Continuing from last week, perusing 1 Corinthians 2:1-4 we notice that Paul chose not to come to them “with superiority of speech or of wisdom.”
1And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (New American Standard Bible)
In the word “speech” he seems to refer to the method of his delivery, and in the word “wisdom” he refers to its content. As he explains later, by “wisdom” he means human wisdom—the wisdom of this age, not the wisdom of God. To appeal to the intellect of the Corinthians would be to appeal to their pride, for, as we have already mentioned, they were part of a culture that prided themselves in their oratory and philosophical pursuits. If Paul had used such an approach, they would be attracted to a false position in God’s kingdom. In order for them to genuinely come to Christ they would have to repent of their pride, not have it stirred up.
In order to receive God’s gift of life, they needed to repent. This repentance is not only from their moral failures. They must lose confidence in their independent, self-sufficient ways of thinking and come to a kind of “intellectual repentance.” We are told in many places in Scripture that human wisdom causes us to be puffed up with pride. For Paul to prepare an argument that appeals solely to the mind may, in fact, convince a mind, but he wants to do much more than simply convince them intellectually. He wants their hearts.
Now I am not suggesting that Paul never used well-prepared arguments to make his case for believing the gospel. He did it frequently in his discussions with Jews in the synagogues. Sound arguments supporting Christian truth-claims are necessary and can have a profound effect upon those who are prepared to hear and respond to them. As St. Augustine affirmed, reason itself doesn’t cause faith, but it everywhere supports faith. In this context, however, with a people who were so enamored with their own self-importance, Paul tells us in verse 2 that he “determined to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
What I think he is telling us here is that there are times when we must simply declare the truth of the gospel in its most fundamental terms, and leave the rest to God. To engage in debate on human wisdom can yield nothing but confusion and distraction from the real issues. Paul has already told us in chapter 1 that while the intellectual seeks for clever arguments and the religious seek for miraculous signs, God, in His wisdom, has chosen the method of preaching to save those who will believe (1:21-22). So this is the approach Paul takes with the Corinthians.
In verses 3 and 4, Paul repeats his description for emphasis in the form of two statements: instead of superiority of speech, he comes “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling”; and instead of persuasive words of wisdom, he comes “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” I see in Paul’s first statement a full recognition of his inability to convince the Corinthians through his own intellectual strengths. It is not so much that he feels unprepared but that he does not have the resources within himself to truly impress them—similar, perhaps, to his feelings in Athens. In his second statement, I see him wanting not just to convince their minds alone but to get into their very hearts and give them something that will convince them in their consciences.
We’ll see in next week’s post how Paul moves toward that goal.
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