There’s Wisdom and Then There’s Wisdom

Audio here.

Video of the Divine Service is here.

Bulletin is here.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“The nations seek wisdom. But we preach Christ crucified…foolishness to the nations.” The wisdom of people, corrupted by sin, will always run contrary to the wisdom of God in Christ. The wisdom of God will always appear foolish to the wisdom of the world. That doesn’t mean human wisdom itself is bad. Jesus is fully human; in fact, He is Wisdom made flesh. And human reason and wisdom have their place. When you go out those doors and you talk to people in the public square, whether it’s at work, or school, or in your community, or in the government, reason has its place. Human wisdom, gathered over time, has its place there. Out there, where there are people from different backgrounds, different experiences, different traditions, different religions; where there are both Christians and unbelievers, human reason and wisdom are almost the only thing that is shared. How do we solve this problem? People with different assumptions and different ideas have to work together. They do it based on human reason and wisdom. But human wisdom has to stay there. When human wisdom is brought into the revealed things of God in Christ, it can only run contrary and contradict it. The things of God will appear foolish to human wisdom.

Paul saw and heard how human wisdom had crept into the churches in Corinth in various ways. Paul knew that party spirit prevails in the world. He knows that, in the world, people say, if you’re not with me, you must be against me. The world knows only the partisan division into us and them. But he hears that it’s crept into the church, where some people say, I follow Paul; some say, I follow Apollos; some, I follow Cephas (Peter); some, trying to get a leg up on the competition and take the high road, say, I follow Jesus. I suspect that the emphasis in all those cases was not on the one whom they were following, but on the “I”: I follow Paul; I follow Apollos; I follow Cephas; I follow Jesus. But Paul says that if you are in Christ, then what do Paul or Apollos matter? Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. If you are in Christ, then all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world, life or death—you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.

Paul knows that the wisdom of the world justifies behavior and relationships based on what I think is good, or what I think is right, or what I think will probably not hurt someone else. But Paul hears that the wisdom of the world has slipped into the Church, and that there is sexual immorality in Corinth that is even beyond what the pagans do. Now they’re justifying it based on the fact that they are Christians. Paul says such things cannot be for those who are joined to and united with Christ.

Paul knows that in the wisdom of the world, sometimes lawsuits are necessary. It is necessary to use the resources of whatever legal system to gain justice or restitution or to make things right. But the wisdom of the world has crept into the churches in Corinth, and now there are Christians suing other Christians in the courts of the world. Better to be wronged, better to lose, than to put the Faith on trial before the world!

Paul knows that in the world, people have different gifts, different places, different roles. And that’s true, as far as it goes, in the Church as well. But human wisdom creeps into the church when people revel in their own individual gifts, rather than using them to build up the Body of Christ in love. Love, not individual gifts and talents, is the greatest.

Paul knows that the world divides over social distinctions such as rich and poor. People are divided by how much money they have, where they live, what car they drive, what clothes they wear. That’s how it is according to the wisdom of the world. But now it’s crept into the churches, when they eat the meal from which they get the bread and wine for the Lord’s Supper. In the world there are distinctions between rich and poor, between governors and governed, between people in different classes and places, etc. And now the Corinthians are divided from each other around the altar of Jesus. The rich are in one place, at one table, with the best food and drink; and the poor are in another place, on the floor, with different food and drink, if any at all. It cannot be in the Church of Jesus Christ, where each person is a member of the same Body, eating the same Body and drinking the same Blood.

The wisdom of the world can’t help but see all of this as foolishness. So Paul puts an end to all of it with a single preached word: We preach Christ crucified, and that’s it. The word of the cross is folly, foolishness, stupidity, to those who are perishing. But to us who are being saved, it is the power of God for salvation to those who believe. The wisdom of the world can only go so far, even when it’s covered with a religious veneer. The wisdom of God in Christ has to be revealed by the Holy Spirit, who alone knows the mind of God. And this wisdom is revealed in the man, Jesus Christ. And no matter how many people claim to like what Jesus says, the wisdom of the world, the wisdom of the rulers of this age, do not understand Him. They do not accept Him, even if they like some of what He says when it fits with their assumptions. If they had understood Him, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. But they did. And so God, by this weakness and foolishness, brings all human wisdom to nothing on a single day. God takes this weak man, suspended on a cross, to put to shame all the strong things of the world. God takes this foolish, naked, crucified man, and puts to shame all the wisdom of the world. God takes what is nothing, what is dead, and brings to nothing everything the world calls life.

But it is still not apparent, except by the work of the Spirit. Because Christ and His Church will never be anything other than foolish in the midst of this world. And Paul himself says that if Jesus were not raised from the dead, it would be true: we should be pitied above all people, because everything we preach, everything we believe, everything we cling to would be foolish and worthless. But God, in fact and in reality, has raised Jesus from the dead. And it is that Jesus, crucified and risen, who sustains His Church against every form of human wisdom.

Human wisdom sees a little water and some words and thinks it’s a nice ceremony, or maybe some foolish magic words. And when human wisdom comes into the Church, it thinks that baptism is something by which we can show how we’ve accepted Jesus or how much we love Him. But the wisdom of God in Christ says you’re all helpless infants, to whom He gives everything. It’s all gift! It’s all Christ crucified for you. Human wisdom sees only a little bread that tastes like styrofoam and some bad wine, and laughs at the foolish Christians who think they’re eating their God. And when human wisdom comes into the Church, it thinks that the eating and drinking are what we do when we want to really think hard about Jesus, and try to imagine what happened on the cross, what Jesus did for us. But the wisdom of God in Christ says that it’s actually His gift to you. It’s actually Jesus Christ crucified and risen who gives you His actual, life-giving Body and Blood.

And all of this—Jesus crucified and resurrected, given to sinners by the means He Himself has chosen—all of this is so that your faith and mine will never rest on people. It will never rest on the preacher. It will never rest on Paul, or Apollos, or Luther, or me. It will always be in the power of God, which looks like weakness to the world. It will not be in people, who can and will fail you; it will not be in people, whose wisdom is limited by themselves; it will always and only be in Christ crucified, who cannot lie and cannot fail because He is risen from the dead and can never die again.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/4/17

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