Summary: the preaching of Christ's Cross should be at the center of our message.
Nothing But Jesus Crucified
In the Appalachians where I live, many of the ministers and churches have an aversion to book learning, especially when it comes to the Bible. And I really cannot blame them as I have seen many an aspiring minister ruined by seminary. “Preach the Bible, it’s the only book we need.” Preach the salvation message! Keep it simple!” In this they feel that they are being faithful to what Paul is teaching here. They care to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
We tend here to be suspicious of ministers who want to show off their learning. So many have been led astray by smooth talkers who try to itch the ears of the listeners. They will need to show that they are genuine before they will be accepted. But is Paul saying “We don’t need no education!” Let us see what Paul means by saying that he wished to know anything among them than the crucified Christ.
We must first note that whatever Paul means here, it does not say that he was not formally educated. He went to university in Tarsus as well as sat at the feet of Gamaliel the Pharisee. He had a great deal of formal learning, far more than Peter and the fishermen whom Jesus called. At first, he used his education in the wrong way. He persecuted to death the early Christians. Yet God could use the educated Paul as much as he could the rustic Peter. He needed to have his learning transformed.
So when Paul says that he did not want to know or make known anything among the Corinthians than Jesus Christ and Him crucified, he is not saying that this is all he knew. He made a choice not to make a show of his learning when he preached to the Corinthians. Rather, he was satisfied with the demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power. He was not a philosopher; he was a preacher of the gospel. Whenever he called upon his learning, it was subjected to the message of the cross. Paul had not been converted because Jesus engaged him in a theological and philosophical discussion on the way to Damascus. Rather, Paul was struck down and converted by the demonstration of the Lord’s power. Jesus, who had been crucified in weakness was risen to the ultimate power of the universe. I don’t think Paul could have been converted by a rational argument. His presuppositions were set in stone. If confronted, he would simply have reverted to his foundational beliefs. People will reason in circles and come back to their starting point unless there is a disruption which forces one to challenge their core beliefs. And Paul was thoroughly committed to his core belief. He needed to be shaken to the core to change. We see, then, that Paul would see the way he had been converted as the paradigm of his preaching. Jesus Christ, crucified and risen as Lord was the core of his new way of thinking.
There is a danger that learned people will revert to their “superior” knowledge. They see themselves as “enlightened” and problem solvers. This will lead to elitism and snobbery. Christians are in no means immune from pride. This kind of attitude divides people. It can lead to divisions in the church, which is just what we see here in Corinth. This is not to say that Paul or Apollos intended this division, but people in the church were addicted to philosophy and style. Paul relates that God gave him a thorn in the flesh to keep him humbled and centered on the Gospel. Even though he was a learned man, he was not a gifted speaker. He apparently had fear of public speaking as a whole. He was self-conscious about his appearance, and appearance probably marred by the wounds he had received for preaching Jesus. On this account, he appears no match as an orator in relation to the equally learned Apollos. God apparently did not feel the need to handicap Apollos who had to strongly refute the attacks of unbelieving Jews at Corinth. This difference in roles probably demonstrates the different treatment that Paul and Apollos received. They were both servants of the Gospel, though.
Paul’s decided approach was deliberately not to be sophisticated. It would not have fit him anyway. He knew the emptiness of philosophy. Philosophy amuses the mind for a while, but the next philosophy shows how foolish it ultimately is. Philosophy claims to answer the great questions about life, but in the end ends in disappointment and disillusionment. We see this in our world today. The philosophy that people are autonomous from God and can determine their own future has been demonstrated to be utterly foolish. This is why we have Postmodernism. The world has seen the foolishness of the Enlightenment. They have no answer to replace it, of course. So everyone is free to create his or her own truth. This is also utterly foolish. This void needs to be addressed by the message of the cross, of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This is the message that has power to transform the world.