A Demonstration Of The Spirit’s Power
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Key Verses: 2:2
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Paul was one of the greatest evangelists of all time, a man of God whose name became known worldwide in all generation since he first appeared on the Christian scene. But it surprises us that this greatest of evangelists did not gain his reputation because of his scholarly achievements in the secular and religious fields. Rather he gained it in the simplicity of his ministry as a Gospel preacher. And that is what he fought to preserve and maintain in his life as a minister of Gospel. His letter to the Corinthians portrays this glorious fact most effectively. The church he had built up on the simple Gospel message found itself overwhelmed with problems and torn apart by division. And so Paul found himself engrossed in writing them a letter (which later came to be called 1st Corinthians) in an attempt to resolve the issues that had stagnated them as a most influential church in the young Christian world, and had rendered them virtually useless in the sight of God and to the community they were supposed to have been serving. In his letter he reveals these problems and their causes. And he attempts to resolve them. it is in the way in which Paul resolves these problems that we learn the very source of his faith and power as a minister of the Gospel. Simply Paul’s solution is profound and simple: Simply it is once again “The message of the cross”, a message he had already preached when first their hearts were touched and changed.
In the first chapter Paul states the solution to end all their problems— message of the cross. And in chapter 2, he explains and defends the message of the cross.
Read verses 1-5. “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Paul was a scholar of his generation, one who had been thoroughly educated in all the world’s wisdom, as well as in the religious doctrine of the Jews. He was a Jew born of Roman citizenship and well acquainted with the worldly philosophies. But he also knew that none of these philosophies contained truth. There was a time when Paul was a staunch believer in the Scriptures. He knew them well for he had studied them thoroughly all his life until his knowledge of the Scriptures elevated him to the highest rank of religious authorities. But something had always been missing in the education which Paul had received as a Jew. When Stephen was stoned at the order of the Jewish counsel, Paul was there to witness the death of the heretic who dared preach about Jesus the Christ. When Stephen died the death of a martyr, Paul could not understand why this man who seemed to be holding on to some false faith could die so peacefully with words of forgiveness on his tongue. Rather than contemplating Stephen’s faith, Paul raged with anger against Christians and followed them to Damascus to put a stop to the spreading Christian faith. But then it happened. God did not let him continue in this way of life. God had mercy on him and intercepted his journey to Damascus. Jesus himself met with him and rebuked him for persecuting the true faith. Jesus also called him to serve the Gospel message to the world. After that Paul was never the same. He abandoned all things for his love for Christ and the Gospel.
And Paul began preaching Jesus wherever he went. And his message was always simple. What he tells the Corinthians in his letter, particularly in this chapter is remarkable for it gives us insight into Paul teaching and preaching. How did this man learned and educated in all things of the world, as well as in Jewish Scriptures preach the Gospel? What was the content of his preaching? With what attitude did he preach? In verse 1 he reminds the Corinthians of how he came to them at first. He reminds them that he did not come to them with eloquence nor with superior wisdom, when he first brought them the testimony about God. In other words, Paul was fully able to match any speaker who speaks with eloquence and with superior wisdom. But he did not. Look at verse 2. “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The word resolved is very important here. He “resolved” meaning that Paul certainly had a choice in speaking to them in any way he wanted to, and he was certainly also able to do so. But that he had made up his mind to speak only certain things. He says that he was resolved to know nothing while he was with them. In other words, he had decided to put aside all his learning and education. While he was with them, he would know nothing. It took a decision of faith on his part to put aside his worldly wisdom and oratory skills in order to speak to give them the Gospel. It took a humble man to do so. It is hard for those who rely on human wisdom to put it aside. But Paul was able to put it aside and resolved to know nothing while with them because he believed in something much more eloquent and wise than what the world held onto and taught.
Verse 2 tells us what Paul believed in more than all the education this world could ever offer him. He tells them that he had resolved to know nothing while with them “except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” It was his testimony about God as he states in verse 1. The testimony Paul brought them about God included nothing more than Jesus Christ and him crucified. What does that mean? It means that he held on to the one message that Paul believed could penetrate their hearts when they were still in their sinful state. And now once again he believed that it is the same message that could again touch their hearts like no other message ever could. It was the message of the cross. It was the testimony about God. It was Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Paul was resolved to tell the story of Jesus as it is without adding or taking anything away from the message that touched, changed and blessed his own life. The story of Jesus is the simplest and most powerful story that could ever be told. Jesus the Son of God chose to leave his glory in heaven in order to come to earth for the sake of all human beings. He came in the poverty of a manger lest the poor people not identify with him. He was raised among the most humble of people, and when the time came for him to reveal himself, he began his earthly ministry. He walked among us and lived like us, and ate like us and suffered like us. He touched the sores of our lives and healed them. He loved us like no other can ever love us. Finally Jesus gave up his life on the cross in our place. He took upon himself the penalty of our own sins and gave forgiveness to all who believed in him— to all who believed that in his great love God sent his One and Only son that they might not perish but have eternal life. That was the story Paul used in resolving to know nothing but Jesus, and him crucified.
Paul also preached not only Jesus but Jesus Christ. He preached that men needed a Savior, someone who could not only forgive them from sin but who could also liberate them from the power of sin in their lives. When Paul thought about the Christ, the Savior, the promised one who was promised from the beginning of time to come as the Savior, he could not think of any other knowledge that could be of more value to us than the knowledge of the Christ. The Christ is the One who was promised to come and liberate from the power of sin and death. When Jesus gave his life on the cross, he did not remain in the grave. He rose again. And with his resurrection he became for us the most glorious Christ. For he opened the gates of paradise for us and brought us in to his Kingdom. To do so, Jesus had to crush the head of the devil who tormented the human race for generations and kept them bound to their sins and to death and to hell. Jesus Christ liberated us from the power of sin. This is not just a nice story. It is the truth. When we were in sin, we had no power to pray nor to seek God nor to hope nor to hold on to the faith which sustains us from day to day. But in his resurrection the Christ destroyed that power which held us down and gave us the freedom to live as children of God in this world. When Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians, he was reminding them of the power that this message he brought them had wrought in their lives. They were all touched and changed by it as much as he himself was touched and changed by it. It is faith they must hold on to. It is a story that cannot be changed or embellished for any reason. Paul knew that others have corrupted the Corinthian Christians’ minds and hearts with adding some other teachings to the simple message of the cross. They had wormed their way in and awed these Christians by combining worldly wisdom with the Gospel story in order to make it more appealing.
But nothing can come close to the message of the cross— the Gospel neither in power nor in wisdom. It has in itself the power to liberate the sinner and to bring him or her to God in faith. Paul said in verse 2 that he resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified. The message of the cross may have seemed unappealing to the educated and sophisticated city people of Corinth. The message of the cross speaks of a King who had come from heaven in order to give his life as a ransom sacrifice on a cruel Roman cross. These Corinthians may have rejected such a story. Some other preachers may have come into the city and were preaching gospels that did not include the full story of the cross. They may have tainted the message with persuasive words and high minded philosophies making the Gospel not a Gospel at all. And many may have been lured away by such teachings that did not speak of sin and of repentance, and certainly not of the Lord’s admonition that all who believe the message also participate in the message. Some heretic teachings may have tried to convince the Corinthians that Salvation can be achieved by much good works. Others may have taught that the Love of God is enough to brings everyone to heaven. Whatever the teachings that had captured the hearts of some Corinthians may have been, it must have made the message of the cross and of the Lord’s crucifixion seem unnecessary or ludicrous. But some Corinthian Christians must have been tempted by the soundness and logic behind some of these heretic teachings that excluded the cross. In that way, they were in grave danger spiritually.
Paul brought the message of the cross, the full message of the cross. He taught about sin, about how a man or woman are caught up in sin and destined for eternal condemnation. He taught the only way to escape is through repentance and faith in the Gospel of Jesus. How could he preach so powerfully? He could because in his heart he believed the Gospel of Jesus’ death. In his heart he believed that no sinner can enter into God’s presence with out sins first taken away. Paul could preach the simple message of the cross because he believed that in the message there is all the wisdom of God which can touch a sinner’s heart and make him or her whole. To Paul it was almost a betrayal of the Lord Jesus if we do not preach the full message and leave out some things that might make people uncomfortable. We must learn from him the absolute faith in a message that absolutely contains all that is needed in order to turn one life away from sin and to God. We must believe that it is an insult to the Lord of glory to omit such things from the Gospel in exchange for giving something to others that does not offend them. Sin offends God. No sinner or one who harbors sin in their hearts can ever imagine to escape condemnation unless they have accepted and received the message of the cross in their own hearts. Paul could have preached loftier messages than those who were corrupting or watering down the message of the cross. But he feared God and loved God and honored God by embracing the true Gospel and by making it the only message to carry in his evangelism campaigns.
In verse 3-4 Paul continues telling the Corinthian Christians about the way he had come to them first, at the time when their hearts were eager to hear the message of the cross in all its simplicity. He says to them: “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” When Paul had first come to them, he tells them that his message and preaching were not with wise and persuasive words. Surely he could have tried using persuasive words in order to impress them. But he had not come to them in order to impress them nor to make a name for himself as others may have wanted to do. He came to them in order to give them the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus. So Paul had come, as he says to them, in weakness. He did not care to impress them. Rather he relied on the Spirit’s power to bring this message to their hearts. So he says that the Gospel came to them with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. Here he is referring to the power of the Holy Spirit who alone can impress the Gospel message upon people’s hearts and lives. This shows us Paul’s absolute faith in the workings of the Holy Spirit in people’s hearts and lives. Paul believed that while he can only deliver the message of the cross, he could not make people believe, nor could he reach people’s unreachable hearts. But that while he cannot, God can through the working of the Holy Spirit— the Spirit’s power. How precious is the Christian who wholly relies on the message of God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to work that message of grace into people’s hearts. Paul was such a preacher, even though he was one of the most scholarly persons who had ever lived. He did not rely on himself. He relied on the Holy Spirit.
This truth rebukes us severely. It rebukes our intellect, our desire to be at the center of things rather than have the Lord Jesus be at the center. it rebukes our lack of faith in the message of the cross. It rebukes our desire to rely on human and worldly wisdom in our calling to preach the Gospel. Paul simply put aside all things, and relied on the message of the cross. He loved the message of the cross, because he was touched by the amazing grace God had so powerfully poured into his own heart and life. And he also believed that no message can penetrate anyone’s heart without the working of the Holy Spirit in that heart. As such he had come to these Corinthians some time ago and given them the Gospel and witnessed the work of the Spirit of God that changed them from a worldly people into the people of God. Now they had been somehow deceived by those who were promoting human wisdom in the preaching of the Gospel, which had also invited problems among them. Problems and divisions that were ravaging a beautiful church which was build on the pure Gospel of our Lord Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Read verse 5. “so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” Those who had come to Corinth preaching with eloquence and with human wisdom certainly had in mind to draw many people to them. Thus when some were impressed with their teaching and preaching, divisions happened and some began to claim that they follow Cephas and others claimed that they follow Paul, and such, even though neither Cephas nor Paul wanted to be followed by anyone, since they were preaching Christ Jesus and following only Christ Jesus. yet somehow divisions happened. Paul on the other hand preached Christ Jesus and him crucified. And his motive was clear, that these Christians build faith on God’s power and not on human wisdom. His motive was pure in preaching the Gospel— the message of the cross. The message of the cross comes with the power of God to change lives. But it also testifies to God and not to man. Paul wanted to help them build their faith on the message he had given them, and on the work of the Spirit which happens when men and woman accept the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.
We have a responsibility to learn from Paul that the message of the cross is by far a truth like no other. It is a message we must not despise but glory in because in it there is the power of the Holy Spirit that changes lives. Amen.