Holy Cross Day – "The Boundaries of Wisdom" – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – 9/13/15

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Writing to the Corinthians, Paul asks, “Where is the one who is wise?” “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

Everyone wants to be a ‘wise-guy’ or a ‘wise girl.’ It’s been like that for a long time. “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food… AND TO BE DESIRED TO MAKE ONE WISE, she took of its fruit and ate…” (Gen.3:6) Because she wanted to be a ‘wise-girl’ and her husband wanted to be a ‘wise-guy.’

They considered themselves to be ‘wiser than God’ who said, ‘don’t eat the fruit of that tree.’ They concluded that God’s Word must be ‘folly.’ And that God must be a ‘fool.’

Just to be sure we understand this rightly, there’s nothing wrong with ‘human wisdom.’ ‘Worldly wisdom’ is a good thing. Whatever your vocations in the world may be, it’s good to be ‘wise.’ Mothers and fathers need ‘wisdom’ to raise their children ‘wisely.’ Children need ‘wisdom’ to make ‘wise’ decisions. No one wants a plumber or carpenter or engineer or teacher or doctor or politician who lacks ‘wisdom.’ ‘Wisdom’ is a good thing.

But ‘worldly wisdom’ has its limits. It can only go so far. And it can go too far. And ‘wise’ men and women understand this. When we push ‘worldly wisdom’ beyond its limits, our ‘wisdom’ becomes ‘folly’ and the ‘wise man’ becomes a ‘fool.’

The ‘limits’ of ‘worldly wisdom’ is ‘divine wisdom.’ All ‘wisdom’ comes from God. He is ‘all-wise.’ There’s no ‘foolishness’ in God. God has made ‘divine wisdom’ known to us in His Word. Men and women are free to exercise ‘human wisdom’ in so many ways. But there are ‘boundaries’ that we are to remain within.

God is the boundary beyond which we humans dare not go. God is always ‘over’ us and we are always ‘under God.’ When we put ourselves ‘over’ God and God ‘under’ us, we become fools.

But isn’t that just what we do? Consider marriage as one example. God does not tell us who we should marry and shouldn’t marry but He does say that our choices have boundaries. A man is to choose a woman for a wife and a woman is to choose a man for a husband. Within that boundary, it’s up to you which man or woman you choose, using as much ‘human wisdom’ as you can.

How a particular husband and wife work make their particular marriage work is up to them. It’s always best to use as much ‘human wisdom’ as possible. But however you work it out, it needs to remain with certain boundaries set by God, because those boundaries are ‘wise,’ if for no other reason than they come from God who is ‘all-wise.’ Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church and wives are to submit to their husband’s love as the Church submits to the love of Christ. (Eph.5:22,25). Within that boundary, it’s up to you to work out the daily details of how your marriage works.

And of course it is just those ‘boundaries’ that God has set that we want to go beyond. Why? Because according to the “wisdom of the world,” man actually thinks is wiser than God.

So, we have recently declared that the boundary of ‘male and female’ that God has set for marriage is really ‘foolish’ and we no longer intend to live within that boundary.

For a long time now, we have rejected the boundary of lifelong commitment of a husband to his wife, for better or worse, in the image of Christ’s commitment to His bride the church, who gives Himself to Her and pledges that He will never leave Her nor forsake Her, even in Her unfaithfulness to Him.

How foolish is that? If that’s the boundary, then we’ll simply not get married at all and just live together for as long as it’s convenient.

If it were only the boundaries that God has placed on marriage that we counted as ‘foolish’ and refused live within, we could make it all about marriage. But the issue of marriage is only one symptom of the underlying disease that we all have, which is, we have made ourselves to be ‘like God,’ and we deeply resent any boundaries that the God of heaven would place on us.

The Proverbs famously say, “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.” (Prov. 9:10) To “fear” the Lord means to trust Him more than you trust yourself. It is to ‘live under God’ because He is ‘wise’ and not try to put God under you thinking that you are wiser than He is.

So whenever we come up against that conflict that we seem to constantly have between what seems ‘wise’ to me and what God’s Word says is ‘wise,’ we say ‘no’ to ourselves and ‘yes’ to God because He is wiser than me.’ And we live within the boundaries of His wisdom.

This is the ‘fear of the Lord’ and it is the “beginning of wisdom.” In the eyes of the world and our peers, we may look like ‘fools.’ And it wouldn’t surprise us if we are teased or laughed at or even hated and rejected.

If however we refuse to live within the boundaries of God’s wisdom because we “fear man” more than we do God, then we are being real ‘fools.’ And sadly, this is just what the world welcomes and congratulates and rewards and celebrates.

Paul puts it about bluntly as possible to the Romans saying, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:21-22).

So who are “they?” Who are ‘they’ who do not “honor God as God… claiming to be wise…”? Well, ‘THEY’ are you and ‘THEY’ are me. Because everyone wants to be ‘wise-guys’ and ‘wise-gals.’

Consider the ‘wisdom’ of the ‘boundaries’ that God has set for us in the 10 Commandments.

• “You shall have no other gods.”
• “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
• “You shall honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” .
• “You shall honor your father and your mother.”
• “You shall not murder.”
• “You shall not commit adultery.”
• “You shall not steal.”
• “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
• “You shall not covet…”

To say that we do not live within the boundaries that God has set for us, because we CANNOT, seems to me to put it entirely too innocently. As if we’d really like to but we just can’t. The truth is, we do not WANT to live within the boundaries that God has set because we do not really believe that it would be ‘wise’ to do so. We do not believe that they are actually ‘good for us.’

And that brings us to our Epistle reading for this Holy Cross Day. “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… For the foolishness of God is wiser than man.”

There was a time when the “folly of the word of the cross” had to do with the ridiculous assertion that God was doing the ‘wise’ thing through the disgusting and horrendous thing of ‘crucifixion.’ In a day when the ‘cross’ was such a vile thing that it made people nauseous just to think about it, the message that God was reconciling the world to Himself in this way was the ‘epitome’ of foolishness.

I don’t think that it’s the same for us today. We still think that the ‘message of the cross is folly.’ But we haven’t seen a real crucifixion for a long, long time. And the ‘cross’ has lost its vileness. Now we hang crosses on walls in our sanctuaries and our homes and no one thinks, ‘how gross’. We wear cross necklaces and have crosses tattooed on our body and we think that it’s pretty. We’re no think that the “word of the cross is folly” because we’re appalled by what actually happened on it.

Today, we think that the ‘message of the cross is folly,’ because we don’t see the reason for it. We don’t see the necessity of it. It’s nice that God showed His love for us in this, that while we were sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8) But it wasn’t necessary. Not really.

In the ‘wisdom of man,’ it just doesn’t seem ‘wise’ that God, if He is really “all-wise” and “all-mighty” should set that kind of boundary for Himself and that He should actually stay within that boundary. How many opportunities did He step over the line that He had set for Himself? How often could Jesus have put Himself above the Father as the devil in the wilderness tempted Him to do?

We think, ‘how ‘foolish’ that He didn’t. How unnecessary. In the ‘wisdom of man,’ it couldn’t have been the ONLY way to accomplish the goal. He could have done it any number of other ways, we say. “Let Him save Himself if He really is the Christ of God, His chosen one.” (Mark 15:31). And He certainly could have. Just as we certainly can transgress the boundaries that God has set for us. Just as Adam and Eve had the freedom to transgress the boundaries that God set for them. BUT HE DIDN’T.

“Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:8) God lived within the boundaries that God placed on God. And on Easter morning, all of the ‘foolishness of God’ was revealed for exactly what it was – the ‘perfect wisdom of God.’

In His encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus said “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so much the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). Nicodemus lacked the ‘wisdom’ to understand what Jesus was saying.

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus said to the men He was walking with. “O FOOLISH ONES, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not NECESSARY THAT THE CHRIST SHOULD SUFFER THESE THINGS and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). To which our generation would answer, ‘no, not really.’ We are so very wise in some ways and so very foolish in others.

There is however a small remnant in this world, or at least with Elijah it sometimes seems to be small, that would say otherwise. And for no other reason than “they fear the Lord.” They are the real ‘wise-guys’ and ‘wise-gals.’ “To those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

True freedom always has its boundaries within which we must live if we are to be truly free. There is no greater ‘freedom’ than to live within the boundaries that God has set for us, even if a nation overrules those boundaries and declares that they are really ‘foolish’ because they do not agree with the ‘wisdom of man.’

True wisdom always has its boundaries as well. Wisdom’s boundary is the Word of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

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