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Preaching Christ Crucified

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

Jim Davis

The first chapter of Corinthians closes with this admonition "Let him who boast, boast in the Lord." The things we boast about are usually the things we are trusting in. Christians in Corinth were placing their trust in the superficial. We know this because they were boasting of the superficial. They were trusting in those speakers with eloquent speech with seemingly superior knowledge.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power" (NIV).

A silver-tongued orator may speak enticing words that sound wise. However, wisdom may not be found in the words spoken, but in the persuasive tactics used with the words spoken. A great communicator may use deceitful words of persuasion leaving the impression that wisdom is being imparted, but isn’t. It may sound like a powerful message, but it’s only the power of persuasion. It is much easier to listen to a great orator, but the power of any message comes from its substance and not from the method of delivery. When our faith rests in wise persuasive words we are trusting in men’s ability rather than the power of God. The power of the message is lost when preaching is done to bring attention to the one proclaiming the message.

When the gospel is preached with political savvy or with a philosophical approach the message loses its power to save as it loses its focus on the cross. A hybrid sensational message about Christ has no power to save. It is usually the hybrid message that causes division.

Preaching Christ Crucified

The theme of Paul’s preaching was Jesus Christ and him crucified. Paul writes, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

When Paul wrote to the Galatians who were priding themselves in circumcision he pointed them to Christ crucified. Paul writes, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14 NIV). A true understanding of the cross of Christ makes it impossible for any of us to boast of our wisdom, superior knowledge, or accomplishment.

When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi he pointed them to the glorious work of Christ.

Philippians 3:2-4
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh- though I myself have reasons for such confidence. NIV

The cross takes away any reason we might think we have to boast. Christ gave up his equality with God. He gave up the glory of heaven. He dwelt in the womb of a woman. He was born as a baby. He became a pauper. He suffered the insults or our world. He allowed God to lay upon him our iniquities. He allowed humanity to nail him to a cross and spit in his face. When he was reviled he did not retaliate. He volunteered for it all. Today he is seated at the right hand of God.

Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom saying, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (Luke 9:23-27 NIV).

When Jesus came to this earth to take up his cross, he did so because he esteems each of us better than himself. The cross doesn’t make us equal, it makes others better than we are. This is the message of the cross. It is a message of peace and unity as we treat others like we want to be treated. If you want others to bow to your wishes, you must be willing to bow to their needs.

The Corinthian’s were having difficulty living the crucified life. Paul knew that this was the only message that could unite the Corinthians. The next time someone starts boasting about what they have done, you should boast of what Christ has done for you. Christ takes away our miserable arrogance, our appalling ignorance, as we realize that if we each got what we deserved God would wipe us off the face of the earth. Instead Christ got what we deserved—punishment for our sin.

Before this world began Christ agreed with God that he would die for our sins. He pledged himself on our behalf. Christ is our Representative. He is our Mediator. He is our Guarantor. All our hopes reside in Christ work on our behalf. Where is there any room for any of us to boast?

Romans 3:10-18
There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know." "There is no fear of God before their eyes." (NIV).

Paul’s Power Came In Weakness

Paul did not seek to use superior wisdom as he proclaimed the message of Christ. His faith was in the simple message of Christ and him crucified. The power of his message resided in the Spirit’s power. Paul went to Corinth in fear and trembling. Paul’s fears are obvious in these verses.

Acts 18:9-11
"One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’ So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God" (NIV).

There is an important parallel between Paul’s effort in Corinth and the commission given by Christ. This is what made Paul’s message powerful.
 
 
Matthew 28:18-20
Acts 18:1-11
"Go ye therefore" (v. 19) Paul came to Corinth (v. 1)
"make disciple" [teach] (v. 19) many heard and believed (v. 8)
"baptizing them" (v. 19) and were baptized(v. 8)
"teaching them" (v. 20) for a year and six months he taught the Word (v. 11)
"Lo, I am with you"(v. 20 "For I am with thee" (v. 10)

God was telling Paul "I am with you." God’s presence empowered Paul’s efforts. Paul’s effectiveness did not depend on arguments of sophistry or persuasive gimmicks but on the power of the Spirit of God at work in his life.

If Paul were trusting in his flesh his fears would have prevented his preaching, but he is trusting in God’s powerful Spirit to sustain his efforts. Paul often boasted in his weaknesses. Paul writes, "I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses" (2 Corinthians 12:5-6 NIV).

2 Corinthians 1:8-11
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many" (NIV).

God perfected his power in Paul’s weakness just as he perfected his power in Christ crucifixion through the resurrection. Sometimes I want to think the apostles were so impervious they were invincible, but they were far from it. They were relying upon God’s power to accomplish his purpose in their lives.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10
"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (NIV).

Paul’s life demonstrates how God’s Spirit empowers the weak.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31
"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord’" (NIV).

There was much fear and trembling among those seeking Christ in the first century.

Mark 5:32-34
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering’" (NIV).

2 Corinthians 7:14-16
"Titus has proved to be true as well. And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. I am glad I can have complete confidence in you" (NIV)

Ephesians 6:5-8
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free" (NIV).

Philippians 2:12-13
"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (NIV).

The fear and trembling in these verses convey an attitude of a person of a lower rank, or lower position than the one who is feared. Realizing the origin of the message is enough to create fear and trembling. It wasn’t that Paul was ignorant, it wasn’t that he was educated that gave the message its power.

The Message’s Power Resides In Its Origin

Throughout Paul’s epistles Paul stresses the origin of the message. It is the gospel’s origin that gives the message its wisdom and power.

1 Corinthians 2:10-14
"The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (NIV).

Galatians 1:11-12
"I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ" (NIV).

Ephesians 3:2-5
"Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets (NIV).

The apostles merely saw themselves as stewards of the message of Christ. Paul writes, "So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:1-2 NIV).

The world can't understand the message of the cross because the cross betrays every idea of greatness the world esteems. It doesn't contain the wisdom of this world.

1 Corinthians 2:6-9
"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

"'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"- (NIV).

To the world the death of Christ was a demonstration of weakness. The rulers of the world couldn't understand who Jesus was. They knew that he was different, but they could not understand his message. Their ignorance blinded them to the truth. The concept of a suffering savior was offensive to the Jews and Gentiles.

Paul is also referring to the inability of demonic powers of this world to understand the message of the cross. If they had understood what God was doing on the cross they would not have crucified Christ. It was Christ death on the cross that defeated Satan. It was Satan’s deathblow to himself by himself. It shows us that Satan's message is self-defeating for himself and those who follow him.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." (v.9) The angels didn’t know the mystery of salvation, for it was just that, a mystery, until Christ was triumphant on the cross. They couldn’t imagine what God was planning for us. The mystery that even angels longed to understand was revealed through the gospel.

1 Peter 1:10-12
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things" (NIV)

To trust in the message Paul delivered is to trust in the Spirit's powerful message to save. Paul is not asking us to place our faith in the messenger, but in the message of the Spirit, which He delivered straight from the mind of God.

1 Corinthians 2:10-16
"The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:

"'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?'

"But we have the mind of Christ" (NIV).

Conclusion:

Many today are willing to accept the teaching of Christ as sublime, but the line of demarcation is drawn with his claims to be the Son of God who came to be the propitiation for our sins. It is the cross itself that becomes the stumbling block. The orators in Corinth had already started explaining away the resurrection of Christ (Chapter 15). Denying the resurrection is paramount to denying the power of the cross. They were vainly robbing the message of the gospel of its power.

To experience the power of the risen savior we must develop the mind of Christ as we experience the death of the cross.

Galatians 2:20-21
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (NIV).

To experience the powerful life of Christ we must take up our cross and follow him.

Philippians 3:7-11
"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead" (NIV).

 

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