First Corinthians 2:1-9
Preaching In The Power Of God
Not In Words Filled With Wisdom
1. Today we are given the words from chapter two of The First Epistle To The Corinthian Disciples. It begins with the words of "Brothers, when I came there myself..." The situation of when Paul had first gone "there," that is to Corinth, is recorded in chapter eighteen of The Acts Of The Apostles. Let's [start] looking from the chapter before that. During his preaching work at Thessalonica it looked like a considerable amount of Greeks had believed in Christ. But, in meeting up with persecution and harm by the Thessalonian Jews, Paul couldn't help but having to run from Thessalonica to Berea and then further to Athens. While at Athens, Paul was invited by the people of that land and had the opportunity to give a sermon at Aeropagus. The contents of his message is written in the latter half of chapter seventeen. At the end of it Paul spoke of the resurrection of Christ. Then what do you suppose happened? Upon hearing him speaking of the resurrection of the dead, some laughed at him scornfully, some went away saying, "We will have you tell us more about this matter some other time."
2. Thus, two large walls blocked the way to his preaching work. One was the religious sentiment of the Jews who would never accept the Christ of the cross. The other was the Greek idea of body-n-soul dualism, who only considered the resurrection of the body as foolishness. It was at the town of Corinth where they came struggling to the extreme end of this hard preaching battle.
3. In Acts eighteen, it is written that many of the Corinthians heard Paul's message, believed, and were baptized. But, in the mean time, it tells us about the events of the night during his stay there as follows: "One evening, the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision after this manner, 'Don't be afraid. Keep speaking. Don't be silent. I am with you. Therefore, there is no one who will attack you and harm you. Because in this town my people are many.'" (Acts 18:9). That the Lord had spoken to Paul in that way probably means that Paul was actually afraid and had gotten to the point where he was no longer able to keep on preaching. Even in the place we have read today the text says, "When I came there myself, I was weakened, gripped by fear, and very ill at ease," (verse three). These words are far from the image of Paul the powerful super missionary that we often times imagine. But, I'd say this was the way it really was for Paul.
4. Thus, there are times when missionaries lose their nerve. To keep speaking gets hard at times. And wait, it's not only missionaries. There are times that the church as a whole is weakened, gripped by fear, ill at ease, and is no longer able to continue to speak. Many modern day churches feel such a fear as that. In modern society so complicated with intricate values, the church can't help asking itself, "Do I really have a message that I can still give out?"
5. What might be taking place as a result of such fears? The church is prone to get where it will give messages as much as possible that won't be a stumbling block to people. It will try to give messages that are not offensive but are pleasing to the ears if a person of whatever value system might hear them. Or else, the church wants to get to where it acquires a wide knowledge on every specialty in different fields of study so that it compares favorably when measured up against the world's criticisms and so that it can debate with persuasive power on anything and everything. The church wants so much to express with all its might and soul that it is not behind the times at all. But, ...., in spite of its efforts, it hasn't changed in being weak, gripped with fear, and ill at ease. Today, many missionaries and the church experience this same condition. How about us?
6. But, while in such a condition Paul says, (verse two), "I have determined that outside Jesus Christ, without the crucified Christ, I don't know anything." He says that "I may be going against the grain of the Jews' sensitivities, and I may seem to be a fool by the Greeks, but I have resolved to speak on just Christ crucified."
7. We must make these words of Paul our own words. There is no message that we can give today while in this world except to proclaim the Christ of the cross. What we're supposed to do is not respond to the news of the world, or to give words that people of the world will take pleasure in, or make them feel comfortable, or make people admire [our messages] through its wisdom and skill. The church [is to] bring to light the sins of humanity and point its finger to the cross of Christ who saves from sin and gives us life. Ultimately that's all we can do. And that's all we should do. Because faith takes place right when the word of the cross is given, a word that is only foolishness and a stumbling block to the world. And because salvation takes place. When the word of the cross is given, God's rule over life appears, taking form in this physical world.
8. That is the work of God's Spirit and it comes by the power of God and it does not come by human wisdom. Paul bears witness to it as follows, "It doesn't come by my words, nor by my preaching, nor by words filled with wisdom, but it has come by evidence of "the Spirit" and power. It's because you did not come to believe through human wisdom, but through the power of God," (verses four and five). When the church feels weak, is gripped by fear, or gets where it seeks hard for the world's power and wisdom alone, preaching that is of the Spirit and with power will no longer be present. We believe in the Spirit of God and the power of God, but we cannot have preaching that is of the Spirit and with power as long as our preaching is not permeated with [His] foolishness.
God's Wisdom As Mystery
9. But, when we talk like that, almost invariably, somebody will come along who will misunderstand us. If we say that the words the church ought to ultimately give is only the Christ of the cross, they will think that is simplistic. They will end up thinking what a christian ought to know is but very very little. They will wind up thinking that all they have to know is about what you can read in one single evangelistic tract.
10. But, in today's biblical passage, Paul has said the following, "But, we speak wisdom among those who are matured in the faith. It is not the wisdom of this world, neither is it the wisdom of the rulers of this world who are being destroyed. What we speak is the wisdom of God as a mystery, which is hidden, and in order for God to grant us glory, he has ordained it since before the world began," (verses six and seven).
11. Please read these words closely. We take them in different ways. Paul, who had been speaking until this point with an "I...," is beginning to speak here with a "We..." And he is not speaking "to those who are matured in the faith" but "among those who are matured in the faith." In other words, Paul hasn't personally obtained a special wisdom and is speaking it to anyone. Paul is speaking together with them, that is, along with those who have matured -- among those who are adults in the faith. They are speaking wisdom. Put another way, he means that being a mature adult believer means that they are persons who listen to this wisdom together and who can speak it together. Of course, we, too, must become mature adult believers. Always being a suckling child on milk is not healthful. Therefore, we must make firmly our own the wisdom being talked about here.
12. How does he define this wisdom? Paul says that it is "the wisdom of God as a mystery, which is hidden." In addition, "Not one of the rulers of this world has understood this wisdom. If they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." Therefore, we understand that the contents of "the wisdom of God as a mystery, which is hidden" is none other than the salvation that comes by the cross of Christ.
13. The salvation that comes by the cross is something God had prepared ahead of time. In the scriptures it says, "God has prepared for those who love him something that eyes have never seen, ears have never heard, and something that has never even occurred to the human heart." About when did he prepare it? If we go by verse seven, it says "he has ordained it since before the world began." I get quite a rush from that, but it says, in short, "he has ordained it and been preparing it since the beginning [of the world]." What might his purpose be? The text states that it is "in order for God to grant us glory." This means that we are becoming persons who are completely saved. It has to do with the completion of our salvation at the very last day. In this way then, the Christ of the cross does have to do with everything from the beginning to the ending. It means that [the cross] goes from the beginning to the end, it has been involved in the history of God's salvation. Said another way, it means that the cross of Christ has to do with the whole book of the Bible from cover to cover.
14. To say that one knows the crucified Christ is in one sense easy to do. But, at the same time this has the width and the depth of the whole entire Bible. Furthermore, this has to do with every area in our lives and the world, which have been placed right within the history of this salvation. Therefore, when the Christ of the cross is proclaimed it means also that the entire Bible is being proclaimed. When we come to truly know the Christ of the cross we are also coming to know God's plan of salvation that spans the entire biblical corpus. Whenever we take part in this wisdom of God, there is also maturity [for] us as believers.
15. Eight years have passed since this hall in which we gather every week has been erected. We earnestly want to keep proclaiming the Christ of the cross, not wavering at all for ever after. As mature christians and as a mature church, we want to keep aiming to be able to do this.