The believers at Corinth are commended by the apostle Paul in the first seventeen verses of chapter 1 for what they have and are in Christ. But in practical terms, they were rent with all kinds of divisions and personal loyalties. As we read on in the letter, their troubles unfold.
In verse 18 Paul begins to discuss his major theme in this New Testament letter – the wisdom of God contrasted with the foolishness of men. There is an interesting connection between the introduction, which ends with verse 17, and this new section on the wisdom and power of God beginning with verse 18. In verse 17 Paul speaks of the words of human wisdom. That would stick in the minds of his readers because the word he used, logos, was a powerful word. Then he finishes the verse and begins verse 18, “For the message of the cross – ” and although our New International Version says “message” at that point, the word is actually the same word – namely, the word word. Here it is in the singular. What Paul is saying is, “God did not send me with all of the different, competing, various words of human wisdom or philosophy, but with that single word, that word of the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation to anyone who believes.” That contrast sets up what he is going to do here.
I would like to give an outline for it. First, Paul shows the failure of human wisdom. Second, he shows the power of God’s foolishness. Third, he shows God’s choice of the foolish, and the weak, and the nobodies to confound the wise. And finally, he shows the implication of all of this theology for the preaching of the Gospel.
The first point he makes is really very significant, namely, the failure of human wisdom. This was particularly appropriate in writing to a Greek church in a Greek environment because if there was anything the Greeks prided themselves on, it was wisdom. They boasted in their philosophy. What Paul is showing here is that God has simply brought to nothing all of this vaunted wisdom of the world in order that by the simplicity of the Gospel, which the sophisticated of that day, and our day, and every day, call foolishness, God might actually save, in a powerful way, a people for the glory of his name.
Now, I do not think we have to go very far to show how foolish the foolishness of the world is. The world has its philosophies, its science, and its careful investigations. But the foolishness of all these things is shown in their inability to produce the kind of results that people hope and earnestly expect they will produce. There ought to be some kind of connection between wisdom and results. Wisdom is that which says, “From all of this information that I have gathered, all of these facts that I am putting together, I am able to see what is important and what is not important; and, on that basis of what I understand to be important, I am able to project what ought to be done.” If that is what wisdom is, then, again, there ought to be a connection between wisdom and the results.