Folly or Power? (1 Corinthians 1:18)

1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV)

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.


            Early in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul warns against the cult of personality that can often form, even in churches, around different favorite leaders. As Paul tries to extricate himself from any discussion of being the hero of the faith to any of the people at Corinth, he makes the above statement. You see, Paul did not minister based on his own skill set, but simply based on the cross.


            What does Paul tell us about the cross? He lets us know that the message of the violent, sacrificial, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ to pay the price for the sins of God’s people is a message that will meet with two radically different responses. Those responses are not based on the skill of the one delivering the message. Neither are those responses based on the cleverness of the argument. No, the response of people is simply based on what God is doing in the hearts of the hearers. The responses will either be to see the cross as salvation or foolishness.


            To some people, the message of the cross is folly, utter foolishness. Paul tells us that this is true of those who are perishing. It is not that these people are particularly mean. It is not that these people are somehow not as good as you or me. No, the only difference here is that they are perishing. There are people whose hearts are not alive to the gospel. To those people, the message of the suffering Savior sounds simply senseless. You see this all the time in media. You hear it in the mocking tone of those who reject the gospel, and who do so with utter incredulity as to how any reasonable and rational person could allow themselves to be taken by such a scam.


            There is something for us to grasp here. Those who reject the gospel, even those who think us total idiots for believing it, are only doing what Paul predicted. Those who are perishing, who are walking toward the judgment of God if they do not repent, will think the message of the cross hollow and foolish. We do not “win” such people by developing more clever arguments. We do not change their minds by becoming more socially acceptable to them. No, if we are wise, we will recognize that the message of the cross is folly to them, and then we will continue to share that simple message for the glory of God in the hope that, perhaps, God will enliven their hearts and bring them to faith.


            On the other hand, the message of the cross is the power of God to those who are being saved. One thing that this means is that, to one who is being saved by God, the message of the cross is powerful like our Lord is powerful. God spoke, and a dark and empty void exploded with light and life. God commanded, and an immovable sea split in two to allow a nation to cross. God has shown us in Scripture that there is no limit to his power. And, to those who are being saved, there is no limit to the impact of a simple message of the cross.


            What’s the final conclusion? It is pretty simple. Paul was telling the Corinthians that their salvation was not about him, the messenger. People are not more likely to be saved when your or my favorite preacher really gets on a roll. No, salvation is about the message of the cross—sweet, simple, and unadorned. To some, this message will be foolishness. We should expect that to be the case and pres on for the glory of God when we are seen as fools. To others, that message will electrify the soul of a hearer as if God spoke to them for the very first time. Some people will come to life as they hear the same simple message that they may have scoffed at fifty times before. So we tell the truth and trust the Savior.