Paul lived with full view of the cross because 1) time is short and 2) because the cross is the ultimate wisdom of God. 3) Lastly, Paul lived this way because the cross is true power.
1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.
I have an advantage because I am not that eloquent and I don’t have superior wisdom. That’s how I honestly feel about myself. So there is less temptation for someone like me to rely upon myself. If I were an investment banker or a surgeon and then I became a pastor, maybe I would be more tempted.
The other advantage I have is the long history I share with some of the older brothers and sisters of this church. If I just got hired by LBC to pastor this church and nobody knew me, then I could pretend to be super spiritual and assert myself and my agenda through the power of my position as pastor. But I can’t get away with that here and I am thankful for that because there are people here who knew me before I was a Christian. They saw how I acted when I was an arrogant freshman at Berkeley and I challenged P. John to a one-on-one basketball game my sophomore year. There is great freedom in the fact that I am known! So I can say honestly that I can identify with v3 — I come here to preach this Sunday morning in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. I am not here trying to impress or trying to be somebody I’m not.
It might be easier for me to say that right now when we have only 50-60 people, but what if we grew to 500 or 1,000? Then, I might be tempted to think, wow, Ray, you’re not that bad. God, you’re lucky to have me on your team. But if I started to become proud, I invite the oldies here to remind me of v3 and how I started this year in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.
I don’t think Paul is being especially humble here. He is simply stating reality as it is. He knows he has no power and that all the power belongs to God. That’s just simply how reality works. I realized this past week that humilty is not pretending. It’s not like Michael Vick has to say, you know, I can’t throw a football that well. I don’t think we can win the Superbowl this year.
Humility is not like our ability is way up here but we have to pretend that we are way down there. Humility is not pretending. Humility is reality. It is the most honest assessment of who I am and how things are. Why does it work this way? Because humility aligns well with God’s reality and how he sees me and the world.
Through this passage, Paul is trying to correct the Corinthian tendency to place human wisdom and power on a pedestal. Paul is baffled by their behavior and how the Corinthians are so enamored by leaders just because they are gifted in teaching or whatever gift. Because spiritual power does not reside in the leader because he or she possesses some impressive spiritual gift.
Then, what is spiritual power? In v4-5, Paul begins to define true power.
4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
Okay, first, Paul defines power as what it is NOT. Power is NOT having wise and persuasive words, but a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. And what is the demonstration of God’s power?
Paul gives a clue in v9-14.
9 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”— 10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 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. 12 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. 13 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. 14 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.
Paul here is talking about spiritual understanding, that prior to receiving the Spirit, we were utterly incapable of understanding spiritual truth. v14 – the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. He’s talking about a non-Christian, one who does not yet have the Spirit of God. And so the man without the Spirit doesn’t merely dismiss the cross, saying that it might be good for you, but it’s just not for me. No, the man without the Spirit rejects the cross and he reacts much more strongly against the cross deep down inside — if he is honest, to him, the cross is foolishness, it is complete non-sense, a total waste of time. He just might not say it to your face out of politeness or tolerance.
So either you have the Spirit or you don’t. If you have the Spirit of God, your life will show it.
Spiritual truth is spiritually discerned and this discernment and understanding is only possible if you have the Spirit of God living in you. Meaning, only a saved person who has been given the Spirit of God can look at the cross and embrace it as the greatest display of divine wisdom and power.
So when Paul is saying, the power does not rest in wise and persuasive words, but a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, he is talking about their salvation. Salvation occurs not through rhetoric, but revelation. It is not because you hear a really good speaker that you are saved, but God has to reveal himself to you by His Spirit. He has to open up spiritual eyes that are blind and unable to recognize Him for who He is. That’s salvation. The moment when you and I are released from the prison of self and sin and death and we cross over to the life of the Spirit.
Salvation. You could sit in a service for 50-60-70 years but if the Spirit of God is not given to you as a free gift of grace, you might agree mentally with what is being preached, but you won’t have true spiritual understanding because only the Spirit can give you that.
I want to offer one word of caution here. Read v10.
10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
I believe some in Christian circles, esp. among the Pentecostals, take this verse out of context and say, see, there it is. I am tired of the shallow stuff in Christian life. Give me the deeper things of the Spirit. I want God’s Spirit poured out onto me. I want to speak in tongues and I want the gift of healing and so forth. For sure, we know from Paul’s introduction in chapter 1 that the full gamut of spiritual gifts were being exercised at Corinth. And we learn from their quarreling that the Corinthians placed a premium on the teaching gift and leaders with exceptional wisdom were held in high regard.
I think there is a lot to learn from our Pentecostal brothers in terms of their prayerfulness, and in their awareness of the reality of spiritual warfare, and in their mission mindedness, but we mustn’t take verses like v10 out of context. The context here is salvation. The power of God was displayed in Paul’s ministry because through his preaching, the Corinthians were saved. It was not Paul’s persuasive words. It was not his public displays of spiritual gifts and overt manifestations, signs and wonders, it’s not these things that Paul cites as being demonstrations of the power of God. The power of God was most clearly displayed in God taking the initiative and saving them through the cross of Jesus. You see, the power of God that leads someone to salvation, that power rests entirely, 100% on God. The power OF God. God’s power. There is no greater power than God working in someone’s heart to save them.
There is a prominent Pentecostal church in the area that emphasizes, as one would expect, the deeper things and the more overt manifestations of the spiritual gifts. That’s fine. I wouldn’t mind having the gift of healing so that I can heal myself whenever I have a crick in my neck. But I was sad to hear that this past Good Friday, this large Pentecostal church didn’t hold a Good Friday service in the traditional sense, but instead the speaker preached on some random topic and they managed to leave out the cross from the entire evening. To me, that’s wrong. Anybody who emphasizes spiritual gifts or the “deeper things” over and above the cross is falling into the very same mistake that the Corinthians fell into. The cross is the deepest thing there is. Nothing is deeper, nothing is more profound.
The cross is THE wisdom and power of God. There is no greater wisdom. No greater power. Sure, a blind man receiving sight or a lame man walking again would be great to witness firsthand at our church and God may gift some in this congregation with spirituals gifts like healing and prophecy. And I welcome those spiritual gifts.
But we mustn’t forget Jesus’ warning when he criticized this wicked and adulterous generation for always seeking after miracles. Because more than the overt manifestations of the spiritual gifts — speaking in tongues, healings, visions — salvation is the greatest demonstration of spiritual power.
Do you believe this? Are you amazed that you believe in Jesus this morning? Brothers and sisters, there is no greater miracle than being saved. There is no greater miracle than a hardened, stone-hearted rebel who wants nothing to do with God and that same person hears the gospel and comes under the conviction of sin, and he falls on his knees in humble submission because the Spirit of God saved him.
Or what about a Christian who becomes hardened by cynicism and a critical, judgmental spirit overtakes her? When this person opens her mouth, only gossip and slander and unkind words spew out like venom. But the Spirit of God comes upon this person and she repents. And it’s like she is saved all over again. God tames her tongue. She seeks to build up with her words instead of to tear down. That’s a miracle. It’s on a smaller scale relative to a non-believer being saved for the first time, but it’s miraculous, nonetheless.
If you haven’t done so in a while, think back to your salvation and thank God for the amazing miracle that you and I are saved because of the cross of Jesus Christ. Thank God that your heart is still soft and tender and you can still shed tears of repentance and gratitude. What a blessing that is! What a miracle!
And if you are not saved, ask God to save you by sending the Spirit to convict you of your sin. He alone can take a heart of stone and change it into a heart of flesh. Pray to God to have mercy on you so that you can be saved.
That’s how I tell my kids every night to pray. They have heard the gospel and they understand it to the best that their 8 year old and 5 year old minds can understand it. But Timothy tells me, I want to believe but I don’t feel it. So I ask them to pray, Lord, I want to be saved so save me. And when God saves them, they will know it. It will be undeniable.
To sum up, Paul resolved to know nothing except the cross because
1) time is short
2) because the cross is true wisdom
3) because the cross is true power
Paul resolved to know nothing else. There is confidence in resolving to know only one thing. You don’t have to be a PhD from Harvard and know quantum physics to live confidently. In his ministry, Jesus always welcomed children to come to him. Because even a child can understand enough of the wisdom and power of the cross to be confident if God saves them. It’s all about Jesus and what HE did for you and me. We can be confident because of Christ, because we are in Christ, and it has nothing to do with our past, our abilities, our present failings. There is no reason to feel inadequate. Take your eyes off of yourself. Look to Jesus. Only Jesus and him crucified.
I want to end with one of my favorite hymns.
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died;
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
[My richest gain I count but loss — what worldly riches can compare to the wondrous cross? Even the best that the world can offer, in light of the cross, the Christian confession is that I count them all as loss, as nothing. Sounds like resolving to know nothing except the cross.]
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
[In view of the cross, the glitz and glamour, as well as the many distractions of life, whatever charms me most are seen to be merely vain things. And so I sacrifice them to his blood. This, too, sounds like resolving to know nothing except the cross.]
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.
[Such irony — the rulers of this age twisted a crown of thorns to mock Jesus and they placed it on His head, not knowing that Jesus was in fact the King of kings and Lord of lords. He was the Servant of the Lord AND he was the kingly Messiah that they were waiting for.]
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
[This hymn ends with a response. The cross demands a response. Even if we could offer the whole realm of nature, even that would be too small an offering. So what is a worthy offering, a worthy response? For the Christian, the least we can do is to offer my soul, my life, my all.]
As you survey this wondrous cross and see God’s ultimate wisdom and power, how will you respond? What will you offer to the One who gave up everything and sacrificed His very life to save you?