- 1 Corinthians 1- Believing in Each Other
- 1 Corinthians 1: Divisions in the Church
- 1 Corinthians 2: The Power of the Gospel
- 1 Corinthians 2: The Wisdom of God
- 1 Corinthians 5: The Seriousness of Sin
- 1 Corinthians 8: The Conscience
- 1 Corinthians 12
- 1 Corinthians 12
- 1 Corinthians 12: God – The Author of Diversity
- 1 Corinthians 12: Skepticism and the Supernatural
- 1 Corinthians 12: Spiritual Gifts, Experiencing God
- 1 Corinthians 12: The Nature of the Church
- 1 Corinthians 13
- 1 Corinthians 13: Unnatural Love
- 1 Corinthians 13: How to Love One Another
- 1 Corinthians 14: Making a Difference With Others
- 1 Corinthians 14: The Value of Prophecy
- 1 Corinthians 15: The Basis of Christianity
- 1 Corinthians 15: The Essentials of the Gospel
1 Corinthians 2: The Power of the Gospel
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The the gimmicks of the world around us
The first thing Pauls says about his approach is that it was not a message of superior speach or wisdom. Instead, it was the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified. This contrast is intended to highlight the content of Paul’s message. In the next couple of verses, he is going to talk about the method of his persuasion. But here, he is concentrating on the content.
Not the popular themes
Basically, what he is saying is that he didn’t come along singing the popular themes of the day. When he says, “superior speach and wisdom,” he is refering to the stuff that people were into.
In these days, you didn’t have a TV. You didn’t have a movie theater. So, what did you do for entertainment? Well, you went to see gladiators slash it up. I suppose they probably went to see some strippers. But if you were into more mainline entertainment, you would seek out orators. These were men who were skilled at speach, and they would make their living by speaking little ditties and bits of wisdom.
Example: See examples from book of quotations:
“Art lies in concealing art” – Ovid from The Art of Love
“Reckon no man happy till he dies” – Euripides from Daughters of Troy
“Other men live to eat, while I eat to live” – from Diogenes Laertius
“In wine there is truth” – Pliny the Younger from Historia Naturala
So, this is the kind of stuff people were into. They would go to hear these guys, maybe tell a story or a bunch of wise sayings like this. And Paul is making a contrast here when he says he was into the message of Jesus and him crucified. He is saying that he was into something so totally different. They had never heard it before.
An approach from experience
Paul had learned this from experience. He knew what worked, he knew what was effective. And he knew that the central core of his message had to be the message of Christ and him crucified–something that is not a popular topic, ever.
We tend to want God to blend in
There is a tendency for us to want God, and the message of God, to blend in to the things that are popular around us. That’s kind of what was happening here and Corinth, and that is where some of their trouble was coming from. They were trying to conform Christianity to some popular standards and values of the day–namely, wisdom and superiority of speach.
There’s evidence to say that they were trying to incorporates some of the popular philosophies into the teaching of Christ.
And this is what we always tend to do. We tend to cast the Christian message in terms of ideas and values that are popular today.
Example: There are Christians who put forward a picture of God as the God of personal happiness and comfort. The first thing they will tell you about God is that he can make you rich, or that he can help you feel better about yourself, or that he will heal you. And is it any wonder that those are precisely the same concerns that are so popular in the culture around us? They are trying to pose God as the very thing everyone is talking about anyway!
Well, the truth is that God does some of those kinds of things some of the time. But it would be entirely unfair to characterize him as the God of happiness and comfort. It would be like characterizing me as a man of great strength. Sure, I amaze people sometimes, but there are lots of other things . . .
Example: There was one group who put forward the notion of “our sexy Jesus whom we follow . . .” What are they trying to do? They are trying to cast Christianity as just one more face of something that is tremendously popular already.
Well, the truth is, the heart of Christianity is something that no one ever thinks of, the cross of Christ. We talked a couple weeks ago about how unique this message really is–something that no man would ever come up with on his own.
Remember? We pointed out that if it were up to us, God would reveal himself quite differently. If we were to say God will come and do something, it would be something like a powerful miracle. It would be something like taking over the world. But instead, when God came, he gave his life for us. He came to die on the cross.
And part of the reason this is so shocking and so unexpected is simply because we don’t understand the way God is anyway. We can’t comprehend a God who would take it upon himself to come and die for us.
He knows it works
So Paul puts this aspect of the Christian message out there first and foremost. By saying that he determined to know nothing but this, it doesn’t mean that he would talk about anything else. He is exaggerating to say that this is the thing he wants to emphasize.
And the reason Paul does this is that he knows it works.
We have other ideas. We think that what works is enticing people with a message that they already like. Not so! When people come to God because they hear he represents something they already want, they aren’t coming to God. They’re responding to their own wishes. They’re coming to a god of their own imagination.
Paul knows that it is necessary to bring people to God as he is, and this is the God who came and died for them.
The primary source of support
I think this brings us to the next point that Paul makes. And the next thing Paul turns to is how the message of Christ is impacts people. He is moving away from the content of the message, into the area of how the message persuades people.
This does not exclude reasoning
And once gain, he says that the real force of the Christian message is not in persuasive words of wisdom. He’s not saying here that there are no wise things in Christianity. Nor is he saying that Christianity is not persuasive.
The fact is, there are many persuasive reasons to become a Christian. And we know that Paul used them also.
Example: For example, we know that Paul used fulfilled prophecy when he talked to people. This is one of those things that is very persuasive . . . In Acts 17, it tells us that Paul’s custom was to come into the synogogue and reason with them from the Scriptures . . .
And we know from a passage like II Cor. 5:11 that Paul considered a big part of his task to persuade men.
Just what is Paul saying then?
It’s a question of what is the strongest reason
What he is saying is that he doesn’t rely primarily on the persuasion of reasoning. He sees their faith as resting on something else, namely, the Spirit of God and God’s power.
Not a signs and wonders thing
Some folks have taken this verse here to say that Paul relied on a miracle-campaign in order to bring people to faith in God. In other words, his main tactic with these people was to wow them with miracles and healing, then they would become Christians.
This is not what he is talking about at all. He is just saying that he relies more on the persuading and motivating work of God’s Spirit than his own abilities. In the final analysis, he is saying, you became Christians because God’s Spirit himself persuaded you to.
And when he says that your faith rests on power, once again he is refering to the fact that the gospel itself has the backing of God’s power. As Paul says in another passage, the message of the cross is the very power of God (Rom. 1:16).
He is saying that when this message goes out to people, God kind of “drives it home,” so to speak. God makes sure that the message of Christ is delivered with power and conviction.
Needed because of our fallenness
You know, when you think about it, it’s really a good thing that ultimately, the reception of the gospel message is not a matter of just persuasion. Because persuasion addresses our powers of reasoning. Persuasion speaks to our mind. And even though I believe the reasons for believing in Christianity to be very strong (in fact, so strong that I believe the reasons for believing in Christianity are stronger than any other faith), they’re still not strong enough to win anyone over.
That may sound like a contradictory statement, but let me say why I believe that. The reason I say that is that in hearing the gospel, we are hearing something that we don’t like. And we have an instantaneous negative reaction to the message of the cross.
And this is because the message of the cross tells us that we have a problem with God. That’s what it says. It says, `You have such a serious problem with God, that he had to come and die for you in order to forgive you!’ And that, I think, is just real hard to take.
It’s neat to think of God coming to die for us. That shows us an amazing side to God’s character. But it’s only really good if I admit that I needed it. Otherwise, him coming and dying for me is really kind of nutty.
Example: I remember reading a book about Jesus. And the author of this book did not believe that Jesus was God. Nor did he believe that we needed Jesus to die for our sins. But, nevertheless, it is a fact that Jesus died on the cross and something powerful happened there. So, this guy wrote a book about Jesus’s death, to explain why it was so powerful, even when we didn’t really need it. And the scenario he painted was absolutely incredible. He said that Jesus had a message of love to bring to the human race. But the people of his day were so selfish they wouldn’t listen to him. So, eventually he decided he needed to let himself get killed, and thereby show the ultimate example of love and sacrifice. Maybe people would listen to him then (or at least remember what he had said).
Let’s be honest here. Anyone who thought like that today would be hospitalized. You would be really wierd to say “I’ll get myself killed so the world will see how selfish they are and how strong my love is.”
And, the fact is, Jesus himself didn’t think anything close to this. The fact is, if you read the accounts of Christ’s crucifiction, he did not want to go through with it. Every emotion and wish in his body was pulling against it. But he knew he had to, or there was no other hope for the human race. There was no other answer for our guilt! The Bible says that without Jesus’ death on our behalf, we would all stand guilty before God. And there’s not one thing we could do about it.
So, the cross says we have a problem with God. It’s a message we don’t like to hear. And here’s something we need to realize about humans: We are not the dispassionate, clear-thinking, reasonable creatures we imagine ourselves to be. I haven’t met that person yet. Here’s the truth: If we don’t like something, we will find a reason not to believe it.
We will find a reason not to believe it. We will hunt, and think, and work till we find a reason. And it often doesn’t even matter how good the reason is, just as long as we have some reason not to believe it–even one! This is really the way we think. If there is just one reason not to accept the Christian message, then that’s good enough.
Example: How many people have I talked to by now who won’t become a Christian because they know a Christian who is a hypocrite? Or they know a Christian who mistreated them somehow?
There’s a reason. But is it a good reason? Come now, is God’s credibility really at stake just because some person who believes in him screws up? I kind of doubt it. In fact, I see no logical connection there whatever. It would be like saying that I doubt Einstien’s theory of relativity because he screwed up a math problem once–he didn’t balance his checkbook one day.
What people do who believe in God may be bad. But that still does not say anything about the reasons to believe in Christianity. They are separate discussions.
Example: How many people have I talked to who have decided not to believe in Christianity because it teaches that God has the right to judge people? What kind of reason is that? I can see where you might feel that way. I can see where you might have some kind of value like that. But this is not a reason. In fact, if anything, reason would indicate that the existence of a personal God would also imply some sense of justice.
But this is the way we are. When we don’t like something, we find reasons to reject it. And the message of the cross, which says we have a guilt problem before God, is something which rubs us wrong.
The Spirit works on us
This is why it is, then, that in the final analysis, it is God’s Spirit that gives us a nudge and persuades us over to him. If we didn’t have God’s Spirit working on us, then we would always find reasons to reject Christ.
The way he does this is not to bowl us over and demand that we listen. The way he does it is just to subtley enter into the picture and suggest to us that the message of Christ is true. Jesus called it the “conviction of the Spirit” in John 16. Conviction is just where God’s Spirit causes us to sense a leaning or a sympathy for what we’re hearing.
Without this, none of us would become Christians. But even with the work of the Spirit to persuade us, we still have the ability to reject him. That’s the amazing thing about the human will, just how strong it really is. We can hear good reasons. We can even sense that those reasons are correct by the conviction of God’s Spirit. And wil will still be able to reject what we’re hearing.
We have to speak the word
Let me conclude with this note here. Paul says that he came to town and brought the message of the cross. And as he did so, he spoke it with the power and conviction of God’s Spirit.
Now, I know a lot of people who have told me that they never really sense God’s Spirit at work in their life. They never sense God’s Spirit speaking through them. But you know, at the same time, what we’ll find is those same people never talk to anyone about the message of Christ! They never get down to brass tacks and discuss the event of the cross or the fact that we need God’s forgiveness.
Now, you tell me, why does God’s Spirit need to help us talk about sports? Why does God’s Spirit need to help us talk about the weather? Why does he need to help us socialize and be friendly? Those are all things that I’m sure you can do.
If you want to see God’s Spirit come alive and start to work in you, start to talk to someone about Christ. Start to talk to someone about their need for God’s forgiveness. People are always amazed by this when they first experience it. They say, “I started talking about Christ, and it seemed as if God took over and it wasn’t even me talking . . .”