Concise Commentaries

What Does 1 Corinthians 1:18 Mean?

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Central point: How the perishing and the saved view or see the message of the cross.

1 Corinthians 1:18 (NKJV) 18 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.

The Power of God & The Wisdom of Men

When you are a soccer player, you are given a corner kick, goal kick or penalty kick to take; you don’t just stand on the ball, then kick it. You will have to take a few steps back before you come with full momentum to kick the ball with force. Even us today do the same.

1 Corinthians 1:17: Paul makes it clear that the gospel is not supposed to be taught or preached with the wisdom of words. When the wisdom of words is used to preach the gospel, the cross is unclothed off its power. The cross is made powerless, and the cross is made of no effect. Paul, who is talking, was educated. He was the student of Gamaliel, the most respected teacher of his time (Acts 5:34 & Acts 22:3). Yet when it comes to the gospel, he put aside all the wisdom of men and words of men and accepted the wisdom of God, which is foolish to men. 

A. The phrase “the message of the cross” is a noble, pleasing, good and better word to this present Christian and generation. The phrase meant punishment, cruelty, curse, and death to the first-century Christians. It is like the present-day electric chair in the USA. What good or power can an instrument of cruelty and death bring to one’s life. Of course, none. That is why the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing due to viewing it from a natural standpoint.

B. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing: Who are this message of the cross foolishness? To those who are perishing. The message of the cross is foolishness in three manners.

  1. The message itself: The message that was preached was foolishness to human wisdom. What was the message,” But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness,” (1 Corinthians 1:23); and “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5). So how can a malefactor person die as a cursed person in the manner of his death (Gal. 3:13). Who justifies us, cleanses our sins and redeems us and be the saviour of the world? To the mind of those who are perishing, it is foolishness indeed.
  2. Preachers and their preaching style: Most preachers were uneducated and ignorant according to the world standard (Acts 4:13). Therefore, their message was not with the wisdom of men. God did not place the disciplining of the world and planting of the church in the hands of the orator, wealthy, wise, mighty and noble; he entrusted it in the hands of a few ignorant and uneducated fishermen.” For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence,(1 Corinthians 1:26–29). As the preacher and their preaching were, so were their disciples, converts and followers. According to the world standard, the congregation was poor, uneducated, and ignorant (John 7:48–49). But full of the wisdom of God and the power of God.
  3. The recipient. These are the ones who were perishing. These were (1) Ignorant. They knew God but just decided to ignore Him, Rom. 1:21–22). (2) Carnal were natural and could not discern spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14). (3) Mind blinded, the God of this world has blinded their mind, and the gospel was hidden to them (2 Cor. 4:3–4). (4) Educated according to the standard of the world, Acts 17:18–21, 32). (5) Had human wisdom and sought for signs, (1 cor.1: 19–23). Thus, the wisdom of God was foolishness to them.

C. To us who are being saved, it is the power of God: To those who are saved. For the ones who have accepted Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9–10,13), the message of the cross is the power of God to them.

  1. The message of the cross, once proclaimed, clearly produces the power of God in and around you. The message must, (1) not be with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power (1 cor.1:17 & 1 Cor. 2:4). (2) not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God, (1 Cor.2:4–5). (3) Be in the wisdom of God but not in the wisdom of men or the devil (1 Cor. 2:6–7). (4) Focus on Christ Jesus, and him crucified not ourselves, (2 Cor .4:5 & 1 Cor. 1:23–24).
  2. The message of the cross is the power of God. This statement gives us clearly what is the message of the cross. It’s the power of God. Apostle Paul talked of the power of God unto salvation in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Now the message of the cross is the gospel of Christ. The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. The message of the cross is the power of God. When you proclaim the message of the cross, you are preaching the gospel of Christ. The end result is the salvation of souls.

D. 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: When you look at this statement, it shows that they are only two sides. 

  1. The side of those which the massage of the cross is foolishness and are perishing – Death side. 
  2. And the side which the message of the cross is the power of God and are saved– Life side. 

There is a side of life and the side of death. All of us are on either side. Now decide for yourself which side best suits you and its result.

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By Gilbert Magomere Ayieko (Kenya)
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