Summary: In today's lesson we are urged not to present the gospel according to the world's wisdom. Instead of relying on logic and rhetoric, we should focus our attention on the central message of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
Today we continue studying The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
Christians in the church at Corinth had misunderstood the nature of wisdom with regard to salvation. From Paul’s perspective human wisdom opposes God’s wisdom that is revealed in the gospel. Human wisdom is based on human knowledge and leads to destruction. God’s wisdom is based on the gospel and leads to eternal life. Let’s see how Paul expresses the difference between human wisdom and the wisdom of the gospel with respect to the preaching of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1–5)
When Billy Graham was a young evangelist he met a man named Charles Templeton. Prior to his meeting Billy Graham, a religious experience had led to a sudden conversion and entry into the ministry. Known then mostly as Chuck Templeton, he quickly rose to the top of protestant evangelism. He hosted the weekly religion show “Look up and Live” on CBS. He and Billy Graham toured the USA and the world filling football fields. Back in those early days many predicted that it would be Charles Templeton and not Billy Graham who would become the biggest evangelical preacher in history. His son simply says, “But he didn’t. He went to the seminary to learn more and came out an agnostic.”
This was a pretty big event at the time. Though no preacher was as big as Billy Graham was toward the end of the twentieth century, it was almost like Graham renouncing Jesus.
My guess is that most of you have never heard of Charles Templeton. I had never heard of him until several years ago. In his day he was apparently an extraordinary preacher. But then he abandoned his faith. Why? What happened?
The apostle Paul makes it clear that it is not powerful oratory or clever preaching that is the power behind the gospel. No. It is something very different than one would expect.
But before we examine it, let me briefly review what we have covered so far in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.
After the introductory salutation (1:1-3) and thanksgiving (1:4-9) of the letter, Paul immediately addressed the issue of divisions in the church in Corinth (1:10-17). Paul urged the Christians in Corinth to heal the divisions in the church because they are contrary to the unity that exists in Christ’s body.
The reason for the division in the church at Corinth was due to a misunderstanding of human wisdom versus the wisdom of the gospel. In a series of three paragraphs, Paul shows how utterly incompatible human wisdom is in relation to the gospel.
First, he says in effect, “So you think the gospel is a form of wisdom? How foolish can you get? Look at its message; it is based on the story of a crucified Christ. Who in the name of wisdom would have dreamed that up? Only God is so wise as to be so foolish” (1:18-25).
Next, Paul says, “Furthermore, look at its recipients. Yourselves! Who in the name of wisdom would have chosen you to be the new people of God?” (1:26-31).
And third, Paul says, “Finally, remember my own preaching. Who in the name of wisdom would have come in such weakness? Yet, look at its results” (2:1-5)
Paul urged the Christians in Corinth to remember that he had not presented the gospel according to the world’s wisdom. Instead of relying on logic and rhetoric, he had focused his attention on the central message of the Person and Work of Christ.
Similarly, in today’s lesson we are urged not to present the gospel according to the world’s wisdom. Instead of relying on logic and rhetoric, we should focus our attention on the central message of the Person and Work of Christ.
Let’s use the following outline for today’s lesson:
1. The Manner of Preaching (2:1)
2. The Motive in Preaching (2:2)
3. The Might in Preaching (2:3-5)
I. The Manner of Preaching (2:1)
First, let’s notice the manner of preaching.
At this point in his letter the apostle Paul is emphasizing the manner of his preaching with the Corinthians. They have become enamored again with human wisdom as the best way in which to understand and promote the gospel. But not Paul. He did not believe that the loquacious logic and resounding rhetoric were the way in which God had appointed for the gospel to be proclaimed. Paul believed in a different approach; he employed God’s methods.