Agonizomai: 1 Cor 1:17-19 - The Noetic Effect of Sin

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

1 Cor 1:17-19 - The Noetic Effect of Sin

17-19 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. 19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."

It seems that two things may be in Paul’s mind here; one is his original commission from the Lord Himself, and the other is the mindset of the culture amid which the Corinthians first heard gospel.

Jesus Christ appeared to Paul and told him what he would do by sending him Ananias to relate the nature of his calling. {Ac 9:13-15} In this passage in Acts we get something of the idea of what the gospel is; it is bearing the Name of Jesus Christ towards men in the world. But just as believing in Jesus is more than merely giving mental assent to His existence, so bearing the Name of Jesus is more than simply calling oneself a Christian - or even of speaking words about Him. It is testifying with one’s whole being in word and deed to His lordship of both one’s own life and the lives of all men everywhere (especially those whom God’s providence puts in our path).

This is the primary offence of the gospel - that God is God and we are not. That He is the One who ordains the end from the beginning, has the absolute right of rulership over all creation and over all that we are as individuals. Men don’t mind a god they can limit and keep as an idol - but they absolutely will not abide a God to Whom they must defer in all things.

Corinth was but one more variation upon this theme. It was a product of Greek learning and philosophy (as well as an infamous hub of immorality). The Greek mind had come to seek truth through reason alone, as if starting from a fallen mind a man could raise himself by mental powers to a full understanding of the transcendent truth behind all existence. As in Athens, so here, there were both stoics and Epicureans; stoics thought the power of reason would answer all things, including when things went wrong. Epicureans believed that what was simply was, and that one must receive life in the moment. This ultimately led to the mindset that said, "Eat, drink - for tomorrow we die".

Rationalism and hedonism are still with us. They are with us in Modernism and its fruit - and in modernism’s demon child, postmodernism. There is nothing new under the sun - only old errors and heresies dressed in new garb. They are some of the hallmarks of "the perishing" - of which we were all once a part, and from among which we have all been called and saved by grace alone.

Just as God determined to set at naught all the self-styled wisdom of the apostate Jewish leaders in Hezekiah’s day (see v19 and Isa 29:13-14) so the fulfillment of the prophetic meaning of Isaiah’s words is made known in the gospel era. It is, in fact, a general principle mentioned in a number of places besides Isaiah chapter 29 that God is set upon showing the folly of man’s worldly wisdom and ways. It was ever His plan because the self-styled wisdom of the world arises from the sin nature of man. Rather than being a means of finding out God it is the means of missing Him altogether, because it does not rely upon God to reveal Himself by condescending, but rather looks to fallen man to find God by raising himself. And in the wisdom of God, of course, it is the acceptance of our utter bankruptcy which brings us to agree with what would otherwise be the foolishness of God as revealed in the gospel.

It helps to have an understanding of what crucifixion evoked in the minds of men in the first century. It was a shameful and unspeakable thing. It was reserved for the worst of criminals. It was for non-Roman, pagan, infidels and was the most horrific form of torture and death that the iron fist of Roman justice had been able to find or invent. They perfected its cruelty as means of magnifying the ignominy, the disgrace and reproach of the criminal and his offenses against the power of the state.

Beyond this, it was to the Jews the next thing to blasphemy to refer to a crucified Messiah. How could the redeemer of Israel suffer as a criminal? How could He be cursed of God by hanging on a tree? The very idea was offensive. So both Gentiles and Jews found offense in a crucified Saviour.

But when once God has revealed Himself to the heart of a person by regenerating him, the idea of a Saviour crucified for his sin is seen to be the wisdom of God.


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