7th June 2012

The Wisest Fool In Christendom

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.”
1 Corinthians 1:21 (NIV)

In a recent competition in The Economist, readers were invited to nominate the wisest fool of the last 50 years. According to the magazine, the three best entries would be published and receive a copy of the King James Bible, in memory of the first ‘wisest fool’. Why James 1 was given the epithet, “the wisest fool in Christendom”, is unclear, possibly because he was intelligent and well educated but put none of these to practical use.

The Bible itself has much to say about wisdom and folly, particularly when contrasting the gospel message with the world’s prevailing cultural backgrounds. The apostle Paul writing from a Christian perspective about some with a different viewpoint stated, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Romans 1:22-23)  Paul recognised that not everyone viewed the core of the Christian message in a positive light. In 1 Corinthians 1:23 he comments, “But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

With the progressive marginalisation of Christianity today and the rise of militant atheism in the West, the debate about whether the gospel message constitutes wisdom or folly has not abated in the twenty-first century.  Belief in the core of Christianity requires the insight of faith, given by God, through the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are Spiritually discerned.” (1Corinthians: 2:14).

Unlike the example of James 1, Christians are called individually and collectively to put their spiritual intelligence and education to practical use. As Paul wrote about non-Christians, “How, then, can they call upon the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14)

At the Pentecost season, Christians celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit and the preaching and spreading of the gospel. It reminds us that the Christian today, like Paul in his day, is a debtor to both the wise and unwise (Romans 1:14). The gospel message needs to go out irrespective of what our day and age accepts as wisdom.

Father, we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual insight you give us. We pray that you will give us the wisdom and understanding to know how to spread the gospel of grace in the world’s cultures of today.

Study by Eddie Marsh

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