1 Corinthians 1:18-31

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These small group studies of 1 Corinthians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Inductive Bible Study and Discussion Questions

Outline:

  1. The message of the cross (18-25)

    1. It is the power of God (18)

    2. It destroys the wisdom of the world (19-20)

    3. It was God’s plan to save people apart from their wisdom (21)

    4. It is absurd to the Jews and the Greeks (22-23)

    5. It is the power of God to His chosen ones (24-25)

  2. God chose this way to eliminate boasting (26-31)

    1. God saved mostly the lowly (26)

    2. God used a seemingly foolish way to humble the proud (27-28)

    3. God doesn’t want self-boasters (29)

    4. It is His work, not ours (30)

    5. We should boast in the Lord (31)

Discussion Questions:

Who are “those who are perishing”?

Why is the cross foolishness to them?

How does the cross destroy the wisdom of men?

Why does God want to destroy the wisdom of men? Didn’t He create us with wisdom?

Explain verse 21. What does it mean “in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God”?

Why is Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks? Why the different words?

If the Jews search for signs and the Greeks wisdom, what do Chinese seek?

What does it mean the “foolishness of God”? Can you think of any examples of this in the Bible? (Gideon fighting Midian with 300. Joshua and the battle of Jericho. Etc.)

What makes the difference with those who are called? Why is it wisdom to us and not others? Are we just smarter?

Who is verse 26 talking about when it says, “there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble”?

Verse 27: why?

What does it mean “the things that are not, so that he may nullify the things that are”?

Explain the use of the word “so” in verse 31?

What major lessons can we learn from this?

How can we boast in the Lord?

Cross-references:

2 Corinthians 4:3 – The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing.

Acts 17:18 – The Greeks thought Paul was preaching foolishness.

2 Corinthians 10:4 – The gospel is power.

1 Thessalonians 1:5 – The gospel is power.

Job 5:12-13 – He thwarts the plans of the crafty.

Isaiah 29:14 – The wisdom and intelligence of people will fail.

Jeremiah 8:9 – The wise will be put to shame.

1Corinthians 3:19 – The wisdom of the world is foolishness in God’s sight.

Romans 11:33 – Describing the wisdom of God.

Acts 17:20 – They spent all their days discussing ideas and trying to learn new things.

1 Peter 2:7-8 – Jesus is a stumbling block to those who don’t believe.

Matthew 11:6 – Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.

1 Corinthians 2:14 – The man without the Spirit cannot accept or understand the things of God.

Matthew 11:25-26 – Hidden from the learn and revealed to children.

James 3:13-17 – A contrast between the world’s wisdom and the wisdom of God.

Teaching Points:

I.

Who are “those who are perishing”?

Why is the cross foolishness to them?

To the unsaved the cross makes no sense. This was written at a time when most people believed in some form of a god. They believed in the supernatural. They believed they were created. They believed in miracles. But they STILL thought the cross was foolishness. How much more today when people don’t believe in any god, don’t believe in anything supernatural, don’t believe we were created, and don’t believe in miracles.

As we will see again and again in this chapter, the cross just makes no sense to an unbeliever. Recently one guy told me he thought it was ridiculous. And that is their idea. It’s a myth or a legend on the level of Santa Clause. Why? Because humans in our “great wisdom” would never think of such a way to save the world. Seriously, save the world by letting your Son die? A lot of people think God should just forgive anyone or think if they were God they would do it another way..

On the other hand, to believers the cross demonstrates the power of God. It demonstrates God’s love for the world.

How does the cross destroy the wisdom of men?

Why does God want to destroy the wisdom of men? Didn’t He create us with wisdom?

Explain verse 21. What does it mean “in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God”?

From verses 19-21 we see that it isn’t just by chance that God’s way seems silly to the world. God DESIGNED it like this. He WISELY chose the cross to purposely conflict with the wisdom and cleverness of the world. He WANTED to force people to give up their own wisdom and self-confidence to come to Him. Why? Because pride and self-confidence is not acceptable to God. As we see in the end of the chapter, He doesn’t want any boasters. He didn’t design a way to save the world where only the smart and educated people could understand and believe. Instead He designed a way where only those who were willing to give up self-reliance and self-trust and pride could be believe.

This means that in a sense God wants us to become stupid. Much of the cultural knowledge and intellect and principles that we assimilate into our minds aren’t helping us, rather they are an obstacle that is hindering us and pulling us away from God. We need to realize that God’s ways aren’t our ways. We need to stop trying to conform God to who we want and expect Him to be and start listening to what He has to say. We need to stop trying to explain things with our own wisdom and instead start explaining things with through the lens of God’s wisdom. We need to be willing to appear foolish in the eyes of the world because then we can be wise in God’s sight. Cross-references: James 3:13-17 and others.

The contrast between human wisdom and the wisdom of God. The Greeks were in love with philosophy, trying to use human wisdom to figure our everything about the world, meaning of life, values, etc. There were many conflicting philosophies and each person chose their favorite philosopher to follow. This created numerous factions. It also touched the church too. Anytime too much importance is given to something besides God and His revelation there will be problems and divisions. Human philosophy is subjective. There is no ultimate standard. In the end it is just human speculation and opinion. Today the same problems are true. People are in love with philosophies and psychologies. They think that people hold the answer to everything. But these are often deceptive and misleading. Sure, sometimes they are right in some areas. But where they are right they will agree with the Bible, so we can look straight to the Bible without sorting through the P&Ps. But these are often wrong as well, and where they are wrong they are misleading. It is not necessary to look to humans for wisdom in these areas. God’s revelation is the standard. Nothing can be added or subtracted. Colossians 2:8. Having said that, not all wisdom is bad. Science has brought us many technologies and lengthened life expectation. We can learn a lot from human learning. But where it goes into the key areas of human life, the meaning of life, how to have joy, where we came from and where we are going, etc. we need to look to God’s revelation, not human wisdom.

Why is Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks? Why the different words?

Jews liked to see signs. Signs validated that someone was speaking the truth. When Jesus was doing signs many people at least had a surface belief in Him. Why is Jesus a stumbling block to them? Because Jesus died. They were expecting a Messiah that would keep on doing many signs and become more and more famous. Yet Jesus died. Dying was the opposite of a sign. Dying on a cross was a shameful thing, not fitting for a normal person, much less the Messiah. So Jesus was a stumbling block to the Jews because for them it was very difficult to believe in a Messiah who had died. Of course, what many didn’t realize was that He had arisen, which is the greatest sign of all.

The Greeks just enjoyed wisdom. See Acts 17:20. They spent a large majority of their time just sitting around and discussing ideas. Logic, philosophies, and sciences were what was important to them. So why was the cross foolishness to them? They couldn’t understand it’s logic. To them, it appeared ridiculous that God would come and sacrifice Himself. They would have never done it this way and therefore couldn’t conceive of God doing it this way.

What do the Chinese seek?

I think some Chinese are in each camp. Very likely some of the more poor and less educated Chinese want to see signs while many of the more educated ones want the wisdom of logic and evidence and proof.

What does it mean the “foolishness of God”?

Firstly, God cannot do anything foolish. Romans 11:33 describes God’s amazing wisdom. He knows everything and His plans are always perfect. So it doesn’t mean that “even the mistakes of God are better than the successes of man.” I believe it is referring to the things that God does that appear foolish in man’s eyes. Even these things that appear foolish to us is still far better than any of the greatest things we can do. Can you think of any examples of this in the Bible? (Gideon fighting Midian with 300. Joshua and the battle of Jericho. Etc.)

For those who are called Christ is the power and wisdom of God. We can see that God showed His power by raising Jesus from the dead and that God showed His wisdom by this perfect plan of salvation, balancing His justice and His grace. What makes the difference with those who are called? Why is it wisdom to us and not others? Are we just smarter?

Of course it has nothing whatsoever to do with our own intellect or talents. It is simply God working in our hearts, opening our spiritual eyes, and enlightening us. Without Him we are blind and can’t see. Our hearts are like bricks. With Him we know the truth and the truth is setting us free. This is why it is not enough to keep beating someone over the head with information, logic, evidences, and reasons that God is true. We can talk until we are blue in the face and they will continue thinking it is ridiculous unless God changes their hearts and calls them.

II.

Who is verse 26 talking about when it says, “there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble”?

Verse 27: why?

What does it mean “the things that are not, so that he may nullify the things that are”?

Explain the use of the word “so” in verse 31?

What major lessons can we learn from this?

How can we boast in the Lord?

The idea is for the Corinthian church to look around and see how many in the church were highly educated, very rich, high position in the world, or very wise. There weren’t many in the Corinthian church. How about other churches?

It’s the same anywhere. In general there are few rich, powerful, and geniuses who trust in God. In Jesus’ ministry most of His disciples were peasants. The powerful Sanhedrin only had 1-2 silent believers in the whole group. Paul was one of the most high up people to believe. He isn’t saying it never happens, but that it rarely happens. Why?

Verse 27 – God planned it this way (21). This was the wisdom of God. Again, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to many of us. We sometimes like to work from the top-down. Save the leaders and powerful people and then the common people will follow. But that’s not how God did it. God has chosen the base and despised things of the world. In the gospels Jesus said that He came to the sick, not the healthy. The Jews themselves were not chosen for their greatness in number or other great character qualities. So why does God generally choose the lowly?

29-31

The reason is that God doesn’t want boasters. Because God has chosen the lowly and because it is not by our own wisdom or understanding that we come to Him, no man may boast before God. If it was mostly the educated people being saved they would think they were smarter and that’s why. But now no one has a reason to boast before God. It is clearly God’s work in our hearts, not our own. It is by His doing! Praise the Lord for His work in our lives!

What is Paul’s conclusion about the response that we should have to this?

The answer is to boast in the Lord. Jeremiah 9:24. What does this mean? Boasting means to lift something up, to praise something, to draw attention to something. Normally it has a negative connotation and is applied to oneself. Here it is different. It is applied to God, meaning that we should praise God, draw attention to God, and lift Him up. For Him it is deserved, earned, and proper. We should give Him all the glory and all the honor. We should regularly praise Him privately and publicly. We should be humble because of what He has done for us. We should be motivated to spread the news about God’s greatness to others.

Study 1 Corinthians 2

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