Community Group Study Guide — The Power of God
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
There are many things about what God has done in Christ that offend our sense of how the world operates. The Corinthians, like us, valued intellect, power, athleticism and achievement. It is true that many people in our culture would affirm that everyone has some measure of worth, but in practice we look to those who meet our ideas of greatness. We say that everyone has value, but then we assess that value based on what you’ve done. What Jesus did on the cross goes against how we naturally operate.
To come to Christ you must first admit that you need him and that you are not good enough to earn or deserve God’s favor. Salvation is a gift so that no one can boast. More than that, Jesus would not fit the mold of what the Jews of Greeks would expect when it comes to the kind of person God would send to lead his people and accomplish redemption. Jesus is a king who did not look like the world’s definition of a king. He was gentle and lowly in heart, he did not have a beautiful form or appearance so that none would desire him, and his death was the death of a criminal. You may have grown up hearing these stories or seeing crosses as pieces of jewelry, but to the 1st century Greek or Jew almost everything about who Jesus was and how our salvation was won would have been offensive and would have gone against their worldly wisdom.
If you follow Christ, think back to before you were a Christian. What kind of religion did you believe in? What kind of person was “saved” in your mind? Many of us would think of one where you were saved based on what you did; if you were just slightly better than average or did enough “good” you’d be in with God. We’d also likely reward those who were “great” among us; those who demonstrated wisdom, generosity or power would have a special place. Finally, we’d make it in such a way that God would default to mercy to allow people to squeak in as long as they weren’t too bad. Isn’t this how our modern world operates? We look to those who have power, wisdom and generosity and we show leniency as long as someone does not break our cultural rules and norms too badly. This is not the message of the cross; this is worldly wisdom.
The cross turns worldly wisdom upside down. We see this juxtaposition of wisdom and foolishness; power and weakness. God chose to do what the world would call foolish and weak but is ultimately wisdom and power to those who are being saved.
Look at 1 Corinthians 1:18. We’re told that “the word of the cross”… this is Paul’s way of saying what the whole plan of redemption in Christ points to (otherwise known as “the gospel”). One is not saved by what they did and they are not brought into God’s kingdom through their reason, wisdom or power. Knowing the power of the cross changes who you trust and how you live. We saw last week that the Corinthians struggled in how they lived by celebritizing the elite, dividing with other brothers and sisters in Christ and ranking one another based on their outward gifts. All of those things went contrary to the gospel which is why Paul pulls their eyes back onto what happened on the cross; something that would be a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.
Our scripture today presents us with a paradox – two things that are true but seem to contradict. The message of the cross is both foolish and powerful.
The Word of the Cross is Foolish:
God does not operate based on how the world values wisdom. Wisdom is a deeply biblical theme. There are whole books in the bible devoted to the pursuit wisdom. It is important to recognize that biblical wisdom is skillful living in a way that aligns with the things of God. However, the Corinthians would look at wisdom differently; they’d see it as a tool for selfish gain. This is the opposite heart attitude to what the gospel teaches.
To those who do now know God the cross is foolish for a few reasons:
First, Jesus’ whole life was marked by sacrifice and not selfish gain. His teachings were not to gain a crowd, his miracles sought to heal others and not to make a name, and his death on the cross was so that many could be made sons and daughters of God. The cross is folly to those perishing because it goes against what we naturally value and what we’d naturally do. Paul tells us in Romans 5:7 that our natural inclination is to save ourselves and not die for the benefit of another. The cross shows us selfless love and salvation through trusting in Christ’s sacrifice.
Second, the cross went against what they expected. The Greeks would have expected God to have demonstrated his power in well reasoned arguments. The Jews demanded signs and wanted visible confirmations that Jesus was the Messiah. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:22 that for this reason Christ was a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles. Both groups expected Jesus to be the kind of king marked by power, signs and eloquent wisdom. Their version of the messiah would never have died on the cross which was the most humiliating and weak form of punishment one could succumb to. No human being would have dreamed up that God’s plan of redemption would include a crucified messiah; it was too scandalous, humiliating and weak.
Finally, the Corinthian life was one about affluence and influence. Wisdom was a tool to achieve power and prosperity whereas the cross points us towards holiness and service of others. The cross shows us how Jesus lived a completely joy filled, holy and sacrificial life. Hebrews 12:1 tells us that he went to the cross with joy set before him, the gospels emphasize his holiness and innocence and all of it was done to make a way for our sin to be forgiven and so that we can be reconciled to God. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; and the most humble human being to ever breathe air and walk the earth.
The “wisdom of God” here is meant to offend our “worldly wisdom.” You are not good enough and deserving enough and your natural ideas of who God is and how God ought to act are wrong. There are many reasonable arguments for faith and we should know them and fight against our doubts. However, unless you are willing to humble yourself and surrender to God then the cross will be offensive. God chose to do something shocking in the death of Jesus because the heinousness of our sin demanded it and the very act of the cross would require faith.
The Word of the Cross is Powerful:
The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). The Corinthian church was called “saints together” and “sanctified in Christ Jesus” meaning that they are in Christ and walking by faith, although they struggle still with measuring success in terms of how their world saw things. They are saved and “being saved”. Paul uses this same language in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 when talking about the gospel and the resurrection. The gospel is how they are “being saved”. Meaning that the cross is the power we have to not only be reconciled to God but also to find ongoing freedom from sin and holiness in our lives.
Paul does not want them to default back to their old lives and to measure their worth and value in what they’ve done and how they compared to others. The cross draws our eyes to our worth and our unworthiness. That God made a way for us to be saved through faith (our worth) but that the cost of our sin meant Jesus would have to die for us to be forgiven (our unworthiness). Paul calls followers of Jesus to remember the gospel and that God is in the business of transforming them through looking to the cross. The Power of God is not that you get your life together, it is that you look to Christ and use that as the basis for fighting sin and pursuing holiness. The gospel displays the power of God in that we have to turn from our own efforts to prove our wroth and value and look to Jesus. We are not brought into his kingdom by our merit but rather through what the world would call foolishness and a stumbling block.
The wisdom of our world might be a “you do you” acceptance of your sin or a message about getting your act together to prove your worth or even a message around how only those who are great in a worldly way are valuable. That is worldly wisdom pointing to human worth determined by human effort. The power of the cross is that God saves the unworthy and those who would look to him in faith.
Main idea: The message of the cross will be hard to accept for anyone who is not in Jesus because it goes against the wisdom of our world and the ways we do things. Yet, for those who follow Jesus it is the wisdom of God and power. As we humble ourselves in trust and look to the Lord we find freedom from sin and deeper communion with Christ.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Before you followed Jesus, what kind of religion did you believe in? What kind of person was “saved” in your mind?
Does this passage tell us to no longer search our reason for believe in God or understanding for difficult things to grasp in our faith? Why or why not? If not, what is the main message we’re being told to consider?
How did Jesus’ death on the cross go against the Greek concept of wisdom and power? How was a crucified Messiah a stumbling block to the Jews?
In what kinds of things would the Corinthians look to as power and wisdom? How about us today as Americans? Compare those answers to how the “word of the cross” displays the power of God.