personal Savior
- to those who are perishing
- literally, to those who are "lost"

- Paul says - they consider the "word of the cross" to be
     - the word "moria" (do you know what English word we get
       from moria?  (moron, moronic)

     - that’s what they think about the cross

- Corinthians, you need to get it in your mind that the
  wisdom of God is foolishness:
     - to those who are perishing

    - also:

    C. To the dismay of the Corinthians

        - this is a very important point
        - we've got to ask ourselves, "Why is Paul talking to
          the Corinthians about this right after talking to
          them about the divisions in the church? - the four
          groups, "I am of Paul", "I am of Apollos", etc?"

        - the answer is - because the Corinthians still had
          some of that "philosophia" in them
        - they still had some of that "love for wisdom", that
          is the "wisdom of man"

        - even though they had been saved, they were trying
          to accomplish two things with their new faith that
          they were going to have to change

           1) Boost their own pride by having beliefs that
              were accepted and respected by others.

              - that’s what was going on with the various
              - "I'm of Appollos, because he's the greatest
                 teacher - his principles make the most
              - "I'm of Cephas - because he's the wisest"

              - see, they were trying to boost their own
                pride by seeking to convince everyone else
                that they had the superior beliefs.
              - ***just like the unsaved philosophers down
                   the street
              - we're going to gain glory by convincing
                everyone around of the superiority of our

            2) Gain approval by having a gospel message that
               makes sense and is accepted by all.

- you can almost see a collective look of dismay come over
  the face of the Corinthians as Paul says:
    - stop the arguing
    - stop the boosting
    - stop the fighting
    - stop trying to gain approval by proving to everyone
      around that your belief in the wisdom of God makes
      rational sense and can be empirically proved

- God's wisdom is not something that’s going to be accepted by
  all men and therefore be an item for you to glory in
    - in fact, to the perishing world, God's Wisdom is
         - its moronic!

- you can almost hear the Corinthians gasp "Oh no!"
- you mean the unsaved world around isn't going to pat us on
   the back for believing the message of Christ?  - NO
- you mean we won't be able to boast and glory in this - NO
  (in fact, some will call you fools and morons for believing
  what you do)

- then they say "what does God think about this?"

- the answer comes in the next verse, and that is: God
  designed it that way

II. God's Wisdom And Man's Wisdom are in Competition

- I'd like you to be thinking about some ways that’s true
  today, but let's first look at the examples Paul uses

- the first one comes from the Old Testament

    A. God actively looks for ways to accentuate the

       - read 1:19

       - Paul is quoting Isa. 29:14 which speaks of an event
         from the history of Israel

       - King Hezekiah, the king of Judah, was being
         threatened by the king of Assyria

        - the conventional wisdom of Hezekiah's counselors
          was to make a pact with Egypt and trust in that
        - God said to that, in Isa. 29:14, "The wisdom of
          their wise men shall perish, and the understanding
          of their prudent shall be hidden."

- and that’s exactly what happened
- Egypt never showed up to fulfill their part of the bargain,
  and it looked like Assyria would slaughter King Hezekiah
  and the nation of Judah

- but that night, God killed over 185,000 Assyrians, and
  rescued his people

- WHY? - one reason was to accentuate the difference between
         the wisdom of man and the wisdom of God.

- the Corinthians wanted to alter God's truth so it
  would be acceptable and palatable to their friends and
  aquaintances who were immersed in philosophical worldly

- Paul says - you don't understand God's wisdom
- the Lord isn't looking for "common ground" with the
  unbelieving world
      - in fact, He's seeking to accentuate the differences
      - "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will
         bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent."

- INPUT - let's think for a moment about how a believer today
          could get caught in the same trap the Corinthians
          were in."
             - What are some elements of the Bible or of
               Christianity that are especially difficult for
               the natural man to accept and therefore
               believers are under pressure to water them
               down or take them out altogether?

        1) Explain away the miraculous

           - Israelites crossing the Red Sea (it was really
             only a shallow lake - a couple of inches deep)
               - Then why did the Egyptian army drown?

           - Feeding of the five thousand (everybody actually
             brought a lunch, but they were hiding them
             because they didn't want to share.  Then they
             were moved by the selfless example of the little
             boy, so everybody brought out their own lunch)
               - then where did the 12 baskets of leftovers
                 come from?

        2) Take the emphasis off of personal sin

        3) Deny literal creation.

        4) Deny the bodily resurrection of Christ.

        5) Deny inspiration of the Bible.

        6) De-emphasize personal morality.

- see, Paul is saying that any person who does this doesn't
  understand the nature of God's wisdom
- we ought not to try to find common philosophical or
  theological ground with the person who doesn't know God
- it's not right to alter or water-down the message to make
  it more acceptable to the natural mind

- God's wisdom and man's wisdom are in competition, and the
  Lord actually looks for ways to accentuate those

- Paul also says this about that competition

    B. Man's wisdom lacks permanence

        - he says - Where is the wise?  Where is the disputer
             of the age?
        - the point is - man's wisdom lacks permanence
        - if man is so smart, why haven't his theories and
            teaching lasted?

    - that surely is true of our society today
       - we're more educated, but we are not more moral
       - we have more means of helping people, but we are not
         less selfish
       - we have more means of communication, but we don't
         understand each other any better
       - we have more psychology and education, but we also
         have more crime and more war

       - Paul's saying - if man's wisdom is so great, where
         are these guys?

- we see the same thing today:

    - there was a day not too long ago when many people in
      our world thought Lenin was the greatest thing going.
         - where is he today?
    - there was a day when many people bowed down to Freud.
         - now his theories are being ridiculed in many

         - Freud article

- point is - the Lord's wisdom was never meant to be
      palatable by the unsaved world and therefore a source
      of glory and boosting on the part of believers

    - God's wisdom and man's wisdom are in competition and
      the Lord actually looks for ways to accentuate that

- Paul builds on his argument in the next 2 verses: (READ 21-

III. God's Wisdom Can Neither Be Scientifically Proven Or
     Rationally Defended (to the unsaved mind)

    - there's a two pronged argument in those verses

    - INPUT - when you read verse 21, what other passage in
              the Word of God are you reminded of?  (Rom. 1)

    - Read Rom. 1:18-23

    A. God's wisdom is available to those who want to see it

        - Paul says men and women who don't know him suppress
          the truth about Him

        - let's think about that for a moment:

        - how would you complete this statement:  Men and
          women ought to believe in God and give glory to Him
          when they see_______________.  (beauty of creation,
          the birth of a baby, a changed life)

        - you might say - well, why won't so and so believe
          when they see that?
- answer is:

    B. A person can't come to God in his/her own wisdom

        - Paul says - the Jews say they want a sign, the
            Greeks say they want rational arguments

        - a person can't come to God that way
        - that was demonstrated throughout the Bible, but
           especially in the life of Christ

        - in John 9, the Lord restores the sight of the man
          that had been blind since birth
        - you'd think after that that everyone in that man's
          life would have come to Christ
            - his parents, his neighbors, the people in his

        - but instead, everyone in his life finds a reason to
          remain in his/her unbelief
            1) neighbors said - this must not be the same
            2) parents said - this is our boy - but we don't
               know how he was healed
            3) Pharisees said-this must not be of God, since
               it was done on the Sabbath

         - that tells us something about the human heart

         - That’s illustrated in the parable of the rich man
           and Lazarus in Luke 16
         - the rich man who had died asked Abraham to send
           the beggar Lazarus to speak to his 5 brothers and
           encourage them to trust Christ

         - Abraham said - "They have Moses and the prophets,
            let them hear them."

         - rich man said - "No, but if one went from the
             dead, they would repent"

         - Abraham said back - "If they are not persuaded by
              one of the prophets, they won't be persuaded
              even if one returned to them from the dead."

- this has great implications to the way we think about
- we haven't dispatched one of our deacons off to search for
  the shroud of Turin
- we don't have someone else scaling Mount Ararat trying to
  find NOAH's Ark
- because to the unsaved mind, God's wisdom can't be
  scientifically proven or rationally defended, because any
  proof given will be suppressed in unbelief

    C. That’s why faith is necessary

        - read 21

        - if the gospel made perfect sense to the unbelieving
          mind, then it wouldn't require faith to believe

        - but that’s not the way God operates

        - he didn't say - Noah, here's a simulated video of
          what a flood is like
            - now get busy and build an ark becaue we're going
              to have a real one!
            - keep a copy of the video and show all your
              friends so this will make sense to all of them

        - he didn't say to Abraham
           - here's a vision of a beautiful place called Ur
           - now I want you to go there

           - Heb. 11:8 - "BY faith Abraham, when he was
               called to go out into a place which he should
               afterward receive an inheritance, obeyed, and
               went out, not knowing where he went."

        - God's wisdom has to be accepted by faith
        - His simple plan of salvation must be accepted by
             - 1) it doesn't matter if some would rather have
                  salvation by works
               2) it doesn't matter if some don't like the
                  idea of repenting from personal sin
               3) it doesn't matter if some have trouble
                  seeing the significance of the death of a
                  seemingly obscure man on a seemingly
                  obscure hill
               4) it doesn't matter of some don't want Jesus
                  to be their Lord
         - his simple plan of salvation must be accepted by

         - his plan for biblical living must be accepted by
             1) it doesn't matter if a person doesn't see the
                wisdom of returning good for evil
             2) it doesn't matter if the person doesn't see
                the importance of change
             3) it doesn't matter if the person doesn't like
                the idea of monogamous marriage or raising
                children for God

          - God's wisdom must be accepted by faith

- and living according to his wisdom is not going to receive
  universal appreciation and approval

IV. Our Response To God's Wisdom

    A. Look around

        - read 26-28

        - Paul says - the evidence of what I'm saying is
              illustrated even in your own church

        - it’s not that there aren't any wise or influential
          people in your church, but there's not many
        - the success of the local church endeavor is not
          dependent on the nobility, wisdom, and wealth of
          its members

        - in fact, God glories in transforming and using
          common and ordinary people into uncommon and
          extraordinary trophies of his grace

    B. Glory in the Lord

        read 29-31

        - Paul says, Corinthians, what you're doing needs to
          change because it shows you don't understand God's

        - your boosting about which group is smartest is out
          of sync with the wisdom of God
        - your desire to water down and alter Christianity
          in order to make it palatable with the unsaved
          world will never work

    - God designed his wisdom to purposely appear foolish to
      those who won't believe
    - He chooses common individuals for his kingdom so that
      that no man should glory in anything other than Him

    C. When evaluating ideas, ask "Who's wisdom is this?"

        - see, some believers are not nearly as cautious as
          they ought to be
        - recognizing that man's wisdom and God's wisdom
          ought to cause us to be more mentally alert

    D. Be more prayerful and more careful in evangelism

        - Gen. 18-21 - Lot

Dr. Steve Viars


Senior Pastor - Faith Church

Director - Faith Legacy Foundation


B.S.: Pre-Seminary & Bible, Baptist Bible College (Now Clarks Summit University)
M.Div.: Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min.: Biblical Counseling, Westminster Theological Seminary

Dr. Steve Viars has served at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN since 1987. Pastor Viars leads and equips Faith Church as Senior Pastor with a focus on preaching and teaching God’s Word and using his organizational skills in guiding the implementation of the Faith Church mission and vision. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith Church ministries. Dr. Viars serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation. Steve is the author, co-author, or contributor to six books and numerous booklets. He and his wife, Kris, were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and three grandchildren.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video