TODAY’S READING: 1 CORINTHIANS 1-4
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18
Paul is making a seemingly simple statement. For some people, the word of the cross is folly. For other people, the word of the cross is the power of God.
But, we also know that what Paul is saying here is not as simple as it sounds. Because, in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul says, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.”
Despite Paul’s seemingly simple statement, we need to ask a question.
How is the word of the cross folly to some and the power of God to others?
To begin answering this question, we have to look at the two groups of people Paul is coming – those who are perishing and those who are being saved.
I find the word perishing a little deceiving. My first associations with the word perishing are expiring or dying. These are people that are dying. So, we are comparing those dying with those being saved. Then, it is quite easy to make the leap that the word of the cross is folly to those going to hell but the power of God to those going to heaven.
But, that is not at all what Paul is talking about.
The word perish does not simply mean dying or expiring. It literally means to become destroyed or ruined. The Greek word translated perishing is apollymi. Its literal meaning is to destroy fully.
Now, you may be thinking that Paul is comparing those who are being destroyed with those who are being saved. Therefore, this makes it even more clear that Paul is comparing those going to hell and those going to heaven.
But, not so fast.
Apollymi is participle, but it is unclear if it is in the passive or middle voice. The passive voice means the action is being done to you. But, the middle voice means you are acting in your own interest, acting on your own behalf, or participating in the results of the action.
Therefore, if apollymi is in the passive voice, then it would mean “those who are perishing” or “those who are being destroyed.” However, if apollymi is in the middle voice, then it would mean “those who are destroying” or “those who are destroying themselves.”
If the Greek scholars are unsure, then how do we decide?
We consider the context of all scripture.
There is a theme that runs throughout scripture that the evil and the wicked destroy themselves by own plans of destruction. Psalm 7:14-16 says, “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made, and on his own skull his violence descends.”
“Those who are being saved” is in the passive voice. This means that the act of saving is being done to them. Those who are being saved have no role to play in the act of salvation.
Therefore, we should understand Paul as comparing those who are destroying but really destroying themselves with those who are being saved.
What is Paul really getting at here?
Who has power?
What is true power?
What is the consequence of wielding power?
Those who are destroying are doing so to have power over others. These people believe they can bring about their desired outcome by having power over others through the destruction of others. Ultimately, these people that they will have the life they want by destroying. To the natural man, this seems like the only logical way to live.
However, to these people the word of the cross is folly.
Folly is the lack of good sense or normal prudence and foresight. The Greek word folly also means absurd. Absurd means ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous, having no rational or orderly relationship to human life.
Why is the word of the cross folly, an absurdity, to those who see destroying as the only logical way to live?
What is the word of the cross?
We know that Jesus said all scripture is about the necessity of his suffering and rising from the dead. Jesus suffered and died for others only to be resurrected to life to becoming a life-giving spirit for all.
Jesus suffered for three-and-a-half years. The intensity of his suffering climaxed on the cross. In the midst of his most intense suffering, what did Jesus say?
What was his word from the cross?
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
The word of the cross is forgiveness for the ones causing your most intense suffering, forgiveness for your enemies, forgiveness for those who are destroying you.
To those who are destroying, seeking to live by power over others, to forgive the one who is destroying you is folly. It is absurd. It is ridiculously unreasonable. It is has no rational relationship to human life.
Ah, but to those who are being saved the word of the cross, forgiving in the midst of your most intense suffering those who are destroying, is the power of God. This is true power. This is the power that allows you to live, truly live.
This is why those that are being saved who given up all violence. Violence cannot save you. Violence cannot protect you. In fact, whatever violence you do comes back on your own head and destroys you.
Those that are being saved have come to know that the only way to overcome violence down to them, the only way to victory, the only way to life, is to forgive.
Forgiveness, the word of the cross, is the absorption of violence. This is what 1 Peter 2:24 means when it says that Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree.”
So, the word of the cross is folly to those who are destroying because forgiveness is ridiculously unreasonable and has no rational relationship to them living.
But, the word of the cross is the power of God to those who are being saved because forgiveness is the only way to live.