1 Corinthians 1:18 ‘The word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness’

April 2, 2017 by David Farmer 0 comments

Posted in: Weekly Commentary

This Week’s Focus Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:18

‘The word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness’     

This word of the cross; just what is it, and why would it be foolishness to any of the sons of men? What does foolishness involve? How may we recognize it? In ourselves? In others? How do people determine if they are being given a pure line of bologna? Is there some clue that will betray for us whether what we are being told and expected to believe is really only an ‘urban legend’? And what is the faculty; or what are the faculties, by which we may separate truth from fiction; reality from unreality; a demonstrable truth from the foolishness of men? Paul has, here in this letter to the church at Corinth, in these few brief, but terse, expressions, set forward several striking things; items for serious contemplation to the reader, or hearer.

Central in the statement, not surprisingly coming from Paul, is the cross. This statement has something extremely important to say about the cross. We know from the context that the cross of which he speaks is the cross of Jesus Christ. The previous verse refers to the ‘cross of Christ.’ This cross was the instrument employed by the Romans for capital punishment; for the execution of criminals. Paul is speaking of the word of the cross. The word of the cross would seem, most naturally, to be a reference to the gospel of Jesus Christ, for this is most assuredly that which the cross is all about; that is indeed the glad tidings. But wait a minute; the gospel, the word of the cross, is not glad tidings to all that hear it. That is the whole point of what Paul is saying here in our focus passage. These ‘glad tidings’ are to very many ‘foolishness’ and not glad tidings. But why is that so? Why is this word foolishness?

We should raise the question to ourselves, just how does Paul’s word of the cross constitute ‘glad tidings’ at all? What is the gospel? The gospel is the answer, is it not, to the question, how can man be just with God? This question of Job’s actually contains the answer to our earlier question as to why the gospel is not glad tidings to many; likely for the most part, because they believe themselves to be just, just as they are, without the necessity of anything beyond themselves. Therefore, they consider the preaching of the gospel, the word of the cross, foolishness. Who needs it? The irony is that these natural sons of Adam are the fools. Their very understanding is foolishness. And they cannot see that it is because they refuse to look in the mirror. But with their back to the mirror, deceived by their own folly, they declare that the very idea that the One would die for the many to be foolishness.

Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.

(We should carefully and humbly remember to) look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged.

There was a time, most likely, in our lives that we held the same view about the cross as these express, of whom Paul speaks. We are all by nature children of wrath. We are absolutely helpless; we can do nothing. God must change us or we remain the same.

“This power or ability can be produced by no other but the Spirit of God. And that because it requires Omnipotency to the producing of it; and there is none almighty but He. None but He that could make a world bring light out of darkness, raise the dead, can do this. Indeed the Spirit of God in these works finds only impotency in the subject, but not resistance; whereas here He meets with not only a total debility in the creature to join with Him in it, but also a malignant opposition to it; there being nothing which the heart of man is more averse to than coming to Christ and believing Him.”—Samuel Willard.

It is this very resistance; this malignant opposition, that is behind a man declaring the word of the cross to be foolishness.

‘A fool is one who acts without counsel, and whose will is too hard for his understanding; he hath no reason for what he doth, but because he hath a mind to do it.’-Caryl. Well may it be said that foolishness is diametrically opposed to prudence; it is its precise opposite. The fool doesn’t truly act ‘without counsel,’ but it is the case with the fool, that he has made himself his own, and only, counsellor. And his will is too hard for his understanding because he has hardened it; surrounded it by his own selfish, or self-righteous misunderstanding. His understanding cannot affect his will simply because they are in agreement with one another; they are friends; they walk side by side, as it were. Caryl’s summary remark, I believe, supports this idea, ‘he hath no reason for what he doth, but because he hath a mind to do it.’ In today’s popular vernacular, ‘I’m worth it.’ William Wilson defines the fool rather pithily as ‘One who is not delighted with understanding.’ And the author of Ecclesiastes tells us even more succinctly, ‘Foolishness is madness,’ in 7:25; and in 10:13, ‘the end of his talk is mischievous madness.’

                But rather than pillorying these deluded souls, we should compassionate them, remembering, For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? It is only the grace of God given us that makes us to differ from these foolish persons, and to differ from the fools that we once were ourselves. What do we have that we once did not have? What do we have that these poor foolish people do not have? Listen carefully to the words of our Savior in Mark 7:22;

For from within, out of the heart of men, evil thoughts proceed, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetings, wickednesses, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, railing, pride, AND YES, foolishness.

Foolishness proceeds from the heart; this is the teaching of Christ. Foolishness is bound up in the child. That which makes us to differ is the new heart. What these folk need is a new heart, and the foolishness would be overcome. What can we do? We can pray for these fools that God would give them a new heart to see Christ.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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