The world is only a complicated place when we are drifting lazily into the confusion wrought by sin. Think about it for a moment. There are two kinds of people in the world—sons of God and sons of the devil. There are two destinations, and only two, toward which we are all traveling—the resurrection of life and the resurrection to death. There are only two ways of living—clean and dirty. There are only two gospels—one from man that will collapse under the weight of your sins, and one from God that will cause your sins to collapse beneath the weight of God’s grace.
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1–5).
Summary of the Text
At the end of the previous chapter, Paul exults in the scriptural standard of pride. Let the one who boasts, do so in the Lord (Jer. 9:23-24). And he then moves on to remind the Corinthians of something they would well remember. He had not come to them in his own name, in the strength of his own powers, or on his own authority. Rather, he declared to them the testimonyor witness of God (v. 1). He had determined, decided, and judged (krino) that he would know nothing among them except Christ and him crucified (v. 2). His presence in Corinth was not that of some flashy dude exuding charisma. He came in weakness, fear, and trembling (v. 3). His words, and his preaching, were not dependent upon a flattering persuasiveness that naturally arises from sophistry (e.g. man’s wisdom, sophia). Rather, there was in Paul’s life and demeanor a proof of the Spirit and of power (v. 4). The basic alternative is presented. Your faith will either be in the wisdom of man or it will be in the power of God (v. 5). That power displayed by God is encapsulated in the message of Christ and him crucified (v. 2).
Sophistry, Then and Now
Contrary to a common assumption, Paul’s contrast here between the power of the cross and the enticing words of carnal wisdom is not a contrast between eloquence as such and truth over on the other side. This is a fallen world, and there are always sophists who want to substitute human eloquence for divine wisdom, which is absurd. This is what the ancient sophists wanted to do, and it is what their descendants now in our era want to do.
The error is to think, first, that the message of the cross needs to be adorned with human wisdom, and then that it needs to be reinforced or supplemented by human wisdom, and then, in the last analysis, replaced by human wisdom.
So what is the role of human eloquence in preaching the gospel? It is what Paul is actually demonstrating here. The words of the preacher, like the preacher himself, must be a bondservant to the message, and the words of eloquence, if they are to be true and not false, must be driven before the gospel gale, all sails out.
It would be a grotesque mistake to say that Christians should talk about nothing but a truncated message that consists of “Christ died on the cross,” and that all other topics are to be avoided. No—far from exulting in the cross, that approach would minimize it. Rather, because Christ is the founder of a new humanity, and because His founding obedience was what He did on the cross, this means that absolutely everything that men and women can do—from forecasting the weather to changing diapers, from sailing a ship to digging a well, from driving a car to teaching a class—falls under the authority of Christ’s death and resurrection. The cross was not just another event in a world filled with events. The cross was a new organizing principle, under which all thingswould be made new (Rev. 21:5). This is why we should be able to talk about absolutely anything in the world, and within a short space of time find ourselves talking about the death of Jesus, without changing the subject.
The Solution First
Our message is straightforward—we preach the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. We declare first, who He is. He is the divine Son of Almighty Jehovah. He is Himself fully divine, and He entered—forever—into our human condition through the Incarnation.
He lived a perfect, sinless life, and He did this so that His people of the new Israel could be represented by His obedience. And because they all had been disobedient before this, He represented them also by bending His head underneath all the wrath that a holy God could pour out upon Him. In that moment of dereliction, the Lord Jesus was struck by the fist of God. And in the following moment of ultimate vindication, three days later, that same hand of God raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His own right hand, where there is an everlasting river of pleasure.
The Solution Related to the Problem
This gospel is to be declared to every creature (Mark 16:15). And the creatures who are to hear this message are creatures who are lost in their sins.“Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (Gal. 1:4). The gospel is good news, but there are two kinds of good news. The first is a “bolt from the blue” good news, and which does not require any kind of antecedent difficulty. The second kind of good news (e.g. a pardon from the governor the day before your execution) is a type of news that requires a full apprehension of an earlier delivery of badnews. News that they have discovered a cure for cancer will strike a man who hascancer differently than it will strike a man who is entirely healthy.
And the Solution Applied to the Problem
In the wisdom of God, He determined that men, women and children are delivered by means of this gospel when they (by the grace of God) do two things. They must first turn away from their sins, and secondly they must believe the gospel.
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
So what is your condition? Porn junkie? Selfish high school girl who has her parents totally whipped? Embezzler? Malicious and petty biter? Manipulator? Liar?
And so what is the message I have for you? What message is here that is of a kind that makes no sense to your carnal heart but which will deliveryour carnal heart? Look away from that sin. Turn away from it. Turn so that the sin can see nothing but your back. The only way this works is when you look to Christ. And by Christ, I mean a twisted bronze snake on a pole. I mean a rock in the wilderness, with living water flowing out of it. I mean bread from heaven, falling out of the sky.