The Foolishness of the Cross
When we study 1 Corinthians, it’s important to remember the context and the background of the letter. The city of Corinth was one of the major trade centers in the Ancient Roman Empire. Their culture was very tied to status, usually gained through things like money, power, artistic ability, or even public speaking. In fact, the Romans loved public speaking so much that it was highly regarded as one of the most respectable and profitable professions at the time. They loved public speaking so much that many court cases were decided by who had the most persuasive public speaker, rather than any evidence or legal reasoning.
Talented public speakers, therefore, were constantly followed by eager disciples who wanted to learn from and become as wealthy as their masters. The highly individualistic culture of Corinth had created a culture of celebrity that encouraged people to become wealthy and powerful through your individual abilities, and that was the highest form of human expression and value.
It is in this context that Apostle Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for creating a celebrity culture even within the church in 1 Corinthians 1. When they fought with one another over which public speaker was better or was more impressive, Paul tells them that he did not intend to create disciples by preaching eloquently or using fanciful language. Rather, he insists that “…God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” in verse 25.
In the same way that the Corinthians were mixing Roman values with Christ’s values, I think the Christian church in America looks far more like America than it does like Jesus. In almost every single church I’ve ever visited, there is an almost unanimous belief that what will save America is powerful Christians. We applaud and platform the biggest stars and loudest voices. We love to celebrate the talented artists and athletes who happen to call themselves Christians. We encourage our children to get good jobs and make lots of money and be successful so they look good to the rest of the world.
But I believe this is precisely why the church has become so ineffectual and anemic today. We have chosen to try and spread the gospel of Jesus by using the “wisdom of the world” as Paul calls it, rather than “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and Foolishness to the Gentiles.” (v. 23) We serve a God who chose to save the world through his willing death on a cross. I’m not sure what Christians are going to accomplish for the kingdom of God by having Christians at the highest levels of government power or in the highest economic brackets.
I’m not saying that worldly success is a negative or bad thing. However, Apostle Paul makes it clear in this passage that trying to preach the gospel of Jesus by using the wisdom of the world is a futile endeavor, bound to failure. If the cross doesn’t make sense to the world, then the way that Christians approach our evangelism and outreach should also not make sense to the world in the same way. May we all be better imitators of the crucified lamb of God. I pray that our church will be filled with people who will seek after the way of the Cross above all else in their lives. Only when we allow the foolishness of the cross to be our guide in life will we truly be able to call ourselves true disciples.
Rev. Kevin Lee