TEXT : 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
TITLE: A Humble Preacher and a Mighty Message
DATE PREACHED : 14/03/2010
We saw last week that the divisive spirit that had taken hold of the Corinthian church was rooted in the evil principle of pride and boasting. It is the archetypal sin of the devil , ‘that proud spirit’ as one Puritan preacher called him. Satan’s pride caused him to challenge God’s ultimate authority, and he taught others to do the same. He challenges God’s Word boastfully and says to Eve in the garden of Eden , as if he knew better - as if he were God’s spokesman: “Did God actually say ? ….” and “you will not surely die …” (Gen 3:1,4) when God most surely DID say : “ you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil , for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” ( Gen 2:17) .
Now in a sense this is history repeating itself here in Corinth . The church was founded upon the gospel of Christ crucified . All was well in this Eden , and it was by the gospel ( which secured the peace of and with God ) by which the church must continue .
But what happens instead ? Satan’s influence upon this young church causes people to become big and God to become small . When this happens the authority of God wanes ,and the authority of men waxes in the church . This has the effect of emptying the cross of Christ of its power (1:17) in the church . That sounds terribly dramatic - but that is the effect, and that is what Paul is saying here.
It is a sad commentary on the experience of many a Christian that they begin well , but then somewhere along the line they begin to think that they must advance beyond the cross. They become wise in their own eyes. (Prov 3:7) , and they get to the point where their first love has cooled off (Rev 2:4) , and when then they begin to construct a religion without the cross .
But that cannot be . An old hymn says : “ The way of the cross leads home…” .
"I must needs go home by the way of the cross, There’s no other way but this ;I shall ne’er get sight of the gates of light, If the way of the cross I miss. The way of the cross leads home, the way of the cross leads home; It is sweet to know as I onward go , the way of the cross leads home .”
You see , the cross is not just a starting point . It is a life long journey ! “The way of the cross leads home … “ .
Today we are meeting around the Lord’s supper . This ordinance was instituted by our Lord as a perpetual reminder that we must remember the cross . Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 11:26 : “ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup , you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” .
Fanny Crosby reminds us in her hymn : “Jesus keep me near the cross“ ( 1869)
"In the cross , in the cross , Be my glory ever ,
till my ransomed soul shall find , rest beyond the river .”
The church must continually remember the word of the cross for at least 2 reasons :
(i) The cross as our place of substitution. Remember that Jesus died in the repentant sinner’s place ! He satisfied the wrath of God . This Lamb truly took away the sin of this world . ( Jn 1:29) . This fact alone continually remembered will kill our pride and boastful spirits ( see 1 Cor 1:30-31 )
(ii) The cross as our place of reconciliation with God and with one another. Through Christ’s death we have peace with God ( Rom 5:1) ; and through Christ’s death we have peace with one another ( Eph 2:14-18). Christ died so that we might be united in His body – the church !
It is this point particularly that is under consideration here. The church of Corinth was divided on account of forgetting the work of Christ on the cross as the supreme theological truth that bound them together . He holds us together , and not the wisdom of human leadership skills as some saw them apparently in Peter , Paul and Apollos. The church is not held together by profound oratory ( or modern motivational speaking) . These things and other clever tricks that are so often stressed in the modern church .
So come with me to chapter 2 as we continue to consider how Paul will bring this divided church back from the edge. It is through the foolish message of the cross as we see once again in 2:3 . But before we get there please note that the first 5 verses reveal that Paul’s apostolic ministry ( cf 1:1 - called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus) was neither conducted from the position of human leadership skills, nor from the basis of eloquent speech ! The power of his ministry came in demonstration of the Spirit and of the power of God .
1 Corinthians 2:1–5
Paul reminds them from his first visit ( Acts 18:1-17) - i.e. when he planted this church , HOW this church was founded ! This is important for it tells us upon which basis any Christian church ought to operate . Listen carefully !
First, notice what Paul did not do in establishing this church :
• V.1 not with lofty speech or wisdom …”
• V.4 my speech and message were not in plausible words of wisdom
He basically repeats what he had said in v.17 : “ I did not come to preach the gospel with eloquent wisdom…” What is the point that he is trying to make ? Well , the Greeks loved persuasive oratory . They delighted in debate and in speech contests . But Paul is eager to make the point that the gospel is not primarily about human wisdom or pervasive speech . It is about something far greater ! Do not think that Paul did not have reasoning capacities – we know he did , but it was not this capacity that he employed and trusted in , in order to plant or to maintain a church .
Second, notice his strategy for establishing this church!
• V.3: "I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.
• V.4: “ my speech and my message were… in demonstration of the Spirit and of power."
What is Paul trying to prove here ? From a worldly perspective this seems to be a recipe for disaster : A man who is weak , uncertain and trembling must have low self esteem! In 2 Corinthians 10:10 his opponents were saying, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech is of no account."
Evidently Paul did not have a very strong, appealing appearance. In fact there may have been something physically wrong with Paul – something which made him chronically weak. We have a hint of this in Galatians 4:13–14 where he tells us : "You know it was because of a bodily ailment [ or weakness] that I preached the gospel to you at first; and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God."
Paul is trying to prove that he came not as a self assured ,physical giant, over towering and impressing them with his physique or strength . The point is that Paul wants them to see that they were not born out of human strength or strategy . They were born out of human weakness , but this weakness ( not only in Him , but in them also) was used by God to bring about a wonderful change in the lives of these Corinthian Christians . We saw that in 1:26-29 . The end effect of this is that we must ask “ well if this is not of Paul… then what is it ? “ . The answer is : this is by the power of God ! A man or woman becomes a Christian not because they are persuaded by human speech or personalities. They are not converted because they are clever enough to understand the gospel . People become Christians when God’s power through the agency of the Holy Spirit makes us alive to see Christ for who He really is !
What must a weak preacher do to bring a divided church back to its senses ?
V.2 “ I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
This doesn’t mean that all Paul spoke about was the Lord’s death on the cross . We know from his letters that he spoke about many and practical things pertaining to living the Christian life, but it does mean that Paul brought everything back to the cross ! All he ultimately did was related to bringing people to the Christ of the cross . His tent making profession by which he kept himself supplied was ultimately so that he could bring people to look at the lamb of God . His teaching and preaching ultimately was aimed to bring people to the word of the cross . His relationships were conducted towards that end ( 1 Cor 10 :24) . Even his eating and drinking was to the glory of God ( 1 Cor 10:31)
The secret of the power of that message is not found in Paul , but in something external to Paul . We shall see this more clearly as we consider vv 6 ff.
The secret power of the Christian gospel lies not in the messenger , but in the Lord of the message . That is why Paul is an apostle ( a messenger ) of Christ Jesus (1:1) . Paul’s life changing message of the cross is found in the fact that he is a messenger in the hand of the Holy Spirit , and therefore that message through him will be a powerful , inspired , God breathed authority that comes with life giving force to its hearers .
So even though Paul was a well trained as a Pharisee , he did not allow his own wisdom or the conventional wisdom of the day to get into the way . All he did was to preach Christ crucified , and all that means ( i.e. ‘ follow Christ ’ and ‘obey Christ’ ) and thus he became a vessel that the Holy Spirit would use so very powerfully . That doesn’t always mean that there must be visible success ( as in ‘ many people converted’ ) - it may mean staying faithful to the word of the cross in days of temporary judgement ( the shrinking of the church) such as happened in the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah . Although there were no visible signs of blessing , yet the Word of the Lord came to these prophets – these broken vessels , breaking the nation to pieces , but not without the hope that out of the stump God was able to produce godly offspring once more !
The lives of people are changed not by better methods , but by the power of the Holy Spirit as he works through broken vessels like the apostle Paul .
And the ministry of the church , when she has forgotten this must speedily return to this principle , otherwise the wisdom of man will empty the cross of Christ of its power – and very soon this church will be abandoned by Christ , as history eloquently testifies to .
Let this provide us with food for thought as we now draw near to the table in humble repentance and thankful recommitment to our crucified Lord . Amen .