For the past several months, I have attempted regular contributions to this blog. I have not been as faithful as I would like. Nevertheless, I don’t want to give up on this endeavor.
I often note verses or quotes that might one day be fleshed out in a blog entry. Back in 2017, I jotted this verse in my journal. The use of discernment and discerning caught my attention.
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 it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (1 Cor. 1:18-19 ESV)
This is a rich passage and is worth exploring.
Paul begins by highlighting the word of the cross. Other translations speak of the message of the cross. He is talking about the tremendous story of God which includes His taking on flesh and giving himself on the cross in order to bring restoration to a fallen world. The story is deeper and more expansive than this simple description. But Paul’s point is that the story of Jesus does not make sense to those who are outside of the Kingdom of God (those who are perishing). Yet those who have been brought into the Kingdom have found immense power in Jesus. They consider themselves saved or redeemed out of the fallen world.
What a contrast! The same message with two very distinct reactions. To one, it is foolishness or folly. To another, it is the power of God. Paul then quotes, Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 29:14). The ESV describes God thwarting those who claim to have discerned. The NIV translates the same word intelligence and describes God frustrating those who claim to be wise. I am surprised by the ESV’s translation. I had always considered discernment as deeper than intelligence or knowledge. By the title of the blog, you might guess my high view of discernment. But here, the word has to do with a purely man-powered endeavor. So what do we do with this?
As we reflect on Paul’s intention here, he seems to be contrasting God-powered, God-centered knowledge with man-powered, man-centered knowledge. The Greek word that is used here is synesis. It has to do with multiple streams of information coming together to form an understanding of a particular issue. In that vein, the word discernment seems an appropriate translation. The educated man has gained his intelligence from multiple places. And often, we relish such depth of understanding. But God-oriented wisdom is quite different. It is not built the same way.
To sum up the idea of this post, Paul highlights the distinction between the two. The message of the cross will not make sense to those who have built their worldview around man-centered learning. If we want to truly discern the heart of God, we must be willing to relinquish control and allow God to speak. As we lead discerning churches, we must keep this dynamic in mind. This makes the task much more difficult for those who consider themselves intelligent. Might we be willing to submit to God’s way rather than attempting to pave our own path.