Commentary on New Testament Epistles

 August 26, 2012

Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #2: The Problem of Divisions, 1 Corinthians 1.10-4.21

 

 

Lesson 2.4: Paul and Wisdom
 Scripture: 1 Corinthians 2.1-5


1 Cor 2.1-5 (KJV)
1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.


Introduction

Verses 1-5 In this passage the apostle reminds the Corinthians how he acted when he first preached the gospel to them. Friends, I need to say this and I hope you are not offended; but, I don’t think Paul could make it as a pastor today, because he seems to have only one subject for his sermons; and today our ministers must entertain us, manage a staff, visit the sick, teach a Sunday school class, attend every church meeting and function, preach three times a week, etc. He says in verse 2, that He determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and him crucified —that is, to know nothing but this, to preach nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Jesus Christ, is the sum and substance of the Gospel, and ought to be the grand subject of a gospel minister’s preaching. His job is to display the banner of the cross, and invite people under it. Any one that heard Paul preach discovered that he harped so repeatedly on this topic that he could truthfully say he knew nothing but Christ and him crucified. Whatever other knowledge he had, this was the only knowledge he revealed, and was willing to spread among his hearers. The manner in which he preached Christ is also found here; expressed negatively and positively.
• Negatively. He came not among them with excellency of speech or wisdom, (v. 1). His speech and preaching were not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, (v. 4). He did not appear to have the charisma of a fine orator or the confidence of a deep philosopher. Neither his speech, nor the wisdom he taught, communicated human skill. Divine wisdom does not need to be adorned with such human ornaments.
• Positively. He came among them declaring the testimony of God—the Gospel, (v. 1).


Commentary

1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

And I, brethren,
Paul has shown, in the preceding chapter, that God chose the things and persons which the world calls foolish, and weak, and of no account, and lowest parts of society,  in order to confuse the world's wisdom and to overthrow its power.  “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty…And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (1 Cor 1:27-28; KJV). In this passage, he shows that this harmonizes with the means he used when he started the church at Corinth. He begins with “And I” (“So I”, is better), because he is relating his personal experience. He was one of the "foolish, weak, and despised" instruments employed by God; and while he was with them, he “gloried in the Lord," not in man's wisdom: “That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31; KJV). The apostle continues to address them in a tender and affectionate style: he calls them brethren, which may be his way of reminding them of the loving relationship he wishes existed between him and the church leaders, and also between the members of the church, wh0 had split into competing factions.

when I came to you,
The meaning of this clause is this: when he first went to Corinth, and began preaching the gospel there, as related Acts 18:1-10.

Paul left Athens after concluding that the Gospel made little progress among the Athenians—“After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth” (Acts 18:1; KJV). We don’t know how long he ministered in that place, but one supposition is around three months. The distance between Athens and Corinth is forty-five miles by sea. The Acropolis of one city can be plainly discerned from the other, making Corinth a logical pick for the apostle’s next mission field. The first people he met there was a Christian couple named Aquila and Priscilla, who were tentmakers by trade, like Paul. He ministered in Corinth for more than a year and a half, supporting himself by tent making.

Paul might have, if he so desired, preached with a flamboyant style, since he studied secular learning at Tarsus of Cilicia; where, no doubt, he read the Cilician Aratus' poems (which he quotes in Acts ), and Epimenides (②Titus 1:12 ), and Menander (③1 Corinthians 15:33). Grecian intellectual development was an important element in preparing the way for the Gospel, but it failed to regenerate the world, showing that for this to occur a superhuman power is needed. Hellenistic (Greek) Judaism at Tarsus and Alexandria was the connecting link between the schools of Athens and those of the Rabbis. There could be no more fitting birthplace for the apostle to the Gentiles than Tarsus, since it was free from the perverted influences of Rome, Alexandria, and Athens. He benefitted from Roman citizenship, which protected him from sudden violence, and he was reared in the Hebrew divine law at Jerusalem. Then at the exact right time the three elements, Greek culture, Roman government (④Luke 2:1 ), and the divine law given to the Jews, came together and Christ entered into our world, to prepare the world for the Gospel; and at the same time, by God's marvelous providence, they met together in the apostle to the Gentiles.

①For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. (Acts 17:28; KJV)

②One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies (Titus 1:12; KJV)

③Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. (1 Cor 15:33; KJV)

④And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (Luke 2:1 (KJV)

came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom,
Paul didn't come as a philosopher or a salesman; he came as a witness (declaring to them the testimony of God). By “excellency of speech” he is referring to something that is highly esteemed at Corinth and among all the Greeks. They spoke with graceful and attractive eloquence. The apostle here evidently alludes to that nice and studied choice of language, to those gracefully formed sentences, and to that skill in arranging the discourse and argument, which was very much an object of respect with the Greek orators. It is likely that Paul never distinguished himself as an orator—“ For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor 10:10; KJV)—and it is certain he never made it an object of intense study and concern—“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Cor 2:13 (KJV). In addition: he never sought to communicate to his listeners, the wisdom of the world, which was sought and cultivated in Greece. There are several points that can be made about Paul and his preaching:
1. Paul was certainly a man who could think logically and debate persuasively, but he didn't use that approach when preaching the Gospel. He made a conscious decision (I determined, V. 2) to put the emphasis on Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul was an ambassador, not a salesman. When he preached, it was with great simplicity of speech.
2. In taking this approach, Paul understood he was not catering to what his audience wanted. "Corinth put a premium on the veneer of false rhetoric and thin thinking" (Barclay). He already knew the Jews require a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:22), but he does not seem to care. He will preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
3. If a preacher is not careful, he will get in the way of the gospel instead of being a servant of the gospel. They can obscure Jesus by their preaching, either in the presentation or the message. Like the little girl, who when a smaller man was guest speaking could finally see the stained glass window of Jesus behind the pulpit said, "Where's the man who usually stands there so we can't see Jesus?" "When the preaching itself is stressed to the degree that it obscures its own content, there is a case of excellency of speech."
4. I would like to call your attention to the fact that Paul did not use the philosophic method of preaching. He was not a textual or a topical preacher; he was an expositor of the Word of God. I personally believe that is God’s method. It was the method our Lord used, by the way. The testimony concerning Christ and his salvation is so powerful, that it will give dignify to any kind of language by which it may be conveyed.

declaring unto you the testimony of God.

This means that the Gospel is founded upon the word and the authority of God; “Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you” (1 Cor 1:6; KJV). The apostle insinuated that the credibility of the Gospel (the testimony of God) depended neither on its conformity to the philosophy of the Greeks, nor on the eloquence of its preachers, but on the testimony of God, who confirmed it by miracles. Some versions have revised this clause to read "declaring unto you the Mystery of God," which they say harmonizes better with the context. This would concur well with the scope of the argument; but the present reading is probably the correct one. The Syriac version also has mystery. The gospel is often called "a mystery"; for example:
• And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: (Eph 3:9; KJV).
• And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Tim 3:16; KJV)

Paul did not come in the wisdom of the world, declaring the testimony or the mystery of God. What does he mean by a mystery? We will be confronted with this word again in the epistle. A mystery simply means “that which had not been revealed before.” The mystery of God which Paul preached was that Jesus Christ had been crucified. That had not been preached before but now it had been revealed. In the Old Testament the crucifixion of Christ was revealed in type and in prophecy only. The actual event was something new, something not previously revealed.

The testimony of God or the witnessing is that which God has borne to the gospel of Christ by miracles, and by accompanying it everywhere with his presence and blessing. The gospel contains the testimony of God in regard to his own character and plans; especially in regard to the great plan of redemption through Jesus Christ.

We have already mentioned that Paul was educated at Tarsus, but he also had been schooled "at the feet of Gamaliel"—“I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day” (Acts 22:3; KJV)—the famed scholar in Jerusalem. "Paul was a university man, the outstanding scholar of his generation." Nevertheless, he despised the sophistication, superficiality and conceit of those who were acknowledged as intellectuals. Paul rejected their methods because he was better than them, not because he was inferior to them. Paul had a wide acquaintance with all the learning of his generation; but he considered all such learning as nil, compared with the gospel of Christ—“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phil 3:8; KJV). Therefore, the meaning of this verse is that when Paul went to Corinth he renounced all of the tricks and devices of oratory, refused to accommodate the gospel to the style of the Greek philosophers, and did not try to adorn the truth with pagan wisdom. It is certain that Paul had the ability to do such things; but he wanted their faith to be in the power of God, not in the ability of human beings (See verse 5).


2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

For I determined not to know anything among you,
Paul made up his mind at some point to move his ministry from Athens to Corinth; but, it was only after he came to believe it was God’s will; and it wasn’t by accident, or chance, that he made Christ his grand and constant theme, but it was his firm and deliberate purpose. You may recall that Paul made this resolution, knowing the special fondness of the Greeks for elegant oration, and for polished and sophisticated enunciation; and that he made up his mind, as we may conclude from his writings, to adopt a very narrow theme for his teaching and sermons, which was “Christ, and him crucified”; which could not have failed to attract the attention of the Greek philosophers and their followers; and he made that decision even though he must have been fully aware that the theme which he had chosen to dwell upon would be certain to excite ridicule and contempt. Nevertheless he made his decision and he stuck to it, though it might expose him to contempt, and though they might reject and despise his message.

Not to know. The word know is used probably in the sense of attend to, be engaged in, or regard. I resolved not to give my time and attention while among you to the laws and traditions of the Jews; to your orators, philosophers, and poets; to the beauty of your architecture or statuary; to a contemplation of your customs and laws; but to attend to this only--making known the cross of Christ. Paul says that he decided that this should be the only thing on which his mind should be fixed; the only object of his attention; the only subject about which he would communicate knowledge. 

Any thing among you. The meaning is “anything while I was with you”; or, “anything that may exist among you, and that may be objects of interest to you.” I resolved to know nothing of it, whatever it might be. The former is, probably, the correct interpretation.

This was a resolution the apostle made before he joined them, that though he was well versed in human literature, and had a large scope of knowledge in the things of nature, religion, science, and history; nevertheless, he would not impart anything to them, or make anything else the subject of his ministry, except this one thing; “Christ, and him crucified.” This means that where his preaching is concerned that Paul would rely upon no earthly wisdom for power in his preaching. He was convinced that the Gospel of God alone could make you wise unto salvation, and that Jesus Christ was the foundation of all true wisdom, piety, and happiness.

The opinion held by certain commentators is that Paul's method in view here is a reversal of what he allegedly did in Athens. They say Paul tried to preach philosophically in Athens, met with a miserable failure, learned his lesson and announced his return to a simpler propagation of the gospel in these verses. Despite the popularity of such a view, however, there is nothing, either in the word of God or in history, to give the slightest credibility to it.

There is no hint whatever, either in this passage or in Acts 17, that Paul preached "Christ crucified" at Corinth because of a sense of failure of the philosophical approach in Athens. As a matter of fact, "His sermons at Athens were not basically philosophical." He preached the resurrection of the dead, and when did that get to be philosophical? Furthermore, his preaching in Athens was in no sense whatever a failure. Dionysius the Areopagite, Damaris, and others were converted—“Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:34; KJV). An exceedingly large number of people in Athens became Christians. "The church in Athens was one of the strongest congregations in the empire in the second and third centuries," and Lange pointed out that "A Christian congregation in Athens flourished in an eminent degree." The "others with them" of Acts 17:34 may not be construed as "a mere handful," except arbitrarily and with no logic to support it. It is probable that Sosthenes and his household were also converted during Paul's work in Athens.

In the light of the above, we feel that comments to the effect that "There (in Athens) Paul had one of his very few failures" are absolutely indefensible. In answer to the question, “Did Paul ever preach anything other than Christ, and Him crucified,” there must be an emphatic; no! He didn’t begin preaching it when he came to Corinth; he continued to preach it.

save Christ, and him crucified.
The apostle not only had a spiritual knowledge of Christ, but he also had experienced the Savior first hand, on the road to Damascus; which he valued above everything else; and this qualified him to make Christ known to others by preaching the Gospel, which he was willing and capable of doing. His hearts desire was to communicate the knowledge of Christ as God's salvation for the souls of men; and this was his focus, and he took great delight and pleasure in it. He made known those things relating to the person of Christ; that he was God, the Son of God, and truly man, and God and man in one person. He spoke of the things relating to his work; that he was the Messiah, the mediator, prophet, priest, and King, the head, husband, Savior, and Redeemer of his church and people. And he pointed out the blessings of grace procured by him; and that justification is by his righteousness, pardon by his blood, peace, reconciliation, and atonement by his sacrifice, and salvation alone and entirely by him. His determination was to preach about  Christ, and nothing else; not himself, nor man; nor the power and purity of human nature, the free will and works of man, but to exclude all and everything except Christ and the business of salvation.

The Greek implies, "The only definite thing that I made it my business to know among you, was to know Jesus Christ (His person) and Him crucified (His office)" [ALFORD]. Christ was not exalted on the earthly throne of David, but executed as the vilest malefactor. The historical fact of Christ's crucifixion had probably not been preached as often by the seekers after human wisdom in the Corinthian church, because, like today’s preachers, they want to avoid offending the learned heathens and Jews. Christ's person and Christ's office constitute the sum of the Gospel.

Now I want to make some personal remarks on this matter—
1. This should be the method of every minister of the gospel; to preach Christ, and him crucified. This is his business. He is not to be a politician; not to engage in the strife and controversies; he is not to be merely a scholar; not to mingle with his people in rowdy parties; not to be a man of taste and philosophy, and distinguished mainly for good manners; not to be a profound philosopher; but he should make Christ crucified the grand object of his attention, and seek to make Him known everywhere he goes.
2. He is not to be ashamed of the humbling doctrine of Christ crucified, even though the world may ridicule him; though philosophers may sneer at him; though the rich and the gay may put him down.
3. It doesn’t matter what entertainment is available to him; what fields of science are open to him, or what salary or advancement are offered him; the minister of Christ is to know Christ and him crucified alone. If he studies science, it must be so that he can more successfully explain and defend the gospel.
4. The preaching of the cross is the only kind of preaching that will be blessed with success. Preaching that has in it respect for the Great Commission, the dignity, the works, the doctrines, the person, and the atonement of Christ, will be successful. That was how it was in the time of the apostles, and that is how it has been in all revivals of religion. There is a power about that kind of preaching which philosophy and human reason don’t have. Paul preached a crucified Savior, One who had died for the sins of the world. That is the type of ministry so desperately needed today.

 


3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

And I was with you in weakness,
Here in this clause,  weakness means,  either the weakness of his bodily appearance (Possibly he had a little body), the distasteful sound of his voice (Perhaps he had a low voice), and his unimpressive persona as a preacher of the gospel, both with respect to the substance and method of his ministry; or his lowly and humble demeanor, not exerting the power and authority Christ had given him as an apostle; but choosing instead to work with his own hands, to provide for his own necessities, and those of others; or the many persecutions which he endured there for the sake of preaching a crucified Christ; and which he sometimes calls "infirmities”—“ Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first” (Gal 4:13; KJV).

Paul was not brimming with self-confidence when he wrote this. It’s clear that he knew his limitations and that made him weak and afraid. But, on the other hand, it kept him from the poison of self-reliance, and it let God's strength flow to him. Vincent says the implication of this verse is that his condition grew out of the circumstances in which he found himself in Corinth. Paul's weakness, fear, and trembling could have been the result of an illness he suffered through while in Corinth, and some, like Calvin, believe it was because of the threat of persecution that existed for all Christians during the early years. The Holy Spirit has chosen not to tell us the exact cause of his weak condition; however, Morgan has lent his opinion to the question "So great was his sense of weakness and fear, and so profound his lack of trust in himself that he quaked, he trembled. Those are the secrets of strength in all preaching."

The apostle didn’t preach like the popular orators of his time, but there is plenty of evidence that he was an effective preacher. The men of Lystra thought he was the heathen god Mercury, come down to them in the form of a man, because he was the chief speaker—“And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:12; KJV). He preached the truth about Christ with plain speech, and in their native language, He laid down the doctrine like the Spirit delivered it to him; and then, he left it up to the Spirit, who by signs and miracles, and influences on the hearts of men, revealed the truth of it, and obtained its reception.

In these verses, Paul opens his heart and lets us see his inmost thoughts. He makes it very clear that while he was among them he was very troubled. He was “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” It’s no wonder that he could say that God had chosen the weak things of this world. Paul had no exalted conception of himself; yet he was a great intellect and a great man in many ways. Obviously, he never thought of himself as great.

and in fear, and in much trembling.
Here we get a look at Paul's undaunted courage; but we should not think that this has reference to any fear of physical danger; but what it does suggest is that he recognizes his weaknesses and he realizes that the salvation of many persons was dependent upon so feeble an instrument as himself. Dummelow paraphrased this verse this way: "It was with much anxiety and self-distrust that I preached the gospel to you." Paul was aware that he would encounter many enemies--“And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6; KJV); and he was aware of his own natural disadvantages as a public speaker—“For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor 10:10; KJV). And he knew how much the Greeks valued a manly and elegant kind of oratory; and therefore, he delivered his message with a lot of anxiety and concern for its success. It was at this time, and while he faced these circumstances, that the Lord spoke to him at night in a vision, and said, "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace; for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city," Acts 18:9, 10. If Paul was conscious of his weakness, there may be ministers today who also know theirs; and if Paul sometimes trembled with concern about the result of his message, there may be other ministers who tremble. It was when he was in such circumstances, and had such feelings, that the Lord encouraged him. Friends, I will get personal now; I have never given a sermon when I wasn’t nervous, and I have never finished preaching that I didn’t feel inadequate. My hands have shook, my voice was too low, my mouth dry, and I couldn’t remember some of my talking points. But, my consolation was the knowledge that I had done my best, and that the word of God never returns void. In spite of all Paul's fears, he was successful there. If there is one thing I know it is this: when ministers go to their work conscious of their own weakness; burdened with the weight of their message; insecure in their own powers; and deeply anxious about the result of their labors, that God sends down his Spirit, and converts sinners to God. The most successful ministers have been men who have felt like this; and most of the revivals of religion have began, and blossomed, when ministers have preached, conscious of their own feebleness, distrusting their own powers, and looking to God for aid and strength. We may add that it is then and only then, that they are successful.


4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

And my speech, and my preaching
The phrase And my speech, if it is to be distinguished from preaching, refers, to his private conversations; and my preaching, to his public sermons.

was not with enticing words of man's wisdom,
Enticing words means the same as “persuasive preaching.” Paul is not saying that his preaching lacked the element of persuasiveness. His sermon before Agrippa in Acts 26 is a remarkable example of persuasive preaching. Paul is simply rejecting any reliance on the preacher's ability to persuade with human wisdom. The subject matter of his ministry did not take into account the liberal arts and sciences, or the philosophy and dry morality of the Gentiles, but his message was salvation by a crucified Christ; and he did not resort to the arts and enticements of Greek oratory or philosophy— “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16; KJV). That great English preacher of the nineteenth century, Charles Spurgeon said, "It is ours to speak the truth boldly, and in every case we shall be a sweet savor unto God; but to say what people want to hear in the hope of making converts is evil. The preacher should never use the kind of oratory that was adapted to captivate and charm, and which the Greeks so much esteemed. This is never to be thought of for an instant."
Note: “man's” is omitted in the oldest translations; but still "wisdom" does refer to "man's" wisdom.

but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power:
In the previous line, Paul stated what his preaching was not, and here he is saying what it is; it is a demonstration (manifestation, revelation) of the power of the Holy Spirit. His sermons incorporate solid proofs taken out of the OT writings, enhanced and driven home by the Spirit of God, and which amounted to a demonstration of the truths he delivered. Then there was signs, and wonders, and miracles, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, those extraordinary instances of divine power, which greatly confirmed the doctrines he preached: and besides all these, the Spirit of God marvelously assisted him in his work by informing him of what he should say, and how to say it; not what human wisdom taught, but that which the Holy Ghost taught; and the outcome was that his ministry had power, to convert, comfort, edify, and save many. Paul knew it is the preacher's job to preach and it is the Holy Spirit's job to demonstrate. His preaching may not have been impressive or persuasive on a human level, but on a spiritual level it had power.

Persuasion is man's means of winning over his fellow man. God's means is demonstration, leaving no doubt, and inspiring unreserved faith. This demonstration was prepared and carried out by the powerful work of the Spirit, which was exhibited both outwardly by miracles, and inwardly by working on the heart. When Paul preached he demonstrated the power of the Holy Spirit: “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:10; KJV); and his listeners were obliged either to yield to its teachings, or were bewildered by its truth. Paul did not preach a social gospel meant to tickle the ears of the congregation; but, he preached the word of God, which he described as powerful: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:11-12; KJV). He didn’t leave anything out; he preached the entire gospel: “Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19; KJV). Through the power of the Holy Ghost he was enabled to work mighty signs and wonders among the Gentiles; so that they were convinced that both his doctrine and mission was Divine; and therefore they cheerfully received the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit demonstrated that the Gospel was true by the remarkable conversions fashioned by it. Every converted sinner furnishes such a demonstration, and every instance where it produces peace, hope, and joy shows that it is from heaven.

In our day we have a great many words of man’s wisdom. There is a great deal of preaching, but very little of it is done “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”  The feeling is that we only need the right method or the right topic or the right style. Oh, how we need the power of the Holy Spirit in our preaching!

 

5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men,
That your faith. That is, that your belief in the Divine origin of the Christian religion.

Should not stand in the wisdom of men. Your faith should not rest upon, or be sustained by the wisdom of men. God intended to furnish you a firm and solid demonstration to show that the religion which you embraced was from him; and this could not happen if it’s preaching had been accompanied with the graces of eloquence, or the abstractions of refined intellectual reasoning. It would then appear to rest on human wisdom. But human wisdom was not employed; and human power, if it had been employed, could not have produced the change. Hence, it was produced through the means supplied by God.

It has been truly said that "What depends upon a clever argument is at the mercy of a clever argument"; and Paul wanted the faith of the Corinthians to be grounded in the facts and certainties of the Christian gospel, not in the showy eloquence of polished oratory. There can hardly be any doubt that this paragraph condemns much of the preaching of our own times.

Up to this point Paul was stressing the truth, that the gospel of Christ owes nothing to human wisdom, and that his rejection of the popular methods of preaching it, resulted in his preaching being despised by those who considered themselves sophisticated; but, beginning in the next verse, Paul effectively refuted the notion that "Christianity is contemptible, and proceeded to show something of its wisdom and dignity." He showed that it is not wisdom which he rejected but false wisdom; he preached God's wisdom, which is higher than man's wisdom, and the only true wisdom. Observe: If someone's faith is in the wisdom of men and not the power of God; if someone can be persuaded into the kingdom by human wisdom, they can be persuaded out of the kingdom by human wisdom also.

but in the power of God.
The Spirit of God directed him, and while he was under his influence he chose this style of preaching for a reason; that faith in Christ, and in the doctrines of his Gospel, which comes by hearing, might not be attributed to the force of human eloquence and oratory; but that it might be credited, as it ought to be, to the almighty power of God. And he tells the Corinthians that he did it for them, so that they might know that the Gospel was from heaven.

The little wisdom that I possess tells me that if human wisdom is used to win a man, then his faith stands on human wisdom. If a man is brought to faith through the power of God, then his faith rests upon that. This is the reason I sincerely question a great deal of the dry, apologetic preaching of today—such as trying to prove that the Bible is God’s Word or that the first chapter of Genesis is scientific or that the Flood really happened. Don’t misunderstand me, there is a place for that, and I thank God for men who have specialized in those areas. But we need to understand that salvation does not rest upon whether we can actually prove the inspiration of Scripture, although I certainly believe we can prove it. The question is: What does your faith rest upon? Apologetic preaching will call our attention to the Word of God, but our faith must rest on the power of God.

Here is where the apostle ends his discourse on how he came to preach Christ crucified in this manner: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of man, but the power of God—that they might not be enticed by human motives, nor overcome by mere human arguments, for fear that it could be said that either rhetoric or logic had made them Christians. But, when nothing but Christ crucified was plainly preached, the success must be founded, not on human wisdom, but divine evidence and action. The gospel was so preached this way so that God would be glorified by the outcome.

In the power of God. That is, the power of God is found in the evidence of Divine power accompanying the preaching of the gospel. That power is irresistible, affirming that the Christian religion was not originated by man, but was from heaven. That power is seen in changing the heart; in overcoming the strong inclination of our nature to sin; in subduing the soul, and making the sinner a new creature in Christ Jesus. Every Christian then has, through his own experience, furnished a demonstration that the religion which he loves is from God, and not from man. Man could not subdue these sins; and man could not so entirely transform the soul. And although the unlearned Christian may not be able to investigate all the evidences of religion; although he cannot meet all the objections of cunning and subtle infidels; although he may be greatly bewildered and embarrassed by them, yet he may have the greatest proof of all; that he loves God, that he is different from what he once was, and that all this has been accomplished by the religion of the cross.       


Summary

In these verses, we have learned:
1. The proper method to convert people in any community, Christian or pagan, is to preach or testify of the truth concerning the person and work of Christ. Whatever other means are used must be subordinate and supplementary, and designed to remove obstacles, and to gain access for the truth,  just as the ground is cleared of weeds in order to prepare it for the precious seed.
2. The proper state of mind in which to preach the Gospel is the opposite of self-confidence. The Gospel should be preached with a sense of weakness and with great anxiety and apprehension.
3. The foundation of saving faith is not reason; that is, it is not arguments addressed to the understanding; rather, it is the power of God exerted on the heart by the truth.

 

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