A sermon delivered by Michael Cheuk, Pastor, Farmville Baptist Church, Farmville, Va., on March 11, 2012.
Third Sunday in Lent
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Several years back, columnist Dave Barry listed “Sixteen Things That It Took Me over Fifty Years to Learn.” Let me give you the “Top Ten” of his list:
10. Take out the fortune before you eat the cookie.
9. There is a very fine line between “hobby” and “mental illness.”
8. Never lick a steak knife.
7. If there really is a God who created the entire universe with all of its glories, and He decides to deliver a message to humanity, He WILL NOT use, as His messenger, a person on cable TV with a bad hairstyle.
6. You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.
5. A person, who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.
4. Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic.
3. Your friends love you anyway.
2. You should not confuse your career with your life.
1. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.
Words of wisdom from Dave Barry. While Barry was able to see the humor in our everyday life, the situation that the apostle Paul was facing in the church of Corinth was definitely not a laughing matter. In today’s New Testament Lesson, Paul was writing a letter to a church that he founded in Corinth, a major cosmopolitan city located in southern Greece. This church had followers of Jesus who were Jewish, but they also had followers who were of Greek and Roman descent. The Greek and Roman Christians prided themselves in philosophy, oratory and rhetoric, and they placed a lot of stock on their knowledge of spiritual matters. Some within that church considered themselves wise and intelligent; but as a result, they also saw themselves as more spiritual than everyone else. This attitude caused conflict among the members, and divisions were tearing this church apart.
Paul addressed this problem in the church of Corinth by teaching the way of true wisdom. Instead of the conventional wisdom of the Greek and Roman philosophers, Paul taught that the way of wisdom is the way of Christ crucified. Paul knew that this message would not be a popular teaching. We’ve all been trained to believe that wisdom comes through how smart you were, through the number of letters that follow your name, or through being a renowned and respected scholar or philosopher? And yet Paul says that none of those things matter. Who would believe that the way of wisdom comes through the message of one Jewish peasant who was executed next to common criminals on a cross? No wonder Paul wrote that the message of the cross is foolishness!
Now, before I go on, let me make it clear that Paul was not against knowledge, scholarship or philosophy. Paul was not an anti-intellectual advocating a Christian “know-nothing-ism.” No, Paul was a brilliant man who studied under Gamaliel, one of the most famous rabbis of his day. Paul was not only knowledgeable about Judaism, but also Greek philosophy as he debated the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens, right before he founded the church in Corinth. Paul was not against human wisdom; his point was that God’s way of wisdom was greater, higher, deeper and wider than human wisdom.
For Paul, God’s way of wisdom was the way of the cross, and the cross challenged the conventional wisdom of both Jews and Greeks. For the Jews, they looked for salvation through a Messiah who could perform miraculous signs and wonders, a powerful liberator who could free his people from the Roman empire. That was the conventional wisdom of the Jews. For the Greeks, they looked for salvation through knowledge and wisdom. Socrates said, “The secret to a successful society is education. If we can just give everybody a good education, then it must follow that the world will get better and better.” That was the convention wisdom of the Greeks. Paul wrote: “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. The cross was a stumbling block to the Jews because it represented weakness and suffering. The cross was foolishness to the Greeks because no sane person would accept a brutal instrument of execution as the way to know the divine. The cross challenged the conventional wisdom of both Jews and Greeks. For Paul, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God. To those whom God has called, to those who believe the message of the crucified one, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
God’s way of wisdom and the message of Christ continue to challenge the conventional wisdom of today’s world. Conventional wisdom says: “Knowledge is power.” The way of wisdom says: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). Conventional wisdom says: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” The way of wisdom says: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Conventional wisdom says: “Look out for number one.” The way of wisdom says, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30).
God’s way of wisdom does not only challenge the conventional wisdom of today’s world, but also the conventional wisdom of today’s church. The cross challenges the conventional wisdom of some in the church who think that one is saved by what one knows. “If people believe certain doctrines and know how to say and pray the right things, then they are saved and good church members.” Right beliefs and right knowledge are necessary, but they are not sufficient for salvation, for we are saved by God’s grace, not by works, lest anyone should boast.
Another conventional wisdom in the church is that there is only a small number of people who know what direction the church should go, and their job is to make sure the rest of the church follows. Often, the person most susceptible to this conventional wisdom is the Senior Pastor, and I speak from personal experience. The truth is that Christ is the head of the church, and it is the responsibility of each member of the body of Christ to discern Christ’s vision and mission for each local expression of His church. That’s why in the coming weeks, Jay Lynn will seek the input of many church members regarding the future vision and direction of Farmville Baptist. You may already have received an invitation to be interviewed by Jay, and if so, I hope you will prayerfully consider participating in this process. If you have not been invited and would like to participate, please come see me. This process takes work, it is messy, and sometimes, it feels like foolishness to trust lay people. But we seek not to follow the conventional wisdom of the world, but the way of wisdom from God. And even as we seek the collective wisdom of the members here at Farmville Baptist, may we ever keep in mind that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
And so, as we continue the Lenten way, we travel the way of wisdom. We follow the way of Jesus, the way of the foolish cross. Christian songwriter/singer Michael Card wrote a song called “God’s Own Fool” that eloquently illustrates this point:
It seems I’ve imagined Him all of my life
As the wisest of all of mankind
But if God’s Holy wisdom is foolish to men
He must have seemed out of His mind
For even His family said He was mad
And the priest said a demon’s to blame
But God in the form of this angry young man
Could not have seemed perfectly sane
* * * * *
Come lose your life for a carpenter’s son
For a madman who died for a dream
Then you’ll have the faith His first followers had
And you’ll feel the weight of the beam
So surrender the hunger to say you must know
Have the courage to say, “I believe”
For the power of paradox opens your eyes
And blinds those who say they can see
When we in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
When we in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong
So we follow God’s own Fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable
Come be a fool as well
During this Lenten season, may we be God’s own fool as we follow Christ’s way of wisdom. Amen.