A collaborative post by Tobie van der Westhuizen, Graeme Schultz and David Bolton
for “The WORD in 3D“.
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“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:22-24 NIV
In the passage above, Paul corrects a mistaken assumption: We cannot judge Christ by using our personal or cultural preferences as a standard, no matter how precious or noble they are. No, Christ is the standard by which everything else is judged, and the only way to present Him as such is to preach Him plainly.
The Jesus We See…
Paul’s words remind me of an old adage: “We do not see the world as it is, but as we are.“
The principle is a fascinating one and is rediscovered in every age, albeit under different names.
Humans make sense of new data by subjecting it to the scrutiny of existing data, scholars tell us. We are constantly looking for a “hermeneutical key”, “meta-narrative”, “interpretive grid”, “paradigm”, “schema” or “gestalt” (to name but a few pseudonyms for the same basic idea) and we usually “discover” it in the storehouses of our own experiences and accompanying conclusions.
Nowhere is the formatting power of our dearest held convictions more evident than in religion. We serve gods who look like us. Our Jesuses are striking images of our idealized selves, and oftentimes provide a comical chronicle of those things that once were regarded as “it”: Jesus the first Hippie, Jesus the saved Marlboro man, Jesus with an AK47, rich Jesus with designer clothes and a mansion, and so on.
As William Blake put it:
The vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy:
Thine has a great hook nose like thine,
Mine has a snub nose like to mine….
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white.
Reading Blake’s poem, one cannot help but be reminded of Romans 1’s “great exchange”. Our great ancestors “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like man”, and so initiated the nasty habit of using ourselves as the standard by which to judge God, rather than the other way around.
The Jesus Paul Saw…
Saul the Pharisee, in spite of his religious brilliance, was no exception. His personal “check list” is recorded in Philippians 3, and explains his initial rejection of Jesus Christ. It would appear that Jesus simply wasn’t Jewish enough for Saul the Jew.
But all of that changed on the road to Damascus. There Paul had an encounter with Christ that instantaneously subjected his dearly held religious and philosophical convictions to God’s majestic wisdom as displayed in Christ.
The experience ruined Paul for everything but Christ. The light from heaven, “brighter than the sun”, revealed Christ’s splendor, and, simultaneously, the sum total of Paul’s greatest religious affections as “dung”.
Nothing could ever be the same again, and it wasn’t. From that moment on, Paul began to see that the fullness of God dwelled in the Son, that the Son was the image of the invisible God, that all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge were hidden in the Son.
But something else happened: Every evangelistic effort of Paul became a quest to present Christ as He was presented to him: Plainly, openly, without human ingenuity. Paul’s passion was to replicate his own experience, that is, to make people SEE CHRIST.
We may not realize it, but few things so reveal our vision of Christ as the way in which we present Him. The greater the show, the smaller our Christ. The more of us, the less of Him.
Let us learn from our brother Paul. Our cultural idols are different to the ones of his day, but the principle remains the same.
It seems a little trite to attempt to find words to wrap around the ‘wonder of Christ’. We see Paul grappling with the limitations of human language in Ephesians as he attempts to adequately display the vast spectacle which is Christ – ‘glorious inheritance, incomparably great power, unsearchable riches, love that surpasses knowledge, able to do immeasurably more, profound mystery’, etc., etc.
I guess for me, the penny dropped when I began to understand that Christ is not merely subject matter, He is not just a doctrine nor a theological position – He is a person; magnificent beyond words, unfathomable by nature, incomparable in every way – yet a person… not a human being type of person, rather a being from whom human beings are a shadow or copy… He is the original from whose likeness and image we are made – completely spiritual, yet assuming the form of man as the need required.
How do we write about one Who is beyond words? How does the created one explore the nature of the Creator? How can a finite mind grasp the splendor of the infinite One Who is way beyond our natural realm?
The first thing we must do is attempt the impossible; we must empty ourselves of the thoughts that normally vie for our attention and leap across the invisible chasm that separates the mortals from the eternals. On one side of this chasm is human reasoning, logic and systematically provable knowledge – on the other side is Christ… that’s right, just Him.
Christ is by definition and by nature, light years beyond our simplistic notions. We do our best to contain Him within our nicely packaged doctrines; we spend our lifetimes building the institution that bears His name – yet more often than not, He can’t be found in either.
Why is that?
Perhaps He never actually intended to be contained in a doctrine or an institution, (no matter how noble or well-meaning)… perhaps He always intended to be found in the hearts of men; maybe He always intended to be more than a great example, or founder of the biggest religion… could it be that His intention was far beyond our simple earthbound thinking? It’s time to lift the lid off the real plan of Christ.
We think that the biggest and best outcome (as a result of His death and resurrection) would be the formation of an organization that carries on His work and His name… but I’m not so sure that is right. I wonder if the real plan was that men and women would allow themselves to be transformed into the likeness of Him by actually believing explicitly everything He said about Himself. I don’t mean to merely be followers of Him, but to be carriers of Him, to grasp that the divine nature has been born again into us, and to consequently live magnificent lives of faith and trust and rest in Him.
Perhaps twenty-first century Christians are not a whole lot different from those whom Paul was confronting back in 1 Cor.1:22-24 – perhaps we are also looking for something in Christ which He never actually intended for us as our primary focus, rather they are the overflow. Jews wanted miraculous signs; Greeks wanted wisdom… this generation seems to want a culture brimming with pizzazz, high-tech. production, and electronic communication.
It seems to me that Christ is waiting for us to get to the end of ourselves, to stop clamoring for that which is impressive to the flesh… and reach out for Him – just Him – nothing more, nothing less – for in Him are found all the power and wisdom of God… and He has made His home in us. Wow!
Power and wisdom… two of the most wonderful attributes of God, and two attributes that are inextricably one in Him.
When God works, He employs both in equal measure. His infinite power carries out what His infinite wisdom has decreed.
Consider the natural creation, for instance. Which attribute can be said to be more on display? It is impossible to say, for both were employed in perfect unity and unlimited measure. The same is true of the spiritual creation. All of God’s works are carried out by these twin, inseparable virtues.
When these two attributes, outside of God, become separated, however, they become vices not virtues. Power without wisdom becomes ignorant force. Wisdom without power becomes impotent thought.
In man, these virtues are found in widely varying degrees. Man has power but uses it unwisely. He has wisdom but cannot put it into effect. These imbalances have been the cause of much, if not most, of the tragedy and failing in the human experience.
When found in the Church, they are often pursued as separate, and even polarizing, virtues. One segment gravitates towards power, while another seeks after wisdom. As such, these twin virtues can become two of the most powerful forces of imbalance and schism in the Church. It was so when these words from 1 Corinthians were first penned, and it is so today.
If we look at the larger context in which these words of Paul are found, we see that they stand as part of his dealing with the church of Corinth concerning sectarian divisions within her. There were three groups, each revolving around one of God’s servants: Paul, Apollos and Cephas (Peter), and one group that remained centered around Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:12)
After addressing those who were saying, “I am of Paul” (1:13-17), he goes into a lengthy dissertation (1:18 – 2:16) on the twin virtues of power and wisdom. Why does he do this?
If we look at the other two “eccentric” groups, we can deduce from Paul’s exhortations that, at root, one was polarizing around power, and the other around wisdom, as embodied in Peter and Apollos.
Peter was known preeminently for the extraordinary power of God that flowed through him and not so much for his superior wisdom. In Acts 4:13 he is described as an “unlearned and ignorant” man, yet the power of God flowed through him like few others in all of Scripture. Peter’s calling was as “an apostle to the Jews” (Gal. 2:8), who, as we have read, “demand miraculous signs.” Undoubtedly, he was attracting a predominantly Jewish following.
Apollos, on the other hand, is described as “a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.” (Acts 18:24), and yet has no record of miraculous powers at work in his ministry. He was a native of Alexandria, the academic center of the Hellenistic (Greek) world. His distinctive gift was the deposit of God’s wisdom within him through the Scriptures. His appeal, undoubtedly, was to the Greek component of the Corinthian church.
So Paul addresses the underlying principle causing the divisions in these two groups: the polarizing effect of power and wisdom when separated.
Paul’s apostolic solution to the schism in Corinth?? Center them all back on Jesus Christ and Him crucified!
Only in Christ are power and wisdom, along with every other virtue, found in perfect unity, fullness and balance. Only when Christ is restored as the preeminent Focus and unifying Center of the Church will all disunity, diminishment and imbalance be done away with! All of Paul’s labors were to this end.
That was the great need then…
And so it is now!
Together we say: (a collaborated prayer)
Precious Father, we have written together about the glory and excellency of your Son, and we now pray that the same will be revealed, by and through your Spirit, with this publication. We are in awe of the work of the cross and your immeasurable love expressed through the sacrifice of Jesus. As we fix our eyes on Him, and Him crucified, may we behold the fullness of Divine power and wisdom, embodied and displayed in perfect unity and harmony, and so, together, may we pursue Him in Whom all the fullness dwells. Amen.
Please take time to visit and explore the contributing authors’ respective blogs for more Christ-honoring content by them:
For more information about “The WORD in 3D” initiative, please see here.
Now, let’s hear what …You say.________________________________