Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is an exhortation of foundational truth, which he hopes will result in godly behavior. (Good luck with that!)
Corinth was located on a major trade route for much of the Mediterranean area, and, as such, there were a great deal of foreign travelers in the city at any given time. It was infamous for its culture of debauchery and moral depravity.
After his lovely introduction and affirmation of the Corinthians, Paul launches into the issues. (I love that about Paul.) He addresses the problems of division and worldliness that were dominating the Corinthian church, clearly concerned that some of its members were not consistently separating themselves from their formerly pagan ways.
One can imagine this would be a hard thing to do in a city bustling with influences from all over the known world. In that day the exchange of ideas and intellectual discussions were considered the highest form of wisdom. Yet Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14: “’I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’”
This is the upside-down gospel that Paul proclaims. Isn’t it incredible that God established that we could not come to know him by human wisdom? Actually it makes perfect sense. If we could discover him by empirical evidence or rational conclusions, then we would ALWAYS give ourselves the glory for having done so. Instead, this wisdom that saves is revealed to us (note the passive position we are in).
How does this happen? Paul reminds the Corinthians that “no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor 2:11 NRSV) That would be the same Spirit to whom Jesus refers in John 14:26: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (NRSV)
It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that the Triune God makes sense to us. Only through this divine agent can we see the necessity of the Cross. The message of the Cross is foolish and even offensive to man’s proud, natural mind.
However, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the truth of our worthlessness is brought to light (also known as conviction). Thankfully we are not left with this sad fact, for through the Holy Spirit, the glorious fact of our belovedness, in spite of ourselves, is planted in our hearts.
Psalm 78 illustrates the human condition beautifully. The majority of the psalm describes stories of the Israelites’ turning away from God and his repeated pursuit of them nonetheless. By verse 56—“Yet they tested the Most High God, and rebelled against him” (again)—you get the feeling that they’ve really blown it this time
But God forgives them still. Even as the psalm wraps up with the wrath of God being kindled, it is a jealous God who seeks only their love.
And then there it is in verse 70, the shepherd-figure in the person of David, chosen by God himself to be the shepherd of his people, and for whom Jesus himself is the archetype. Jesus becomes our Shepherd not by example, not by leading a moral life, but by becoming the sheep, the sacrifice that “gets us right with God.”
He will take on our worthlessness at Calvary in order to usher us into his Father’s presence. Foolishness to “Mr. Worldly Wise Man” (to quote FFL), but thirst quenching, life-giving news for you and me!