Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Loyalty to the pastor, friends, family and loyalty to educational achievements creates various factions in the church, and in the Corinthian church it was probably the norm.
In the 21st century as well, we have experienced the same factions made possible by various forms of loyalties. It is to this that the apostle Paul confronts in the Corinthian and surely in the postmodern church.
The ancient worldview depended much on experience as the best teacher, and so Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 1:18-19 invites readers to prioritize deeply their first encounter with Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul centers his argument on Jesus Christ who is the embodiment of God’s wisdom (verses 24, 30).
Without a personal encounter with the risen Savior (the wisdom of God), it is difficult for people to have conviction through intellectual means. Hence, Paul’s articulation of “the message of the cross is foolishness,” seeks to counter the intellectualism of Greeks, Romans, and Jews; consequently, refuting the 21st-century logic. The death of Jesus on a Roman Empire cross did not convince or persuade the philosophical world of the 4th century, and neither does it convince the 21st-century world. However, to those who have come to have a personal encounter with Jesus, the death of Jesus on the cross is indeed good news, especially to those who have testimonies to share with others.
The message of Paul to today’s Christians is simple: Christianity with its message of salvation based on the death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has always been a puzzle from the early church to the present. Making sense of the Bible, especially the message of Jesus requires signs and wonders, especially if people are to believe in God.
Capitalism, globalism, and now technology, coupled with the media world are a challenge to the Christian faith. Seen in this context, death on the cross will never make sense because nothing can be gleaned from this kind of death.
But Paul makes it a point that, through a suffering God, the world was redeemed and humanity given hope of eternity.1 While people are hungry for the word of God and desiring to have an encounter with the risen Lord, the 21st-century church is heavily bombarded with self-help devotional best seller books whose message promises instant gratification. The hunger of the soul is still left in the wilderness and hence today’s preachers must preach and teach theologies and spiritualties that help people to grow in their resurrection faith formation ways.
It is Paul’s perspective that the cross was and is not just an arena of divine wisdom but a miraculous demonstration of God’s message of love to the world and all humanity (John 1:1-14; 1 Corinthians 18:24; Romans 8:31-39; Hebrews 1:1-4). Answers to philosophical questions raised by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:20 have their answers in the paradox of incarnation and resurrection.
The proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection is still the message to be heard in the midst of people who are part of postmodernity and its technologies. The declining of Christian faiths in North America might be a sign of the need for a great revival if “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (verse 24b) is once again to be proclaimed to all people.
Using the philosophical rhetoric of the day, Paul again picks on the notion of God’s call on people’s lives. He again reminds readers that God calls people who does not align themselves with the wisdom of the world but the called ones are subsumed under the metaphor of “foolishness.” The turning of the world from the ideal to the abnormal is fascinating because God calls and works through the weak members of the society (verses 26-28). In some way, God’s dealings are countercultural and so should be the church.
The deception of outward standards has always misled the church and Paul’s point is indeed cautionary to the 21st-century world. The ones who have been called to serve God must be open to the leading and guidance of the Trinity.
It is fascinating to hear the theology of the Johannine being echoed in 1 Corinthians 1:18-24. As Paul concludes this section, he invokes the hiddenness of God, displayed in the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. History tells us that Paul’s educational background was well established, but his encounter with Jesus oriented him to Godly wisdom: a wisdom that opens believers to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of God.
Instead, being good orators, Paul encourages clergy and lay Christians to function under the Holy Spirit, whose power enables an authentic proclamation of the gospel. While physical education is of value, Paul calls on 21st century preachers to baptize their so-called theological education in the Holy Spirit and let God use it for the building of the kingdom.
Two powerful exhortations conclude Paul’s message and these are the miracles of incarnation and resurrection (verse 24). It is through these two crucial events that the wisdom of God is demonstrated. It is only God who is able to do these two miracles and on these, the wisdom of clergy, lay Christians, and indeed the church, lies the strong foundation. Therefore, in our calling and theological pursuits (including pilgrimages), God’s wisdom is present and our ministry cannot survive without this mystery.
- Jürgen Moltmann. Theology of Hope: On The Ground and The Implications of a Christian Eschatology. (Fortress Press, 1993).