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Paul, Apollos and the Foolishness of God

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Paul, Apollos and the Foolishness of God

MP3 Audio (12.05 MB)


Paul, Apollos and the Foolishness of God

MP3 Audio (12.05 MB)

The foolishness of God is humility and service patterned after the example of Jesus Christ.

Sermon Notes

Paul, Apollos and the Foolishness of God

SPS: The Foolishness of God is humility and service patterned after the example of Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 1: 11-13

Who was Apollos?

Acts 18:24-28 – Apollos preached the gospel using all the techniques and methods of a professionally trained public speaker (which the Greeks called rhetoric).

Training in rhetoric - the primary focus of higher education in Greek & Roman culture

The ability to speak well was essential for attaining high official positions, achieving social status, and wielding power... This began in more democratic times when the ability to successfully argue a point of law or policy was important because it had a real impact on how the state would be governed.

Form Rather Than Substance

But by the time Paul was writing this letter to the Corinthians the discipline of rhetoric had fallen on hard times… the skills were still there but the substance was taken away. Democratic government gave way to dictatorship and later imperial rule… and when you have an unquestioned supremely powerful authority you don’t need to argue or discuss points of law or government. In fact, doing so could cost you your life!

Rhetoric Becomes Word Games

So rhetorical training changed with the times and by Paul’s day focused not on solid and meaningful content but rather on style, figures of speech, epigrams, metaphors… basically wordplay or word games, gestures, dramatic vocal delivery, dress etc.. And the people enjoyed this game very much!

The cultural expectation of the day was that the audience would judge the speaker much like we watch an Olympic figure skater, appreciating their style, assessing their technique and scoring them from 1 to 10, etc. And like today’s sports fans back their team… people vigorously supported their favorite speakers.

Form Becomes Equated With Wisdom

Unfortunately, for the Greeks style and technique came to be equated with wisdom. They had a saying “as a man speaks so he is”… a person who couldn’t make their point very well would never be considered wise, or to have wisdom, whereas an eloquent man and successful man was assumed to be as wise as he was interesting.

Public Speaking As Entertainment & Career

An audience’s opinion could make or break the reputation and career of a public speaker. We tend to think of public speaking as a tool used as further some other end such as business, politics, a keynote speech at a convention. But at that time in Corinth public speaking was a form of popular entertainment (it used to be so in our own culture until the advent of movies, radio, and TV… Mark Twain for example). And public speaking for the sake of public speaking was a way to make a living.

Establishing Yourself In a New Town

Arriving cold turkey in some new town wasn’t easy for these traveling speakers. It meant you had to find a venue, you had to advertise, you needed a few successes, a little bit of cash… but what you really wanted was a patron. If you already had an established reputation, letters of reference could probably find you a wealthy patron of the arts who would host your event in their home, invite their friends (which would provide valuable connections), and if you were really lucky put you on retainer! And wealthy people were eager to enter into these arrangements because it enhanced their status within society. A very nice quid pro quo.

These Same Cultural Norms Were At Play In The Church – Acts 18:7

And Apollos fit the bill much better than Paul. Apollos came to town and preached the gospel powerfully and persuasively. Apollos fit neatly into the current cultural assumptions about what a public speaker was… and then he came to Corinth… and then members of the congregation started to compare Apollos with Paul. It appears they were giving Apollos a 10 and Paul… maybe he was getting a 7. Some said “I like Apollos” others said, “I prefer Paul”.

Paul’s Ministry Breaks The Mold

Paul purposely doesn’t put himself forth as an eloquent speaker, he wasn’t very impressive in person  2 Cor 10:10, Paul works in the market as a tentmaker and won’t accept patronage… Paul’s very confusing… he looks and acts… well…like a loser. Whereas Apollos… there’s a guy who’s making all the right moves, who looks and acts like he knows what he’s talking about… Apollos appears to have great wisdom.

Paul took the approach he did on purpose and he tells us why… I Cor 2:1-5

So that they would know they were convicted of the truth by the Holy Spirit, not by a highly persuasive speaker.

1 Cor. 1:17-25

Let’s Talk About The Foolishness of God

  1. The Jews considered Jesus a failure because He did not establish the messianic kingdom.
  2. By the standards of Greek and Roman culture, Jesus was a “total fail”. He gained no position, He wielded no power, no status, in fact, He was executed by the Roman government. Jesus was a loser, a weakling… definitely not to be considered a wise man. To speak of Jesus as an example to all mankind is just, FOOLISH!


What is the Wisdom of the Wise?

What is the Wisdom of God?




Faith in God


Giving of Self to Others

Foolishness to God

Foolishness to the World

Because they are passing away

Because they don’t get you anywhere


The Greek & Romans society was infected like no other society with a love of status, power, and wealth… there was no false humility there. If you had status, power, wealth you flaunted it, you built the biggest house, paid to have your merits carved in stone, you would proudly boast of your accomplishments and your wisdom in speeches or at dinner parties. Why wouldn’t you? You earned them, they are yours… why would any man cast himself as a lowly servant?... or gladly embrace his own powerlessness? IT MAKES NO SENSE

And yet this foolishness of God was exactly what Paul had in mind when he said to the Corinthians “imitate me as I imitate Jesus Christ (11:1)” 1 Cor 4:16-17 “my way of life”

What was Paul’s Way of Life?

In light of Paul’s training and social potential, he actually had a lot going for him.

  • Pharisee of the Pharisees, trained at the feet of Gamaliel! – Harvard – Oxford etc.
  • PAUL was a ROMAN CITIZEN (the ultimate status symbol of the day and something that many of the wealthiest people in Corinth wished they could claim but could not)!

Paul Took A Conscious Step Down in Life

Paul had the potential to become a real player in the society of his day but instead, he consciously took a lower position in the world from where he could have been. And this is the foolishness of the Cross, which is the foolishness of God. A life of humility, lowliness, recognition of your powerlessness and need for God, faith and giving of yourself to others. Paul spent his life preaching and teaching among the lowliest of slaves, grubby merchants, the loftiest of citizens… kings, and even the imperial household.

In a culture and society (not completely unlike our own) where social success was the purpose of life, where your social status and wealth was your measure as a man, where you measured your loftiness by other people’s lowliness… well, what kind of crazy talk is this? What sort of foolishness is Paul up to?

  1. Paul didn’t seek out a high profile position with a wealthy patron, satin robes, and golden rings… he chose a stall in the market making tents… so he would no be beholden to anyone and could truly be all things to all men. (probably annoyed some of the wealthier members in the Corinth – want to be benefactors)
  2. Paul didn’t preach the gospel with the eloquence and fancy flourishes of a professional public speaker… he avoided it. So that they would know they were convicted of the truth by the Holy Spirit, not by a highly persuasive speaker.

And after a while, the Corinthians began judging Paul… comparing him to Apollos (and others)… and they began causing divisions in their congregation! Because Paul didn’t match their cultural assumptions of how a man of wisdom should act and how he should sound… and in this way the Corinthians were also placing themselves in the position of judging the wisdom of God… 1 Cor. 3:18 – 4:1-7

Paul says consider what you have and how you got it. You have the precious truth of God… and how did you get it?… not by wisdom, eloquent speeches, not by the soaring words of a man. No, the precious truth you have is a gift, given to you, from God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor 2:13-16 What is the mind of Christ? Philippians 2:1-11

Who is Tom Adams? Who am I? NOTHING… servants, one plants seed, another waters, another hoes weeds. But, it is God who is teaching you and disciplining you unto life, and it is through the Holy Spirit in you that you to are building the mind of Christ.

How do you know you have the mind of Christ working in you?

Not because you are able to speak eloquently, not because you are able to sing beautifully, not because you can say a profound prayer, not because you can interpret prophecy, not your in-depth understanding of doctrine…

The mind of Christ is evident in how you interact with other people… as Paul said earlier “my way of life in Jesus Christ” …Refer to Matthew 25:45

Paul’s practical applications of the mind of Christ for the Corinthians

To the Corinthians who were disputing legal issues, Paul said 1 Cor 6:7.

But I’m in the right, I know it. Why should I be the one to let go that’s just foolish! Matthew 5:38-44

Paul tells them they are defeated not because there are disputes but because they are unwilling to suffer.

How You Approach Sex

In Corinthian culture, wives were only considered for making babies… husbands generally sought sexual pleasure elsewhere! This was a practice that seemed very wise and practical, and it was an approach that played perfectly with their ideas about status, power and wealth.

All through 1 Cor 6 & 7 Paul asked the Corinthians to re-consider their attitudes and approaches to sexuality not just from the standpoint of commandment keeping but from the effect it has on others… With regard to marriage, he actually says it better in Ephesians where he says “submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ”… a good model for most interactions

Eating meat offered to idols …deny yourselves for the sake of others

How You Approach Worship & Fellowship

In Greek and Roman culture meetings and dinner parties would have taken place in a private home of a wealthy individual. Typically such meetings placed a great deal of emphasis on status and position. Larger groups would be spread out in different rooms… the most important guest in the main room with the best food, and the poorer in lesser rooms with lesser food. The more important guests would east first and the lesser guests would eat last. In this culture, everything was done to reinforce social position and status.

The church was letting social and cultural attitudes affect their fellowship and worship because this is how they were conducting the Passover! 1 Cor 11:17-23… to which Paul says “look at yourselves, judge yourselves” verses 33-34 = Don’t start bringing your class-conscious behavior into the church… if you must have it, keep it at home! Don’t humiliate those among you who are poor and lower in social status. THINK OF OTHERS!

Paul Didn’t Come To Baptize The Status Quo

Instead of taking the message of the gospel, the church, the body of Christ and simply grafting it into their existing ideas of what constituted wisdom, their concepts of status and personal worth, power, existing class structure, social structure, family structure, Paul offered them THE BETTER WAY…

Paul did not come to Corinth to give them fine and eloquent preaching, he came to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit… the power of God and the wisdom of the mind of Christ.

He didn’t come to fit into their existing notions about what a man of wisdom looked like and acted like… instead, he offered them true wisdom…

A life of humility and service patterned after the example of Jesus Christ.