Agonizomai: 1 Cor 2:1-5 - True Missiology

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

1 Cor 2:1-5 - True Missiology

1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Paul did not emulate the culture when he preached to the Corinthians. He did not try to meet them on common ground. He did not turn the gospel into oratory. He didn’t revise the clear language to make it high-fallutin’ or learned sounding. He especially didn’t monkey with the message itself with a view to making it acceptable or palatable to his hearers. He has just finished explaining his underlying reasons for what he is now saying. And those reasons are that the Godly wisdom of the gospel of Jesus Christ is ridiculous to the people of the world. Wise in their own conceits and determined to have no god reign over them they are universally content to abide in and to enjoy their sin.

To be sure, the gospel is the power of God to those who are being saved because God Himself has opened their ears and has restored their sight, which the God of this world had blinded. When the gospel is preached to all men the Bible clearly tells us that those whom the Father gave to the Son in eternity past will come to Him in the present. Paul confirms this to the Corinthians here. Paul presented the gospel in all of its foolishness to people who not only considered themselves sophisticated and wise - but who were regarded as such when it came to philosophical matters. But Paul was preaching Christ, and not philosophy.

So obedient was Paul to the heavenly directive to preach Christ and Him crucified, that he did so even though his flesh trembled at the idea. While he was actually presenting Christ to these people he was literally scared because, not being an idiot, Paul was very much aware of their regard for rhetoric and philosophy and logic. Intellectually, Paul was quite able to orate. He was a match for any great mind. But in preaching Christ his flesh was submitted to God and it trembled while God’s will was done in God’s way through him - that Paul might not glory in the results, but in God.

Paul was strong in the flesh in the area of human argument. He had a steel-trap mind. He was trained. He was learned. And all of that had the potential to detract from God’s glory because both Paul and his hearers might think that such things are what makes the difference. They don’t. It is the power of God alone that makes the difference and Paul understood that he had no right to make flesh his arm. Going down to Egypt for chariots was not an option. And like the Israelites of old who stood before the apparently invincible chariots of the Philistines on foot and with only hand weapons, Paul stood before the invincible philosophical and worldly wisdom of the Corinthians stripped of similar weapons and relying upon what God had ordained. Paul had God exactly where God wanted Him, and God acted.

To unpack a little bit more - when Paul speaks of being determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, he is not saying that he preached only about the nailing of Christ to the cross. It’s not that the mere mention of the word "cross" or the name "Jesus Christ" has some mystical or magical effect like and incantation. What Paul means is that he preached the meaning and the significance of the cross, and of the Christ to fallen men. He preached the facts. He preached the history. He preached the doctrine.

As today, some hearers may have questioned the facts. As today many would have questioned the teaching surrounding those facts. But apart from the teaching (the doctrine), the facts themselves have no context upon which to hang. And so we have this delicate balance between the dissemination of fact and doctrine on the one hand and the unreceptiveness of the audience on the other. What closes and bridges the gap is the Holy Spirit of God making the facts and the doctrine lovely to Christ’s people, even as He calls them out of the world.

So Paul is not saying that he dumbed down the gospel, but simply that he did not present the gospel in a way likely to be palatable to the prevailing culture. They were looking for philosophical argument and nuanced logic according to worldly wisdom, and Paul gave them what they considered to be unintelligible, illogical, unsophisticated fantasy. This is why Paul trembled. His carnality longed to engage in worldly persuasion and he feared looking stupid and off the wall. But he put to death the deeds of the flesh and in the midst of his trembling he nevertheless obeyed God and through faith trusted in the power of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You want to talk about power evangelism? Not the insipid, man generated, miracle seeking, cabaret shows that are put on by today’s so-called power evangelists, but a true demonstration of the power of God? Then look at how Paul evangelized the Corinthians. The greatest miracle is not to be found in healings and outward manifestations, whether they be true or false, but in the salvation of the human soul. Heaven rejoices at the salvation of a single sinner because it glorifies God in Jesus Christ. Real power has been brought to bear - the power that was demonstrated on the cross and declared at the resurrection. Power that effectually saves God’s people from the utter spiritual death and rebellion and deception in which they were conceived, have lived and would continue to live apart from His intervention. Power that does not need the help or prior cooperation of those who are and will be its beneficiaries. Sovereign power.

That is how God saves. He saves by His sovereign power using secondary means. He includes His creatures in His purposes not to avail Himself of their aid, but to lovingly show grace to them by disclosing His hand at work in and through them, so that they will worship and glorify Him for His absolutely wise and loving and just "otherness". God is utterly different. He is transcendent. He is Holy. And yet He condescends to provide and reveal a salvation to and in His people and then includes them in the further revelation of His works.

But when we follow Finney and believe that anyone can be saved if we would just apply all the right means of persuasion, moral and emotional manipulation, brow beating, peer pressure, guilt and terror - whatever it takes to get people to make a decision - then we make ourselves the power of God and He does not work that way. He may still save some but it will always be Him that saves and not us; Him that persuades and not us. This is because salvation is a supernatural act of God visited upon otherwise dead hearts by the Holy Spirit. Unless He regenerates, unless He convicts there can be no salvation regardless of what we do.

And Paul was put in the place of living that out. He was obliged to stifle his intellectual prowess and to preach what his hearers regarded as foolishness so that not only he, but those who received the gospel would know that God had done a work, and not Paul. This is, in fact, the only type of salvation there is. Unless God did it - unless it was a work of the Holy Spirit - the professor of religion can have no assurance that he is truly saved. If it is only an intellectual persuasion - if it was a result of a moment of emotional exuberance or worldly regret - then it is likely a false conversion. To be sure we must understand the gospel, and to experience emotion as a result of our understanding is not only possible but desirable.

But if all we have is a knowledge of the facts or a feeling then we are "saved" by our fallen human means. Nosiree. The Holy Spirit must do a work that no human being can do for himself or for any other person; He must regenerate a dead human heart and convict it of sin; He must make an otherwise rebellious and unwilling soul willing to receive Jesus Christ. He must make the sinner see the wisdom of man as foolishness and the wisdom of God in Christ as beautiful. That is power. It is a power that every believer experiences, knowing it to be from God and not from the human means by which God is pleased to work.

(Now go read Phil Johnson at Team Pyro here, for a clearer explanation of contextualization)

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans


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