The Cross that divides men…

…And the Problem of the Intellect

1 Cor. 1:18 -31

Corinth was an intellectual place, and rated the mind very highly. It had replaced Athens as the provincial capital of Greece and also became the intellectual centre. It was the natural bridge between Eastern and Western Mediterranean . They failed to appreciate the limitations of the intellect. We could get nowhere without our minds, but our minds , unaided , cannot solve every issue. Paul points out three areas of limitation in the intellect. First, the unaided intellect cannot understand the cross ( 1:18 -19).  Second It cannot reach God.  What is more, God never intended that it should, or trust and faith would be unnecessary (1;21) . Third the intellect unaided finds it extremely difficult, impossible to accept the gospel ( 1:21 ).  They did not understand that God cannot be reached through the mind. Travelling teachers continually passed though. They taught wisdom.  They were clever thinkers and charged big fees.  Paul and Sosthenes must have appeared to the Corinthians in similar manner. Paul destroyed any misconceptions speedily in the first four chapters. First the gospel is to the wisdom in the accepted sense. On the contrary, it is, in the world’s eyes “folly”.  And yet it is through this “folly”, revealed the crucifixion of Jesus, that God determined to save believers. ( 1:18 ). Second, the evangelists are not the teachers of wisdom, like the travelling sophists.  That view of them is at once too high (it gives them a position of their own, independent of God whose mouthpiece they are) and too low (it subjects them to the Corinthians’ judgement).   Of course it pleased the Corinthians to think of their leaders in this light; it ministers to their own self-esteem as they boast (and contend) about great names (1 Cor. 2:1-6; 3:8-13). Third, the Corinthians need to revise their estimate of their own position .  They are not judges over their ministers as they imagine. They should rather consider the judgement they themselves will have to face, and be prepared to become fools, by this worlds standards, so that they may become wise.  Their duty is not to judge, but to emulate the apostles and the saviour in suffering (1 Cor.4:1-13).

“But when the time had been fulfilled God sent his Son” (Gal. 4:4).

All roads led to Rome .  In the market pace of every city the stood a milestone giving the distance to Rome . It was the centre of the empire and ruled the Mediterranean world.  Even Christ, in his incarnation, was a Roman subject.  (Matt. 22:21).

Empire worship unified the state, making state religion and politics one.  The emperor ranked as “God and sovereign, saviour of life” (Augustus was called “Son of God” Domitian was called “Lord God”. Augustus, Claudius and Nero were called, “High princes and saviour of the world “and “King of kings.”  The arrival of the emperor was called the “parousia” (advent).  His visit was the “Epiphany”. His decrees “gospels” and his letters “Sacred writings.”  The world had had enough teachers they needed a redeemer.


This united empire had three chief streams. The Greek culture with is philosophy, art and science. The Roman culture with its military, political and juristic life. The orient with its religious and mystic cults.  Greek language was international. The first Christian evangelistic work used this language the most.  This was especially true of the large cities such as Corinth .  Sea traffic was especially important for the gospel and the commercial routes that opened up under Rome made it possible to get the gospel out swiftly.  The network of land connections, the roads and bridges the Romans built were profitable in the spread of the gospel.  It was on these main roads and trade routes the gospel was carried with great joy.

Mingling of World Religions and Philosophies.

There was a migration of religions and philosophies from the Orient. State gods, Greek gods, and oriental gods fused together under the headship of the emperor. It was cauldron of mixture. There was a mixing and fusing of religions and cults blending into a synchronized worship of god, whatever people called him. Religiously the East conquered the West. The Greeks had their philosophy, their gods such as Zeus; the Romans had Jupiter, and out of Egypt came the worship of Isis Osiris or Ammon of Thebes, from Persia the cult of Mithras and Mazda.  Babylon had Marduk and from Asia Minor the cult of Cybele. These pressed forward as oriental religious communities and formed secret associations, the so-called “Mystery.”

With all these gods the question has to be asked who was right. The whole gentile world although pantheistic was desirous of one true god.   There was a yearning for redemption none of these religions could save.  They needed a revelation from the Almighty God of creation. .

This is the world that Paul preached the revolutionary message of the gospel.  The world was prepared for the message of the gospel.


The unaided intellect cannot understand the cross.  The true place of the intellect is gradually to be transformed in the Christian mind, the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16 ). The indwelling Christ renews our minds we seek the Christian perspective of God who is active in and through human affairs, and steep ourselves in the Christian resources of the scriptures.  We develop Gods viewpoint on the meaning of life, the universe, creation instead of a world view.  This is the Christian wisdom Paul spoke of in 1 Cor. 2:6. But it is not imparted for our own gratification alone; it is intended to be at the service of others. The pupil is does not exist for the sake of his teacher, but, rather the reverse is true ( 1 Cor. 3:21 -22).  The teacher is to develop the mind of Christ.  He approaches things with Christ’s perspective.  He is concerned to develop the mind, the intellect, the faith of others concerning Gods viewpoint.  He sees God as the source of all knowledge and wisdom.

The cross divided the saved and unsaved, and still does.  It does not divide saved people.  It unites them.  It divides the world it does not divide the church. The lost want to come together in great unity and union. There is an ecumenical spirit about, a spirit of syncriticism to merge all into one. They want to make all men equal and one religion and one commercially.  They want to enforce laws to ensure we treat each other well. But they leave out the cross.  One type of philosopher had broad principles of universal applicability and acceptability. Another had a narrow concept and was more argumentative saying “prove it to me.”  He wanted a sign a mark of power.  To him the cross was no sign at all or if it was it was a sign of weakness.  The cross was noting of the sort. The Lord is the divider of men and the cross is the dividing line for men.  You have to know what side of the line you are on.

Vs 18 “For the message (the word or doctrine) of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are saved it is the power of God.” In Corinth as in many of our cities today the emphasis was on philosophy and wisdom. Paul contrasts the wisdom of God with worldly wisdom of men. Corinth was an intellectual city and rated the mind very highly.  It had replaced Athens not only as the provincial capital of Greece but also the intellectual centre.  It was the natural bridge between Eastern and Western Mediterranean .  Travelling teachers passed through.  They taught wisdom.  They were cleaver, logic-chopping men.  They charged big fees.  And Paul and Sosthenes must have appeared too many Corinthians in a similar way.  This was a misconception which Paul is in pains to destroy speedily. In the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians he makes three trenchant points.

The unaided intellect cannot understand the cross.

The gospel is not wisdom in the accepted or worldly sense.  On the contrary, it is, in the world’s eyes folly.  And yet it is through this folly, revealed in the crucifixion of Jesus that God determined to save believers.  True, there is a Christian wisdom, but the Corinthians have a long way to go before them each it: they are yet totally worldly (1 Cor. 1:18 ; 2:6, 3:1).  The message does not please the perishing. It is nonsense to them.

The evangelists are not teachers of worldly wisdom like the travelling sophists.  That view of them is at once too high (it gives them a position of their own, independent of God whose mouthpiece theyare0 and too low (it subjects them to the Corinthians judgment). Of course, it pleases the Corinthians to think of their leaders in this light: its ministers to their own self esteem as they boast (and contend) about great names.

The Corinthian need to revise their estimate of their own position.  They are not judges over their ministers, as they imagine.  They would rather consider the judgement themselves would have to face, and be prepare to become fools.  Their duty was not to judge but to emulate the apostles and the Saviour in suffering (1 Cor. 4:1-13). For al their emphasis on the intellect at Corinth they had got it wrong.

The cross divides the saved form the unsaved people.  But it doesn’t divide saved people.  True believers cling to the cross it is central in their lives.  Their unity is in what Christ accomplished upon it.  Liberalism, modernism, ecumenism, interfaith movement, charismatic movement or any other movement that puts the emphasis on a different kind of unity is not true unity.   The Lord Jesus is a divider of men, and the dividing line is the cross. The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but to unto a saved person it is the power of God.

Paul makes it clear that his method was not in the wisdom of the words of the world, not in the method of dialectics of divisions or differences or opinions or theories, but he just presented the cross of Christ.  That brought about the unity of those who were saved.  To those who perish, the cross of Christ is foolishness; but to save man it becomes the power of God.


“To them that perish it is foolishness.” Is that where you are today?

“But unto us which are saved is the power of God.”

Paul makes it clear it what his method was not the wisdom of the world.  It was not in men’s wisdom or theories or opinions.

In the context we have two great groups, one emphasises religion and the other emphasises philosophy. There is a contrast between those that are perishing and us who are being saved. Every one must fall into one of these two classes. The former is blind to Gods wisdom of the cross believers have had the scales taken from their eyes, they see the cross as Gods answer to mans sin.


Vs 19. “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” People always think their way is right but God reduces their way to nothing.  This does not mean men are not intelligent but that they are not wise concerning spiritual things.

Paul uses three typical examples to hammer home his point, concluding that no human wisdom can avail before God. Human wisdom is transitory but divine wisdom is eternal. The world is a passing show and it is foolish to compare it with divine wisdom.

Vs 20 “Where is the wise?” The “sophist” the scholar, the men with human wisdom.

“Where is the scribe?” The historian who records historical events.

“Where is the disputer of this age?” Those who could argue philosophy.

“Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”  All human wisdom is limited, it has a passing show, opinions change but God’s is above and beyond it. The world has had many brilliant minds. Philosophers have been many.  They have given us their ideas and suggestions and opinions.  They have dazzled the world with their art, their music, their buildings, there commerce. But they could not come up with a plan to save mankind and give him eternal life.   Greece had the great Socrates, Plato, Percilies and Aristotle.  They left certain schools of philosophy such as the Epicurean school, and the Stoic school that Paul confronted in Acts 17.  There have been the philosophers of recent centuries like Bacon, Descartes and Kant.  The existentialists like.  God not only disregard human wisdom but showed it was foolish, with all its knowledge and talk it could not save mankind.  It is an endless debate and exchanging of views.

All their brilliance has not made the world abetter place to live in.  They have done little to change the heart of mankind.  We live in a decadent society; the world is in an awful state.  And we think we are smart.

The world is still searching for truth.  Someone has defined philosophy as a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that is not there.  The Greeks sought after wisdom.  Modern man is still searching, still groping in the dark.  He is looking for some formula, some theory, and some philosophy to find answers for the questions of life.  He looks to science but for every door that opens ten others appear. He is impressed with his own achievements but he cannot even cure the common cold.

God’s Revelation of His Wisdom – There are Limitations to Human Intellect

Vs 21 “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who had believed.” In His wisdom God chose to save men by means of the cross and by no other way. It is His sovereign choice.  “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  It was never God’s plan for anyone to come to know him by their exercise of wisdom. He was pleased to reveal himself in a completely different way.  The gospel is not a masterpiece of wisdom but of God.  The gospel was proclaimed, the message is that God saves through a crucified saviour.  Salvation comes to those that believe.

“Where is the wise?”  We could go nowhere without our minds, but our minds unaided, cannot solve every issue. It cannot reach through to God and God never intended that it should do so.  God knows that intellectuals can become arrogant and so He made His truth higher than the puny intellect.  The intellect can grasp some truths but not the revelation of God; it has to be revealed by God.  Man cannot take in the eternal.  Unless God discloses Himself you will never find Him.

“Where is the scribe?” Human intellect is proud.  It wants to prove itself, to show how fine and sophisticated it is.  It is reluctant to accept grace or to trust God, it they want reason on its own and no help from revelation.

“Where is the disputer of this world?” “Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”

“For after that in wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe.”

Notice that it is not foolish preaching but the foolishness of preaching. Foolish men may preach the gospel but it is not a foolish gospel.


The World has Two Ethnic Groups

Vs 22-23 Notice how Paul divided mankind into two great ethnic groups: the Jews and the Greeks (meaning Gentiles).  Paul brings out the characteristics of the two nations, Greeks and Jews. He recognises this twofold division.

Vs 22 “For the Jews require a sign.”  The Jews represented religion.  They had a God given religion.  They felt they had the truth, and they did so far as the Old Testament was concerned.  The problem was that it all had become ritual to them. They wanted miraculous signs not wisdom. They were not interested in speculative thought, they wanted evidence. They had departed from Scripture and followed tradition, which was their interpretation of scripture.  The power was gone.  Therefore, when Christ appeared they asked for a sign.  Rather than turning to scripture they asked for a sign. (Matt. 12:38-40).  An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign. The only sign the Lord Jesus gave them was the resurrection. “As Jonah were three days and nights in the belly of the great fish…”

Their demand was practical not philosophical. They wanted power and majesty not a crucified saviour. Today many professing Christians are looking for signs and wonders but at the expense of the Scriptures.


“And Greeks seek after wisdom.” The ancient Greeks were in love with philosophy, around which their culture was built. They were absorbed in speculative philosophy. They loved the so-called great thinkers. Of the fifty or so that existed there were various views of the origin of man, religious schemes, political and social movements, educational order in society.  Philosophy means “the love of wisdom.”  They desired the lofty heights of the mind.  They were all men’s ideas and inventions based upon human opinion and were as fallible as the men were. They had no standard of absolute truth. Paul said their wisdom had degenerated into “meaningless sophistries” (Accts 17:21 ).  The intellectual acuteness and perception and noble writings had no saving power it was temporal and transient. They looked down on and despised those as barbarians who failed to appreciate their wisdom. They were proud of their intellectual acuteness and found no place for the gospel. But all of their philosophy had no saving power. The Greeks were gentiles.  They represented philosophy.  They were the lovers of wisdom.  They said they were seeking truth; they were searching and scanning the universe for truth.  They were the rationalists.  While the Jews ended up in ritual, the gentiles ended up as rationalists and had to conform to the pattern of reason.

They emphasised the brilliance of mind, of thought, and tried to accomplish dimension to dazzle mankind.  This had gone on for 4 centuries but by the time of Christ, the glory of Greece had gone.  It just fizzled out.  Their were men like Pedicles, Anaxagoras, Thales, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle who left certain schools such as the Epicurean school, the stoic school of philosophy, and the Peripatetic school of philosophy.  Then they all disappeared.

There followed two thousand years of philosophical stagnation and sterility in the world.  Then appeared men like Bacon, Hobbes, and Descartes, and there was the rebirth of great thinkers for a period of brilliance.  This was again followed by decadence, and we are still in it today.  Many today think they are smart but they change nobodies morals and to trust or follow them leads in to decadence.  But to follow Christ lifts us out of decadence.

“What is truth?” asked the fatalistic Pilate?  Bacon asked the same question, and philosophy is still asking the same question “Ever learning but never able to come to the truth.” Where is the wise?  The Greeks sought after wisdom.  Today men are still searching for wisdom, for meaning in life, looking for some theory or formula.  Some even think that through science they will have answers to some of the great questions of life.  Are they not foolish after all these centuries?  Christ is the answer.    We can put a machine on mars but cannot cure the common cold or stop the spread of aids.  How wise is that.  The world is sick with crime and immorality how wise is man?  God has made foolishness their wisdom.

A characterture of Christianity was found, it was a figure on a cross with an ass’ head.  That’s what they thought of the saviour.  It is the same today some ridicule him some think he was stupid for dieing this death on the cross.

Now Paul bears down on philosophy.  While he was in the city of Corinth , he was preaching Christ.  “And when they opposed him…” (Acts 18:6).  Can philosophy lift  a man out of the cesspool of life?  It never has.  Notice that men will be save, not by foolish preaching, but by preaching foolishness! That is, by the preaching of the Cross.  It is not the method but the message that the natural man thinks is foolish.  Today the wisdom of the world is to have an anti poverty program or some other kind of program.  The wisdom of this world is to save men by education, by social concern, by philosophical means, or political means, or by unification of all religions.

Where is the wise?  The Greeks sought after wisdom.  God has made foolishness their wisdom.

Some of the new converts carried thee fallacies into the church. This was one of the divisions at Corinth , different philosophical viewpoints.  They were adding human wisdom to what Christ had done for them. Where it is right it will agree with scripture, where it is wrong it will disagree. “See to it that no man takes you captive though philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

The world today has human wisdom, human opinions, human ideas, human values and aspirations. Modern man has made a God of education, science and dragged mankind down to the level of an animal through evolutionary teaching.

Medicine, technology and science used properly are of great value to man.


Vs 23 “But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.” God put a cross above the skull of man.  That is Golgotha . The Jews wanted a sign; they wanted someone to show the way.  They wrestle with Jesus and His death. They focus on the intellectual and religious to enable them too understand God. They looked for a way but God has revealed himself in Jesus and the cross. Jesus had told them, “I am the way.” They wanted a pointer, a highway marker.   They wanted a king, a great politician but not a crucified saviour, that was defeat not victory.  Jesus was the stone disallowed that Peter spoke of (1 Peter 2:7-8).  He was a stumbling block to them.  Paul’s message was form God not human wisdom or religion. It was on the cross that Christ bore the curse of God (Deut. 21:23 ). He became a curse for us. He took our punishment there.

To the Greeks the cross was foolishness, an absurdity.  They considered it utterly preposterous, and ridiculous and contrary to any rational, worldly system.   Philosophy cannot lift man out of the cesspool of sin.  We dare not emphasise morality and changing society without changing the heart. Notice men will be saved not by foolish preaching, but by the preaching of “foolishness”, that is by the preaching of the cross.  It is not the method of natural man; he seeks salvation by works, by religion, by philosophy. Men still reject it. Jews and Greeks did not want he crucified Messiah.

Now Paul introduces another class of mankind.  “Unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks” – these are the called, the elect.  They have not only heard the invitation, they have responded to it.  And they have found the cross of Christ the wisdom and power of God which has transformed their lives, made them new men.  The Lord Jesus moulded eleven men; the n called Saul of Tarsus, and sent them out.  They took the gospel to Corinth with its sin, to Ephesus with its religion.  For over nineteen hundred years the gospel has been going around the world, and it is the only help and hope of mankind.

Vs 24-26. Some people like to give emphasis to the prominent folk who have trusted Christ for salvation – the entertainer, the artist, the movie star, the leaders of business and industry, the prominent politician.  But God majors on average people.  He is calling simple people like you and me.

Gods Foolishness is wiser than Proud Men

Vs 25 “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God stronger than men.” God’s foolishness is wiser and His weakness stronger than anything mankind can produce.  If you were to take all the scientists, all the philosophers, all the lawyers all the great thinkers they could not come up with a plan like His. Men are blind the magnitude of His majesty and thinking. His thoughts are not our thoughts.  Men can never discern Gods plan by human means.


Vs 26 “For you see your calling brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.” But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks (gentiles) these are the elect.  The have not only heard the invitation but they have responded.  And they have found in the cross of Christ the wisdom and power of God which has transformed their lives, made them new men.  He is calling people today.  He is calling you today. God did not concentrate in the intelligent, the wise, the religious, the disputer, and the mighty or outstanding people.  He commands all men everywhere to repent.   This does no mean these men are foolish.  It means they may seem foolish to the world they are not weak but strong in the Lord.

 They Missed the True Place of the Intellect

Vs 28 – 31. “And the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing things the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God-and righteousness and sanctification and redemption-that as, it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”  It begins with fear of the Lord and focus on His revelation. We are not left unaided or to ourselves God has revealed himself.  He revealed Himself in nature but specifically in scripture and supremely in Christ. Their is how we pierce the infinite mind. We need to come to Christ to find Him. Faith in Christ is the sources to come to worship and know the true God.  We do not have to loose our intellect but surrender it to god.  history.  It explains and sin and rebellion, his lostness and God grace, His goodness and redemption.  The fear of the Lord brings wisdom.

Vs 30 Christ is everything we need, He is our wisdom, He is our righteousness, He is our sanctification, and He is our redemption.

Vs 31. We glory in our Lord Jesus Christ.  We do not boast about what we have done or can do.  We do not glory in our good nature or good works.  We do not glory onion our wisdom or degrees.  We do not glory in our position or character.  We boast in Him, He is everything we need.