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The wisdom of God vs. the wisdom of man – I Cor. 1:10-25

Updated: Nov 3, 2019

May 14, 2017

INTRODUCTION – Lucille Ball – one of the great female comediennes of my early years on this planet, and of all time really – said of wisdom, “In life, all good things come hard, but wisdom is the hardest to come by.”

One of the primary reasons true wisdom is so hard to come by is because Satan – the father of lies and the god of this world – has created a world system of belief and thought patterns and attitudes that operates on a false or corrupted sense of wisdom – a socially acceptable wisdom if you will. And he (that is Satan) has succeeded in getting most of our cultural influencers to embrace this worldly wisdom. The apostle James, who was never one to mince words, refers to this wisdom or way of seeing and doing life as earthy, natural and demonic in chapter 3 of his epistle as contrasted with divine or heavenly wisdom. (We will look at that passage later on).

I’m addressing this subject of wisdom this morning because if you have read through the 16 chapter book or letter we call I Corinthians you might have noticed – the theme of wisdom comes up a lot – especially in the first three chapters. To be exact – the word “wise” occurs 11 times in 10 verses; and the word “wisdom” occurs 18 times in 15 verses in this book – most of those occurrences in the first 3 chapters, which tells us Paul had some concerns on the front end – as he sought to help this young church get established. And one of his primary concerns was regarding their ability (or lack of) to distinguish between divine or supernatural wisdom and worldly or earthly wisdom, which greatly affected how they went about being and doing church.

The church, which was founded by Jesus Christ and was always meant to be led by Jesus Christ – must operate according to supernatural or divine wisdom.

The quickest way to neutralize the church’s intended effect on its members and on the city in which it is established is by allowing human or worldly or natural wisdom to infiltrate the minds of its members and leaders. Sadly this has happened to a significant degree in the church in our nation.

And this was a huge problem in first century Corinth at least partially because of the impact the cult of Isis had on its citizens. (not to be confused with the terrorists we refer to these days as Isis). This cult, originally from Egypt, was prevalent in the Roman empire, and it placed a large emphasis on wisdom as they defined it. The Greek historian Plutarch describes the goddess Isis as “…exceptionally wise and a lover of wisdom” and thus the attainment of wisdom became a high value in the Corinthian culture. Very likely the coolest and most admired people in Corinth were a part of this cult following. It was probably close to impossible to live in Corinth and not be affected by this movement that exalted their version of wisdom and those who ascribed to it.

And indeed the report the apostle Paul received from Chloe’s people that chapter 1 vs. 11 speaks of – – gives us the first hint that this earthly natural wisdom had infiltrated the Corinthian church. Look with me at vs. 10-17.

The bad news is earthly wisdom in the church will always eventually result in dissension and strife among its members, and a compromised testimony and impact in its community .

The good news is there is a ready and abundant supply of heavenly wisdom for those who would meet the conditions for obtaining it, and it when embraced will set the captives free every single time – no matter how great the bondage.

I Corinthians chapter 1 speaks to at least some of these conditions. So why don’t we seek to define wisdom first, and then we’ll look at a couple of principles or truths from this first chapter regarding the pursuit and experience of wisdom in the church.

I. And that begs the question: Who should define it? Who has the moral authority and the undefiled purity to define the concept of wisdom? Seems to me it should be someone who is innately wise in every aspect of their life and person and deeds with no exceptions wouldn’t you think?

Well if that’s our parameters, there is only one person who fits in those shoes and that would be God Himself. Only God is purely, 100%, consistently wise without any hypocrisy or compromise or mixture.

The prophet Daniel, who wisely and successfully served under four different pagan kings said this of the living God as recorded in Daniel ch. 2; 20-21, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.”

The apostle Paul, a man whom God used perhaps more than any other besides His Son Jesus to establish the church among the nations said this of the living God, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” Rom. 11:33

Paul ends this foundational book of Romans appropriately with these words, “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.” Romans 16:27

J.I. Packer – in his classic book – “Knowing God” has this to say about wisdom: “Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it. Wisdom is, in fact, the practical side of moral goodness. As such, it is found in its fullness only in God. He alone is naturally and entirely and invariably wise.”

If I were to sum up everything I’ve ever read and meditated on regarding wisdom biblically – I would put it this way: Wisdom is supernatural understanding and supernatural ability or skill for supernatural living that only God can impart.

And perhaps that’s why the wisest man that has ever lived other than Jesus Christ said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” King Solomon as quoted in Proverbs 9:10

Divine or heavenly wisdom can be obtained only by those who come to know God as He is and who reverence and honor Him as He is so worthy of being reverenced and honored.

OK. Allow me to share a couple of principles or truths from the latter half of chapter 1

I. Earthly wisdom will always focus on men (or women) and will pit one man (or woman) against another. Earthly wisdom makes much of the status of the messenger and the eloquence of the delivery; and not so much of the message – partly because it changes all the time.

Supernatural wisdom will focus on the message of the cross and the God Man who hung on it – uniting all who make this their focus, and making little of the messenger and his delivery – comparatively speaking.

If you followed my reading of vs. 10-17 that I read a minute ago, and if you have the NASB – you will note that the word wise or wisdom did not appear in that passage. But this is one of the few occasions (in my opinion) where the NIV translation of a verse is preferred over the NASV. I’m referring to vs. 17. If you have a NASV Bible that has notes in the margin, you may have noticed that there is a little 1 before the word “cleverness”. And if you find the notes in your margin for vs. 17, you will find that the word translated “cleverness” literally should be translated wisdom.

Thus the NIV reads, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

You see human wisdom always elevates the human espousing or proclaiming it. But Paul’s goal and passion was that whenever he finished speaking, his hearers would be focused on the good news or the message, not on the messenger.

Earthly wisdom will always focus on and exalt men (or women) and will pit one man (or woman) against another, or perhaps one ideology against another. The political situation in our nation being exhibit A.

Supernatural wisdom will focus on the cross and will exalt the Savior who hung on it, and the life that flows from His blood – shed for us.

Earthly wisdom – because it is fueled by insecurity and misplaced identity will try to compensate for that insecurity and misplaced identity by bolstering one’s self image on the basis of who that person is following, or on the basis of how many people are following the messenger.

Supernatural wisdom – because it is fueled by the security and identity that comes from knowing we are a child of the living God; and that we have been chosen and called by God to walk in intimate fellowship with the risen Christ; and that we have been graced by Him with spiritual gifts and spiritual resources – – supernatural wisdom has no need to bolster one’s image or standing among men. Supernatural wisdom points us to the one source or substance – Jesus’s blood on the cross – that cleanses us from all sin and need for man’s approval, and infuses us with the very life of Christ. Paul didn’t directly speak of that in the first 16 verses of chapter one. But he is ready to speak of it now.

And that leads me to the second thing I want to say about the role of wisdom in the church and that is :

II. As the living God continues to pour out His power and wisdom through the message of the cross of Christ; He will also expose the bankruptcy of the wisdom of man that rejects the message of the cross. Vs. 18-25

So what is the word of the cross? The word or message of the cross in a nutshell is this: The living God who is always good and abounding in lovingkindness created man or humanity to share His glory with, to manifest His image or likeness through, and to delegate the management of the earth to. While Adam and Eve enjoyed this amazing relationship and partnership with God for a time, Satan eventually lured them with the empty promise of greater things; and ever since – man has struggled greatly with this cancer of the soul the bible calls sin, which is basically independence from the One who formed us and made us for Himself. God being the God of mercy and covenant love that He is – sent His own Son to reveal the goodness and greatness and mercy of God to the earth and then to provide a way through His shed blood for our sins to be forgiven and our very nature to be transformed – – so that we could be restored to all the glory and destiny that God has always had in His heart and intentions for us.

All we have to do to receive this almost incomprehensible life and privilege the Bible calls salvation is to admit we are a sinner, and that we could never in a million years do anything to change or solve that horrible inner problem of the heart and soul that all men, women, young people and children are plagued with – – and thus by faith we receive the gift of eternal life from the only One who can deliver it – Jesus Christ. And as we daily pursue this relationship with Him made possible by His cleansing blood, we daily experience more and more of His grace and wisdom and power.

Sadly much of the world believes such a message is foolishness because we Americans can do anything. And so called “successful” people in our nation love to wax eloquent about their take on life and wisdom, which our press or media are always quick to give coverage to, and of course they wouldn’t do that if they didn’t know that there is a consuming desire among many Americans to hear the latest thing a certain actor or athlete or singer or musician has opined about life.

And sadly because there is such a thirst in our society for the latest opinion a famous singer or athlete or actor or actress has voiced, these people are set up for a nasty fall since the fame we have afforded them has allowed them to ignore the crumbling foundation underneath them.

William Shakespeare, who was powerfully impacted by the scriptures, said of wisdom, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

Bringing this much closer to home, probably all of us have a relative, or neighbor, or co-worker, or fellow student who fits this bill. For a time God allows them to experience a degree of success and influence, all the while spouting foolishness and nonsense. But sooner or later – they will reap the consequences of what they’ve sown; and the bankruptcy of their philosophy of life will be exposed for all to see.

The challenge I believe the Holy Spirit is asking each of us who know Him to consider this morning is: Will we be the kind of people who can humbly without judgment come alongside someone whose foundation has just crumbled and gently show them a better way – that being – the way of the cross?

Assuming we all want to be that kind of a people, let me close with a few actions steps.

I. Study and live and breathe at the cross. God in His manifold wisdom Has chosen to bring the people of this planet into relationship with Himself solely through the message and the life giving resources of the cross. Listen again to these words: vs. 18, 21b

Only Jesus’s blood shed on the cross can wipe away our sins as far as the east is from the west. Only Jesus’s blood shed on the cross can cleanse me daily from self centeredness; and entitlement; and jealousy; and envy; and all matters of lust; and anger and resentment and everything else sin produces. Only the blood of the cross can make me acceptable to and holy before a holy righteous God. Only daily washings by the blood of Jesus can enable me to carry on righteous and harmonious relationships with all the people He brings in my path.

The well that we believe God has called us to dig ever deeper of the life of Christ and the fullness of the Spirit will always point us to the cross.

II. Realize that Christ Himself is wisdom and power and everything else that we could ever need. vs. 24, 30 The best and only way to pursue wisdom and power is to pursue Christ. As we apprehend Him and truly come to know and love Him, we just begin to see and live life like He does. Indeed his very life begins to flow through ours.

As C.S. Lewis stated in his classic, “Mere Christianity”, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

Christ Himself is our unending and ever available source of wisdom for living a supernatural life. As I abide in Him, and pursue Him, and gaze upon Him, and wait upon Him, and co-labor with Him in dependence upon Him – – I truly begin to think the way He thinks, solve problems the way He solves problems, make decisions the way He makes decisions, and meet needs the way He meets needs.

III. As you gain more and more of Christ’s heart and compassion for your neighbors and for the problems and devastating consequences of sin in our cities, know that your usefulness in being a part of the solution to those problems will depend on how glued you stay to the cross and your daily need to abide in Christ and be cleansed and purified by His blood.

As one who has been seeking to be used by God for over 40 years, I have to confess that I have at times been touched by the compassion of God for a neighbor or a city wide or nation wide problem and then turned to human wisdom to solve it. And the quickest way to know when that happens is to use the measuring stick the apostle James gave us in James 3:13-18, where he wisely stated, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthy, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Listen – when your zeal to solve a problem or meet a need causes you to have friction and division with those God has clearly called you into relationship with – being first your family and then your spiritual family – you can pretty well know – someone is operating on human wisdom, not divine.

Friction and division arise when men and women are self propelled and self focused and self preserving.

Resurrection life – – supernatural, fruit bearing, community transforming life – comes forth from those who through the cross are constantly dying to any promotion or preservation of self.

Only the cross produces self less men and women. Only the cross and the way of the cross allows men and women born in sin to be carriers of the very life of Christ for a broken world. ( Prayer time ).

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