1CORINTHIANS 1:26 – 2:5 - EVIDENCE OF THE POWER AND WISDOM OF GOD
© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
A. THOSE WHOM GOD HAS CHOSEN – 1:26-31
What Paul has stated previously made it quite clear that left to ourselves even the wisest or the most powerful humans can neither understand the Gospel nor save themselves. Human wisdom and human power simply cannot do it. Human wisdom and human power would never have thought up the concept of salvation through a crucified Christ.
To emphasise and reinforce this truth Paul tells his readers to have a look at themselves and what they were when God called them.
Read verses 26 to 29. Answer these questions:
What kind of people did God chose?
What is the impact or result of God choosing such people?
Notice what Paul says: not many 'wise by human standards', not many 'influential', not many 'of noble birth' [verse 26] were called by God. Rather God chose 'the foolish', 'the weak', 'the lowly', the 'despised', even those 'that are not'. The nobodies. The unknown. The ignored. People not even counted in the census.
The purpose and result of this unexpected choice of God is:
To shame the wise.
To shame the strong.
To nullify the things that are.
With the net purpose and result 'that no one may boast before him' [verse 29].
The foolish, weak, lowly, despised nobodies have, in Christ, through his crucifixion, the same complete salvation as the wise, influential, nobles. Because of this it is obvious that no human contributes anything of their own to their salvation. No one can boast in God's presence, claiming that some human quality or human qualification they possessed caused God to save them.
It is all of Christ.
Read verses 30-31. Answer these questions:
Who is the source or cause of our saving union with Jesus Christ?
What has Jesus Christ become for those who are 'in' him?
Because this salvation is not derived from ourselves, in whom should we boast?
'It is because of him ...'
By these words Paul identifies God as the source and the cause of each believer's salvation. By God's will and by God's action we are saved.
' … you are in Christ Jesus ...'
The particular description of our salvation which Paul here attributes to God, is that every believer is deemed by God to be 'in Christ'. This phrase is used frequently by Paul to refer to the union between Jesus Christ and those who believe in him. It is a union in which all that he did as our substitute is credited to us, and in which all that stood opposed to us was borne by him. Thus the phrase 'in Christ' encompasses the complete salvation that we have when we are united by faith to Christ.
'... who has become for us ...'
'… wisdom from God ...' – those who are 'in Christ' know God. Knowing God by knowing Christ they are now possessed of a wisdom that the world can never attain, regardless of their level of human wisdom, education or intelligence. They understand truths that human wisdom has tried to discover for centuries. They understand not only who God is, but also that grace, not law, is the way of salvation, because in knowing God they see with absolute clarity that no one could ever be personally good enough, personally qualified on the basis of law or 'good works' to satisfy the just and holy requirements of this God. This wisdom gained from Christ has thus revealed not only who God is, but who they themselves are. For this reason they will never again trust in themselves, but in Christ alone.
This 'wisdom from God' reveals that Christ alone is our righteousness, Christ alone is our holiness [or 'sanctification'], and Christ alone is our redemption. Christ is for us what God demands of us. He liberates us forever from having to depend on ourselves to supply what human wisdom states that we both ought and can supply.
Christ is '… our righteousness …' - this is a legal term referring to a declaration of acquittal – a 'not guilty' verdict resulting from the atoning, sin-bearing, sacrificial, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ in which he, on our behalf, took in full the just, legal penalty, punishment and condemnation due to our sin. Jesus Christ is our 'not guilty' verdict in the presence of the divine Judge.
Christ is 'our… holiness …' - elsewhere translated 'sanctification' this word refers to being set apart by God for God for his special use and purpose. Such separation/dedication is possible only with (a declaration of) purification without which nothing is acceptable for God's service or admitted to God's presence. Just as the Old Testament tabernacle and everything in it was sanctified by God's presence and glory [Exodus 29:41,42] or by a symbolic cleansing ritual [Leviticus 8:10 for example] so those who are 'in Christ' are sanctified by Christ. In Christ they are set apart, purified, consecrated to God. This setting apart for God, including the necessary purification, is the possession of every person who is 'in Christ' because Christ is that purification, and that consecration. It is not something that we have to generate in ourselves in order to be accepted into God's presence and acceptable for his service: Christ has become for us our holiness – because of him we are set apart for God, because of him we belong to God, for his use, for his purpose, for his glory. No longer do we belong to the world. No longer do we belong to the devil. No longer are we 'common' or for 'common' use, but 'holy' – we belong to God.
1Corinthians 1:2; 6:11
Christ is 'our… redemption' – Redemption speaks of freedom obtained by the payment of a price. The price paid is his blood [Romans 3:25; Ephesians 1:7; 1Peter 1:18,19; Hebrews 9:15; Revelation 1:7; 5:9]. The freedom purchased is multi-layered:
It is freedom from sin [from sin's penalty and guilt]
It is freedom from condemnation
John 3:18; 5:24
It is deliverance from the curse of the law
Galatians 3:3; 4:5
It is deliverance from the authority/dominion of the devil
Colossians 1:13, Hebrews 2:14,15
It is the future redemption [from the presence of sin and suffering]
All of this is the possession of every believer on the sole basis of their union with Jesus Christ. All of this is 'in Christ Jesus'. He has become for us all of this: wisdom, that is, righteousness, holiness and redemption.
Apart from him we are nothing. Apart from him we have neither righteousness, holiness nor redemption.
'Therefore … “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”' - verse 31
Because all of this is ours only because of Christ, and only 'in Christ', we have no personal reason for 'boasting'. We did not achieve this. We are not this. Only Jesus is. Only Jesus has achieved this for us. Therefore any boasting, any glorying, must be boasting, glorying, in and about Jesus Christ alone. Paul quotes from Jeremiah 9:23,23, where the complete quote is:
'This is what the LORD says:
“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understand and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.'
Human wisdom has never been the source of knowledge of God. Such knowledge has always been God's gift, the result of God's action. Human salvation – righteousness, holiness, redemption – has always been the result of God's gift, the result of God's action. Never the result of human effort or human ability or human qualification.
B. PAUL'S EXAMPLE – 2:1-5
Paul turns from the example of God's power and wisdom evident in the kinds of people who comprised the church, to the example of his own priorities in his preaching and teaching.
Read 2:1-5. Make a list of the things Paul did not do and the things he did do.
'I did not come to you with eloquence or superior wisdom …' verse 1
Those human abilities that the Corinthians valued – human eloquence and human wisdom – were the very things that Paul determined to avoid in his presentation of the Gospel. He did not want people to respond to his preaching and teaching because of his own personal eloquence and wisdom. [In this he is repeating what he has already stated in 1:17b]. He did not camouflage either the offence or the foolishness of the Gospel by clever human speaking skills and devices. He told it as it was, straight and simple.
'… as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.' verse 1
Here Paul identifies what he did proclaim – 'the testimony about God'.
[Some Greek manuscripts have 'the mystery of God'. The two Greek words are similar in appearance, making a copying error very easy: mystery – musterion; testimony – marturion. These two variant translations are not contradictory, as both refer to the Gospel of Jesus Christ: in him and by his testimony about God the mystery that had been hidden for ages was revealed. Paul actually speaks of this 'mystery' in the next section of his discussion of the nature of the Gospel and the inadequacy of human wisdom to understand it.]
'… the testimony about God …' [literally, the testimony of God] is the testimony which Jesus gave during the three years of his ministry. During those three years, and culminating in his resurrection, two things were happening: Jesus revealed God the Father by both his words and his works, and the Father authenticated Jesus as his Son, the authentic representation of his being, his nature and his actions. Jesus Christ is the ultimate witness to the truth about God. The Gospel Paul proclaimed was that testimony: this is who God is, this is what God has done. All of it revealed by Jesus Christ in his words and in his actions, and all of it confirmed by God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Revelation 1:2,9; 12:17; 19:10
'For I resolved to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified' verse 2
Paul has already identified the content of his preaching as 'Christ crucified' [1:22]. Here he repeats this, separating the two into the two distinct components of the Gospel: 'Jesus Christ' – the person, and 'him crucified' – his sin-bearing work. By his person we are taught who God is, and our dark blindness and ignorance of God is thereby ripped away. In receiving him we receive God. By his work all that separated us from God is removed and no longer held against those who receive him as God.
The truth about who Jesus is and what Jesus did – this is what people need to know. It is this truth, this testimony alone that can bring people to genuine repentance and faith. It is this testimony, not our own personal testimony, that saves.
To proclaim only this testimony was Paul's strong resolve when he came and preached in Corinth. His purpose was not to draw attention to himself, but to point his hearers to Christ alone.
'I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling …' verse 3
Paul did not modify the Gospel to make it less offensive and less likely to stir up negativity or aggression. He knew that the message about 'Jesus Christ and him crucified' was highly likely to create opposition, as it had done in other towns [see Acts 13-17; 2Corinthians 6:3-10; 11:23-27], but that is what he preached in Corinth, regardless. Even with those very real fears and expectations of mistreatment, Paul determined never to camouflage or dilute the message, even though, with his education and understanding, he could have done so quite easily, and so have avoided offending both Jew and Gentile. So, deliberately refusing to modify the message, he came in weakness, fear and much trembling.
'My message and my preaching …' verse 4
Together these words include both the content [what was preached] and the mode or style [how it was preached] of Paul's preaching.
'… were not with wise and persuasive words …' verse 4
Paul did not employ human wisdom or human persuasion – he did not use crowd psychology, manipulative techniques, verbal gimmicks to enthral and entrap his audience; he did not play on the emotions of his audience; he did not dazzle them with human eloquence; he did not attempt to mimic the wisdom of the philosophers nor justify his statements by referring to them; he did not employ verbal tactics to establish personal rapport with his audience.
'… but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power …' verse 4
He left to the Holy Spirit the role of moving people to respond in repentance and faith, trusting the Spirit of God to impact human hearts and minds with the word of God that he preached, and to bring them to repentance and faith. It is through the synergistic action of the Spirit and the word of God that humans are brought from unbelief to faith and from spiritual death to spiritual life.
With this confidence in and acknowledgement of the role of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of sinners Paul refused to abort the process of regeneration by manipulating his hearers by his own human wisdom and eloquence.
'… so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power' verse 5
Paul knew that any 'faith' that rested on human wisdom, evoked by human eloquence not by the offensive, 'foolish' truth of the Gospel of 'Jesus Christ and him crucified', does not and cannot save. Only faith that is the product and result of God's power saves. Only faith that is the product of God's power endures. Any other 'faith' eventually fails.
For this reason John wrote in his first letter that those who 'overcome' the evil one in his deceptions and seductions are those who are 'born of God' [1John 4:4; see also 2:13,14].
[And here there may be another reason why Paul had addressed the Corinthians in 'fear and with much trembling' – that he was very much aware of the utter wrongness of generating this false, powerless faith in his hearers. He wanted nothing of his human wisdom or eloquence to impact them, but only the truth of the Gospel – 'Jesus Christ and him crucified' – to draw them to repentance.]