1 Corinthians 1:18-25
God Shames the Wise with His Own Brand of “Foolishness”
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Nothing else in the New Testament mirrors these words from the prophet (some seven hundred years prior) better than these written by the Apostle Paul in this letter.
In this passage, Paul compares God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom. Now concerning the wisdom of man, Paul is not here speaking of that wisdom in the Book of Proverbs or Job or even the Scriptures as a whole, because the Bible is God’s wisdom and not man’s. Paul is speaking here specifically of the Greeks, that ancient people who are credited with forging the path of that which goes by the name of wisdom (or philosophy) in the Western world; you know, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and that bunch. And although the Greeks may have reached the height of man’s wisdom on earth, Paul makes it clear that they were woefully ignorant of the wisdom that saves. As Paul wrote in Romans, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools,” trading the glory of the immortal God for idols, and the natural relations between the sexes for dishonorable passions (1:18-32).
But God’s wisdom crushes man’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is the preaching of the cross—a scandal to the Jews and just plain foolishness to the Greeks: Worshiping a condemned criminal who died so shamefully and calling him God? What nonsense! Yes, and it is precisely this nonsense—God’s foolishness—that puts to shame all of man’s pride and vainglory. The cross openly displays man’s depraved nature as it was he who put the One who came to save man on the cross. Moreover, the cross exhibits the utter inability of man to save himself as he is completely powerless to tell good from evil, and even more powerless to do the good if he could identify it in the first place. At the same time, the cross shows God’s amazing grace and love for sinful man as His Son takes man’s place and bears man’s sin. And it is this cross upon which hung God’s Christ that only has the power to save.
In short, the wisdom produced by the darkened mind of man doesn’t even deserve the name of wisdom when compared to God’s wisdom, which is the cross. And God now calls His own to live by that cross. Yes, God’s thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours. Plato didn’t think of this; Aristotle never even considered it. But God did. And he calls it, “wisdom.”