Foolishness of Preaching

The Foolishness of Preaching

Ben Shropshire

“Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:20,21). The wisdom of this world often finds itself in conflict with the wisdom of God. What is pleasing to God is often considered foolishness by the wisdom of the world. God chose to save the world by means of the preaching of the gospel, but the story of the gospel is often considered by men to be foolish. The plan of salvation revealed in the gospel is often regarded as foolish, while the plans of men are thought to be wise and good.

The Jews of the first century could not see in the wisdom of God as revealed in the gospel the power of God unto their salvation. Instead, they insisted on some greater sign to authenticate the gospel before they would accept it. Likewise, the Greeks could not appreciate the wisdom of God in the beautiful story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It had no relevance to their lives because it was contrary to all that was declared to be “wise” by the philosophies of men to which they were so attracted and loved to hear (Acts 17:21).

Our world today is not much different. Men and women are still depending on signs and miracles as authentication of their salvation, rather than on the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). The wisdom of men, in the form of traditions, creeds, philosophies and opinions, are often still more popular to people than the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the wisdom of God is still foolishness to so many in today’s world. They want something more and better than God’s wisdom, but they are looking for and satisfied with something that turns out to be less and worse!

It is according to God’s wisdom that the gospel should be preached to every creature (Mark 16:15,16) to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). Because the gospel was the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), the apostle Paul was ready to preach it to all men – to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and the unwise (Rom. 1:14,15). In New Testament days men and women were called to salvation by the preaching of the gospel (1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Thess. 2:14). The wisdom of men, in the form of Calvinism, however, would have us believe that because all men and women are born totally depraved and are incapable of believing the gospel they must have an act of irresistible grace performed on them by means of a direct and miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit on their hearts to enable them to believe and accept the gospel. Such a notion makes the preaching of the gospel superfluous and the wonderful story of the gospel powerless! To those who teach such wisdom of this world the preaching of the gospel is regarded as foolish.

For another reason the very preaching of the gospel is foolishness according to the wisdom of today’s world. The purpose of the gospel, in God’s wisdom, is to effect the salvation of the soul from the guilt and consequences of sin (Rom. 1:16,17). All who have ever lived have sinned, and all living now are falling short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23; 5:12). Those who do not know God, nor obey the gospel will suffer everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord (2 Thess. 1:9). Those who do believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God will die in their sins (John 8:24). The wisdom of this world, however, ridicules the idea of salvation in a spiritual realm; sin is scoffed at and hell is denied. Salvation, we are told, is just to get rid of “guilt feelings.” It is just to make THIS world a better place; to solve the problems of crime, poverty, racism, war, sickness, injustice, etc. The social gospel of this world’s wisdom would offer mankind only a heaven on earth, and its proponents have little use for the wisdom of God with respect to spiritual salvation; it is foolishness to them.

The wisdom of this world rejects the idea that anyone will be lost; that God would punish anyone in an eternal hell for any reason. The wisdom of the world is that God is too loving, too good and too merciful to punish anyone for sins, and that all will be saved. The proponents of man’s wisdom reject the wisdom of God that tells us He will render to “each one according to his deeds &ldots; indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek” (Rom. 2:6-8). Jesus taught, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment&ldots;” (Matt. 25:46). It is true that God is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9); He desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), but His revealed wisdom also tells us that many will be lost (Matt. 7:13,14). God’s wisdom with regard to eternal punishment is regarded as foolishness by those who trust in worldly wisdom.

The wisdom of this world would have us believe that, when it comes to our salvation, doctrine and truth are unimportant. It makes no difference what a person believes so long as he is sincere. If a person is honest his belief of religious error is of no consequence. This, however, is not according to the wisdom of God. It is by the truth that we are made free from sin (John 8:32), and true discipleship results from abiding in the words of Christ (John 8:31), not in our opinions and suppositions. Every religious notion that does not have a divine origin will be rooted up (Matt. 15:13), and those who are led by the spiritually blind will fall into the same ditch as those who are leading them (Matt. 15:14). Salvation and fellowship with God depend on our “abiding in the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9). Cornelius was a very sincere man, even religious and prayerful, yet his religious sincerity was not enough to save him from his sins; he was lost and needed to hear the words that would save him (Acts 11:14). The words he needed to hear were all things commanded of God (Acts 10:33). Saul of Tarsus was sincere while he has persecuting Christians (Acts 23:1), but still needed to have his sins washed away. Belief and obedience must be sincere; that is, “from the heart” (Rom. 6:17), but unless it is obedience of the truth (1 Pet. 1:22) there will be no purification of the soul from the guilt of sin. The truth, and the truth alone, must be received in order that we may be saved (2 Thess. 2:10). Philosophies of men, human traditions and all teachings “that are according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” will cause us to be cheated of our eternal reward in Christ (Col. 2:8). The wisdom of this world says that sincerity is enough, and regards as foolishness the wisdom of God that tells us truth and doctrine are essential to our salvation.

The wisdom of this world teaches that faith only is all that is necessary to obtain salvation. A person is saved, we are told, the moment he believes in Jesus and acknowledges Him as his personal savior, before and even without doing anything. To say that a person must do anything in order to be saved, the wisdom of this world tells us, is to suggest that a person can earn his salvation by works. The idea of salvation by faith only makes the wisdom of God to appear to be foolishness, for the word of God teaches otherwise. Jesus taught, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). In the letter to the Hebrews the author tells us that Jesus, having been perfected, “became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9). Peter, in telling Cornelius words whereby he could be saved, said: “But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34). The Roman Christians were set free from sin when they had “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which” they had been delivered (Rom. 6:17). Peter writes that the recipients of his first epistle had purified their souls in their obedience to the truth (1 Pet. 1:22), and James adds, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). Since our salvation is by grace and not of works (Eph. 2:8), the works required in order to salvation cannot be said to earn or deserve salvation; they are merely conditions upon which God will appropriate the blood of His son to cleanse us of our sins. Again, preaching of the gospel with regard for the need of an obedient faith is in harmony with the wisdom of God, even though it is regarded as foolishness by those who are in love with the wisdom of this world.

The wisdom of this world tells us that baptism is not necessary to salvation; it is only a symbol of salvation that has already been obtained or that it is a means of obtaining church membership after salvation. The wisdom of God proclaims otherwise. Jesus taught, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Peter told 3,000 lost souls who had murdered the Son of God that, in order to be saved, they needed to “repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). In being baptized into the death of Christ a person is raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). Saul of Tarsus, guilty of persecuting Christians and then becoming deeply penitent when the Lord had appeared to him, was told by Ananias to “arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16). Teaching that baptism is essential to salvation is in harmony with the wisdom of God, but it is regarded as foolishness by the wisdom of this world.

Again, those who are wise in the world would have us to understand that the action of baptism may be that of the sprinkling or pouring of water on a person, or the immersion of the person in water. This is reflected in the definition of baptism given in most English dictionaries. I recently learned that one church “baptizes” by putting a spot of oil on a person’s forehead. However, when the wisdom of God on this subject is determined, it can easily be seen that baptism is performed by the immersion of the person in water. John baptized at Aenon near Salim “because there was much water there” (John 3:23), implying immersion. Both the evangelist Philip and the Ethiopian treasurer went “down into the water” in order for the treasurer to be baptized, and they both “came up out of the water” afterwards (Acts 8:38,39). This action plainly suggests that an immersion of the treasurer took place. The New Testament teaches that baptism is a “burial” (Rom. 6:3,4; Col. 2:12). The wisdom of God is clear and simple – the action of baptism is the immersion of a person in water – but the wisdom of men declares this to be foolishness!

Finally, the wisdom of this world declares “once saved, always saved” – another precept of Calvinism; that once a person becomes a child of God he can never be lost again. Those who hold to this wisdom of the world declare as preposterous the idea that a saved person can ever be subsequently lost. The wisdom of God, however, declares otherwise. Simon the sorcerer, in his belief and obedience to the gospel had been saved, but Peter declared that his heart was not right with God and that he was in need of forgiveness because he had thought he could obtain the gift of God with money (Acts 8:13-23). The apostle Paul feared that he himself could become disqualified after he had preached the gospel to others (1 Cor. 9:27). The author of Hebrews plainly implies that those who have been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, have become partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come could fall away (Heb. 6:4-6). The apostle Peter implied the possibility of a Christian falling away and urged diligence to make one’s calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10). Again, the wisdom of this world may regard the wisdom of God as foolishness, but let God be true and every man a liar (Rom. 3:4).

The wisdom of this age is coming to nothing (1 Cor. 2:6). We must rely on the wisdom of God, for “the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jere. 10:23). God’s wisdom is not foolishness; it is regarded as such only by those who profess to be wise, but have become fools (Rom. 1:22).

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