I guess most of us would like to be thought of as wise, wouldn’t we? (If someone called me wise, I’d certainly take it as a complement!). After all, we describe someone as wise if they are well-educated, intelligent or eloquent. Or if they have a good dose of common sense. Or if they have a lot of life-experience to draw upon. That’s certainly how people in the Greek city of Corinth defined wisdom 2,000 years ago – and its how most people in our city of London still define wisdom today.
But is that definition of wisdom really correct? From God’s perspective, what does a truly wise person look like? If you want to be wise in God’s eyes, what kind of things should you do, or think, or say?
You may remember that a couple of years ago we had a sermon series in the Bible book of Proverbs. Proverbs gives us God’s definition of what true wisdom looks like in daily life. It describes how a wise person views their relationships, uses their money, goes about their work and so on. But today, we are looking at 1 Corinthians chapter 1 – words written by the apostle Paul to the young church in Corinth. And in this passage we learn what a spiritually wise person looks like. Paul tells us what a wise person should think and say about their faith. In particular, he tells us that a wise person:
- Believes in Christ crucified
- Boasts in Christ crucified; and
- Bravely speaks of Christ crucified.
- Believe in Christ crucified…because he alone can save us! (v.18-25)
Have you ever been called foolish, or even stupid? It hurts doesn’t it? Depending on the circumstances, those words create great pressure on you to apologise, or back track, or change mind and conform. At the very least you want to defend yourself, to prove your critics wrong. (Theresa May probably felt rather foolish after last week’s election result, and certainly seems to have spent the next few days frantically trying to make amends!)
The apostle Paul certainly knew what it felt like to be called foolish. Its an experience almost all the early Christians had to go through, including those in Corinth. Right from the start, the Christian faith has always been criticised by its enemies as ridiculous and wrong – as a foolish faith that should be jettisoned at the first opportunity. In Corinth it was mocked by unbelieving Jews and Gentiles. Today, Christians are described as deluded by atheists and our deepest convictions are mocked by many in our secular society.
It’s Christian’s beliefs about Jesus’ crucifixion that have consistently attracted most scorn from people who consider themselves civilised and wise. Both in Paul’s day and our own, the Christian message of the Cross has always provoked derision and disbelief. The belief that Christ was crucified as a sacrifice for our sins – the belief that Jesus died to take the punishment for our guilt before God – has regularly been rejected as offensive, or scandalous or even simply blasphemous.
Now these are not new objections – the apostle Paul and the church in Corinth heard similar arguments against the message of the cross 2,000 years ago. But Paul knew that even if the message of the cross wasn’t popular, it was powerful – powerful enough to save sinners. As he writes in verse 18: “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. And in verse 21 he adds that: “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe”.
You see, Paul knew that the message of the cross appeared foolish to non-Christian Gentiles and Jews. The idea of a crucified Messiah, a suffering Saviour was something they ‘stumbled over’ – a great paradox they just couldn’t get their heads around. The idea of a crucified Christ sounded as nonsensical as an inflatable dartboard, a concrete parachute or solar-powered night-light!
But having met with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul personally knew that’s God’s wisdom is far greater than the world’s. Since meeting Christ face-to-face, Paul had come to understand that the Cross was indeed the only way human sin could be forgiven and our relationship with God restored.
You see, in his superior wisdom, God saw that Christ’s sacrifice was the only way the demands of justice and mercy could both be met. In God’s great wisdom, only the death of his Jesus on the cross could simultaneously ensure that sin was being punished and ensure sinners were saved from hell.
So if we are wise, we will take the apostle Paul’s advice: A truly wise person will believe in Christ crucified. Someone who’s spiritually wise will have faith in Jesus alone to save them.
- Boast in Christ crucified…not in ourselves! (v.26-31)
People boast in all sorts of things don’t they? They may boast in their football team, their clothes, their car, their house, their career, their children, and so on. People boast in whatever they’re most proud of, don’t they. Boasting is not always attractive is it, particularly when people boast most about themselves!
But in verse 31 of our passage this morning, Paul tells us one kind of boasting that is always acceptable. He tells us to boast in Christ crucified, not ourselves. He says; “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”. If we are spiritually wise, says Paul, we will give Christ all the credit for our salvation, and keep none for ourselves.
We saw just now, didn’t we, that our salvation depends on Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for us on the cross. We contribute nothing to our salvation. Our good deeds, our social status, our bank balance can cannot make us right with God – only Jesus can.
To illustrate this point, in verse 26 Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth that in the world’s eyes they had little to boast about. When they were called to faith by God, most of them lacked the things people normally boast about. As Paul writes “not many of you were wise by human standards; not many of you were influential, not many of you were of noble birth”. To become a Christian you don’t have to be a high flyer, an aristocrat or an academic genius. All you have to do be is a believer in Jesus – so give him all the credit. Give him the glory in your prayers, your praises, and the whole way you live your life!
Have a look again at verse 30. Because that verse is a wonderful reminder of what Jesus offers to everyone who has faith in him. It describes the three precious gifts that Christ crucified has purchased for us – “righteousness, holiness and redemption”:
- Righteousness is another word for forgiveness. In God’s eyes believers in Jesus become blameless and perfect, just like Jesus. We are forgiven forever. We’re right in God’s sight.
- Christians are also being made holy. Jesus has planted his Holy Spirit in the hearts of every believer, and he’s changing us to make us more like himself. To give it the technical term, Jesus is sanctifying us, making our thoughts and actions more and more like his.
- And lastly, Christian look forward to our ultimate redemption by Jesus. We look forward to that day when our physical bodies – and the whole of creation – will be restored and renewed forever. When sin, suffering and death will be gone for good!
So if you are a Christian here this morning, boast in the Lord Jesus and what he has done -and is doing – in your life. We are to boast of his achievements, not our own. We shouldn’t get puffed up and proud because of what ministry we perform in church, how much theological head knowledge we have, or how spiritually gifted we may be. Our status in God’s sight is always entirely due to Jesus. So boast in Christ crucified, not ourselves!
- Bravely speak of Christ crucified…with the help of the Holy Spirit! (v.1-5)
Have you have ever tried to share your faith with a friend, a colleague or a neighbour? Have you ever spoken to a non-Christian about Jesus? If so, how did it go? How did it feel? Perhaps you felt nervous or tongue-tied, unsure exactly what to say? Or perhaps you felt frightened about the reaction you would receive – perhaps you were frightened that your words about Jesus would be rejected or ridiculed. Maybe you were fearful about the consequences for your career or for your friendships.
I remember trying to have conversations about Jesus with my old civil service colleagues. My heart would race, my pulse would increase, my palms would get sweaty – I was a nervous wreck, in medical meltdown! I had to be brave and take a deep breath before opening my mouth!
But if we are ever tongue-tied or fearful about sharing our faith, we are in good company – because even the apostle Paul felt the same way! Listen again to the first few verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 2: “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.”
You see, Paul had no confidence in his own abilities. He wasn’t a gifted speaker, he wasn’t someone who could ‘put on a show’. All he could do was boldly and bravely tell people about Christ crucified. All he could do was courageously call people to faith in Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but that comes as a huge relief! Thankfully, God doesn’t expect us to be great public speakers or gifted orators. All God wants from Christians is the courage to tell non-Christians about Christ. To tell people who Jesus is and what he’s done for us at the cross.
How people respond to this Gospel is then between to them and God. We can’t force people into Christian faith – our responsibility is to simply share it with them. So look for occasions to speak of Jesus in your daily life. Keep your eyes open for opportunities, then just be brave and go for it!
And do pray that God will touch your hearers’ hearts by his Holy Spirit. Pray that God will make them receptive to your words about Jesus. Pray that God will help them get their heads around the Christian faith. Pray that his Spirit will help them see that Jesus died and rose again for them.
That was certainly what Paul had seen God do in Corinth. Listen to verses 4 and 5 again: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
It seems that God had taken Paul’s preaching and hammered it home in the hearts and minds of people in Corinth. God had taken Paul’s weak words about Jesus and given them great power. Power to save individuals from their sin and bring them together into a church. The Christians in Corinth had only to look around – at themselves and at each other – to see that God had been powerfully at work in their city. His Spirit had totally transformed their lives and created a church congregation out of nothing.
I hope like me you long to see God grow his church here in Gidea Park. I hope you are desperate to see non-Christians come to saving faith in Jesus. If so, then follow Paul’s great example – proclaim Christ crucified, and pray that God’s Spirit will put power in your words!
So as I finish this morning, what does a spiritually wise person look like? Well in 1 Corinthians Paul has provided us with our answer, hasn’t he?
- A truly wise person believes in Christ crucified as the only way anyone can be saved.
- A truly wise person boasts in Christ crucified, not themselves.
- And a truly wise person speaks bravely of Christ crucified.
May God’s Holy Spirit help us to be just that sort of person today! Let’s pray: Father, help us to be truly wise people. People who rely on Christ, and Christ alone for our relationship with you. Help us by your Spirit to speak boldly and bravely of him to all we know who don’t yet know you. Amen.