Back

LESSON 3 - THE LORD OF GLORY, NOT GLORIOUS WORDS
(1 CORINTHIANS 1:18--2:16)

Copr. 1998, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.  All Scripture references are to
the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984
International Bible Society,  unless otherwise noted. Quotations
from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes
the teacher uses a blackboard.

INTRODUCTION:  Last week, we jumped ahead to study chapter 3 of 1
Corinthians, because it developed the issue of divisions in the
church that was introduced in chapter 1.

This week, we do something similar.  We look at a very interesting
discussion of wisdom and power that begins in chapter 1 and
continues in chapter 2. Let's see what we can learn about being
wise and powerful!

I. PAUL v. PROVERBS: WHO WINS ON WISDOM?

     A. Read 1 Corinthians 1:17-20. Remember that v.17 is the last
     text in a series that deal with the problem of factions in the
     Corinthian church.

          1. Do you see any relationship between verse 17 and the
          preceding discussion of divisions?

          2. What does Paul's discussion of factions have to do
          with "wisdom" and "intelligence?"

          3. Let's step back from church leaders for a moment. Do
          you prize wisdom and intelligence in secular leaders?

          4. Now let's apply that to the church. Is the same true
          for church leaders?  Do you prize wisdom and intelligence
          in church leaders?

               a. Have you ever said (with regard to church
               management), "Let's get the preachers out of there
               and bring in (accountants, lawyers, businessmen)
               who know what they are doing in business!

                    (1) Care to defend your words?

     B. Proverbs 2:10 says, "For wisdom will enter your heart, and
     knowledge will be pleasant to your soul." A few verses later,
     in Proverbs 2:12 we read, "Wisdom will save you from the ways
     of wicked men ...." Proverbs 3:13, "Blessed is the man who
     finds wisdom ... for she is more profitable than silver and
     yields better returns than gold.  She is more precious than
     rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her."  These
     verses give you an insight into a major (if not THE) major
     theme of Proverbs.

          1. Does Paul need a remedial course in Proverbs?
 
          2. Can we reconcile Proverbs and the 1 Corinthians
          1:17-20 discourse on wisdom?

          3. If Proverbs 3:13 is correct in saying that wisdom
          saves us from the ways of evil men, how can Paul say (1
          Corinthians 1: 17) that wisdom empties the cross of its
          power? (Proverbs and Paul can be reconciled. Paul is not
          attacking all wisdom.  He is (v.20) attacking the "wisdom
          of the world.")

II. WISDOM: GOD'S v. MAN'S.

     A. Read 1 Corinthians 1:21-22. What are the two kinds of
     wisdom that we have to choose from? (Paul refers to "the
     wisdom of God" and the wisdom of "the world.")

     B. Are the examples in v.22 "worldly wisdom?"  Explain what
     you mean? (Jews were looking for examples of power. Greeks
     were looking for sage advice.)

          1. Didn't Jesus give both of those? Miracles and smart
          suggestions?

          2. Did Paul heal anyone?  Did he promote the gospel
          through miracles? (Yes. Acts 14:8-10)

          3. So what is Paul talking about here?

          4. Tell me how (v.21) it is the "wisdom of God" that the
          world did not know Him through worldly wisdom?

               a. I thought one of God's greatest desires was to
               have us know Him? (See Isaiah 11:9)

     C. Let's read on. 1 Corinthians 2:23-25. What is Paul
     preaching instead of miracles and smart suggestions? Draw this
     chart:
                         Jews                     Greeks

Looking for:             Miracles (signs)         Sage Advice

Got from Paul:           Cross                    Cross

     D. What was the result of giving Jews and Greeks the cross
     instead of what they sought? (It caused the Jews to stumble
     (v.23) and was foolishness to the Greeks (v.23). The word
     translated "stumbling block" means "scandal.")

          1. Why teach something that will cause others to stumble?
          Why teach something that is scandalous or seems foolish?

               a. Is Paul saying that all Jews and Greeks stumble
               over the cross? (No! Verse 24 tells us that those
               Jews and Greeks "who are called" will understand
               that the cross is power and wisdom.)
 
          2. Is it possible that man's goal (power and wisdom) and
          God's goal are the same, but God's path to the goal is
          different than man's path? (Paul distinguishes between
          man's ideas and God's ideas. He says (v.25) that he is
          preaching power and wisdom.  So he is preaching exactly
          what the Jews and Greeks are theoretically looking for.
          The problem is that he is preaching God's power and
          wisdom, while many are looking for man's version of power
          and wisdom. We will discuss this issue of being called to
          a different path more in a little bit.)

          3. Is there a lesson for us today in this idea that God's
          way is a scandal and foolishness to the world's thinking?
          (We should not try to fit the teachings of the Bible into
          the framework of our logic or our desires. We will come
          across teachings in this letter to the Corinthians which
          are directly at odds with the wisdom of the world.)

III. GOD'S WEAKNESS WISDOM
 
     A. Read vv. 26-31. Verse 27 says that God chose the "foolish,"
     and "weak" things. Does this refer to Christ?  Or does it
     refer to the Corinthians (and by extension, us)?

     B. If you say "Christ," remember that v. 24 says that Christ
     is the "power of God" and the "wisdom of God."

          1. In what way is Christ both the power and wisdom of
          God and at the same time "foolishness" and "weakness?"

               a. What was the "Jewish Goal" at the time that
               Christ came? (To be free and independent from the
               Romans.)

                    (1) Verse 22 tells us that the Jews were
                    looking for miracles. How would that further
                    their goal? (Someone who had that kind of
                    power might enable them to throw off the
                    Romans.)

          2. How was Jesus the complete opposite of what they
          hoped for?  (He was killed by the Romans in the most
          cruel way they could devise. It was not only a "defeat,"
          it was an embarrassing defeat!)

     C. Does this mean that since Paul is preaching something that
     runs counter to man's understanding, that we cannot expect to
     convert those "in the world?" (Verse 24 says "those whom God
     called, both Jews and Greeks" will understand.)

     D. Friend, I think we have a mystery here. God has an
     apparently "upside down" (in man's eyes) path to power and
     wisdom.  The path to power seems to be "foolishness,"
     "weakness," "lowliness" and lack of respect. (vv. 27-28)

          1. How do you like that?

          2. If you dislike that "path" (as I assume you do), does
          that mean your heart is not converted?  Or that I am
          leading you down the path of incorrect interpretation?

          3. Remember I promised you to come back to the idea of
          being "called" (and the different "paths" to wisdom and
          power)? If we can understand the nature of the "path" of
          God's wisdom, then I think we are being "called" or at
          least we are answering the "call.")

     E. Verse 30 says that Christ is "wisdom from God." How does
     Jesus illustrate God's "route" to power and wisdom?

          1. Notice v.29 says, "so that no one may boast before
          Him."  Does this give us a clue about God's philosophy of
          power and wisdom?

               a. Does this have anything to do with righteousness
               by faith?

               b. Does this have anything to do with Gideon's
               story? (Bingo! The common theme is that God's path
               to power and wisdom is to give ourselves up to Him,
               to trust Him and not ourselves. Jesus gave Himself
               up for us. Judges 7 (Gideon's battle), along with
               the entire book of Judges, shows us that God wants
               no doubt about who won the victory.  Therefore, He
               takes the lowly things of this life to defeat the
               most powerful forces on the earth. As a result, we
               will (v.31) say "Let him who boasts boast in the
               Lord.")

                    (1) Why does God want us to trust Him and not
                    ourselves?

IV. PRACTICAL APPLICATION

     A. Read 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Paul says (v.1) that he did not
     come with "eloquence or superior wisdom."

          1. Do you like good speakers or bad speakers? Interesting
          speakers or boring speakers?

               a. Is Paul lobbying for preachers to be poor
               speakers?

          2. Did Paul come with wisdom that was superior to that of
          the Corinthians? Is he right when he says he did not?
          (v.1) (Of course Paul had superior wisdom. He understood
          the gospel and they did not.)

               a. So what is Paul talking about? (The fact that we
               KNOW he cannot mean that the Corinthians had equal
               or "superior wisdom," reveals that he must be
               talking to us about another kind of "wisdom."
               Remember our two paths to wisdom and power? Paul is
               saying that he did not come to them with superior
               human wisdom. I believe he is saying that the focus
               of his message was not his speaking "prowess" or
               his display of "wisdom."  The focus of his message
               was not the way he said it, but what he said.  The
               focus of his message was (v.2) "Jesus Christ and
               him crucified."

               b. What is wrong with trying to impress the
               Corinthians with his human wisdom and education?
               (The human wisdom message is "See how smart I am."
               Some people write to convey a message.  Others
               write to convey to you how smart they are. You can
               easily see this contrast when comparing newspapers
               and  popular magazines with so-called "scholarly"
               magazines. (Which cater to the "publish or perish"
               needs of college professors.)  The goal of the
               newspaper is to convey a message.  The worst
               example is when a popular publication forgets its
               goal is communication.  A graphic (nearly humorous)
               example is found on page 30 of the most recent
               (Jan/Feb'98) issue of LIBERTY magazine. If you have
               it, look at the third paragraph of the first
               column.)

               c. What impact would an effort on Paul's part to
               impress the people of Corinth with his education
               have on the problem (of divisions) that we
               discussed last week? (The message, "See how smart I
               am," is completely contrary to his message (last
               week) not to look to human leaders and his message
               (this week) that God works through weakness.)

          3. Does that mean that your pastor should stop trying to
          improve his speaking skills? (No! The pastor's
          communication skills should be the best they can be. The
          "point" of the sermon should not be the "skills," but the
          message of the Bible.)

          4. What does Paul say made him a persuasive speaker? (v.4
          The Spirit's power was demonstrated.)

               a. How does that "fit" into his message of power
               through weakness? (God is the power and not man.)

               b. Since Paul just suggested (1 Corinthians 1:22)
               that miraculous signs were not given to the Jews,
               how do you think the Spirit manifested its power
               through Paul? (I think this will become clearer,
               later. Let's move on.)

     B. Read 1 Corinthians 2:6-10. Why do the "rulers of this age"
     not understand God's message (v.8)?

          1. Why is it a "hidden" "secret" (v.7)?

          2. If the leaders cannot understand it, if it is a
          mystery, how are we supposed to be able to understand it?
          (v.10 "God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.")

               a. Is that the "Spirit's power" Paul refers to in
               v.4? (I think so.)

               b. How do you get that "Spirit power" to understand?

               c. How does your pastor get that "Spirit power" in
               the sermon? (Read vv. 11-12. God gives us His
               Spirit "freely" so that we may understand His will.
               Paul would say that the Pastor should spend more
               time asking the Spirit to convey his message than
               in polishing his speaking skills.)

     C. Does this mean that those who are "called," those who are
     leaders, do not have "power and wisdom?"  They have only
     weakness, lowliness and foolishness? (This is THE POINT! If we
     grab hold of God's wisdom and power. If we always remember
     that any success is the result of God's wisdom and power. If
     we point to God's wisdom and power.  If we determine to
     utilize God's wisdom and power; we will have (1:25) power and
     wisdom that is greater than any possessed by any man on earth!
     No rivalry among church leaders. No rivalry among church
     members. All look to the power and wisdom that comes
     exclusively from God.)

     D. Friend, if God works through weakness, and the power of His
     Spirit is available to all who ask, are you fully qualified to
     do great things for God?
 

V. NEXT WEEK: "Paul, Called to be an Apostle." Study 1 Corinthians
chapters 4 and 9! eaders. No rivalry among church
     members. All look to the power and wisdom that comes
     exclusively from God.)

     D. Friend, if God works through weakness, and the power of His
     Spirit is available to all who ask, are you fully qualified to
     do great things for God?
 

V. NEXT WEEK: "Paul, Called to be an Apostle." Study 1 Corinthians
chapters 4 and 9!