Lesson 20: "It Pleased God by. . .Preaching to Save Them that Believe" (I Corinthians 1:21)
I Corinthians 1:17-31, 2:1-5
This is lesson #20. Welcome again! Alright, try to get a grip on where Paul was in his communication with the church at Corinth. In the first 9 verses, he had acknowledged them as Christians or saints, i.e. sanctified or separated by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul had baptized a few of them. Then others were baptized. But, since Paul had left, the church had divided into several factions. Paul condemned such division and tried to show them just how absurd it was. In v.17, the last verse we covered in our last lesson; Paul said he was sent to preach the gospel, not to baptize. Now, Paul didn't say that to cheapen baptism; Paul said that, because, he evidently left that chore to Timothy and those that ministered to him. If you'll remember, Timothy and Silas were not with Paul when Paul first came to Achaia and Corinth. It must have been during that period that Paul baptized Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanas. And this lends a little support to the argument that Aquila and Priscilla were already Christians before they met Paul; but, that doesn't prove it. Paul even admitted in v. 16 that he may have been leaving out someone. I recall reading something, some time back, where someone said if Paul could not remember who he baptized; how could we trust his memory of the gospel. Well, instead of taking some superiority view here; study the context a moment. Paul was an inspired man, yes! The Holy spirit was given to the apostles to guide them into all truth. John 16:13: but, the apostles were still men in every other respect. Paul was no superman. However, the point I would like for you to focus on just a moment before we read it this (right to the middle of v.17); Paul said he preached "the gospel: not with wisdom of words..." Tune that in pretty sharp! That turns out to be the main theme of Paul's comments for several verses following on down. Paul shows the difference between worldly wisdom and the wisdom that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. It very pointedly means the difference between those that believe and those that DO NOT believe, i.e. faith or the lack of faith. Or, we might call it: worldly wisdom -vs- the wisdom of God. WHY did Paul go off on that theme? How does that fit? Well, take another moment to get this coupled very tightly to Paul's statement back in v.ll, "It hath been declared unto me...there are contentions among you." That's what Paul had learned through the house of Chloe, he said. There is nothing in the world that corrupts Christianity any faster than those who start developing and defending their own theories about God's requirements. It's just not a human trait, let's fact it. You can't think for God! I don't care how good your intentions are! You better turn it around and say: what does God want? You better spend your time trying to answer that question. When you find the answer; it's time for action. Contentions - and intentions - and inventions won't get it. Isa. 5 5:8 says, 'Tor my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." Can you imagine some of the chimney corner conversations at Corinth? Paul is my preacher! Not me, Peter's my preacher. Then some one says, I wouldn't trade Apollos for both of them. Have you heard that kind of talk? Congregations in our day spend more time selecting preachers than any other activity they do. They' 11 try out preachers for months, as long as the money holds out and the preachers keep coming. They'll spend a year trying to select the RIGHT preacher. Then, they spend a year checking him out and a year trying to get rid of him. And, that takes us back to square one. Guess what they're going to do the next three years? And the next six years? Worldly wisdom! Do you remember, Acts 8:4, after Stephen was killed and the persecution came on the Jerusalem church? They tried out another preacher, right? "They that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.? Who were THEY? My friend, every Christian is a preacher. You'll never find the right preacher and you'll never find the right prospect. It's only when you start where you are, use what you have, to do what you can; that things begin to happen. You can't do that with CONTENTIONS. See if you can find that word back in v. 11. Paul told the Corinthians, there are contentions among you. That's worldly thinking. Go back to the Jordan river at the time of Joshua. They were told to cross that river with that river out of it's banks. Those priests took the ark of the covenant and started wading. When the soles of then- feet went down into the river the water started receding. How? Well it wasn't worldly wisdom, I'll tell you that. How did the walls of Jericho fall down? It wasn't worldly wisdom, I'll tell you that. After the Christians at Jerusalem went everywhere preaching the word, skip down two chapters and it says: "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." (Acts 9:31). It wasn't worldly wisdom. They preached the word, they applied the word; they didn't get into contentions. O.K. you can have my soap box; but, focus in on Paul's comments beginning in v.18., Let's read it! Are you ready? I Cor. 1:18. We'll read down through v.31. Let's read! "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bright to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."
Paul could see what was happening at Corinth like looking through a window. The Greeks flaunted their wisdom. Some thought they had all the answers; just like today. Some people with all the answers say: what is that stuff you call sin? How can the blood of a man that has been dead 2000 years take away your sins? Then they giggle a little. The preaching of Jesus' death on the cross didn't fit the thinking of the Jews. How could such a Jesus be a King? The Jews wanted a king like David and Solomon. Jesus and that cross got in the way of their thinking. To the Greeks, it was foolishness. Do you remember Athens and Paul on Mans' hill, Acts ch. 17? To the Jews, Paul said it was a stumbling block. Worldly thinking! God must think like I think! He must adapt to me; not me adapt to God's thinking! It's still with us! You can say, the bible says! And you can quote it verbatim. Then they say, "Yes, but let me tell you how my preacher explains that." Then, they imply when you've heard what my preacher thinks, the bible won't say that any longer. You go back and read it, it's still there. The Christians at Corinth were confronted by the Jews and the Greeks. That made them peculiar birds, you see; at least in the eyes of the Jews and the Greeks. Most of us don't want to be peculiar. We want to be accepted and acclaimed as reasonable and broad minded. So, the Christians at Corinth selected their preachers carefully. They must have tried out several. If yo get the right preacher; people will just flock in to the church. Brother So-and-so can really tell it. People like Brother So-and-so's style and charisma, he doesn't call names from the pulpit. Have you heard that mentality today? We like to sugar-coat it. Sweeten it up with a little worldly thinking and they'll buy it. Do you see the problem at Corinth? Worldly wisdom. Look at the end of v.20, "hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" Brethren, Moses would still be in Egypt, if he had stuck to worldly thinking. The Red Sea would never have opened up! In Lev. 18:3, God told Moses, "After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, ye shall not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I shall bring you, shall ye not do..." We can't do it like the nations around us, the religious around us, or the cultures around us. They don't set the standard. Paul told Titus, "our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all inequity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people..." You see, the Corinthians didn't want to be peculiar. Now, some think that to be peculiar you have to be born in kickitive mood and object in every case. To be peculiar, in Titus 2:14, doesn't mean just to be stubborn and always be difficult. The point is we must be different from the world. How? We must trust God! Look at v.22, "the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom." The Greeks thought preaching was foolishness, v.21. They said, faith my foot...give me wisdom. They just didn't accept that "Christ (is) the power of God." (V.24). Paul said, "the foolishness of God is wiser than men..." (V.25). Take a look at v.30, "Christ Jesus...is made unto us wisdom..." You see, the bottom line is faith. If you have faith, i.e. confidence in Jesus; then, all the wisdom we need is how to apply that faith.
Let's read five more verses. Ch. 2:1-5. Let's see how Paul did it. Are you ready, here we go, beginning in v. 1. "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."
Alright, in these verses; Paul got right down to where the wall meets the floor. Paul told the Thessalonians, "ye ought to follow us..." (II Thess. 3:7). Why was it that Paul didn't take support from the Thessalonians? "To make ourselves an ensample unto you." (Same ch. V.9) The Corinthians were trying to figure it out, to suit them. Paul is say, v. 1, there's no requirement to have excellency of speech to preach and teach the gospel. Isn't that a shocker? I thought that's why you have to have so many preachers, didn't you? I don't want to over-do that thing about trying out preachers. It's important that a congregation get a good man. If they're going to support a man to work full time, naturally he must be capable, knowledgeable and worthy. But, the point is that we have reached a place where it seems everyone thinks it depends upon a preacher. They think that preaching the gospel and church growth depends upon the polish of the preacher. That was the Corinthian problem; they got hung-up on the preacher - not the message. Paul said he didn't do it with enticing words of man's wisdom, v.4. Look at v.5, "your faith should NOT stand in the wisdom of men..." It's the message, it's not the man. The power is in the word, not in the man preaching it. You see, there is as much responsibility upon the hearer as there is upon the speaker. It takes two to communicate. You can take a man with a golden tongue and his words still have to go in through those two little holes in the side of you head, called ears. When the word gets past your eardrum; then it depends upon the soil of your heart, whether that word germinates or not. If you can read, you can by-pass the preacher. You can preach to yourselfs and teach yourself. Now! The people of Corinth COULDN'T do that! Why? Well I suppose some of them could read; but, there was another problem. What was the problem? They didn't have the Bible, i.e. the New Testament as you and I have it. They finally got this portion of it after Paul wrote I Corinthians. But! That's not all of it. A preacher should be a mailman; not an entertainer. You see, the Corinthians had a real bad case of preacheritis; and that disease is still with us. The cure is in v.2, Paul said, "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Take a dose of that! It will cure preacheritis. You see, when we get our eyes focused on Jesus and that cross, Paul mentioned back in v.17 that was foolishness to the Greeks (.23) and a stumbling block to the Jews); then the emphasis isn't up on how cute the preacher says it or how long the preacher preaches or which brotherhood school he attended. The important thing is the word, the authoritative word. How, did they get that? Look at v.4!; and, as we have already said; they had other men at Corinth that were prophets, i.e. that possessed the spiritual gift of prophecy (inspired teachers, we would say); this fact will be established in future chapters of this book. We have already said: it takes two to communicate. They were NOT communicating. It is natural right here (I think) to ask the question: how could they have gotten so radical? With inspired teachers among them? Men capable of teaching with the power of the Holy spirit? Get that question embedded in your mind! How could that have happened? It seems a little far out, doesn't it? Well, let me ask ye! How do my brethren today get so far out; when we have exactly the same word in written form, such that every member can have a copy? The coffee tables are loaded with them; fanciest looking books you've ever seen. If they have a black coffee table, they have a black Bible and if the coffee table is white, they have a white backed Bible to match it. Check me out! Those fancy copies even get a few coffee stains on them once in a while: while they are discussing whether to try out another preacher or not. Brethren, Paul hasn't gotten really turned on yet! This is just chapter two. To understand this book; you've got to see what the problem was, first thing. THEN, what Paul says: will hit you like a ton of brick. Have a good day, I'll be back in lesson #21.