The Power of God – August 10, 2014
Isaiah 40:25-31, I Corinthians 2:1-5
August 10, 2014
I’ve always loved this book of First Corinthians! In its first chapter Paul wrote some of my favorite words in all of the Bible. Listen to this. “Consider your call, brethren. Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”
Isn’t that great! To me, that ranks right up there with “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.” (John 1:1) That’s from the beginning of John’s Gospel, often called some of the greatest words ever written!
Actually, the Bible I was reading that from this week entitles this whole section of First Corinthians as “Christ – the power and wisdom of God.” And that’s what I want us to be thinking about today. “The Power of God.” And we as we do so, we find Paul’s perspective on the power of God in verse 25 of chapter one. He writes, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
That’s the message of Paul! And remember that Paul was one who held power and influence over people. He was one who possessed a keen mind and wonderful skills in oratory and debate. But, he had come to know that such things were nothing in comparison with “the wisdom and power of God.”
I hope you can picture him as I do, traveling to the various cities and towns of Asia Minor and Greece, bringing to those people that perspective, and telling them about what he called “the mystery of God” in Jesus Christ. That mystery, was that, in the fullness of time, God himself came to this earth! I think Paul was truly amazed by the wisdom and power of God in doing that.
Well, in our scripture for today, we’re thinking about the Corinthians – the people who lived in the city of Corinth. That’s where Paul went after leaving Athens, which we read about a few weeks ago. And Luke tell us that he stayed in Corinth for a year and a half. So this was a long relationship! You can read about that visit in chapter 18 of Acts. Well, now he has moved on, but he’s writing to the Corinthians to keep in touch with them, to answer some questions they had, and to help them to understand the faith more fully. He did that with a lot of the churches he founded.
So, what do we know about the Corinthians? Well, the first thing we know is that the city of Corinth was a “cross roads” city. It was situated on the tiny isthmus of land that connects northern and southern Greece. If you look on a map, you’d see that southern Greece is almost completely “sliced off” of the rest of the country by a channel of water. So, except for that narrow bridge of land, southern Greece would be an island. Because of that, all travel, either north to south on land, or east to west by boat, had to go through the city of Corinth. So Corinth became a great center of trade, and as such it became quite wealthy. It also became a mix of various cultures and nationalities and religions and philosophies.
I took a very good Continuing Education course years ago on the book of First Corinthians. And in that class, our speaker told us about the other thing Corinth was known for. Besides being a great center of trade, Corinth was also a great center for contests of debate. In fact, in Corinth, debate was so important that it had taken on the stature of an Olympic sport! The chief debaters even had their own fans and their own sponsors! (They probably had T-shirts, too! “Go Sosthenes!”) And as I said a few weeks ago, the Corinthians had heard of this man named Paul. They knew of his skills in debate, and they considered him a worthy opponent. So, when he came to their city, they were eager to take him on!
That’s why we have these words in the first part of chapter 2. Again, Paul was writing to the Corinthians after his visit, and he was looking back. And after giving them his perspective on the power and wisdom of God, he said this. “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” In other words, “I didn’t engage in the debate! That’s not why I came!” And some of them were probably very disappointed in that regard!
Paul chose not to take them on. In fact, he told them in the first chapter of this letter that he came “to preach the Gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom,” And why? “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” He didn’t want the spotlight to be on himself, he wanted it to be on God and what he did in sending Jesus. He came “to preach the Gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom…” I’ll never forget the first time I read those words in church years ago! Because I goofed it up! I remember saying, “I came to preach the Gospel, and not with elephant wisdom…” which, if you think about it, sort of added to the whole idea of not being eloquent!
At any rate, here was Paul telling them that he came, not to engage the debate, but simply to tell them the Good News. Knowing what he would encounter in Corinth, he decided – ahead of time – to know nothing among them “except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” And of course that means “I decided to know nothing among you except that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed Messiah of God, and that he was crucified and raised from the dead!” “That’s it!” That was important enough all by itself, and to consider how important that was for them.
So, “I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom,” he said. Of course, the “lofty words and wisdom,” – the “elephant words,” came in this letter. And here in this letter I think he outdid himself! Here he gave them some of the most amazing, insightful, and powerful words he ever wrote! But, when he was among them, he chose just to know the basics. In fact, in chapter three, he wrote, “But I could not address you as spiritual men… but as ‘babes in Christ.’ I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.”
That’s all very important! But, as my good wife would probably say at that this point, “Ok, enough with the history and theology lesson! What does all of this mean to us?” “Where’s the hermeneutical connection?” Would she really say that? Or would she ask, “How do we apply this to our lives?”
Well, when I think about this, I wonder if we are sometimes “content” with being “babes in Christ?” You know, we’re ok with following Jesus, but don’t ask us to go any further in our understanding. And certainly don’t ask us to change, or to act out our faith in any way! We’re just fine with the “status quo.” Are we like that? Are we ever so set in our own understanding of the faith, and going through our own “Christian routine,” that we’d rather not have those things “disturbed?” When I was at camp last week, someone I was in conversation with reminded me of the old Christian adage that says, “Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”
Do we need that? Do we need to be challenged in our faith? Do we need to think about how we are growing in our faith, or how we are not? Do we need maybe to challenge ourselves? Maybe we need to pledge ourselves to draw closer to God, to read the Bible more regularly, to spend more time in prayer. (To spend any time in prayer!) Maybe we need to strive to be better at seeing opportunities for service. Maybe we need to make an effort to see ourselves as “growing into the image of Christ.” I asked you a few weeks ago if you were different than you were a year ago, and will you be different a year from now? Is there growth? Is there change? Or, are you content to be “babes in Christ.”
That’s a lot to think about, I know! But on the other hand, do we sometimes err on the side of the “lofty words and wisdom?” Are there times when we add too much to the simple Gospel message? Do we find ourselves being overly concerned with the “elephant wisdom?” In other words, do we place ourselves and our understanding too much “in the spotlight?” Does that simple message of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” get lost in all our myriad of thoughts? In us and in our lives, is the cross of Christ ever “emptied of its power?”
Think about that! How often do we “cloud our faith” with many other things? How often are there times when, like Paul, we should instead be striving to know nothing among other people except Jesus Christ and him crucified? Paul said he hoped that the people’s faith rested not in “the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Is that where we find our power?
I hope this is a challenge for you today. First, let it be a challenge to know again that “simple Gospel.” Let it be a challenge to focus on Jesus the Christ, and him crucified – and of course, risen. But then, at the same time, let this be a challenge to grow and mature in him as well. I hope you see this whole thing as “simple,” and at the same time “deep.” For that is the nature of the Gospel message. It is both simple and deep at the same time. But, the main thing is that it’s all about God, not about us… “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
Eternal God, we are grateful that you indeed came to be among us in Jesus the Christ. Help us to know that. Help us to know that our power lies in you. Help us to seek your wisdom that is far beyond our own. Challenge us by your spirit to continue to grow and mature in our faith, so that your light might be seen in us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.