Paul recalls his arrival in Corinth, and his resolution for ministry there. What we offer people is spiritual wisdom.
SUMMARY: Around 51 AD, Paul arrived in Corinth. He made tents with Aquila and Priscilla. They tried to convert Jewish people but saw no results. Then they switched to evangelizing Gentiles. Quickly, lots of people came to faith in Jesus Christ
VERSE 1. When I came to you, brothers, I didn’t come with excellence of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.
When I came to you. Paul alludes to when he first came to the city of Corinth. His readers in Corinth would have remembered his arrival in their city and what happened.
But most of us don’t remember it so well. So let’s review Paul’s arrival in Corinth. It is recorded in Acts chapter 18.
His arrival in Corinth took place during his second missionary journey, perhaps around 51 AD. Here’s our summary of it from Acts 18:1-18:
Right away, upon his arrival in Corinth, Paul met a married couple: Priscilla and her husband Aquila. Like Paul, they were Jewish. They too had recently arrived in Corinth. The three of them got along well.
Professionally, Paul and Priscilla and Aquila were all tentmakers. Paul joined them in their tent-making work. And he moved into their house.
On each Sabbath, Paul went to the synagogue and tried to persuade Jewish people to convert to faith in Jesus Christ.
Soon, Paul’s fellow missionaries Silas and Timothy arrived. They probably brought with generous financial gifts, meaning that Paul didn’t need to support himself with a job any more. Right away, Paul gave up his secular job of tent-making.
Instead, he spent his full time evangelizing Jewish people in Corinth. But try as he might, Paul could did not convince them. Eventually, he switched his target to the Gentiles.
Quickly, lots of people came to faith in Jesus Christ: Titius Justus, Crispus and his whole household, and many others.
After seeing all this good fruit, the fruit of people converting to faith in Christ, Paul decided to stay in Corinth for another year and a half. Those brand new converts needed training in discipleship, and that takes time.
Toward the end of that time, a small group of people stirred up trouble for Paul and and tried to run him out of town. But he persisted through the trouble and stayed in town.
Until some time later, when Paul finally left Corinth for nearby Cenchrea.
eloquence or superior wisdom. In those early days, how did Paul make his evangelistic appeal to them? He didn’t resort to the human wisdom of the Greek philosophers. He didn’t use their lofty words and impressive wisdom.
the testimony about God. Paul told them the testimony about God. What was that testimony?
SUMMARY: Paul resolved that while he was in Corinth, he would focus exclusively on Jesus Christ. This was the case, even though Paul felt fearful and weak.
This verse is fantastic! Would you consider memorizing it? More great verses to memorize from First Corinthians.
I determined. Paul resolved that while he was with the people in Corinth, he would forget everything, except for one thing. Paul would be all about Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. Paul would know nothing but Jesus Christ.
Paul is focused. He’s all about one thing. It was the One Thing that really counted. Paul decided that the One Thing in his life would be Jesus Christ.
What’s the One Thing in your life?
Jesus Christ and him crucified. God’s secret plan was Jesus the Christ. It was secret in the sense that hardly anybody saw it coming.
The people who had lofty human wisdom, the philosophers, didn’t foresee the arrival of a Messiah. This Messiah would be Paul’s one and only concern.
weakness … fear … trembling. We Christians often misunderstand Paul. We see him as a fortress of zeal and strength. We see Paul as a hero of courage.
But the truth is quite different from that. When Paul came to Corinth, he was cloaked with weakness. He was timid and trembling.
As we read Paul, this verse is important to keep in mind. As he goes about doing miracles and converting multitudes, he is confronted with the same struggles we face: weakness, fear, trembling. Like us, Paul the Apostle battled fears.
When people make a bold stand for Jesus the Christ, it often comes at a price. They summon their faith and courage. They step out and evangelize. They put a good face on their effort.
To an onlooker, their actions appear courageous and bold. But within themselves, few evangelizers actually feel such courage.
Whether it it believers knocking on the door of people’s houses or Pentecostals starting conversations with people on the street, whether its an engineer quietly discussing with a coworker in the secular workplace or a leader standing before a crowd and pointing them to Jesus Christ–few such people feel very much confidence.
Like Paul, most battle fears within themselves.
There is a spiritual danger in letting ourselves think that such people are brimming with confidence. It deflates our own willingness to evangelize.
We might say to ourselves, “God hasn’t gifted me with the superhuman confidence of Saint Paul, so therefore he has not called me to evangelize non-Christians. Therefore I should not evangelize. This is proof that I should not do evangelism.”
Making evangelizers out to have superhuman courage gives us a false excuse to not evangelize.
The reality is the reverse. If you’re thinking about evangelizing a non-Christian, and you don’t feel some fear or trembling, there’s probably something wrong.
Evangelism is a supernatural activity. You’re playing with fire, and its natural to be afraid that you might get burnt.
You’re about to call down fire from heaven, and you fear that you might get incinerated.
Inner fears or trembling can actually be a good thing. They prevent you from relying on your own strength. They prevent you from making your evangelistic message be about yourself.
They force you to step out by faith, and by faith alone. They force you to place your total confidence in God, not self.
Imagine that you’re about to go talk with a co-worker or friend who is not a Christian. You’re going to talk with them about placing their faith in Jesus the Christ. Do you feel nervous? If you do, that’s a good sign. You’re perfectly ready. Why? You need to trust God.
VERSE 4. My speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
my speech and my preaching. Paul’s message and his preaching were very plain. He didn’t preach the lofty human wisdom of the philosophers, and he didn’t brag about miracles.
demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, Paul relied on the power of the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit?
We believe it means to go ahead and do the thing, even if you feel weakness or fear or trembling. It means to go ahead and evangelize. It means to stop making excuses for not evangelizing. It means to share the evangelistic message of the Christ with non-Christians, even though you feel no confidence whatsoever.
Some people say that the power of the Holy Spirit means something else: a surge of confidence, perhaps, or an absence of fear. Those would be great. But the experience of most believers is that those feelings are quite rare. If we withheld our evangelizing efforts until we felt such a thing, hardly anybody would ever evangelize.
2 Corinthians 5:7. for we walk by faith, not by sight.
That means we step out and do the thing that God commands, whether we feel special supernatural inspiration or not. To step out in obedience, even when you don’t feel like it, is to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 12:12. Truly the signs of an apostle were worked among you in all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty works.
wouldn’t stand in the wisdom of men. Paul stepped out in obedience and did what God called him to do. Paul put his faith into action, even when he felt weakness or fear or trembling.
Paul did that, not just because it was right, but also he did this so the believers in Corinth would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.
Paul was a Master Disciplemaker. That is, he was a master in the art of training recent believers. Even his own shortcomings became an object-lesson for his disciples.
His disciples were the brand new believers in Corinth, and they looked to him for teaching and guidance and training.
Are you discipling anybody? Do you have disciples? Are you training recent believers in the ways of the faith? Are you mentoring converts so they can learn the skills of Christian discipleship?
How can you get involved in the Ministry of Discipleship?
New believers need role models. They’re young in their discipleship of Christ, and they don’t know how to live that new life. They need somebody to disciple them.
To make disciples is a huge part of our calling. The Lord Jesus Christ put it this way:
Matthew 28:19-20. Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
SUMMARY: Our faith gives us a type of wisdom to offer people. It is about the mystery of Jesus Christ. But this wisdom is spiritual in nature. The non-spiritual person will not be able to understand it.
VERSE 6. We speak wisdom, however, among those who are full grown, yet a wisdom not of this world nor of the rulers of this world who are coming to nothing.
those who are full grown. When Paul was among mature believers, he spoke with words of wisdom.
I speak wisdom. To these new believers in Corinth, Paul spoke NOT with the lofty words and impressive wisdom of the philosophers.
Rather, he spoke with the wisdom of God’s secret plan: Jesus Christ. But was that just baby-talk he only used for baby believers? No.
a wisdom not of this world. The wisdom Paul spoke was not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world. He didn’t teach them the human wisdom of the philosophers. No, Paul taught the godly wisdom of Jesus Christ.
nor of the rulers of this world. Nor did he teach them the kind of wisdom that you typically hear from the rulers of this world, which is the philosophy of power.
The book by Machiavelli is such a classic for the typical mindset of a ruler: grab power and keep it; be as ruthless as necessary. But Jesus Christ is not a power-figure. Rather, he is the hidden mystery of God.
VERSE 7. But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds for our glory,
a mystery. Paul speaks of that mystery of God. The mystery of God is Jesus Christ. He was God’s hidden plan.
wisdom that has been hidden. God had previously kept this plan (Jesus Christ) hidden for millennia.
Then finally, the time was right. It wasn’t that God was withholding it from us, but rather that the world had to be suitably prepared for it and ready. That moment was the fullness of time.
for our glory. The Bible offers the possibility of a future filled with hope. Read more »
foreordained before the worlds. That’s the dream he’s had for us since before the world began.
VERSE 8. which none of the rulers of this world has known. For had they known it, they wouldn’t have crucified the Lord of glory.
none of the rulers of this world has known. The LORD God is always coming up with fresh ways to bless us. That’s in his nature. He loves us and desires the best for us.
But people don’t think like that. They aren’t necessarily dreaming of how to improve things for others. They hardly put others first, in a truly sacrificial way.
However, God’s ways are so different from ours that he had to keep his plan hidden from us. Had it not been hidden, we humans probably would have vetoed it.
they would not have crucified the Lord. Even the rulers of this world did not understood God’s plan. If they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord.
VERSE 9. But as it is written, “Things which an eye didn’t see, and an ear didn’t hear, which didn’t enter into the heart of man, these God has prepared for those who love him.”
NLT translation. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Many believers assume the LORD God thinks and acts like them. But he is infinitely beyond us. Read more »
didn’t enter into the heart of man. The ways of God are so far beyond our ways of thinking. Even the very best among us don’t perceive things the way God does. We just don’t get it.
In our humanness, in our fallenness, we just can’t see things the way God does. His ways don’t even dawn on us. We’re incapable of hearing things the way God hears them. Our mind is too fallen to be able to imagine things as God does.
what God has prepared for those who love him. What has God prepared for those who love him?
What will eternity be like? People imagine all sorts of things about what eternity will be like. But really, we have no idea. Its not even possible for us to begin to imagine how great eternity will be.
Our minds are conditioned by two factors: time, and space. We’re programmed to see all of existence through the twin lenses of time and three-dimensional space.
But time and space are temporary constructs. They define our physical universe. But they do not define eternity. Eternity is not defined by time, and its not defined by cartesian space.
During their earthly lives, some people have an experience of eternity. They can’t really describe it to you. They can’t put it into words, unless they resort to the vocabulary of time and space.
This is true of eternal life. This is also true of Contemplative Prayer and mystic experiences in prayer.
VERSE 10. But to us, God revealed them through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.
revealed them through the Spirit. The LORD God entered our realm of time and space. He snuck in, so to speak, appearing in an undramatic way: a baby born in a manger, to a poor couple, in a tiny nation, thousands of years ago.
It was a hidden way. It was a rich and meaningful way, through which he reached out and touched our lives: it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit.
the Spirit searches all things. We’re not left out. God hasn’t ignored us. We’re in on it. We get to be in on The Plan. By his grace, we’re in Christ. We’re filled with the Holy Spirit. And his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets.
VERSE 11. For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit.
who among men knows the things of a man. None of us know the thoughts that another person is having. Nobody knows what you’re thinking except yourself. Nobody outside of yourself knows for sure what your intentions or motives are.
Who knows your secrets? These things are known only to yourself, to your own spirit, to your own soul. Sure, some of your thoughts will manifest externally through your facial expressions. A small percentage might accidentally leak out through your body language. But most will be hidden.
no one knows the things of God. Similarly, nobody knows what God is thinking except God himself, the Spirit of God.
No person, not even the angels, know the mind of God. Sometimes certain people are given a glimpse into the heart of God: mystics, saints, and even ordinary people.
To the individual person it seems like an enormous expansion. The person senses a few of the thoughts of God, for a few seconds or minutes. Those are incredible moments, ones the person will likely remember for the rest of their life.
except God’s Spirit. Nobody knows the totality of God’s thoughts. A few verses later, Paul will say that we have the mind of Christ. But that doesn’t mean we have the totality of God’s thoughts.
Sirach 43:31. Who has seen him, that he may declare him? And who shall magnify him as he is?
Romans 11:33. Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!
1 Corinthians 2:11. For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit.
VERSE 12. But we received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God.
This verse is fantastic! Would you consider memorizing it? More great verses to memorize from First Corinthians.
we received. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not restricted to certain people. For example, it isn’t the case that the Holy Spirit is restricted to apostles, or modern-day clerics, or males. No, the Holy Spirit is poured out on all believers.
freely given to us by God. We Christians believe we have freely been given the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of God was given us when we came to faith in Jesus Christ. God has freely given us the Holy Spirit, the spirit who is from God.
VERSE 13. We also speak these things, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things.
comparing spiritual things with spiritual things. They taught spiritual things to spiritual people.
What we have to offer other people is spiritual. We offer spiritual realities, and they can only be explained in spiritual language. We find ourselves explaining spiritual things to spiritually-minded people.
VERSE 14. Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
the natural man. That is, people who aren’t spiritual. Or who don’t have the Spirit; or who have only physical life.
he can’t know them. That is, only those people who are spiritual can understand. This suggests that only certain people are capable of receiving what we have to offer. Thus we freely offer it to anyone who might be interested. But we don’t “force it down their throat.”
judged by no one. This does not imply that we Christians are above reproach. Rather, when we explain these spiritual things to people, using the corresponding spiritual language, many people will not be capable of evaluating what we say.
VERSE 16. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him?” But we have Christ’s mind.
we have Christ’s mind. This is a very puzzling expression. How is it that we have the mind of Christ?
At a superficial level, some Christians imagine they have perfect minds. Others imagine they are another Christ. Still others imagine they know everything that Jesus Christ knows.
However, even a superficial glance at Christian history makes it quite plain that these interpretations do not correspond to reality.
Perhaps it means that the Holy Spirit lives within us.
Isaiah 40:13. Who has directed the LORD’s Spirit, or has taught him as his counselor?
Prophets and holy people sometimes become aware of secret things. They are convinced that God speaks to them. How do they know whether a message is from God or just from themselves? Read more »
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