I CORINTHIANS 1:18-25: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 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. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” NKJV
OBSERVATION: As I reflect on these verses of Scripture it is the end of a long and restful July 4th celebration of the Independence of the United States of America. On July 4th I attended church, wore red, white, and blue, and thanked God for His blessings on our nation. However, at the same time, I wrestled with a question in my heart.
Should the Church in America be focused on saving our nation or saving souls?
As a Christian, a conservative, and a patriot, I long for the America that I knew as a small child. Gone are the days when our flag, national anthem, and pledge of allegiance bring our nation together in unity of purpose and solidarity. While these things daily slip away I have watched the church focus more time on saving our dying culture than on reaching lost souls.
This is a peculiar thing indeed. I think it comes from our personal insecurity of losing a culture that embraced our values and affirmed our faith. How did we get from there to here in a mere 60+ years? As our culture slips away the church feels the pressure to do something about it. Yet, voter education, turnout, and conservative efforts have not seemed to make a dent in the fast and rapid slide to the left.
Meanwhile, every year churches have gathered for a National Day of Prayer. Yet, these prayers have not seemed to work either. Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe in the power of prayer. Paul exhorted Timothy to pray for our rulers and all those in authority over us. Yet, our prayers have not been for their salvation. Our prayers have been more focused on turning the cultural tide to our faith and values.
Whatever happened to the mandate to preach the Gospel and be soul winners?
While the world slides down the unstable sandy cliffs of cultural malaise, the church huddles and tries to come up with a strategy to stem the downward spiral. We are trying to change the whole and have almost completely forgotten the part. Jesus always emphasized the importance of the person, the single soul, the individual who was sick and needed a physician, the lost lamb, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.
- “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.” Matthew 18:12-13 NKJV
I find it very interesting and challenging to consider that neither Jesus nor the Apostles tried to save their culture. Their focus was on preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified to all who would hear – so that those who were called of God would be saved. They indeed turned the world upside down. However, this was never the game plan. The focus was singular and purposeful. Paul put it this way to the Corinthian believers,
- “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” I Corinthians 2:1-5 NKJV
Paul never expected the Roman government, nor the Jewish leaders to embrace his message. He knew that preaching the cross, Jesus Christ and Him crucified, was repugnant to both groups. The Jews saw the cross as degrading and a curse. The Greeks saw the cross as intellectual foolishness.
- “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
The powerful point of this statement is that the Gospel was never intended to change governments. The Gospel was intended to change souls – “…but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
When I reflect upon the powerful ministry of the late Billy Graham, I am reminded again of the truth of these verses. Billy Graham held council with Kings and Presidents. Yet, his purpose, his message, his ministry were focused on one thing – proclaiming Jesus Christ and Him crucified! Each time Billy Graham stood at the pulpit to preach he preached the cross. He spoke boldly of the reality of hell, the certainty of heaven, and the only way to bridge this gap – faith in Jesus Christ!
Today, most churches in America are focused on how they can grow their congregations numerically and are not even considering how they can win the lost to Christ. If we are truly honest most church growth and decline is simply the shuffling of the saints from one church to the next. Where are the testimonies of a life gripped by sin radically transformed by the power of Jesus Christ? Why have we been waiting in our four-walled sanctuaries and neglected to go to the highways and the byways?
A culture declines because the moral fiber of its citizens declines. The answer is not found in government. It is only found in the human heart. A changed heart is needed before there can be a changed culture. We have put the cart before the horse, gone fishing without any nets, and become comfortable in our holy huddles as we sing, pray, and watch the world go to hell in a handbasket.
Here are the facts from I Corinthians 1:18-25:
- Convential wisdom has always rejected the message of the cross as foolish and irrelevant.
- The message of the cross is the only message we have.
- God uses this message to transform the hearts of those He has called to salvation.
- We do not know who He has called so we must proclaim the Gospel to every person.
- When we focus on souls by proclaiming the message of the cross of Jesus Christ – the Holy Spirit shows up and those who place their faith in Jesus Christ are radically transformed.
- Finally, when the veil is pulled back, when we see the true reality of the Gospel, we understand that it is both the wisdom and power of God at work in the world.
The message of the cross is the only thing that can save, deliver, and transform!
The church has one call – to make disciples of all nations. We do this by preaching the cross, baptizing those who receive Jesus Christ through faith, and training them how to follow Christ and become fellow fishers of men. The Gospel is spread from one messenger to one heart. It was always focused on the heart of man and not the heart of government or institutions! God has always intended for His transformed children to change it naturally as they live out their lives of faith in their homes, their churches, their communities, and their world.
What would happen in America if the church once again began praying for souls and preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified?
Lord, help me to allow these questions and thoughts to change me and impel me to proclaim Jesus Christ to all who will hear!
In Jesus Name!