16 Paul suddenly remembers one more family he baptized, which he forgot to mention. Paul didn’t want to forget anyone; every believer was important to him. But especially this family—the household of Stephanas—he didn’t want to forget; they were the first people in the province of Achaia (southern Greece) to believe in Christ (1 Corinthians 16:15-18).
17 Paul now explains why he baptized so few people at Corinth. He says that his main calling was not to baptize but to preach. Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the GOSPEL. Most pastors and preachers do both kinds of work—baptizing and preaching—together, and in other cities Paul also did both. But in Corinth Paul concentrated mainly on preaching and left the baptizing to others. Paul is not opposed to leaders baptizing new believers; he is only opposed to creating parties and divisions in the church.
Paul does not preach with words of human wisdom—that is, words that come only from man’s wisdom, not God’s wisdom. In this, Paul is an example for all preachers to follow. For when a preacher speaks only with human wisdom—human eloquence—then the listeners are drawn to the preacher and not to Christ. They praise the preacher instead of praising Christ.
Paul wants people to believe the Gospel because it is God’s truth, not because he preached it with eloquent words.
Some preachers appear to be very wise, and many people come to hear them. But these “wise” preachers don’t say anything about how Jesus Christ died on the cross2 for men. They don’t say anything about how Christ, through His death on the cross, now has the power to forgive men’s sins and give them eternal life. This is the “power of the cross” that Paul refers to here. And so, if these “wise” preachers don’t say anything about Christ’s cross, then the cross is emptied of its power—that is, it cannot benefit those who are listening. The listeners never have the chance to learn what Christ did for them on the cross, and so they cannot benefit from it. A preacher, no matter how wise, can’t save anyone. Only the crucified and risen Christ can save us and give us eternal life. Through Christ’s death on the cross we are made alive! That is God’s wisdom. And that is what Paul preaches (see 1 Corinthians 2:1,4-5,13).
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. Who are the perishing? They are unbelievers. For them, the message of the cross—that is, the Gospel—is foolishness. Why? Because they think it’s absurd that the Son of God, the Savior of mankind, would die on a cross like a criminal. They can’t believe it. To them, any talk of Jesus’ death on the cross is foolishness.
But all who know Christ and truly believe in Him have experienced in their own lives the same power of God which raised Christ from the dead. This is the power we receive when we accept the message of the cross, the glorious Gospel of Christ. Thanks be to God! (see Romans 1:16).
19 Paul quotes here from Isaiah 29:14. God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, says that He will destroy the wisdom of the wise, which opposes the message of the cross (verse 18). How can man’s wisdom be compared to God’s wisdom? It can’t be! (Psalm 33:10-11; Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-34).
20 Where is the wise man? Nowhere. No one is wise except God. God gives His own wisdom to those who believe in the “message of the cross.”
Where is the scholar … the philosopher? Men suppose that scholars and philosophers are very wise. Scholars and philosophers also read the Bible, though they don’t believe what is written in it. But in sending His own Son to die on the cross, God made foolish the wisdom of the world—the wisdom of scholars and philosophers. The man with worldly wisdom will perish together with his wisdom; but the man who believes in Christ will live forever.
21 The wisdom of the world cannot know God’s wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 2:14). The world3 calls God’s wisdom (the Gospel) foolishness. But God, by that so-called “foolishness,” gives salvation to all who believe in Christ.
22 The JEWS were always demanding miraculous signs in order to believe (see Matthew 12:38; Mark 8:11; John 2:18 and comments). They needed proof ; they had no faith.
Jesus gave them a sign. He rose from the dead—that was the sign (see John 2:1922). But this, the greatest of all Jesus’ signs—His own resurrection—the Jews refused to believe.
The Greeks4 were always searching for wisdom, the wisdom of the world.
23 For the Jews, the crucified Christ was a stumbling block. That is, the cross was an obstacle that prevented them from believing. That their Savior would die on a cross was incredible, even contemptible, to the Jews. Even while Christ was hanging on the cross, they mocked Him (see Matthew 27:41-42; Mark 15:31-32).
For the GENTLES—that is, all the non-Jewish people of the world—the idea of a crucified Savior was foolishness. That the Son of God would come to earth and end up being executed as a criminal was ridiculous to them.
24 But for those who believe in Christ, the crucified Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Believers are those whom God has called. For those who accept God’s call, the crucified Christ is not a sign of weakness, contempt, or foolishness. Rather, He is the power and wisdom of God. All power and all wisdom are in Christ (see Romans 1:16). And that power and wisdom is available to us also—the power to overcome sin and lead a new life, and the wisdom to know God and find the way of salvation.
25 When Paul uses the expression foolishness of God, he is using the term an unbeliever would use. He means God’s “foolishness” in sending His Son to be killed on a cross. By the expression weakness of God, Paul means Christ’s “weakness”—that is, His death on the cross. Death is the ultimate sign of human weakness.
Yet compared to God’s “foolishness” and “weakness,” what can man’s wisdom and strength do? The greatest wisdom and power of man cannot save a single soul. But God’s foolishness and weakness can! And God’s foolishness and weakness—that is, Jesus’ death on the cross—saves not just one soul, it saves the soul of everyone who believes in Jesus.
26 Most people who are wise, influential, or of noble birth don’t look to God. They think they don’t need Him (see Mark 10:23 and comment). Such people don’t want to be God’s servants; they want to serve themselves rather than God (see Mark 10:42-44 and comment).
27-28 God’s wisdom is the opposite of man’s wisdom. What man considers to be wise, God considers to be foolish; and what man considers foolish, God considers wise.
Therefore, God has chosen those people whom men consider foolish, weak, and lowly to be His followers. The foolish things, the weak things, the lowly and despised things are us—believers! God has chosen people like us to shame the wise and the strong men of the world (see James 2:5).
The things that are not (verse 28) are also Christians like us. In the eyes of the non-believers in Corinth, the Christians were like “things that are not.” The non-believers in Paul’s time took no account of the church; they treated the church as if it didn’t exist. And yet that church gradually spread throughout the Roman Empire, and later the world. And when the world passes away, the church of Christ will be remaining still.
29 Why did God choose us—the foolish, weak, and lowly? He chose the foolish, weak, and lowly so that no man would boast that he had been chosen because of his own wisdom and strength! (Ephesians 2:8-9). God doesn’t want boasters. He chooses us because of His grace, not because of our worth. Besides, any wisdom and strength we might have has come from God in the first place! Man has absolutely nothing of his own to boast about.
30 Let us never forget that it was God who chose us in the very beginning, not we who chose God (see John 15:16; Ephesians 1:45 and comments). It is because of him that we are in Christ.
The greatest gift God has given us is Jesus Christ Himself. All the other blessings of God are included in Christ—such as, RIGHTEOUSNESS, holiness and REDEMPTION, or salvation (see Romans 3:24; Ephe-sians 1:6-8; Colossians 1:14 and comments). If we have received Christ, we have received every other spiritual blessing as well (see Romans 8:32; Ephesians 1:3 and comments).
Paul frequently uses the expression IN CHRIST. To be in Christ Jesus means to be joined with Christ like branches are joined to a tree (see John 15:4-7). When we are in Christ, Christ is also in us. And if Christ is in us, that means His power and wisdom and love—indeed, all the fullness of God—is in us also! (Ephesians 3:19). Christ is King and Lord of our life. We belong to Him.
31 Here Paul quotes from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah says that if we have something to boast about, then we must boast not in ourselves but in the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24). And indeed we do have something to boast about! Because Christ is in us, we are rich, wise, and strong. Surely we can boast—but not in ourselves. Every good thing we have has come from Christ; let us boast in Him (see Galatians 6:14).