Studies in I Corinthians
Lesson 6: “The Use of God’s Wisdom”
I Corinthians 2:1-5
The story has been told of a preacher who was summoned to the home of a very wealthy but wicked man in his community. It seems that the man’s brother had just died. The dead man had been a real reprobate, and the family couldn’t find anyone who was willing to preach his funeral. The wealthy brother of the deceased said that if this preacher would conduct the funeral, he would pay off the debt on the church building. But there was just one condition: the pastor had to say that the dead man had been a saint. Now the preacher didn’t really think too much of either brother, but at the same time, the offer was very tempting, so he finally agreed to do it. Then he sat up nearly all night trying to think of a way he could honestly say that this man had been a saint. Finally, it came to him. The next day at the funeral the preacher stood up said, “the man who lies in this casket was a total degenerate. He was a liar, a thief, and an adulterer . . . But compared to his brother, he was a saint.
Now that is an example of a preacher who knew how to use words very cleverly! And while all of that is a joke, it does introduce something that was a very real problem in the church at Corinth – and in our day as well, I might add – the use of clever wording to sway people’s opinions about things.
Paul is writing to the Corinthians about a whole series of problems that were keeping their church from being all that it could be and should be. And the very first one on the list is this matter of building the church around a man or the wisdom of men. And in the last part of chapter 1 he points out that as we exalt human methods or methods, all kinds of error can creep in.
Another thing that he touches on in that chapter, and that will really become one of the major themes of chapter 2 is that human wisdom is not necessary for understanding the wisdom of God anyway.
Now that brings up the question, since God has equipped all of us to understand Him without the necessity of a brilliant intellect and all of those things that the Corinthians were exalting, how should we approach the task of preaching? If we can all understand the things of God, why do we need a preacher anyway? So in this chapter Paul uses himself as an example of the way teaching and preaching should be handled.
Chapter two falls into three parts:
In verses 1 through 5 we find the power of divine wisdom. Then in verses 6 through 13 we have the presence of divine wisdom, and in verses 14 through 16 we see the participants in divine wisdom.
So first we need to think about the power of divine wisdom in verses one through 5 as we begin the study of this chapter. And the first aspect of that wisdom to notice is the message concerning divine wisdom in verses 1 and 2
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God, (2) for I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Right here in the beginning of chapter 2 we have a poor translation – actually a better one is in the New American Standard Version, which says “I did not come to you with superiority of speech. Paul isn’t saying, as the King James Version implies, that he came with some kind of “shoddy” or uneducated speech, or that there was something wrong with education or good speech technique. But what he is saying is that “When I came to you I didn’t come with an attitude of superiority” – “I didn’t “Lord it over you” or “talk down to you.”
Now we will see, as we get into the book that he dealt with some very technical information with the Corinthians. We know from the things that he covers in his letter to them that they were familiar with some pretty deep truths. But when he was originally teaching them those things He had to put it down on their level – he didn’t try to impress them with some kind of theological jargon and let them be impressed with his great intellect and education.
A good example of this is the way a good doctor can explain even a complicated disease in “layman’s” terms. Now when we get down to verse 6 we will see that Paul did have the ability to deal with intellectuals on their own level, but even that was from God.
(However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.)
Now in the last part of verse 1 he also characterizes his ministry in general – notice the phrase “the testimony of God . . .” Now that would be more significant to us if we understood the Greek background of the word “testimony.” It is the word “marturion,” which means “a message that can be verified by witnesses” So what he is saying is that “I came to you with a message that could be verified by witnesses, therefore I didn’t have to try to be impressive – I could prove what I was saying. Now he elaborates a little further in that point in verse 2.
“for I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Now remember that Paul is saying that he didn’t have to use human philosophical arguments because of the nature of his message. And that message is summarized with two terms: First there was the term “testimony,” which we just talked about in verse one. But now in verse 2 he points out the phrase “Jesus Christ . . .crucified” Not just his life or His teachings or His example, or His miracles (although all of those are legitimate in their proper context.) But His crucifixion. So what would have been immediately clear to his original readers is that the crucifixion had effects down through the years even until now – so that it is possible for us to talk about the crucifixion of Christ 2,000 years later as though it had happened last week or last month thing applicable for our lives today!
Now as we pointed out in our last study that was not all Paul talked about, but all those other things set the crucifixion in its proper setting. And in fact, all those other things are only important to preach on as they relate to the gospel!
Now that is the message concerning God’s wisdom – a message of salvation that is all God’s doing, and that can be attested by witnesses. But the next thing that we see about the power of divine wisdom is the method based on divine wisdom in verses 3 and 4. With a message of salvation that makes it possible for us to actually personally know the Creator of the universe, why would we need to depend on human methods and human wisdom? This is what Paul is going to elaborate on in these verses. So look at verses 3 and 4
I was with you in much weakness, and fear, and much trembling. (4) And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power.
From the human standpoint, Paul readily recognized his own frailties – “weakness,” “fear” “’much trembling.” But if we take the time to think about the over-all story of Paul’s life, we will realize that he had reason to be afraid – people were trying to kill him over the message he was giving; there were a lot of headaches in the ministry. But what he is saying is not that he was a poor speaker, but that in the face of all of the problems and difficulties, he depended on the Lord’s power instead of his own.
He didn’t have to depend on “gimmicks” – singing “just one more verse” of an invitation hymn; and so forth. He simply spoke the truths of the Word of God – Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And the power of God can take the message and apply it to hearts and lives as He sees fit. Now that provides real motivation for preaching. And that is the subject of verse 5 – the motivation in using divine wisdom:
“That your faith should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
Why does Paul relate everything he teaches to our relationship to God through Jesus Christ? “So that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Have you ever thought of the danger of depending on human wisdom? It is possible to make a decision about spiritual things; eternal things just because someone has convinced you it is right. Every cult is based on eloquent persuasion! But that kind of faith is always at the mercy of a more eloquent argument. But when God has convicted a person, that decision is final and unshakable! This is why we major on teaching the word of God rather than just trying to entertain.
Now this may not always make people feel good – there are times when the word of God convicts. And you may even leave church feeling worse than when you came. But the test of a good sermon is not whether or not you feel better, it is because the word of God has redeeming power, and stabilizing power. And this is the message that believers need to hear and that teachers need to give.
The purpose of these studies is to move you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know Him it is our prayer that the studies will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” If you are already a believer in Christ we hope that the studies will help you to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”