Our reading today is 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. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD. THANKS BE TO GOD.
Last week we talked about the foolishness of God, in that He uses the things that the world considers foolish to bring to nothing what the world considers grand, and what the world considers weak to show His strength. This week we continue in that theme of contrasts with how Paul approached the Corinthians when he was with them. Let’s look at this approach from our reading.
Paul did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom. When Paul left Corinth after 18 months, Apollos, who was receiving training with Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus at the time, was sent to Corinth, possibly at the request of Aquila and Priscilla, to continue the work Paul had begun. It was soon evident that Apollos was an excellent preacher. He was a learned man, like Paul, but had skills in rhetoric that Paul lacked. His preaching style and his gift in the Scriptures, soon made him a favorite with some in the Corinthian church. They began to take sides. They began to form cliques around the personalities and preaching style of two very gifted men. They tried to pit one against the other. This caused problems in the church, not between Paul and Apollos, and showed the carnality within the church, as Paul addressed first in chapter 1 and addresses again in chapter 3.
Paul determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. He came with the simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul could have said much more than he did but determined in his heart to keep the main thing the main thing. Church planting is often evangelistic in nature and Paul planned his work and worked his plan, to the point, as we read in Acts 18, that the Jews, with one accord, rose up against him.
Paul was with them in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. Paul had just come from Athens where he had a less than favorable audience with the philosophers on Mars Hill. His message was offensive to most and his oratory skills were not up to par with Greek standards. So he came to Corinth with a sense of his own shortcomings in their culture and society. He knew he had an uphill battle with the Corinthians, the Jews and the Gentiles. But, as we heard last week, Paul knew that God uses what the world sees as weak to bring down what the world sees as strong.
Paul’s message and preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom. And why was this so? So that their faith would not rest on the wisdom of men. Paul was not out to impress the Corinthians. He wanted only to see them saved. Persuasion and worldly wisdom were very important in Greek culture. Remember when Paul asked in last week’s reading, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
In the Greek mindset, persuasion was a combination of ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos has to do with credibility and authority. Paul began this letter by reminding them he was “called as an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God.” Paul took no personal responsibility for his calling but placed the responsibility solely on the will of God. But when he initially came to Corinth, he did not portray his apostolic authority. He portrayed the much more powerful apostolic humility in his message and preaching.
Pathos deals with feelings and emotions such as empathy and sympathy. Paul did not play on the emotions of the people, trying to stir their hearts. He left that to the Holy Spirit.
Logos is the use of logic, reason, and analysis. I’m sure Paul reasoned with them. It says so in Acts 18:4. But it also says that when Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, that “Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.”
As hearers and communicators of God’s truth to the fallen world around us, we would do well to remember these things. Do not let the cult of personalities have a place in your heart or your church. Paul will instruct them later in this letter saying, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor 12:4-7) and then “But one and the same Spirit works all these things (speaking of spiritual gifts), distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (1 Cor 12:11-27)
How willing are we recognize the other guy or gal? How able are we to reach out a hand and lift another up? Are we humble enough to show more abundant honor to those others might ignore? Will we, as an eye or ear, say to the little toe in our midst, “You are valuable to me! I need you!”?
In 1747, John Wesley published Sermons on Several Occasions, a collection of 141 sermons compiled into five series. In his preface to his first series, where Wesley presents what the Bible says concerning the way to heaven, he lays out his philosophy of sermon writing. I share the preface here to point out another example of practical humility in a Christian leader. As you listen, see if you recognize some of the same points Paul made in today’s reading.
“1. The following Sermons contain the substance of what I have been preaching for between eight and nine years last past. [In the year 1747.] During that time I have frequently spoken in public, on every subject in the ensuing collection; and I am not conscious, that there is any one point of doctrine, on which I am accustomed to speak in public, which is not here, incidentally, if not professedly, laid before every Christian reader. Every serious man who peruses these, will therefore see, in the clearest manner, what these doctrines are which I embrace and teach as the essentials of true religion. 2. But I am throughly sensible, these are not proposed in such a manner as some may expect. Nothing here appears in an elaborate, elegant, or oratorical dress. If it had been my desire or design to write thus, my leisure would not permit. But, in truth, I, at present, designed nothing less; for I now write, as I generally speak, ad populum, — to the bulk of mankind, to those who neither relish nor understand the art of speaking; but who, notwithstanding, are competent judges of those truths which are necessary to present and future happiness. I mention this, that curious readers may spare themselves the labour of seeking for what they will not find. 3. I design plain truth for plain people: Therefore, of set purpose, I abstain from all nice and philosophical speculations; from all perplexed and intricate reasonings; and, as far as possible, from even the show of learning, unless in sometimes citing the original Scripture. I labour to avoid all words which are not easy to be understood, all which are not used in common life; and, in particular, those kinds of technical terms that so frequently occur in Bodies of Divinity; those modes of speaking which men of reading are intimately acquainted with, but which to common people are an unknown tongue. Yet I am not assured, that I do not sometimes slide into them unawares: It is so extremely natural to imagine, that a word which is familiar to ourselves is so to all the world. 4. Nay, my design is, in some sense, to forget all that ever I have read in my life. I mean to speak, in the general, as if I had never read one author, ancient or modern (always excepting the inspired). I am persuaded, that, on the one hand, this may be a means of enabling me more clearly to express the sentiments of my heart, while I simply follow the chain of my own thoughts, without entangling myself with those of other men; and that, on the other, I shall come with fewer weights upon my mind, with less of prejudice and prepossession, either to search for myself, or to deliver to others, the naked truths of the gospel. 5. To candid, reasonable men, I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: Just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, — the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. [A man of one book.] Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone: Only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of Lights: — “Lord, is it not thy word, ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God?’ Thou ‘givest liberally, and upbraidest not.’ Thou hast said, ‘If any be willing to do thy will, he shall know.’ I am willing to do, let me know, thy will.” I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” I meditate thereon with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God; and then the writings whereby, being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach. 6. I have accordingly set down in the following sermons what I find in the Bible concerning the way to heaven; with a view to distinguish this way of God from all those which are the inventions of men. I have endeavoured to describe the true, the scriptural, experimental religion, so as to omit nothing which is a real part thereof, and to add nothing thereto which is not. And herein it is more especially my desire, First, to guard those who are just setting their faces toward heaven, (and who, having little acquaintance with the things of God, are the more liable to be turned out of the way,) from formality, from mere outside religion, which has almost driven heart-religion out of the world; and, Secondly, to warn those who know the religion of the heart, the faith which worketh by love, lest at any time they make void the law through faith, and so fall back into the snare of the devil.”
In an age where truth is relative, feelings are supreme, and man’s wisdom seems to be the answer for everything, let us be thankful for the Lord Jesus and men like the apostle Paul and John Wesley, who place before us a higher bar that can only be reached by humbling ourselves and finding the low place of service. I hope that we can emulate them and to practice in our lives the saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” How low are you willing to go for God’s sake?