February 5, 2017
1 Corinthians 2
Preached by Rev. Dr. Harold E. Kidd
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined but to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” – 1 Corinthians 2: 1-1
In 1 Corinthians chapter 2 Paul continues in his contrasts of the wisdom of this world versus the wisdom of God. We discovered last week that in Steven’s Sermon, that “God has chosen the foolish things of this world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.”
And through the preaching of the gospel that Jesus died for our sins on an Old Rugged Cross; God has offered salvation to anyone who will believe. Yet this reality remained a stumbling block to the Jews who were seeking a sign. And to the Greeks who worshipped wisdom, it remained as foolishness. And it yet remains a stumbling block to many, because of its simplicity.
Some want to use human reasoning to understand how God could save us through the crucifixion of Jesus’ death. To human wisdom this makes no sense. And still others want some kind of sign that if God is real, show me. Many are looking for God to work a miracle in their lives before they will believe. But salvation can only be received by faith. And God is not a genie in a bottle, to serve us at our pleasure.
Still others believe one has to do something in order to be saved. We have a need to participate in our salvation. Some religious people offer the false concept of Salvation through works righteousness, meaning you can be saved if you obey these laws, rules and regulations and by doing good deeds. And so for them this Gospel is too simple because we don’t have to do anything to save ourselves, but accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. And in fact we can’t do anything to save ourselves but believe. Even while the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, for us who are being saved, declares Paul, it is the power of God. Amen.
Before coming to Corinth, Paul had preached in other Greek cities, such as Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. In each city, he had been met by rejection. When he finally arrived in Corinth, he was physically and emotionally drained, having suffered numerous doors slammed in his face. The wear and tear on his body had been great, to say nothing of his spirit. So he did not come to them filled with confidence, but “in weakness, fear and much trembling.” He had lost his confidence. And in the midst of his loss of confidence, there was this nagging temptation to change his message and his methods, in order to draw crowds and grow a church.
Maybe he should adopt the proven methods of the philosophers to win over the crowd. Maybe he should use their highly polished style of persuasion and delivery in order to plant a church. Maybe he needed to try something new in his approach. Maybe he should mix it up a bit to be more culturally relevant. I’m sure that Paul pondered within himself, that if he were to continue his present approach to preaching, how could he even expect to make a dent in this cosmopolitan city of Corinth?
Should he resort to a different strategy? Should he tone down his message about sin? Should he deemphasize Christ as the central focus of his preaching? Should he include more prosperity and motivational themes in his preaching?
Well, the same feelings that Paul had in arriving at Corinth still plague the church today. In this post-modern era, when they have taken prayer out of the schools. When there are all too many homes where Christ is not taught, nor worshipped, nor reverenced. In this post-modern era, when the “In God We Trust” on our currency speaks more truthfully to our trust in mammon than The Almighty Everlasting and Eternal God. There is always the temptation for the church to change our message about Jesus.
One author has cited: A new way of doing church is emerging. In this radical paradigm shift, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performances, doctrine with drama, and theology with theatrics. The pulpit, once the focus point of the church, is now being overshadowed by a variety of church-growth techniques, everything from trendy worship styles to glitzy presentations and vaudeville-like pageantries. In seeking to capture the crowd, a new wave of church leaders are reinventing church and repackaging the gospel into a product to be sold to consumers.” (Feast or Famine by Rev. Steve Lawson)
In this post-modern era when many see the Church as irrelevant and the church wrestles with the question, “Is Anybody Listening,” like Paul, “Have we lost our confidence in our message” that Jesus alone is enough and that a personal witness and testimony of sharing what the Lord has done for us under the anointing of the Holy Spirit is the blueprint for evangelism?
In this post-modern era when more people are listening to the values and teachings communicated through Reality TV, Social Media, J-Z, Kane West, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, do we become like them in order to draw them? This was Paul’s challenge when he arrived a Corinth. Or like Paul, do we continue to preach Christ and Him crucified?
Rev. Steven J. Lawson in his book, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses, tells the true story of a Presbyterian Pastor, Rev. Donald Barnhouse, of the Tenth Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who preached a sermon in which he speculated on the most diabolical strategy Satan could conspire against the church in years to come. Rev. Barnhouse imagined that all of the bars in Philadelphia would be closed. Prostitutes would no longer walk the streets, Pornography would no longer be available.
He imagined in this sermon the streets would be clean, no homelessness, no crime. Every church in town, would be packed to overflowing. Churches having reached those within their communities. The problem was that in these pulpits, there was much religious talk, but nothing said of the supreme authority and saving work of Christ upon the cross. There would be mention of morality but no Christ. There would be expressions of cultural concern, social justice, and political commentary but no preaching or teaching of Christ.
There would be positive thinking and inspirational stories, but no Christ. And so Rev. Barnhouse concludes in this sermon that the most diabolical ploy of Satan would be for the church to be bulging at the seams, but no proclamation of Christ and Him crucified.
While we should pursue new forms in communicating the Gospel, the message given us more than 2,000 years ago, that Jesus Saves must never change. Despite the repeated rejections Paul suffered in earlier encounters, Paul’s strategy for reaching Corinth remained unchanged. He maintained the same approach he had used in other cities. “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
Unlike his Greek contemporaries, Paul understood that rhetoric alone wasn’t going to make it. Their preaching had postulates and ideas but it had no vibrant power. The only way God turned that city around was that the Spirit used Paul’s preaching to set up transformation in many lives. Because of the Spirit, Paul had the message of Jesus and the miracles of Jesus operating side by side. His focus was simply on proclaiming Christ and Him crucified. Why? Because everything we have to say about Jesus, meets all human needs, hopes, dreams, failures and shortcomings. And Jesus can back up everything we say about Him.
He also records, that “he came to them in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” The first step in Paul’s ministry at Corinth was that he went to them. He engaged them where they were. He went to where they gathered. How do we reach this hip-hop generation, and millennials and generation Y? How do we reach this crowd who have their pants half way down their behind, and if they run they will drop around their ankles? How do we reach this social media generation who communicate by a technology that many of us may never fully grasp? How do we reach the buppies, and yuppies, whose focus is on making all that money and climbing the career ladder of success? We go to them like Paul, with our anxieties, our fears, but we go anyway.
Now many of us may be too up in age to meet them physically where they hang out but we can try to meet them mentally, emotionally and spiritually where they are. Amen. And because of our generational differences we never know how they will receive us, but we must try to meet them and engage them where they are in order to find common ground. Even if they reject us!
Secondly, Paul realized he couldn’t do the work of God on his own. That he needed the Holy Spirit. And because of Paul’s own sense of personal weakness, the power of the Spirit was able to operate mightily through him. In his desperation, he was being supernaturally used by the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s purposes. This demonstration of the Spirit with power was seen in the Corinthians own lives.
This power was evidenced in their conversions. Their being convicted of sin and turning to Christ as their personal Lord and Savior was the work of the Spirit. And they could clearly see the irresistible and transforming power that the Spirit held upon Paul’s own life. The Gospel always has been and always will be best communicated through human personality. Seeing is believing.
And in our desire to be relevant, are we dismissing or ignoring the fact, that this Gospel is a ‘show me’ Gospel designed to be proclaimed through our lives? As Paul declares letter in 2 Corinthians 3: 3 “You are a letter written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.” The best testimony is still a personal testimony. Telling others what the Lord has done for us. “Touch somebody’s life with your goodness. Touch somebody’s life with your love. Touch somebody’s life with understanding. For it’s the only way to show your Father’s love.”
It was not in Paul’s strength that the Spirit worked in demonstration and with power but in his weakness. Spirit filled living is simply allowing the Holy Spirit to have more rule and authority in and over our lives. And the degree to which we surrender to the Spirit is the degree to which transformation takes place. And the fruit of personal transformation is that it has a contagious effect upon the lives of others.
When the Spirit is in charge of our lives, He does through us what we cannot do for ourselves. God uses weak people because when we come to the end of ourselves, to the end of our strength, to the end of our pride, to the end of our ingenuity, to the end of our resources, the Spirit is finally able to come and take control. God can use us best, when we have come to the end of our own sense of strength.
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