Paul’s goal is to encourage the church at Corinth toward unity through maturity in the knowledge of Christ (1:10). He explicitly mentioned the wisdom of the world as a source of conflict in the Corinthian church (1:22-23). Today, there is much worldly wisdom in our society and in the church that leads to great division. Paul offers an antidote for the division caused by worldly wisdom. His antidote begins with the example he set when he served as a pastor for the Corinthians prior to the writing of his letter. Would it not be great if we had an antidote for the division of our time? Well, the Bible gives us one.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
Determination of the preacher (v. 1-2)
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
When Paul first went to Corinth to share the Gospel (his second missionary journey), He did not go with superiority of speech or of wisdom. He was not seeking to be a spiritual guru or discernment counselor (or discernment blogger?). He wanted to point all attention toward Jesus Christ. So, he simply proclaimed the testimony of God because he determined to know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
What does it mean that Paul determined to know nothing? We have a strange view of the pulpit in our modern day. The preacher is often seen as the man who should have all knowledge and advise concerning all the things of the world. When Paul was in Corinth, he was certainly knowledgable concerning the politics, philosophies, beliefs, gods, and so on of the world (cf. Acts 17:16-34). He determined not to make those things the substance of his message. Instead, the substance of his message was Jesus Christ and Him crucified—Christ’s person and work.
Why do you think he determined know nothing except Christ? He answered in Chapter 1, verse 17, “…so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.” He did not want the Corinthians focused on the things of the world or on him as some kind of guru. He wanted their attention on Christ in a substantial, meaningful, way.
Paul limited himself from speaking about every issue of which he was informed and formed an opinion. He limited himself to simply preach the word of God so that he would not distract from the person and work of Christ. Here, we get a glimpse into Paul’s heart for ministry. You get a glimpse into mine. The expositor is bound by the message of Scripture—God’s word about the person of Christ and the work He is doing. If we digress from the message and mission of Christ into rants about more worldly things or arguments over words (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15), we distract people from the person and work of Christ alone. Paul is a very intelligent and informed Jew. He determines to set his knowledge concerning the things of the world aside in order to preach Christ because he loves Christ and wants others to love Him. Paul’s mission is to reveal Christ and he won’t be deterred from that specific mission. We can tell what a person loves by the things he chooses to speak about or debate. We can tell what a person invests his time in by listening to his words. That’s why, when I step into the pulpit or lead Bible study or am in conversation with people, I determine to know nothing but Christ and Christ crucified. When I do talk about political or moral trends in the world, it is always with reference to the kingdom of God rather than people. Paul sets the missional example for every Christian.
I am a pretty educated guy. I have a Master’s degree and am working on a PhD. I’ve studied and study philosophy, theology, physics, psychology, biology, physiology, and technology. I’ve started businesses, made money, grown ministries, and invested successfully (though not much because I am poor). To do all those things, I have to be informed and know how the world works. I stay informed about civics, politics, industry, and the state of the world. When the word of God is opened before me and I have the responsibility to proclaim His word, I determine to know nothing but Christ and Christ crucified for others’ sakes. I determine not to argue about much even when I think someone is wrong about something—most arguments simply aren’t worth our time. If the substance of a preacher’s message is something other than Christ and Christ crucified, he makes the cross of Christ void. So, we hold our elders, preachers, to the standard message and mission of Christ and no other content or human philosophy. We listen to understand Christ, not wrangle about words—which is evil and divisive according to Scripture (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15). God has not given pastors to persuade or advise anyone in the ways of the world. He has given them to reveal the whole Christ and equip the church for Christ’s mission (cf. Ephesians 4:11-12). May Christ be unveiled and exalted in our local churches. May His kingdom come.
Nature of the message (v. 3-4)
I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power…
How did Paul minister in weakness, fear, and much trembling? Even though he was not ignorant about the things of the world, he determined not to wax eloquent concerning those things. How ignorant Paul must have seemed. He did not present himself as an epistemic authority. Instead, he went to the Corinthians in weakness. He trembled as He presented the word of God, knowing that only the Spirit could persuade people. His message and preaching were not persuasive, using the wisdom of the world. Conversion demonstrated the Spirit and very power of God rather than Paul’s charisma or ability to persuade.
Do you want to see the Holy Spirit moving? Do you want to witness the power of God? Preach a message that has no appeal to the world and determines not to know anything but Christ and His work. See people converted by the Holy Spirit rather than our political or philosophical rants. Two things happen when we determine to know nothing but Christ and Christ crucified in our teaching—when we live on mission. 1) Worldly people leave because they are concerned about the things of the world rather than the person and work of Christ. 2) People filled with the Holy Spirit experience the power of God in real time. God is glorified because we determined not to persuade people according to worldly wisdom.
God’s pulpit is limited concerning the knowledge and wisdom of the world because God desires to reveal His power through the working of His Spirit. Perhaps the most difficult job of the preacher-teacher is self-control. He cannot say everything he wants and still honor God. He is bound by the message God has given, the text at hand.
Purpose of self-control (v. 5)
…so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
Paul clarifies what he means when he meant by “so that the cross of Christ is not made void.” He does not desire anyone’s faith rest on the wisdom of the world but, instead, on the power of God.
What does it mean for anyone to have a faith that rests on the wisdom of men, or the world? What is the wisdom of men? In Paul’s time, the wisdom of men is hellenistic philosophy and some philosophical doctrinal teachings in the church. For someone’s faith to be on the wisdom of men means he or she ultimately rests on his own reasoning—Like Adam and Eve when they sinned (cf. Genesis 3). It is to treat life as if we are the masters of our own souls and determiners of our own lives by our own ability to reason and figure things out. Paul did not want to lead the congregation into such blasphemy. Paul did not claim that there was anything wrong with philosophy, physics, astronomy, civics, politics, or otherwise. He was into all those things (with the possible exception of physics). He did mean that those things are good slaves but terrible masters.
What does it mean for anyone to have a faith that rests on the power of God? What is the power of God? Consider Paul’s confession in Romans 1:16:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
The power of God is the gospel. To rest on the power of God is to rest solely on His promise. It is to have a faith that trusts His promise and hopes according to His promise alone. It is relational and recognizes God as our sovereign deliverer. It is not a blind faith but a faith by which we see. In the next passage, Paul will explain what it meant to rest on the power of God and seek the His wisdom.
The application of this passage is simple and deals with the unity of the local congregation (and everything else) through Christian maturity. We determine not to rest our faith on the wisdom of the world by:
- determining to know nothing but Christ and Christ crucified,
- refusing to wrangle over words, and
- trusting and sharing the promise of God alone.
Put simply, we live on Christ’s mission.
In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:18-20).
God brought us forth by His Gospel so that we would be a kind of first fruits—which means He wins more by our proclamation of the Gospel. That is why we must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Our anger and passion about the things of the world cannot accomplish the righteousness of God. Only the Gospel can because it is the power of God. The Gospel is the antidote.
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