In 1 Cor. 1:18-2:5, the Apostle is in the midst of a defense of his speaking ability and the disease of ‘preacher-itis’ at Corinth.
In order to cut through all this clutter, he focuses on the Cross and the various opinions surrounding the Cross from the viewpoints of the prominent thinkers of the day.
It is interesting to note that his focus is not on the birth of Christ. He does not appeal to the manger.
During this time of the year, every year, there is much written and spoken about the miraculous birth of the Lord. Indeed, it is important to understand the birth of Christ. Birth is a theme that plays throughout the Bible and the gospel story. But, it is not central. Nowhere in Scripture are Christians commanded to commemorate the birth of Christ. But, we are commanded to commemorate His Death (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
The manger causes no disunity of opinion on salvation. It is widely accepted that Christ was born. It is widely accepted that He was born for a purpose – to save mankind.
The problems arise when the how of that salvation was to happen. The Jews were looking for a military solution. The Greeks had no real concern over it.
One concern was the possibility of a revolt by the people since He was said to be a King. But, this was never in God’s plan.
Ah, but the Cross is a different story. In fact, the Scriptures make it THE story. If any one event in history is emphasized over and over again, it is the death of Christ on the Cross.
Many have taken this whole passage (1 Cor. 1:18-2:5) as some kind of evidence for the Augustinian position of the enabling power of Grace by the Spirit being infused into a person before they can understand.
Also, they use this passage to try to show that man has no choice about his salvation…
But, is that the argument Paul is making?
In 1 Cor. 1:21, he is saying the message preached was the method God chose to present the truth for mankind to make his choice whether or not to believe unto salvation.
In the following few verses Paul moves around the Cross with four positions or viewpoints.
First, he identifies worldly Jews and worldly Greeks. One segment of the Corinthians were Jews, and to them the Cross was a stumbling block. Paul uses a word in the Greek from which we derive our word, scandal. To those Jews who refused to see the Cross as being in God’s plan, it was scandalous!
The Greeks of that day were very used to flowery speeches given by professional orators – the celebrities of the day and the believed repositories of conventional wisdom. They held men like Paul in derision. To them, the Cross was utter nonsense.
But, then Paul identifies two other groups – the called Jews and the called Greeks. While each had different backgrounds from which they would consider the message of the Cross.
The called Jews looked at the Cross and saw no scandal but power. These Jews, all of which sought for a sign, saw the Cross as THE SIGN. Now, the great enemy Death would be defeated and THE WAY to salvation was plainly demonstrated.
The last group identified are the called Greeks. Being intelligent listeners and critics of all the accumulated wisdom of the time, they could look at the Cross and see ultimate wisdom – God’s wisdom.
So, what made this difference?
Not the Manger. It was the Cross.
All four groups were created by God as free agents. That is much of the argument in the next two paragraphs – 1 Cor. 1:26-2:5.
In v. 26, Paul calls on their God-given abilities to consider their calling.
Perhaps he thought of his own… Remember when Paul was giving his defense before Agrippa in Acts 26, he recounts his conversion on the road to Damascus when the Lord tells him what he is sending him to do- Acts 26:18 – that He was sending him to the Gentiles to open their eyes… Paul did not attempt to devise some shrewd parable or legend to convince. He used the Cross. The Lord did not command Paul to speak to only an elect few. He spoke to all. But, the Cross is the focal point – you will either believe like the called or you won’t.
In John 12:32, when the Greeks asked to see Jesus, he foretold His Death. And, then he says something very interesting – He says – “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” This is a direct reference to the Cross – being lifted up from the earth. I see no manger reference here. Further, He says that Him on the Cross would be the drawing power. No manger here, either. And, finally He says that this drawing power of the Cross would draw all men, not an elect few.
In his instructions to the young preacher Timothy, in 1 Tim. 2:1-4 Paul urges young Timothy to pray for all men… because God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Also, in 1 Tim. 4:10, the Apostle reminds Timothy that hope was based on the Savior of all men – Christ. All of these admonitions to consider would be worthless to a non-free-thinking individual.
But, it says all men would be saved. No. It says it is the Will of God that all would be saved. It says the Cross, not Man’s cunning would be the attraction to Christ – to consider… that the Cross would be that appealing power to Man’s consideration. And, God would allow all to choose – either salvation or damnation. But, salvation was on God’s terms, not Man’s. Not on a manger. But, on the roughhewn wood of the condemned.
The Cross stands for all eternity as the final expression of God’s love.
And, we must all deal with the Cross. How will you deal with it?