For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1:18-25).
Do you see Paul wondering similar things here? “Where is the one who is wise?” When I look around I see a bunch of people like me. I see people that like to consider themselves wise, but truly wise men, I have met few.
I would like to say that when someone becomes a Christian we automatically see all of God’s actions for the wisdom that they are. I would like to say that I understand everything that God is doing. But I do not think that is what Paul is saying here, and I do not think that is the message of the Bible. I do not think that God gave us His Word so that we can say, “Oh, now I get it.” Instead, Paul says “in the wisdom of God, the world DID NOT KNOW GOD THROUGH WISDOM.” But instead, “it pleased God through the FOLLY of what we preach to save those who believe.” To be honest, I do not get it. I do not know why God did not write his Gospel in a universal language on every tree that grew out of the ground. He has legions of angels, why not have them bring the message? Surely more people would believe angels. But God does not even address this question, he does not explain why his methods are wise.
The Wisdom in Submission
Instead of a persuasive explanation, this passage is a call to submission. Paul says, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” In order for us to be saved we have to give up on the idea that we are wise. We have to give up on the idea that we know what is best, or at least a better way. Jesus Christ, dying on the cross, and then giving the message of the Gospel to a bunch of fishermen, is the wisdom of God. Sending out men and women all across the world to places where they do not even speak the same language, is the wisdom of God. And God specifically chose this way of salvation, in part, because he knew that it would look foolish. He knew that our proud hearts would want to reject it. And therefore, the only way to accept it is to be humbled. The only way to be saved is to trust God, to believe that he knows what he is doing, and to believe that he knows better than us. And if you resist this idea of submission, and do not find yourself drawing closer to God, do not be surprised. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
I think this call to submission gets garbled in American culture. We try so hard to reach out to our culture in a way that is reasonable and winsome that I think sometimes we present a Gospel that is more logical than biblical. However, I do not think my neighbors in Cameroon have any problem seeing us as foolish. We come into their village and have no idea how to talk like an adult, cook normal food, and I cannot even carry stuff on my head! One of our linguistics professors said that God confused the languages so completely at Babel in part so that missionaries would stay humble. And after spending a few years in the village I am used to people looking at me like I am an idiot. But for my neighbors to come to Christ, they have to reject parts of their culture and worldview. They have to be willing to tell their family members “no” when asked to participate in their cultic practices. And for them to do so is stupid, dangerous even, in the eyes of their families. But when they do, when they submit to the wisdom of God, they have a peace that is beyond understanding. It is a peace that comes only to those who can finally say that they do not have it all figured out. It is a peace that only comes with salvation.
This is a message that never gets old. It is a message that we need to meditate on. We are fools, and only in Christ is there wisdom. I do not always understand why God does things, but there is one thing I know for sure: I can trust him. Let us pray with that desperate father in Mark 9:24: “I believe; help my unbelief!”