Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 1 18-31

We are studying 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 this week – Paul’s striking affirmation of the reversal of values embodied in “the message of the cross.” The unacceptable foolishness of the cross is, according to Paul, “the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” It would probably be a good idea for us to stay with that central assertion, and ponder what that means for us. How do we ourselves understand “the message of the cross,” and how do we ourselves see that as “the power of God”? Or “the wisdom of God”? That may be a question about putting our own theology into words, so we can look at what is actually in it, or not in it.

Related to that, we might want to think about this: what do we NOT think Paul is saying here? Anything? What wisdom, or power, in the world do we think is NOT being addressed by “the message of the cross”? And what might that mean about ways to “take this passage the wrong way”?

Some notes on the text are here. Here are a couple of additional questions we might want to consider, or discuss in class, if we get that far:

In verse 18, Paul sets up a surprising contrast, between “foolishness” and [surprise, not “wisdom”] “power.” Do we ourselves notice the surprise there? How would we describe it – what makes that surprising? Further thoughts about that? Feelings?

[More abstract, but possibly also consequential] What does this tell us about the way we think about things? That is, about the categories and systems of categories we use to think with? How important is “how we think,” do we think? Why would that be?

[More personal, possibly] Can we think of any contrasting pairs that are really important for us, or that structure the way we ourselves think? What are those? Could those be candidates for disruption by God, do we think? Thoughts or feelings about that?

Who or what, do we think, is “perishing” or “being destroyed” (v18)? What, do we think, are the “things that are” that are being “reduced to nothing” (v28)? What examples come to mind?

[More personal] What impact has this awareness had on our own lives?

What do we understand Paul to mean in v30, that Christ Jesus “became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification [alternatively: being made holy] and redemption?

[More personal] What impact has this awareness had on our lives? Practical implications?

What we might keep coming back to in connection with this text is – where, and how, do we see the central message playing out for us? Are there places where we see it more clearly, or less clearly? And are there places where it does not seem to apply – where we seem to need or want “wisdom” and “foolishness” and “power” to stay in their customary places? If there’s a limit to how counter-cultural it’s good for Christianity to be, where do we ourselves see that limit?

three young girls sitting in a room reading a large book

Image: “Spannende Lektüre,” Walther Firle, 1929, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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