First Mennonite Church
November 10, 2019
Fools for Christ
Text: 1Corinthians 1:18-31
It is natural for a person to never want to appear as a fool before others. We all like to think about ourselves as being wise, having good reasoning skills, and “having our feet on the ground.” And obviously, it is a noble thing to be wise. However, it is obvious from our passage that there are two kinds of wisdom, the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. The wisdom of men is that kind of worldly wisdom that more or less men have been living by since the beginning of human history. Some of the best capsules of human wisdom are exemplified in the following: “Charity begins at home,” “God helps those who help themselves,” “Business is business,” “Everybody has a life to live,” “The early birds get the worm,” “A penny saved is a penny earned,” and so forth. We also know what happens when people become strict followers of any particular aphorisms: it can lead them to be ruthless or indifferent to others. Remember Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite each had a life to live, therefore, they could not stop to assist someone in need. There are people who because of their philosophy about life, cannot go any further than saying, “I am so sorry” to a person in need, even when they have the means to help.
Wisdom. The world defines what wisdom, strength, and courage are. The world knows when it sees it too. And so we hear such sayings as: “Might makes right; nice guys always end up losing.” “Don’t snooze or you’ll lose.” “Tough times never last but tough people do.” According to the world, if you live by any of these principles, you will make your dreams come true. If you keep pushing the envelope, you’ll get the gold. That is wisdom and power according to the world.
The location of the words for our passage of today, within the letter, is very important for us to take notice of. The Corinthian church was awash of all kinds of problems. Paul wanted to address some troubling moral and doctrinal issues the Corinthian church had. The Corinthian church was composed of people coming from a cosmopolitan city where religious ideas and wealth converged. Corinth was described as a city “lacking charm and grace” and where greed turned those who were powerful into abusers of the weak. Corinth was called the “Sin City.”
Based on the issues Paul wanted to address in the Corinthian church reveal that the Christian community had not been impermeable to the culture, worldview, and practices that surrounded it. The culture of the city of Corinth, where the strongest survived and weak was walked upon, and where the smart ones beat the rules, was clearly visible in the life of the church as well. For instance, the wealthy celebrated their own Lord’s Supper, disregarding those who did not have a bite to eat. Those with influence and power did not mind taking their fellow brothers and sister to the court and where a young man lived with his father’s wife. Some, among the Corinthian church, were indeed living according to the wisdom and power of the world around them. But the worst of it was that the church, as a whole, did not seem to know any better way. That was why from the very outset of his letter Paul wanted to lay down the foundation of what it meant to be a follower of Christ. Paul wanted to show the Corinthians the immense contrast there should be between those who live according to the world and those who have embraced the message of the cross of Christ.
The Message of the Cross
Paul set it clear before the Corinthians: 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. Paul was embarking on a reeducation process with the Corinthians. Everything that would come from Paul in the way of addressing the troubling issues within the Corinthian church would derive from this principle. The message of the cross will sound like foolishness and like weakness to those who do not believe. But for those who pledge to follow Christ and who get the full grasp of what God had done and continues to do through Christ, the message of the cross is God’s wisdom and power! The message of the cross of Christ turns the world upside down because God chooses the weak and the foolish to shame the wise and to shame the strong, according to the world.
I need to clarify something here. Paul was not disparaging wisdom and human knowledge, per se. Often times this passage has been used to devalue and discourage formal education because of the idea that faith is above all kinds of human knowledge. That was not what Paul was talking about. You see, the temptation we as Christians have is to believe that salvation is achieved by having the right belief system or by having the right understanding of the Bible. That, too, falls under the wisdom of the world. Paul knew so well that the Corinthians had believed the message of the gospel. Yet, his concern was that they have not been able to demonstrate the distinction of being a follower of Christ. At the very beginning of the letter Paul writes:
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
When Paul addressed the Corinthians as “those sanctified and called to be his holy people” he was referring to the visible distinction expected of them as God’s holy people. But the Corinthians believers were clearly not living according to that expectation. Therefore, Paul wanted to teach them the basics of the gospel.
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, says Paul. And God demonstrated the ultimate proof of that through the One whom he sent. To the Greek, the message that Jesus, the Son of God, died on a cross was utter foolishness. In the mind of the Greeks of Paul’s times, the idea of a god suffering was beyond comprehension. Gods do not suffer. Gods never die. Therefore, Jesus the Son of God dying on a Roman cross was just nonsense. To the Jews, Jesus’ death was a national disgrace. How could someone who dies on a cross, the ultimate example of someone cursed by God, still claim to be God’s anointed one and the Savior? That was scandalous! For the Romans, Jesus’ death was nothing more than the result of what happens to anyone who dares to challenge the status quo. Seditionists are publicly displayed, half-naked, and hanging from a cross as a lesson for others who might think of doing what Jesus did.
But God chose to demonstrate his power through what seems to some as foolishness and to others as scandalous or a stumbling block. God chooses what the world considers weak and foolish to show his power and his wisdom.
The question for us is:
What kind of wisdom and power are we holding to? I am sure if we listen to how Paul would help us answer this question he would tell us, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
When we follow Christ—God’s ultimate example of a fool, we cannot but look like little fools to the world. When we love the way Christ loved, we give not only what we have but ourselves to others. When we follow Christ who came to serve instead of seeking to be served, we do not hesitate to be kind to others, do the dirty work, drive the extra mile, share our bread with hungry, weep with the one who weeps, look for the interest of others, bear with patience the imprudence of others, etc. A fool for Christ is not known for what he believes, but for how he or she lives. Jesus describes such fools when he said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for, in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5: 3-12)
The world would consider the Beatitudes as utter foolishness. But Jesus would say to us, “Blessed are those who the world considers foolish.” Let us be fools for Christ.
 J. Paul Sampley, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. X, 1Corinthians. Nashville Abington Press, 2002 p 775