As we are out on our great task of evangelism, proclaiming the message of hope to friends and family, to neighbors and the nations, we will likely find that not everyone receives it with joy and urgency. And this is an immense surprise! After all, it is a message of a divine rescue mission in which God stooped down to earth to save us from eternal damnation! Who could reject such a glorious ray of hope in this dark world?
Yet, many will say, “That’s very nice, and I shall consider it, but not today, thank you very much.” Others will say, “Yes yes, that’s alright for you, but it is not for me.” Still others, forgoing the niceties, may curl their lips in a sneer and send us on our way with cries of derision and disgrace directed at both us and our Lord.
How can we explain such a reaction? What must we do when we see it?
Some may say that we need to change our method or message. Truly, we must seek to know our hearers and display the kindness of God to them as we call them to Him, but must we know much of the world in order to win the world? Do we incorporate the world’s wisdom into our preaching to make it more effective?
Looking at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we see why some reject Christ. First Corinthians 1:19-25 contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God and describes the reaction of the world to the Gospel. This passage shows the futility of the world’s wisdom, the rejection of the Gospel for the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, and the reception of the Gospel for those who will believe. Looking here we understand that the world’s “wisdom” differs from the wisdom of God, and in seeing this we understand why some reject our message. Be encouraged! While our mission may seem a failure if we are rejected, we are obedient as long as we faithfully proclaim it.
The Futility of the World’s Wisdom
The mightiest Greek philosophers and the greatest thinkers of our day have no hope of finding God in their methods. While their approaches and conclusions may seem similar to biblical wisdom, nothing could be further from the truth! Worldly wisdom is founded in fallen thinking. It has a false understanding of humanity and the world (Romans 1:21-23, Ephesians 4:17-19). Man’s wisdom is darkened because it does not have the light of God. It is ignorant because it does not know the truth. It is self-exalting because it does not acknowledge or serve God but instead exalts itself.
The world says “Look to yourself to find fulfillment.” God says look to Christ to find life (Colossians 3:1-4). The world says “All truth is relative.” God says He is truth” (John 14:6, 17:17). Man says “My problems are from outside myself.” God says our problems are from within ourselves (Romans 3:9-18; Ephesians 2:1-3). These and other fundamental differences mean that the world’s wisdom will never lead to God’s truth.
The Reaction of the World to the Gospel
Because the world is fallen in its understanding, it is no wonder that they cannot see the truth of the Gospel. They view it with eyes that are blinded by ignorance and unbelief. The wisdom of the world rejects each aspect of the Gospel: the person and work of Jesus and the response of repentance and faith.
It rejects the person of Jesus because the appearing of God among man was unlike anything they expected. “This lowly man is the Son of God? This cannot be! He must prove it more!”
It rejects the work of Christ because He did not attempt a revolution or mingle with the elites, but rather he was a friend of the lowly and sinners, and He died in humiliation. “Surely this is not how a god would act!”
It rejects the response of repentance and faith because it shows the poverty of their self-righteousness and their inability to save themselves. The religious elite needed saving as much as the sinners. The philosophers were no closer to God with their wisdom than the simple, uneducated street urchins. “Can this really be the way to God!”
The Gospel indeed seems foolish to those whose understanding is darkened by sin, and this is the state of the whole world. What hope then do we and others have to find God? There is great hope, for there is a third group! This third group has nothing special in itself. It is comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, but the difference is that God has opened their eyes and shed light in their hearts to see the glorious nature of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:5-6). When this group hears of the cross of Christ, it appears powerful, not weak. It appears wise, not foolish. It is nothing to sneer at, but something to cling to.
Encouragement and Exhortation
If you have not accepted Christ, this passage warns against trying to find God by your own wisdom or ability. God has brought the wisdom of the world to nothing so that no one may boast before Him. He has made a way, but you must humble yourself and cast all your hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not go on wandering down darkened paths, blindly groping for the truth. Do not go on trying to earn your own righteousness or pay for your own sin. Look to Christ! He is the light of the world, and He has accomplished all that we need!
For those who have accepted Christ, remember that it was not your own wisdom or insight that illumined your mind to these truths. It was only by the grace and mercy of God that we now stand before Him. Rejoice! For Christ is the power and wisdom of God, and He has called us to fellowship with Him!
Lastly, as we proclaim the Gospel to others, do not fear their response. Do they reject you? Do not become discouraged or change your message or method. Do they accept the message? Give glory to God, for it is only by His doing that this has happened. Persevere in proclaiming the pure Gospel and pray that God will open their eyes to see the glory of Christ. He alone can do this! He alone can save!
Mike Engelsgjerd recently separated from the U.S. Army after 15 years of service. Towards the end of his service, Mike began to feel God’s call to full time Christian ministry. In following this call, He is pursuing an M.Div. at TMS with the goal of becoming a Chaplain in the U.S. Military and a Pastor.