|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1998|
|The church of Corinth, because of their fleshly living, were much divided, and it was because they weren’t living attached to Christ. They were attaching themselves to men. That was their problem. Paul is saying to them, “The fallacy of attaching yourself to me. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. There’s a fallacy in it.”|
1 Corinthians 1:17-20
The church of Corinth, because of their fleshly living, were much divided, and it was because they weren’t living attached to Christ. They were attaching themselves to men. That was their problem. There are two points that I want to cover this time. First of all, Paul is saying, “The fallacy of attaching yourself to me. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. There’s a fallacy in it.” Let me show you what it is. You see, all of these men had a message. Remember that. You wouldn’t attach yourself to Paul if he didn’t have a message. He wasn’t a great athlete or anything like that, he was a great preacher of the day, as were Cephas and Apollos. Christ’s message, of course, is what we all embrace. They had a message.
Now, think with me. What is Paul saying in verse 17? He says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.” Paul points to the fact that he’s been commissioned, not to baptize, now listen, but to preach the gospel. That’s another nail. But let me just hit another nail here. If baptism is a part of the salvation message, why does Paul say, “I’m not called to baptize but to preach the gospel”? You see, you’d have to put baptism into the gospel for it to be a part of the salvation message.
The word “send” is the same word we’ve seen earlier in the book. It’s the word used back when he calls himself an apostle in verse 1. He uses the word apostello. This is the word that comes right out of it. In verse 1 you find he was sent to preach; in verse 17 you find what he was sent to preach. His message, which was what people were using to separate themselves unto God, is the very thing that he uses to prove that men should never be put on a pedestal. Stay with me. It’s very subtle. Don’t let me lose you. By saying what he says here he’s showing you why you never put your faith into man. You put Christ where He belongs. Look at the verse again. “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech.”
You’ve got to understand who we’re dealing with here. This man, the apostle Paul, could take an auditorium and pack it out every single night, five hours at a shot. This man was an eloquent speaker. This man was educated. This man had integrity, had something to say, and when he stood up he immediately drew people to him.
Look over in Acts 14:11. There was a lame man at Lystra who was healed, and the pagan people of that area made a statement about the apostle Paul. You’ve got to see this. There are many men who can stand up and preach with intellect, with education, etc., but never put those men up, and I’ll tell you why. Because the message they’re preaching, if it’s not God’s message, absolutely says nothing and will do nothing of eternal value in your life. “And when the multitudes saw what Paul had done [this is when the lame man had been healed], they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have become like men and have come down to us.’” Look at verse 12, “And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.”
Who in the world was Hermes? Hermes is the name for Mercury in Greek mythology. In Greek mythology, Mercury was the son of Hercules and was the eloquent, educated messenger of the gods. In other words, when Hermes or Mercury would speak, he was the greatest of all the orators of that day. And everybody was wooed and wowed in their mythology and their thinking of that day. Look at what they say. They say, “This man is super! He’s Mercury and has come back to visit us.” He was such a great speaker, an orator, with education and with intellect when he would speak. The pagan people of Lystra actually thought it was the mythological god of Hermes or Mercury. “He was the chief speaker,” Acts 14:12 says. So, though Paul was educated, clever and full of wisdom, as far as man was concerned, the message that Paul would preach outside of the message of Christ would absolutely pale from nonexistence.
What Paul is saying is, “You don’t ever put your faith into a man.” There was a time in Paul’s life when he did not know this message. This message didn’t come from Paul. This message came from God. He was not sent because of his own choice. He was sent because of the choice of God, by the will of God, to be a speaker of the message, the gospel of Jesus Christ. And this message was wisdom that would come from above in contrast to the wisdom that could come from eloquent and educated men of that day, you see. Man’s wisdom was nothing compared to God’s wisdom. Paul is saying, “Just because I’m speaking a message to you and you like the way I speak don’t you dare put me up there. It is not my message. It is not me. It is in demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit of God.”
Well, look at 1 Corinthians 1:17 again, “For Christ did not sent me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech [Why is it not in cleverness of speech? Look at the last phrase], that the cross of Christ should not be made void.” I’ll tell you, folks. This is sobering when you think about it. If we could be saved through the eloquence and education of man, then all humanity would nullify the gospel which is synonymous with the cross of Christ. It would be made void. The word means to be emptied out. Boy, I’ll tell you that really convicts me. He’s saying that if all it takes is the ability to speak well, if all it takes is education, etc., and a man could get up and people could get saved then automatically it would nullify the message of the cross. You see, there are a lot of people who can get up and speak well and people are enamored with the speaker but they still walk out the door and die and go to Hell. He’s saying, “The message I’m preaching doesn’t come from me. It comes from God so don’t ever put me up here. I wasn’t smart enough to understand it until God stopped me on the Damascus Road. I didn’t understand it until God saved me. Now He’s commissioned me to take it to this world. Don’t you ever put me up here; Christ belongs up here.”
Did you realize the message of the cross is something that’s repulsive to the educated man of this day? They can’t stand it. As a matter of fact, they don’t even like considering one of the hymns that says, “For such a worm as I.” They want to change that because it somehow devalues humankind. The cross is something that the human logic cannot figure out. They exclude it in their mind. The cross is a glorious message, but it’s a gory message of how the Son of God died and bled and suffered on a cross because of our sins. Take all of our education, take all of our eloquence, take all of our good deeds of righteousness and they’re nothing more than filthy rags in God’s eyes. Jesus had to come and die for us as sinners and that’s a message the educated world today absolutely is repulsed by. There’s nothing in it that they want to hear.
Therefore, when you stand up in man’s wisdom, just by the very fact that you’re standing up with your message of what you want to say to people rather than God’s message and what He wants to say to people, it nullifies the whole message. It nullifies the cross of Christ. People don’t like to hear about the blood that was shed. Hebrews 9:22 says, “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Do you see what Paul is saying? He’s saying, “There was a day when I did not embrace that message. There was a day when I myself lived foolishly as an educated man, rejecting that message. But today I understand the difference. And to put a man like me up there on that pedestal is absolutely absurd. The message didn’t come from me. The message came from Him, and it changed me and it will change you. But it’s not me in my education. It’s not me in my eloquence. It’s God working through me a message that he came up with. I didn’t come up with it.”
Charles Spurgeon once said this about the futile attempts of man to either duplicate God’s creation or to somehow enhance it. “Foolish man would paint the rose and enamel the lily trying to make it better, add whiteness to snow and brightness to the sun, [and I like this one] with their retched candles, they would try to help us see the stars. The cross of Christ is sublimely simple. To adorn it is to dishonor it.” Take all of the accolades you want to take of man’s wisdom and try to add to it. You can’t add to it. It’s just a simple message. We’re sinners, hell-bound, and Jesus Christ became man, died on a cross for our sins, resurrected the third day, ascended, was glorified and is the only way of salvation. You can’t adorn it. You can’t help it. It’s just left like it is. It’s God’s message. That’s the message Paul preached. He didn’t use all his background to fill in with. He just preached what God had put on his heart. Therefore, he said, “Don’t ever put me up here. Don’t ever put me up here.”
Paul goes on to explain the saving power of the message of the cross. Look at verse 18. He says, “For the word of the cross [which is the message God has given to him, so don’t attach yourself to me] is to those who are perishing foolishness [exactly what we just said], but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Now listen to me carefully. They saw the cross as a victory. In other words, when Jesus died on the cross in the pagan man’s mind they thought, “Good. We’re rid of Him.” The cross was a just penalty for a futile and reckless life. When they saw the people hanging on the cross, they knew well they deserved what they got. When Jesus died on the cross, they saw it as victory. They saw the whole message as being foolish.
But Paul said, “The message of the cross.” Have you come across this in your study of Scripture? When the definite article is used it’s very significant. I could lay a pen down on this desk and say, “Pick up a pen.” You could just look around, there are several pens, and just pick up this one. Big deal. But I could use the definite article and say, “Pick up that black pen, that specific black pen with a little gold on it.” You would reach over and pick up that pen. That’s a definite article. They looked at a cross, but Paul looked at the cross and the man who died on it. That’s the difference in the message, you see. They couldn’t see the difference. They didn’t realize who it was who died on it. They didn’t realize it wasn’t because of His sin, it was because of their sin. So it’s foolishness. It’s absurd to those who do not believe.
They live in a world that thinks it’s going to get better. Have you heard that lately? It’s all going to get better. All we’ve got to do is keep on doing what we’re doing. Take care of the environment. Take care of the animals. Take care of all these things. Get the ozone layer leveled out and everything’s going to be better. But you come to the Word of God, and you see it’s not going to get any better. God is such a holy God He even considered Heaven not to be completely pure. Therefore, there’s going to be a new Heaven and a new earth. Who in Heaven today accuses the brethren day by day? Satan himself. God is so holy He’s not going to let this world stay like it is. It’s not going to get better, folks. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. He is going to come back and give us the new heaven and earth, yes, but not in the existence of how we’re headed right now. “For the word of the cross,” he says, “is to those who are perishing foolishness.” The word “perishing” is in the middle voice. The idea is they’re perishing because of their own choice. It’s not a matter of just dying. That’s not what he’s talking about. Those who are perishing are heading headlong into hell and they’re doing it by their own choice. Do you know why? Because they take the wisdom of the world and reject the wisdom of God. Therefore, because of their own choosing they are perishing, middle voice. It has that idea.
“For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness [look at what it says], but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The word dunamis is the word that means force that initiates change. Boy, when you preach the word of the cross, the gospel of Jesus Christ, unbelievers can get saved because they realize they’re sinners and there’s no hope except that Christ came to die for them. Believers can be delivered from the power of sin because they can take their identity with Jesus, deny self and say yes to Jesus. Also we have the hope that one day we’ll get a brand new body and be delivered from the very presence of sin. When you preach the cross it is to us power. It’s ability. It effects change in our life. But to those who don’t believe, it does not.
One day Benjamin Franklin was talking to the great atheist of the day who wrote The Power of Reason. This atheist said to him, “Benjamin, what do you think about the Bible?” Benjamin Franklin said back to him, “Listen, those who spit into the wind, spit into their own face.” I thought that was a good answer. You don’t believe the Bible, buddy? You will one day, but it’s going to be too late because everything you’re throwing out at it is going to come right back to haunt you one day. Your wisdom that you think is so smart, compared to God’s wisdom and the message of the cross and the gospel, is absolutely contrasted in such a way that one day you be overwhelmed by it. You spit into the wind and you spit right back into your face.
The Gentiles saw the cross as foolishness. However, to those who believe, it’s the power of God and salvation. I told you it was subtle. You’ve got to stay with me. What is Paul saying? He’s saying, “This is the message that I preach. Now, where did it come from? Did it come as a result of my seminary training? Did it come as a result of all the years of growing up in an educated family? Where did it come from? It didn’t come from him. It came from God. And because it came from God, don’t you ever put me on a pedestal because the very message I preach and have been changed by is not my message. It’s His message and I must preach it in demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit of God.”
That’s a good word for us today, isn’t it? You hear a good preacher on the radio and you say, “Man, I’m going to buy every tape he has. I’m going to buy every book he’s put out.” That’s wonderful. That’s fine. But, my friend, don’t you ever put that man on a pedestal and don’t you ever start being enamored by his wisdom; because his wisdom apart from the demonstration of the Spirit of God in his life is not worth a plugged nickel when it comes to eternity. If there’s anything good about that man and anything good about what that man says, you take it and give praise to God and keep Jesus up where He belongs. You appreciate the man, but you praise Him because if you don’t, you’ll attach yourself to that man and when that man is wrong, and I’ll guarantee you he’ll be wrong sometime, somewhere down the road you’ll become so exclusive of the body of Christ, the pain that you’re going to reek within the body, it’s going to be overwhelming to you. Be real careful what you’re doing. Be real careful.
Let me ask you a question. Who is it or what is it in your life that you feel like is so right has already caused you to make a choice to exclude somebody else in the body of Christ? I guarantee you if you’ll just be honest with yourself, there are many of us who have already fallen in this trap. We’ve dethroned Christ. We’ve either put a man or a message up there and we’ve forgotten who’s the focus of our life.
Let me give you just a real personal example. Some people are those who are of public school. Now listen carefully to what I’m saying. Some people are those who are of Christian school. Some people are those who are of home school. I applaud all three groups as long as it’s a conviction of your heart that that’s where you ought to be. But, my friend, if your conviction ever gets to the point that you exclude somebody else in the body of Christ, you have dethroned Christ and put your conviction ahead of Him. That’s exactly what’s going on in the church of Corinth. I say that with all the love in my heart, without any kind of agenda whatsoever. But come on, man, put Christ back up there and Christ will cause you to be inclusive, not exclusive of other believers. Our message is a person: it’s Christ. And He’ll tell you what to do and you do what He tells you to do, but you don’t do it excluding everybody else in the meantime. Don’t put your conviction, your message or your messenger up where Jesus belongs in your life or you have made a terrible mistake and you’re rendering and ripping and tearing the very body of Christ. Please understand what I’m saying. These are the days we live in, folks.
We have to remember to keep Jesus up there, and He will bring the conviction to your heart. It may exclude you but it won’t be you excluding you, if you understand what I’m saying. It will be others having to walk away from you because they didn’t see it the way you saw it. But you didn’t walk away from them. You still love them, care about, pray for them, and let them be a part of your life, you see. That’s part of it.
Secondly, Paul said, “There’s a fallacy in following me.” The fallacy of following any man. Put any of them in there. It doesn’t matter who they are. Look at what he says. It all has to with the message they bring and the wisdom from which this message comes. That’s why you don’t follow men when it comes to eternal things. Verse 19 says, “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.’” Paul quotes from the Old Testament. I love him because when he says, “It is written,” that’s perfect tense. He had no confidence in the oral traditions of the day, not one single bit of confidence. When he would reference something, he would go back to what is written. I love that. We have the complete Word today. He did not have all of that. In fact, he was writing three-fourths of the New Testament. He always went back to the written word. What does the Word of God say?
Romans 15:4 gives us a clue as to why he did this. He says, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Now, he said, “Whatever was written was written for our encouragement.” So he goes back to the Old Testament when he quotes this verse, to Isaiah 29:14. This was at a very critical in the life of Israel, when Israel had a choice to accept the wisdom of God or accept the wisdom from man. They had a choice, and God said where they should make that choice. In verse 29 of chapter 14 it says, “Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous [that’s the way He deals with us, isn’t it? Then he says], and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be concealed.”
Now what in the world’s going on? Sennacherib had threatened Judah and God had come and spoken to the leadership and said, “Listen, don’t put any faith whatsoever into the wisdom of men. The wisdom of men will tell you to get an alliance with another country. The wisdom of men will tell you this and tell you that. I’m telling you don’t you do that. You trust in Me. You put all of your focus into Me and the wisdom that I give to you.” But did they do that? No. As a matter of fact, as soon as God has spoken to them they got a council together, a committee, and they said, “Listen, what can we do to help ourselves out? Let’s make an alliance with Egypt.”
Well, that made Assyria absolutely furious. As a result, they ended up in captivity themselves. God told them, but they chose not to go with His wisdom. You see, man rarely chooses God’s wisdom. That’s our problem. They chose to go with man’s wisdom so God said, “I’m going to deal with these people marvelously. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to make the wisdom of their wise man perish and the discernment of their clever shall be concealed.” Once again man had made that mistake.
Paul goes on in verse 19, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” The word “I will destroy” means to completely destroy. The word “set aside” has that same characteristic about it, just to get it out of the way, completely remove it from man’s mind. Now, does he do that? Well, in verse 20 he says, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe?” He still has this in mind. Did God do it? “Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” He’s saying, “Did I do what I said I was going to do? I tell you how He did it. He did it in the gospel of the message that Paul is preaching. He took every bit of the wisdom of man and just made it perish. He took every bit of the cleverness of man and just set it aside all in the gospel of Jesus Christ because what man said could bring a man to salvation. God absolutely turned that off. He just covered it up and put it aside.
You see, man’s trust in his own wisdom can never do anything there. But with the gospel it completely shuts man’s wisdom out. It’s a wisdom from God Himself. He said, “Where is the wise man?” Look back in history and find me a wise man who’s still hanging around with wisdom that’s eternal. Hitler made this statement, “Nothing will prevent me from tearing up Christianity, root and branch. We’re not out against 101 kinds of Christianity but against Christianity itself. All people who profess creeds are traitors to the people, even those Christians who really want to serve people we have to suppress.” And then Hitler said, “I myself am a heathen to the core.” That sounded great to the German people at that time. My friend, do you think he was a wise man? Did he make it?
A chaplain in a German prison camp where they had Germans as prisoners made this statement, “I wish you could have been present to see with what avidity the Bibles were received by the German prisoners of war. I’m here to tell you that Hitler has not succeeded in irradiating the hope of Christian faith in the hearts of his people.”
So Paul says, “Where is the wise man? Stand up out there somewhere, those of you who have claimed yourself to be so wise and oppose the wisdom of God.” God had done exactly what He said He would do. He caused the wise man to perish. The word for “wise” is sophia. We also get the word “philosophy” from it. Philos is lover of or friend of, and sophia is wisdom. So the word “philosophy” means lover of wisdom, but whose wisdom? It’s always man’s wisdom, friend, unless you’re a believer and love the Word of God.
We live in such a world that they’ve got their own answers. Paul would say, “Okay. Where are all those wise philosophers who gave us those philosophies that have never yet turned out as compared to the wisdom of God?” Then he says, “Where is the scribe?” The word for “scribe” had to do with the theologians of the day. Paul himself was a theologian at one time. We know that for a fact. You had to be a scribe in order to have a vote on the council. He did have a vote. He says in Acts 26:10, “And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests but also when they were being put to death, I cast my vote against them.” You had to be a scribe in order to have a vote in those situations. Paul at one time in his life was a theologian.
Now listen to me. He was a theologian, but he didn’t have a clue about God because he wasn’t saved. He didn’t know the wisdom from God. So Paul is saying, “Where are the theologians? Where are the scribes of that day? Look at me.” He said, “I went around from place to place persecuting Christians.” He says, “Listen, according to the law I was blameless. I was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. I had my “theology.” I was a scribe of that time. But now look. Because of the Damascus Road I’m totally different. All of my gifts of eloquence and speaking and my education doesn’t mean a whole lot when it comes to preaching because it’s got to be in the demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit of God. The message I have now is so contrasting to the message I had then. God has concealed. He’s caused the wisdom that I used to have to perish with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Then he makes one final statement, “Where is the debater of this age?” Well, the word for “debater” is the word that I think a lot of people fall in this category. It means those who love to argue just for the sake of arguing. It doesn’t mean that they ever come to any conclusions. They just like to argue. How many of you know somebody like that? Aren’t they fun? When I see them coming, I just turn and go the other way because you’re never going to answer anything. All they want to do is debate. They could care less about an answer. They just want to debate. They just want to argue all the time. Most of us can’t be philosophers because we don’t have that kind of background or that kind of mindset. Most of us can’t be theologians as Paul was talking about here. All of us fit into this.
What he basically does is he encompasses all the realms of human wisdom and says, “On the basis of this, I want you to know you never put a man up here on a pedestal because all of his wisdom compiled apart from the message God gives to a man is absolutely absurd in itself and you don’t want to put that man up there. He can’t lead you anywhere. The only one you want to put up there is Christ and then if you appreciate a man let him lead you to Christ. Let him lead you to the message but don’t ever put the message of the man up there. Put Christ, who is the Author of the message, up there and learn to live attached unto Him.”
I’ll tell you what, folks, men attaching themselves to men has been the downfall of the church in the twentieth century as far as division as schisms within the body, because of this preacher, because of this doctrine, because of this, because of that, because of whatever. Now listen, doctrine will separate you but you don’t have the right to make the separation yourself, an exclusive attitude. That’s what he’s saying.
There are times you have to walk away from false doctrine, but you still love the people. You still pray for the people. Your heart still includes them in your prayers, but that doesn’t mean you line up right beside them. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying this exclusive, holier than thou, I’ve got a corner on God attitude is what was dividing the whole church of Corinth. That’s exactly what’s dividing us in this day.
You start following men and you’re going to end up so confused you don’t know which way is up and which way is down. Follow Christ and His message. Listen to the message but don’t follow the man. Follow the message. When Paul says, “Imitate me,” he is really saying, “Imitate my faith. Do as I do.” He’s not saying, “Put me on a pedestal.” No, he’s just simply saying, “I’ve got a walk and I’ll follow Him. I think you can trust following the One I’m following.”
I wonder how much division is in the body because of people who have attached themselves to a doctrine, to a conviction, or to a person instead of attaching themselves to Christ. Perhaps you have drawn a little circle around yourself that says, “Nobody’s touching me and when these people get right with God, I might have fellowship with them.” Well, friend, you need to come to the cross that Paul preached and die to that self, that ugly old discriminating and excluding self, and experience the message that Paul’s talking about, the power that comes from the preaching of the cross and dying to self.