In his ministry, the Apostle Paul boldly proclaimed Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and as followers of Christ, we are called to do the same. Yet we do so knowing that the message of the gospel is foolishness to the world. As such, it has always been the object of derision by unbelievers. We see an example of this in a piece of ancient graffiti that was unearthed in Rome in 1857. The image depicts a human figure with the head of a donkey nailed to a cross. Next to the figure on the cross is a young man. An inscription in Greek reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.” Those who believe the image is intended to portray Christ on the cross understand it to be an intentional mockery of Christian worship of Jesus Christ.
In our own day, the derision and mockery of Christ and Christians continues. A number of anti-Christian comedy acts, online videos, and memes declare, for example, that if Jesus was raised from the dead, then Christians worship a Jewish zombie. Should Christians be surprised at such blasphemous and, frankly, asinine attacks? How do we defend the person and work of Christ against such slanders?
In order to proclaim and defend the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, several principles found in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians must be understood. The Corinthian Christians had been behaving according to the standards of worldly wisdom (vv. 10–17). In order to deal with this problem, Paul introduces a lengthy section in which he first criticizes the so-called wisdom of the world (1:18–2:5) and then offers true godly wisdom (2:6–3:4).
In 1 Corinthians 1:18–31, within the section criticizing the wisdom of the world, Paul looks first at those who reject the gospel (vv. 18–25) and then at those who accept it (vv. 26–31). In doing so, he is able to expound on the stark differences between true and false wisdom. Three times in verses 18–25, Paul speaks of the gospel message as “folly” to unbelievers (vv. 18, 21, 23). He concludes this section by asserting that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (v. 25). According to what the world considers wisdom, the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified is utter folly. It is foolishness. We should not be terribly surprised, therefore, when unbelievers treat our Lord and His gospel with contempt.
How do we answer such contempt? Well, we do not do it by altering the message of the gospel in order to make it something that unbelievers will consider wise. In other words, we don’t adapt the message to the standards of worldly wisdom. Other passages of Scripture point out the necessity and importance of providing evidence (1 John 1:1–4, for example), but here Paul cautions us with regard to our expectations. We are proclaiming something that unbelievers see as foolishness, and only the Spirit of God can open their eyes. We continue to proclaim the truth, however. We continue to preach Christ and Him crucified. While this message is folly to those who are perishing, it is “the power of God” to those being saved (1 Cor. 1:18,24).
Does Paul’s caution mean that we cannot provide objective evidence showing that the “wisdom” of the world is the real foolishness? No. The fact that unbelievers suppress the truth doesn’t mean we stop declaring it. There is abundant evidence that Jesus has risen from the dead. The tomb is empty because He is risen. Multitudes saw Him alive because He is risen. Furthermore, it can be historically shown that the biblical doctrine of resurrection does not mean what some people (ancient and contemporary) think it means, namely, the mere reanimation of a corpse.
If Jesus is risen from the dead, then the things He did and said that are explicit or implicit claims to deity must be taken seriously. If He is who He claimed to be—the eternal Son of God—and if He offers complete forgiveness of sin to all who place their faith in Him, then the absolute pinnacle of true foolishness is to reject Him.