One: 1 Corinthians 2.1-5
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Corinthians 2:1–2:5
Good Morning! We’re continuing our series on 1 Corinthians, ONE. This week we are looking specifically at 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. I know for some of us it’s going to be difficult to focus on today’s sermon because it is also a national holiday where EVERYONE regardless of class or creed spends the afternoon watching football. While I personally spend many afternoons watching football, this game is unique in my viewing experience. Normally I record a game and wait a half hour to watch it so I can fast forward through half time and as many commercials as possible, but not during the Super Bowl where the commercials are as much a part of the show as the game itself. For months the most creative, talented, culture shaping, and effective advertising minds on the planet have been preparing meticulously crafted messages for companies and organizations willing to spend $4millon for 30 seconds of your undivided attention hoping to sell you everything from cheap beer, cars, chips, or cola. While what the commercials are selling is rarely anything new, exciting, and certainly not life changing, they’ll attempt to be so creative and memorable in their messaging and imagery, that for a moment you might even think light beer tastes good or that buying web domains is sexy. There not. Either way you’ll be talking about the commercials tomorrow and their taglines will become ingrained in popular culture for the next year before fading into irrelevance. For the overwhelming amount money spent, creativity used, and discussion generated, nothing will actually change in our lives because while the messages and images are impressive and memorable the subjects are underwhelming and powerless. Yet they still complete for our attention and consciously or unconsciously we compare each message we see or hear to the standards of the best commercials, films, books, articles, or speeches we’ve ever heard. If they don’t meet that standard in our minds then we assume or treat the message as less valid. Even when a message or subject is true, or right, or good it becomes secondary, or worse irrelevant, if it isn’t presented in a way that captivates our attention.
This is one of the issues Paul is dealing with as he’s writing to the church he planted in Corinth. As we look at the text today we will look at the challenges of culture Paul engaged with in planting and growing the church. We’ll see the centrality and simplicity of Jesus and his crucifixion to the message of the gospel. How Paul’s fear was used by God to increase Paul’s reliance on Him as he spread the gospel. How the Holy Spirit’s demonstrates the God’s power to change lives compared to placing faith in man’s wisdom.
1 Cor 2:1-5 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 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
V1 Idolatry Exposed - Mystery revealed
Paul has been on a lengthy missionary journey establishing churches through many Greek cities. Most recently, before coming to Corinth, he had come from Athens where public speaking was actually a competitive spectator sport where great speakers would wow crowds of people with their wit and verbal skills. Wisdom and great speaking was actually such a popular part of entertainment that great debaters and speakers would have been like rock stars and pro athletes. (Now we have Honey Boo Boo, we’ve come so far) They were obsessed with telling or hearing something new or cool. Paul actually got called up to the Areopagus (Mars Hill), the main speaking location in Athens, to preach about Jesus. He got laughed and booed out of the joint. It wasn’t that Paul wasn’t smart or articulate, he was varsity, but this was the pros. Corinth was also caught up in this culture that was so intoxicated with fine words they didn’t even care if what was being said was ultimately true it only mattered if it sounded clever, funny, or wise. Following his experience in Athens, coming to Corinth Paul says “I’m not going to play this game and compete with the popular culture or the greatest speakers. I am going to preach a simple and clear message of salvation. Paul didn’t try to be cool or relevant he tried to be right and true.
This is a struggle for us as churches and individual Christians when we try to make our message more compatible with the popular culture with the hope of either being more accepted or even seen as cool. Let’s be perfectly clear, being faithful to the gospel will NEVER be cool. Our message of Jesus Christ crucified is 2000 years old, it will not be new or cutting edge but it will always be timeless and true.
In addition to the speaking culture the religious landscape in the Greek cities was also particularly challenging. When verse one says “testimony of God” it can also be translated “mystery of God”. The overwhelmingly popular religions of the day were “mystery” religions where only initiated knew the hidden secrets of eternal life which they were forbidden to reveal. The uninitiated were naturally curious making it easy to attract visitors and new members to their gatherings. We see similarly religions and groups today including Scientology, Mormonism, even free masons, or fraternities that exist veiling their key rituals, practices, and doctrines. We even see Christian churches, groups, and scholars that overly focus on the mysteries of God, constantly questioning every core doctrine while nearly ignoring what has been plainly revealed in God’s word. Questioning is great, but some questions have answers, some mysteries have been solved. Paul came to Corinth declaring the only “mystery” that matters for a broken world has been revealed. He’s not teasing a secret or having a debate. There are no hoods, secret handshakes, sacred temples, cryptic rituals, or hidden rooms. When it comes to questions of salvation from sin and eternal life with the God they’ve been answered in the person and work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
V2 Christ Crucified
Paul wouldn’t compete with the big shows of public speaking and didn’t have a grand temple building like the mystery religions to attract the curious. But he was “among” people, as a single guy he lived with other Christians, he met in homes, he went out to the public squares, he shared meals with people, he worked a job, he knew people personally. He wasn’t shouting at randoms from a distance or blasting away over Facebook. He had real relationships with individuals that made up the core of this new church. While he was with them for a year and a half preaching, teaching, and discipling he focused exclusively on the facts and implications of who Jesus was and what he accomplished on the Cross. God’s word has so much to say about parenting, finances, sexuality, government, marriage, work/business, including much that would be seen as attractive, profitably, and wise by the non-believing world. But Paul didn’t bait and switch people hoping if they accepted godly principals for life they may eventually accept Christ. Paul had one purpose, to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It’s what we mean when we say Gospel.
God created EVERYTHING, including man in his image, and made it good. Through man’s disobedience and rebellion, all creation and every person has been stained by sin and brokenness. Man’s relationship with a holy and just God, His creation, others, and even himself has been fatally broken. Because of sin, all will die. While this seems hopeless God gives hope in the promise one will come (Christ) who will conquer satan, sin, and death. God the Father sends His only son Jesus, humbly as poor baby, into human history (fully God-fully man) to live the perfect sinless and obedient life all have failed to live and also die the death all deserve for sin, on the cross, redeeming/purchasing salvation for all people who believe. By the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus raises again 3 days later leaving his tomb empty and spends over a month with hundreds of witnesses before ascending to heaven. He promises His return in full glory as King of Kings where he will restore creation with a new heavens and a new earth with no more tears, sickness, sin, or death and God will be with His people in perfect relations ship FOREVER!!
At the center of that gospel is Jesus Christ the God-Man suffering and dying on the cross in our place for our sins. We can have forgiveness of sin and it’s eternal consequences, by the promise of new life we can have freedom from our sin and freedom to obey Jesus as Lord, and because of the resurrection we have the promise of a new body with eternal life without sin and with God. Let’s see how the Bible says it.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father Phil 2:8-11
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20
12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name [Jesus] under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6
Christ crucified is both simple to hear and easy to reject as offensive and foolish.
For Paul any attempt to establish salvation except on the foundation of Jesus Christ and him crucified was completely worthless. By decided to know nothing but Christ crucified, he preached the only thing that matters to everyone. "Christianity, if false, is of no importance and, if true, is of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important." C.S. Lewis
He didn’t give them tips to be more successful in life so they could keep worshiping themselves. He gave clear news on who the only one worth worshipping is and what He did for them. The goal of Christian preaching is not to make you a better person, but to point you to a better God.
V 3 Fear and Trembling
This is some great humility from Paul. He is an experienced and effective church planter on his second multinational missionary journey, yet when he came into Corinth to plant it was in weakness, fear, and trembling. I read one commentator that said he wasn’t afraid of any people he was just anxious to get started with his calling in Corinth. I disagree! During his ministry he’s been beaten repeatedly, been the cause of a riot, been brought before numerous judges, imprisoned, and recently laughed/booed off stage in Athens. He started in Corinth alone living on someone’s couch working as a tent maker which was basically an unskilled day laborer with no respect in the society. The Jews kicked him out of the synagogue and plotted against him to have him stand trial. He wasn’t an attractive or impressive guy. “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 2 Cor 10:10 A 2nd century history says Paul is ‘a man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked.’ He had to doubt his calling or least his ability to carry it out. Fear had crept into Paul. Weak and uncertain he is in need of encouragement.
7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. Acts 18:7-11
When things look nearly hopeless Paul gets divine encouragement from a variety of ways. His missionary partners Timothy and Silas have rolled into town now he’s got his brothers in arms charging with him. No synagogue, no problem, the guy living next door was a prominent Roman who loves Jesus an wants to use his large home be a house church. Crispus, who handled all the operations of the synagogue becomes a Christian and could have become the head deacon of the Corinthian church. People started hearing the gospel, repented of sin, renounced their false religions, put their faith in Jesus and were baptized. To top it all off, Jesus came to Paul in a dream. “They’re here Paul! Don’t be afraid, just keep preaching, my people are waiting to hear.” How encouraging would that have been?! I know pastors who’ve worked at Starbucks while their church was getting started. I know another who drove a bus to help his church stay open. All of our pastors have worked full time while serving the church. Why? Because we know, even when there seems to be little fruit, no one listening, nothing going right, there are still people our cites that God calls “His people” who are waiting to be made spiritual alive and set free from the bondage of sin by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified! We can’t let worldly fear stand in the way of us, as a church or even as individuals, continuing to proclaim the good news in the cities and contexts we are in and those we are called to go to. Fear can be in as a tool of the enemy to distort or cloud our perception of ourselves, what God’s doing, and what our mission should be. Fear can also be used as a tool by God to remind us how weak and powerless we truly are and lead us to greater dependence on Him.
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor 12:9-10
Paul knew his limitations in planting a church but he also knew to trust in God's ability to provide. Because of God’s provision, generations of faithful Christians pushed past fear to find God’s people in every time/place by preaching the Gospel. So we are here two thousand years later and half a world away.
V4 Demonstration of the Spirit
The church in Corinth didn’t begin to grow and flourish because Paul became a more polished preacher or a savvier marketer. People weren’t convinced to follow Jesus because the gospel made worldly sense. It is an implausible miracle anyone would believe something so foolish as the Jesus, the son of God, dying on a cross could have any actual impact on individual lives or have the ability to change the world. There has to be something more powerful than mere words, or recounting of history, or theological awareness at work to see lives be changed, religions renounced, sin repented of, or missionaries set to distant and difficult places with joy. There is, it’s the Holy Spirit at work in the heart of people. If the gospel to be believed and not rejected, for the cross to be seen as beautiful and not shameful, the Holy Spirit has to be present and active in individual hearts for people to be saved, and active in bodies of believers for churches to remain faithful to the truth of the gospel and continue the mission of spreading the gospel. … our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. 1 Thess 1:5
A sinner can no more repent and believe without the Holy Spirit's aid than he can create a world. –Spurgeon
God links the news of the cross to the Holy Spirit to demonstrate His power is the only thing that can accomplish anything. Paul wants the church in Corinth to see what our church should be seeing, Holy Spirit at work doing things that don’t make any sense without Him.
Real people who grew up in cults hear the gospel, by the power of the Holy Spirit believe, renounce their previous religion and even become pastors. Real marriages marred by infidelity or addiction are healed and restored. Real people living silently in sin repent and help other brothers and sisters avoid or come out of those same sins. Real fathers and husbands who were sleepwalking through their family lives have woken up to faithfully and joyfully lead in their homes and the church. Real people have renounced identities based on sexuality, or politics, or status, and have identified with Jesus.
The mere fact that we have a space to gather in Snohomish is the Holy Spirit working the hearts of godly leaders that care more about spreading the gospel then defending a turf or legacy. Have you ever heard of an SBUX renting out it’s space after hours to an rival/start up coffee shop? Why does God use the foolishness of the cross and the seeming senselessness of the Holy Spirit to accomplish His purposes?
V5 Faith in wisdom of men vs Power of God.
He wants us to place our faith in something that can actually provide lasting joy and genuine rest. You can’t rest on a faith that depends on mere intellectual reasoning, clever messaging, emotional manipulation, or moving experiences, because at any time that faith can be demolished by a more articulate argument, a more engaging speaker, or a more overwhelming experience. Man’s discernment is temporary, faulty, and subject to change; God’s power is eternal, perfect, and unchangeable. We can get an organ up in here and whip everyone up in an emotional lather, we can spend hours dissecting inconsistencies in opposing world views or religions, or put on a polished production that might temporarily captivate your attention, but we cannot manufacture true, lasting, saving, transforming faith in Jesus. But faith in Jesus Christ and him crucified produced by the word of God, powered by the Holy Spirit can never be overthrown.
Let us sing and give like fools who’s faith isn’t in the world’s wisdom. Let’s take communion remembering the simple truth of the gospel “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” His body broken and His blood shed for us.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:8-14