The Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Corinth. At the beginning of the letter, he does share with them his thanksgiving for what the Lord has done in them. But immediately after that short paragraph, he moves to correct them.
They had much disunity in the church. The issue he addresses first was about the factions that the church at Corinth had divided itself into. Namely, they divided by who it was that baptized them. They formed elitist cliques based on which church leader baptized them.
Paul does not think little of baptism, but he downplays his role in it. In other words, “It’s not a big deal if you were baptized by me. My main focus is not baptizing, but preaching the gospel.” And he’s preaching the gospel not in an eloquent way, but a simple one, so as to not empty the cross of Christ of its power. He then goes on to explain:
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. – 1 Corinthians 1:18
He speaks of the word of the cross. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, specifically that He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. It’s when Jesus was crucified that He took the sins of His people on Himself and bore the punishment that they deserved. It is this act that saved His people, and it’s through this message that they are brought to saving faith.
This word of the cross, Paul says, is folly to those who are perishing. Two millennia later, dying on the cross to save a countless multitude is honorable and lovely. But in that time, it was folly.
From a Jewish perspective, cursed was any man who was hanged. And you’re saying that the Messiah was a hanged man? No way.
From a Gentile perspective, crucifixion was the basest, most dishonorable way someone could be killed. It was reserved for the scum of the earth. Roman citizens were even exempt from such a sentence. And you’re saying that your Savior and King was crucified? That’s folly.
This is the attitude of those who are perishing, those who are not given faith, who continue in their degeneracy.
On the other hand, there’s another group of people, we who are being saved. It is those who have been given faith and enlightened by the Holy Spirit to believe.
Because He has done such a work in us, this word of the cross that is utter foolishness to the world is the power of God. Whereas the world looks at the gospel and scoffs at it, when it is spoken to someone who is meant to be saved, they are overwhelmed by the truth and the implications of it. God works through the word of the cross, applied by the Holy Spirit onto men’s hearts, to effectually call His people to Himself.
For us today, we’re given three encouragements from this verse.
1. We did not believe the word of the cross because we were smarter or more good than the next person. The only reason that it wasn’t folly to us is that we are being saved. And that should keep us from boasting and cause us to praise God all the more.
2. We shouldn’t be discouraged when people reject or scoff at the gospel. God uses that on purpose, to display His power in foolish preaching.
3. We should be therefore emboldened to preach, knowing that it’s not our eloquence or wisdom that saves, but God working through a foolish message.