Living skilfully 04: Foolish wisdom

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


To start I just want to say thank you Ps Yosia for mentoring me for the last 4 years so that I can preach solo today.  But let me just say that why I’m up here is not because I’m qualified or more wiser than any of you, but like in the passage we just read, it’s by God’s grace alone that He opened my heart to see the beauty of the cross, and now enables me to bring this good news to you.  And my prayer is that tonight as we wrap up our wisdom series, we can all come to see how beautiful the cross truly is, and also go on to share this good news with others. 

And if you’ve missed our first three sermons of this wisdom series, then I highly encourage you to go and listen to them on our Youtube or Spotify channel.  Because for the last month we’ve heard what it means to Finding Wisdom, Growing in Wisdom and Walking in Wisdom.  And tonight to end this series, we’re going to look at the wisdom that makes doing all three possible.  So do catch up if you haven’t already!

Now I also totally agree with Ps Yosia in the first sermon of this series when he said that BBC’s Sherlock Holmes is one of the best TV series ever.  Seeing Benedict Cumberbatch solve different crime mysteries and just making sense of everything in his ‘mind palace’ is brilliant.  He’s a genius!  And because I just love the show, I get pretty competitive when I play Cluedo.  My MC would complain every time we play because I’d use a separate piece of A4 paper to jot down every single answer and clue just so I can be the first to solve the crime.  It just feels good to have everything worked out and to be the first to make sense of something before anyone else does.  And you know what, almost every time we play, I’m one of the first to get out!  I thought I had everything worked out, and had all the information I needed, yet I couldn’t be any further from the truth. 

And the thing is, this type of prideful wisdom was rampant in the Corinthian church, and something many of us struggle with today, myself included.  In reflection of the world’s standards, we value intelligence and wisdom to the point that we begin to compete with one another.  And the scary thing is we do this in this church with our brothers and sisters next to us.  We use knowing God as an achievement of our wisdom and look down on others for not being on our “level”.  In thinking we have God all worked out, we feel more superior and wiser than anyone.  Well, we couldn’t be any further from the truth.  And Paul says we are to do none of that. 

We’ll look at two things tonight, the perishing crowd and the foolish few.



The Perishing Crowd

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

So after rebuking the Corinthian church for their idolatry of human wisdom, Paul nails home the hard truth that is central to tonight’s sermon.  That is, human wisdom has absolutely zero bearing on God’s divine wisdom.  Simply put, our wisdom is worthless before God!  And he doesn’t stop there, Paul quotes Isaiah 29 to say that God “will destroy” that wisdom and that he will render useless all human intelligence.  Now some of you must be saying “whoa Josh hang on a second! Doesn’t God give us the intellectual ability to think critically, ponder, make sense, and gain wisdom on this earth?”.  By all means yes He does! By God’s grace we are created as intellectual beings.  We’re given the ability to discover, teach, learn and advance in all things, which is just awesome!  But what Paul’s saying here is that in light of the eternal things, things that concern God, things that concern salvation, things that concern our life’s purpose and destiny – we are to count human wisdom as nothing.  Why? Because no form of human wisdom and intelligence in all its advancement has and could ever solve the greatest problem to ever exist, the problem of sin. 

I mean you can try to put into a room all the world’s smartest scientists, professors, politicians, doctors to solve our sin problem, but Paul says it’ll all be in vain!  He calls out “20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” It’s like in the movie Gladiator when Maximus defeats the other gladiators in the arena and yells out at the crowd, “are you not entertained??”.  Oh the crowd were entertained, but they found entertainment in the wrong thing.  Like Maximus, Paul also calls out the Corinthians for boasting in the wrong thing.  They were boasting in something “God made foolish, the “wisdom of the world”.  And this is something many of us need to wake up to because for most of our lives we’ve also been boasting in this worldly wisdom.  We delight in just how smart we are in making sense of the world and our surroundings, we treasure our gold standard resumes and academic transcripts, and we wear our many achievements like badges of honour.  And don’t think just because we’re in church, that we’re safe from these practices.  This very much happens inside the church as well!  We feel like we’re the smarter or better Christian just because we’ve read countless Tim Keller books, have a favourite preacher, serve in ministry, post Christian quotes on Instagram or diligently stuck to our fasting or bible reading plans.  The heartbreaking thing is that we see our wisdom or lack of wisdom as what defines us.  But listen to what Paul has to say for our pursuit of wisdom, “21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom…”.  Church, like the Corinthians we’ve lost sight of what’s truly valuable to us – that what saved us from the problem of sin and enables us to know God is not found in worldly wisdom but in the exact opposite, “in the wisdom of God.  And do you know what? God in His unsearchable wisdom provides the only solution to our sin problem.  Redemption through the life, death and resurrection of His beloved Son, Jesus.  Jesus had to die on the cross so that everyone who now confesses their sins and believes in him, shall not perish but be saved.  That’s it.  Church this “word of the crossis the gospel, it’s good news! …or is it foolishness?

Let’s pause for a second and take a good look at our hearts wherever you are.  What has been your response when you see the cross? What happens when you hear the good news of the gospel?  Do you find conviction in your hearts and see it as the very “power of God” to save and transform your life, and not only your life, but the lives of all your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours? Or do you see it as nothing more but mere “folly” or foolishness?  You’re not moved by it and the gospel is just like any other bible story that you’ll talk about only when it’s Easter Good Friday, or in your MCs because hey, I go to ROCK Sydney English Service.  Church pay attention, Paul is very clear in that how we respond to the gospel puts us in only one of two groups.  You’re either part of the group “being saved” or part of the group “who are perishing”.  Like we’ve heard throughout this whole wisdom series, we’re all on a path to a destination.  You’re never standing still.  There’s no middle ground.  There’s always the path to wisdom, or the path to destruction.  The question is which path are you on?  Which group do you belong to?    

I’m sure many of us said “being saved, but if we’re honest don’t we sometimes just find it difficult to believe the gospel for what it is? Paul continues “21 …it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men”.  Paul uses the Jews and the Greeks to explain why the perishing world sees “Christ crucified” as foolishness.   

Let’s first take a look at the Jews.  They were an “I’ll believe it when I see it” type of crowd.  In a way they’re like your Ancient IT Security team.  Like when you go online shopping and after you go through all the effort to put your personal information in, the site still makes you select the squares that have the pedestrian crossing to prove that you’re human.  So if Jesus didn’t give them the signs they wanted or performed some divine CAPTCHA code to prove who he was, then everything he said simply couldn’t be trusted.  In their minds, the Messiah had to come in all splendour, glory and majesty for all to see.  So when Jesus was crucified on the cross, it was a sign that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah.  He died in weakness and defeat! The cross also became “a stumbling block” because the scriptures say that whoever is hung on a tree is cursed by God.  So no way were they willing to believe in someone who didn’t perform the miracles they wanted but also died being cursed by God.  To the Jews, the gospel just couldn’t be validated, so it can’t be trusted!     

The Greeks on the other hand represent the Gentiles, the non-Jews, who use reason and logic to know God.  They were the crowd that says “I’ll believe it if it makes logical sense to me”.  For God to be believable He needed to complete a ‘What makes a God 101 checklist’.  Today, it’s like asking, “can God be the next Marvel Avenger?”.  God needs to be powerful, intelligent, likeable, successful, superior, heroic, provide all the answers of the universe and most importantly not die at the hands of its creation.  Only then when God checks all the boxes can He truly be God.  So when Jesus was stripped naked, tortured and nailed to the cross to save his people – well that’s just too humiliating for a God to go through.  That’s not intelligent but stupid. To the Greeks, the gospel just doesn’t make sense, so it’s unbelievable!

But before we dismiss these two unbelieving groups and say “pfft. that’s not me!”, don’t we see some similarities in our lives? Yes we hear “Christ crucifiedbeing preached every week from this pulpit at RSE, but rather than trusting and believing the gospel is God’s power that saves us, do you know what we do? We put our confidence in that what saves us is that we’ve made the right decisions to be a Christian.  That we’re good with God because we’ve made the right choices to come to church today. That our position before God is safe because we’re able to put in that little bit more effort to tune in online even though we couldn’t make it to church.  Here’s how I see this play out in my life recently.  By God’s grace, Helen and I are expecting our first child in June.  As you can imagine we’re very excited!  But at the same time, we can’t help but also feel anxious of just how much harder it would be to raise our beloved son or daughter to know Christ in today’s world.  So rather than trusting that the gospel is the only thing that can change a heart, and is the only thing that can save our children, we find ourselves putting the importance on getting things done “right”.  What this looks like is we want to make sure our child goes to the right school in the future, that they’ll grow up with the right friends or in the right community, or that they’ll have the right activities to do as the very things that will save them and bring them to know God.  What’s happened is that we’ve all tried to fit God into what works or makes sense for us.  And if it doesn’t fit, then it’s just hard to believe in Him.  Can you see how easy it is to use our wisdom as a condition of our faith?  We ultimately say to God, “God yeah… I’ve done my due diligence on you, yeah I can relate to you in some areas, yeah I know you can give me what I want, yeah I can see how I can trust you – so… I’ve decided that you’re the one for me”.  In other words, we look internally to find reason and make sense of what is given to us externally by God at the cross of Christ.  Church if we do this then let me say that we’re no different to the ultimate fools in this pericope, the unbelieving Jews and Greeks who hold on to their own wisdom.  J.I Packer says “Our thoughts of God are not great enough; we fail to reckon with the reality of his limitless wisdom and power. Because we ourselves are limited and weak, we imagine that at some points God is too, and find it hard to believe that he is not. We think of God as too much like what we are. Put this mistake right, says God; learn to acknowledge the full majesty of your incomparable God and Saviour”.  

Church, it is only when we begin to acknowledge the full majesty of God, that He is incomprehensible and incomparable to anything that we can think and imagine, that we can begin to see and experience that the gospel is the life transforming “power of God and the wisdom of God”.  What the world sees God has done on the cross as foolish and the weakest of all things, we see it as so much wiser and stronger than what the world could ever produce. 

But how is it that we can see so differently from the perishing world?



The Foolish Few

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

After Paul argues why the gospel in destroying worldly wisdom, is rejected and seen as foolish by the world, he now illustrates this truth through the life of his “brothers, the foolish few.  And what a great way to address them by saying “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth”.  Paul straight up says that the church is home to the nobodies of the world, it’s home to the foolish!  Now don’t you just feel a tiny bit offended after reading that?  It’s like if our beloved Pastor Yosia was called by God to serve overseas and after being years away he decides to pen a letter to our church to be read out loud.  So Edrick comes up on stage, opens the letter and reads “Yellow ROCK Sydney, the church where the majority of you weren’t by any means educated, important or influential”.  Like most of us Edrick would just stop reading, scrunch up the letter and say it was a mistake.  But why do we feel offended?  It’s because our hearts desire to be valued members of society.  We want to be appreciated.  We want to have a good reputation.  We want the assurance that we’re good enough and have everything to fit in our communities.  We want to be seen as wise by those around us.  And as the world celebrates and promotes those with wisdom, power and influence, when it feels like we’re lacking in these qualities, then we just can’t help but feel as though we’ll never be good enough.  And as Christians I’m sure many of us here tonight aren’t strangers to feeling this pressure right? The moment people know you’re Christian, you’re seen as someone who’s foolishly small minded or part of a group who just can’t keep up with the times.  In fact, it’s probably why we struggle so much to share the gospel in our offices, classrooms or various social settings.  When we begin to have the urge to share what we discussed in our MCs or what we heard on Sunday, our initial response is to suppress those thoughts.  But church listen to this, Paul makes no mistake.  He wants us to take heart and remember something very important.  It’s that as Christians, instead of being offended, we can rejoice when people call us foolish.  We can find encouragement when we see our endless list of weaknesses and shortcomings.  How come? Because we know that though we’re a people that will never be good enough for the world, we have a God who is perfectly good and has called us to be His people. 

Look at what Paul says next, “27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are”.  How reassuring are these verses from Paul! Do you see who is singlehandedly setting the narrative and carrying out all the actions?  God is!  Paul repeats “God chose” three times to emphasise just how unmistakeable and deliberate God is in calling and choosing His people.  Yes the majority of the Corinthians were foolish and weak nobodies, but they were the very people God chose to “shame” the world.  And this is true for us today.  Like the Corinthians, ROCK Sydney is home for the imperfect.  You don’t even need to look around.  Just take a look in the mirror and you’ll see that this family is made up of people from different backgrounds each with their own faults, scars, failures, flaws and burdens. And let’s face it, even by the standards of Sydney or even Artarmon, none of us make it on the map for being impressive!  Yet despite our small number, despite our flaws, despite our insignificance, God has intentionally chosen you and I to “bring to nothing” all the things seen by the world as valuable and important.  How incredibly undeserving are we of such saving grace!

And do you know what happens when we live with this truth in our hearts?  God gets all the glory!  Going back to the example of Sherlock Holmes, if you read the original novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you’ll see that what makes Sherlock the well known legendary detective was not only because he could solve the hardest murder mysteries, but it was because of his sidekick, Dr. Watson.  Now even though Dr. Watson didn’t have Sherlock’s insight or his ‘mind palace’, nor was he the one to solve the crimes, he experienced and saw firsthand what Sherlock did.  He was so captivated by it that it made him go on to write Sherlock’s biography and document all his spectacular work.  So the novels are written from the perspective of Dr. Watson on just how awesome Sherlock was.  Like Dr Watson our lives today also go on to testify to the world of who God is and all that He has done in our lives!  Paul concludes with, “29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.””.  Meaning that if we genuinely believe that it was God, and only God who in His sovereign grace and mercy called and chose us, then we have no room to “boast in the presence of God”.  I mean what reason is there for us to then say, “look at me, I was smart enough to believe in God” or “How can they be so dumb not to accept the gospel”? None.  There’s not one single reason to boast that anything of our own doing, whether in thought or action, is what saves us and ultimately leads us to know God.  Instead, Paul says, our only single reason to boast is found in Christ himself. 


But church how can we begin to see the immeasurable weight and scale of just how much Christ deserves all our boasting, all our praise and all our thanksgiving? Well, it’s by asking and reflecting on this simple question, “how is it that a worthless, weak, foolish and wretched sinner like me able to be called and chosen by such a holy and just God?”.  The answer is because Jesus “became to us wisdom from God”.  You see, Jesus was the perfect Son of God, who was holy, righteous and blameless.  Like God the Father, Jesus was infinitely wise and powerful in every way.  Yet in his great love for us, Jesus humbled himself by leaving all his heavenly glory behind to come down into this fallen world.  To be born not into royalty or nobility, but into poverty.  Although he created the limitless universe by his breath, he became limited to draw breath as a human being.  Although he lived a perfect sinless life and spoke the truth, he was branded a fool and rejected by the wise and powerful.  And such was their hatred toward him, that he was falsely accused, tortured, and crucified in the most horrific and humiliating way possible.  And as he hung mutilated and naked on the cross, do you know what the ultimate display of foolishness and weakness was church?  It was when Jesus completed the final step to solve our problem of sin.  On the cross Jesus experienced God’s sheer hatred of sin and suffered God’s eternal wrath for the sins he bore.  Our sins!  Oh church we were the ones who deserved to be abandoned by God.  We were the ones who should perish for our sins.  But today we find ourselves with a very different outcome.  We are chosen and called by God because Jesus who was chosen and called the Son of God, took our sins and nailed it to the cross with him.  Jesus died such a foolish death, so that we the foolish few who believe can have true wisdom.  A type of wisdom that doesn’t perish, but one secured in Christ.  That’s what it means when Paul says Jesus “became to us wisdom from God”.  Jesus’ finished work on the cross gives us the guarantee that we have his “righteousness and sanctification and redemption”.  We received Jesus’ righteousness to stand before a holy and just God, sanctification to live our lives in step with the Holy Spirit, and redemption to be free from the bondage of sin. Isn’t that just so amazing!  Tim Keller puts it this way “This pattern of the Cross means that the world’s glorification of power, might, and status is exposed and defeated. On the cross Christ wins through losing, triumphs through defeat, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away. Jesus Christ turns the values of the world upside down.”  This is what makes the message of the cross, not foolish but such good news! Church how we can see the cross as beautiful is not by knowing more through the relentless pursuit of human wisdom, but it is by knowing that we have God’s wisdom in the person of Jesus Christ who relentlessly pursues after us.  As we heard last week, God’s wisdom is not abstract but a person we can have a relationship with!  And because of Jesus we can have the confidence to hold on and proclaim the gospel to the world despite being seen as foolish and weak.  This truth is why Paul in 2 Corinthians is able to declare in his suffering, 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Dear brothers and sisters, let us be a church that boasts all the more in Christ and declare just as Paul declares, “when I am weak, then I am strong”. 

And to close, if there’s anyone either here with us today or tuning in online that has yet to give their life to Christ, and tonight you just feel deep down in your heart the weight of your sin and at the same time just how beautiful the cross truly is.  Then hear this, it’s not about how smart you are, how much you know the bible, how much you’ve done, first getting your life in order, or having to attend church a certain number of Sundays in a row, but only that Christ died for you.  So if that’s you, respond to the call.  Come put your faith in him and be saved.     

Let’s Pray.


Discussion Questions:


  1. What struck you the most from the sermon?
  2. The Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom. Which one do you relate more with and why?
  3. Why is it good news that God chose the weak, foolish, low, and despised? What does it say about Christianity?
  4. What does it mean when Paul wrote Jesus became to us wisdom from God?
  5. How does the gospel remove every human ground for boasting?
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