“For 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.”
1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 is an aside from the discussion on division dealing with the issue of the message of Christianity and how it relates to the problem of division. If we place the focus on the message, we will have less focus on divisions. The Holy Spirit radically distinguishes men’s wisdom from God’s wisdom.
Greeks formed their culture around philosophy. They had scores of countervailing philosophies. Above all, they were in love with wisdom. Their ultimate view of life revolved around philosophy (love of wisdom). This gave them certainty, meaning, and purpose. A plurality of viewpoints pervaded Corinth, none of which provided an absolute view of truth. Some Greek believers passed their perspectives into the church. This desire to add human wisdom to truth caused a schism in the Corinthian church. Their central problem was the dislocation of Scripture as the main focus of viewpoint. Christians cannot permit themselves to divide over human perspectives.
The section running from 1:18-2:16 shows that the message was not exclusively for the intellectual (1:18-25), for few intellectuals are believers (1:26-31). Paul used the simple gospel to reach people (2:1-5). God’s wisdom comes by revelation, inspiration, and illumination (2:6-16).
The word “for” indicates why Paul did not come in the wisdom of words. Wisdom would ruin the content of the message. This is why there are two reactions to the cross. The cross always offends pluralism because its message is mutually exclusive.
the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
The word “message” means the content (revelation) of the cross, not the act of preaching the cross. The word translated as “message” is literally the word. God’s plan that Christ would die for our sins is foolishness to the non-Christian. God’s wisdom is the only true wisdom. The word “wisdom” occurs 13 times in 1:18 through chapter 3. The Holy Spirit sets divine wisdom over against human wisdom.
The first reaction to the cross is that it is “foolishness.” The cross was foolish because the cross in the Roman Empire was the lowliest form of punishment a person could undergo. Those who are in the process of perishing use human wisdom to appeal to human wisdom. There is nothing supernatural in it.
“Those who are perishing” are those in the process of going to hell. The idea behind “perishing” is the loss of well-being, not of being. The word does not carry the idea of extinction, but the idea is more qualitative, not quantitative.
Paul met a diversity of viewpoints when he came to Athens (Ac 17:18-21). When they heard of the resurrection, they sneered (Ac 17:32). The natural mind views the cross as unacceptable. Paul determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified when he came to Corinth (1 Co 2:2). Paul did not accommodate the truth to meet their need. They did not need one more opinion. The supernatural power of the cross would countervail the human viewpoint.
but to us who are being saved
Paul sets in sharp contrast those “who are being saved” to “those who are perishing.” Everyone falls into one of these two classes of people. Saving is strictly the work of God (passive voice). God is in the process of saving the saint.
it is the power of God.
The cross is the power of God to the believer. The cross is a high exhibition of God’s power. Paul contrasts “power” to “wisdom” of the previous clause. We would expect that Paul would say that the gospel is the “wisdom of God,” but he says it is the “power of God.” The gospel is more than a good suggestion but produces a dynamic effect, for it is fit to attain its end.
Ro 1:16, For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
Philosophy is inadequate to represent the message of the gospel.
We live in a pluralistic society. People prefer relativism to absolutes. To those of our day, no one has the truth. Twentieth-century pundits revel in opinion. All this rejects divine authority. The church today falls prey to the prevailing opinion of the day. Some so-called evangelicals adopt pluralism as their preferred belief, which means there is no objective truth. All perspectives are relative. They accommodate Scripture to prevailing opinion. This is worldliness. When the believer accepts some non-Christian philosophy as true, he inevitably exchanges the truth for a lie (Ro 1:25).
There are only two kinds of people, and the differentiating point between them is the cross. We understand this difference when we grasp the meaning of the cross. The cross indicates God has absolute righteousness and cannot compromise with sin. That condemns my righteousness. This is an offense to our pride and good works. We cannot obtain God’s wisdom through human cunning, for there is no compromise with the cross. This is the “offense of the cross.” It is offensive to those who perish that the cross is the only way to heaven.
1 Co 2:1, And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.