Introduction to 1 Corinthians: Wisdom From Above

Luke the physician wrote his two-part history of the beginning of the church from the vantage point of having been a companion of Paul. Besides diligently interviewing eyewitnesses to the ministries of Jesus he had direct access to Paul himself during his ministry for information. Because of this close working relationship, it should not be surprising if many of the common emphases of Jesus and Paul show up more clearly in Luke and Acts than perhaps in other gospels.

For instance, both Jesus and Paul speak often about the contrast between human wisdom and that of God.

In Luke 7:24-35 Jesus is commenting on the two normal responses to John the Baptist (or Baptizer). God’s servants look downright weird to the powers-that-be, and are usually rejected. As far as God is concerned, however, wisdom is shown to be correct (or justified) by her children (those who follow wisdom). Being out of the ordinary in appearance or manner is not automatically sign of disfavour with God. Rejecting God’s prophets is the easy way to get into a lot of trouble.

In Luke 10:21-23 Jesus is thanking the Holy Spirit for hiding the truth from the wise of the world, then telling his disciples that they are privileged to be seeing Jesus’ authority over all things. (They had been casting out demons and healing in Jesus’ name.) God’s wisdom is seen in Jesus’ authority rather than the authority of human organizations – even those that call on God’s name.

In Luke 11:37-54 Jesus accepts the invitation of a Pharisee to eat at his house. After offending their sensibilities by failing to ceremonially wash his hands, he proceeds to berate them for the hypocrisy of obeying the minutiae of God’s covenant law without exercising justice, mercy and faith. Their greed and wickedness hurts the poor, and they need to show repentance by giving their ill-gotten gain to the poor. They want the honor and respect of men rather than that of God. (This is not normally expected behaviour from a guest in any culture.) At the end of his speech he has managed to get the Pharisees and the Lawyers so mad at him that they want to destroy his credibility by hounding him with loaded questions from then on.

In Luke 16:14-15 the Pharisees scoff at Jesus’ warning against serving money rather than God. He makes the shocking statement, “What this world honors is an abomination in the sight of God.” (NLT)

Even Matthew records Jesus commenting on the difference between God’s wisdom and human wisdom in places such as Matt. 23:29-36. In all of the examples above, human beings confronted by God’s wisdom almost invariably become hostile. This is the attitude that has killed all of the prophets who were murdered by Israel’s political and religious elite over the centuries.

The Apostle Paul was personally familiar with both sides of the reaction to God’s wisdom as revealed through Jesus and his disciples. In Acts 7 Stephen presents his defence against false charges and is stoned by an infuriated crowd that included Saul of Tarsus (later renamed Paul). He goes on to orchestrate the arrest and killing of disciples, even way beyond the borders of Judea (Acts 8:3).

When Saul personally encounters Jesus in a vision, Jesus reveals that as Saul is persecuting believers, he is also persecuting his own God. (Acts 9:1-22) He understands himself to have been following the wisdom of the world rather than God’s wisdom up to this point. This is probably what was going on in his mind as he is writing about wisdom in his letter to the Corinthians. Wisdom becomes a main theme of 1 Corinthians, and how wisdom applies in the church becomes the main thrust of how to solve the problems of the church.

He introduces wisdom in terms very similar to those of Jesus in the stories above in Luke in 1 Cor. 1:18 – 31. The letter will go on to explain the results of hostility to God’s revelation through Jesus as well as the benefits of following Jesus’ lead. Paul has been on the road to destruction (by opposing Christ and his followers), but is now on the road to salvation, and invites the churches to live life as people of Jesus Christ, not as people of the wisdom of the world. Jesus is Wisdom, and we (as believers) are “the children of Wisdom.” Our lives should be radically different from lives lived according to worldly wisdom.

About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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