Last month, my congregation (Abiding Grace) celebrated our 10th anniversary. And there is plenty to celebrate. In 10 years, we’ve grown in people, in facilities, in opportunities to serve our community and spread the word around the world — in so many different ways. Things are rocking at Abiding Grace. So, looking at that, we must be doing something right, right?
Well, we are seeing blessings, but we can’t take the credit for them. There is power here, but it isn’t ours. It’s not our friendliness or musical talent, not our pastor or personalities. The power for all of the good going on here is God’s. Our text today is 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
In verse 22, Paul observes for us, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” You’ve met people like that: “Just show me some proof. If you are God, God, prove it. If you love me God, then fix this problem.” Those people demand miraculous signs.
Or maybe wisdom is the hold-up: “We’re smarter than believing that this world is just a few thousand years old, right?” “You have to answer all my questions and make me understand it before I’ll believe it.”
It may be easy to point fingers on that, but the truth is, we sometimes act like that. We just don’t always realize it. Think of the parable of the prodigal son. It’s in Luke 15 if you want a refresher. That first son, the one we’ve named “prodigal,” — he figured he deserved his stuff and could do with it what he wanted. To him, dad’s use of that stuff was foolish. He could handle it better. Of course, that didn’t exactly work out for him. Then, when he was broke, it only made sense that he go back and try to work his way back into favor by working for a paycheck.
It’s his dad who does something that doesn’t make sense, something “foolish” — he welcomed his son with rejoicing.
And that older son thought his dad was foolish as well — not being fair — not giving him what he wanted. His dad was foolish to show love to his brother — foolish to forgive. Of course, that was the point of that story. Jesus told it to powerfully present the truth that the thing that seems “foolish” to our minds is really the better thing, is really the thing that works. The power demonstrated in the story was not the dad’s ruling of his house or command of his children — the power was his love. And look at how that worked out.
How often do we act like those sons, thinking our Father foolish? Be honest, there are times when trust in God seems “foolish” and the one we turn to for help is the checkbook or the security system or the government or the friends or the job. And when they fail us, which they all do — where is our wisdom then? When we fail ourselves and our plan falls short, and we mess up, we see the truth of verse 21: “The world through its wisdom did not know God.” As smart as we may think we have been, when we find ourselves there — we need help we’re not equipped to give. And our wisdom can’t solve that.
That’s why God said, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate… Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:19-20).
How? Well, just like the sons in the parable thought they had wisdom, but their plans just didn’t work when brought into the sphere of God’s love — what makes sense to us doesn’t ever get the job done. Why? Because our wisdom is not God’s. Our wisdom is built from a sinful mind with sinful motives. Real wisdom, real power, is built on God’s love.
There’s the difference. The dad in that parable would have been worldly wise to keep what he had for himself. He foolishly gave it for his son. The dad in the parable would have been worldly wise to make sure his sons didn’t walk all over him. Instead, he foolishly forgave.
Instead of a separated son, he had the love and joy of reconciliation. Instead of being alone with his stuff — he was together with his family in joy. Do you see how the divine wisdom of forgiveness and grace is so much better than human wisdom?
Now bring it into our context. Bring it into your life. Our wisdom calls it a waste of time and energy to serve. But in service, God gives fulfillment. Worldly wisdom tells you to stand up for yourself so no one can walk all over you or take advantage of you. God gives peace and healing when you forgive and give.
It’s the kind of thing you can’t really explain until you’ve experienced it — because it doesn’t make sense. And that is what it is all about. That is where there is power. Our text says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (Verse 18)
That’s why, Paul said, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
By grace, we see this power. We see the power is all about grace. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (Verse 25)
Think of that. Man’s wisdom always comes to a roadblock — because there is no logical, rational solution in existence that ends well for a sinful human before the justice of an obvious god. Man’s wisdom comes up with temporary solutions that sound good for a while — “just do enough,” “be better than the next guy,” or eventually, “try to ignore it.” But you hit the roadblock when you realize none of that fixes the problem of sin. Man’s wisdom ends there.
And man’s strength has limitations. The strongest man, the strongest army, the strongest weapons — can only do so much. We may be able to build skyscrapers and knock down mountains, but our strength cannot grasp God. We can’t defeat sin or pay its wage. He is limitless.
And the difference is love. Love is wiser than man’s wisdom and stronger than man’s strength. His love overcame our enemies and defeated our death. His love caused a solution. His love that we preach is Christ crucified. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Here in the cross, in God’s love — there is power.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.