1 Corinthians 1:22-24
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:…
It is difficult for us to realize the deep rooted strength of the prejudices the truth of Christ encountered on its first proclamation. One thing, however, is clear - while the apostles accommodated the mode of their teaching to those prejudices, they never so accommodated the teaching itself. Their doctrine was the same for all. They never thought of modifying it or softening down its essential peculiarities, to suit the taste of any. With reference to the form of his teaching, St. Paul says, "To the weak I became weak," etc. (1 Corinthians 9:22); with reference to the substance. "Though we or an angel from heaven should preach any other gospel," etc. (Galatians 1:8). Jews and Greeks are the two broad classes under which these varieties of prejudice might be grouped; and here are their prominent characteristics. "Jews ask for signs." It was so in the days of Christ. "An evil and adulterous generation," etc. (Matthew 12:39); "Except ye see signs and wonders," etc. (John 4:48). And in the apostolic age the race everywhere manifested the same mental tendency. They were sign seeking Jews. "Greeks seek after wisdom" - such wisdom as found a home for itself in their own philosophic schools. They knew no other. Thus each of these classes illustrated a particular aspect of the vanity of human nature; the one craving after that which would minister to the pride of sense, the other to the pride of intellect. For both Paul had but one message: "Christ and him crucified." Note -
I. THE THEME OF THE APOSTOLIC TEACHING. "We preach Christ crucified" (see also 1 Corinthians 2:2; Galatians 3:1). This is the sum and substance of evangelical doctrine, the idea that filled the foremost place in the apostle's thought and supplied the chief inspiration of his heroic life. Not a little of the emphasis falls on the word "crucified." He preached Christ as the personal Redeemer of men, and that not merely as the great miracle working Prophet of God, the moral Reformer, the Revealer of new truth, the Lawgiver of a new spiritual kingdom, the Example of a divinely perfect life, but as the Victim of death. It was in the death of Christ that the whole force and virtue of the apostolic testimony about him lay. What meaning did Paul attach to this death? The mere reiteration of the fact itself would be powerless apart from its doctrinal significance. If he had represented it simply as the crowning act of a life of devotion and self sacrifice in the cause of God and of humanity, he would have placed the Name of Christ on the level of many another name, and his death on a level with the death of many another witness for truth and righteousness; instead of which a virtue and a moral efficacy are everywhere imputed to it, which cannot be conceived of as belonging to any other death, and which alone explain the position it occupies in apostolic teaching (see 1 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:14, 16; Colossians 1:21; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:2). Forgiveness of sins, spiritual cleansing, moral freedom, practical righteousness, fellowship with God, the hope of eternal glory, - all are set forth here as fruits of the death of Christ and our faith in it. St. Paul made it the one grand theme of his ministry, because he knew that it would meet the deep and universal needs of humanity. No other word would bring rest to the troubled conscience and satisfaction to the longing, weary, distracted heart of man; no other voice could awaken the world to newness of life out of the dread shadow of despair and death in which it lay.
II. THE RECEPTION IT MET WITH, from "Jews," "Gentiles" and "them that are called."
1. "Unto Jews a stumbling block" - an offence, something "scandalous." O, several special grounds Christ was such an offence to them.
(1) The lowliness of his origin.
(2) The unostentatious character of his life.
(3) The unworldliness of his aims and methods.
(4) The expansive spirit of his doctrine; its freedom from class and national exclusiveness.
(5) The universality of the grace he offered.
(6) Above all, the fact of his crucifixion.
How could they recognize as their Messiah One who had died as the vilest of malefactors; died by the judgment of their rulers and amid the derision of the people; died by a death that above all others they abhorred? The cross, which Paul made the basis of human hope and the central glory of the universe, was to them "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence."
2. "Unto Gentiles foolishness." The Gentile world was pervaded by Greek sentiment. "Greece had now for more than a century been but a province of Rome; but the mind of Greece had mastered that of Rome." "The world in name and government was Roman, but in feeling and civilization Greek." Such a world scorned the "preaching of the cross" because:
(1) It lowered the pride of the human intellect, both by its simplicity and by its profundity - so plain that "the wayfaring man though a fool" could understand it, too deep for the utmost stretch of thought to fathom.
(2) It revealed the rottenness of the human heart beneath the fairest garment of civilization and culture. It made man dependent for all his light upon supernatural revelations, and for all his hopes of redemption on the spontaneous impulse of sovereign mercy. No wonder it was "foolishness" to proud Romans and polished, philosophic Greeks. And have we not around us now similar phases of aversion to the doctrine of "Christ crucified"? The spirit of the world is not the spirit of the cross. The one is carnal, vain, selfish, revengeful, self indulgent; the other is spiritual, lowly, benevolent, forgiving, self abandoning. The cross to every one of us means submission, humiliation, self sacrifice, it may be reproach and shame; and these are hard to bear. It is hard to say, with Paul, "God forbid that I should glory," etc. The cross may occupy a prominent place in our creed, our worship, our sermons and songs, may decorate our churches, may be made a favourite instrument of personal adornment; but to have its spirit filling our hearts, moulding and governing our whole being and life, is another thing.
3. "Unto them that are called," etc. The "called" are they who "are being saved" (ver. 18). In the case of all such the Divine purpose in the gospel is answered. They are called, and they obey the call. The heavenly voice falls on their ears, penetrates the secrecy of their souls, and there is life for them in the sound, because, like the still, small voice that breathed in the hearing of Elijah at the mouth of the cave, "the Lord is in the voice." The proof they have that the gospel is the embodiment of the power and wisdom of God is the infallible seal of the Spirit, the unanswerable witness of a Divine and heavenly life. Is it a "sign" that you ask for? Believe in Christ, and you shall have within you that mightiest of all wonders, the miracle of grace by which a soul is translated from darkness into light, and from the death of sin to the life of holiness. Is it "wisdom" you seek after? Believe in Christ, and he will unlock for you the unsearchable riches of the mind and heart of God. - W.
Parallel VersesKJV: For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: