Remember the Gospel (preaching resource for 2/5/23)
This post exegetes 1Cor. 2:1-16, the context for the RCL Epistle reading for 2/5/23. This exegesis draws on multiple resources including commentary from Warren Wiersbe ("Bible Expository Commentary") and Bruce Winter ("New Bible Commentary").
|"The Apostle Paul" by Rembrandt (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)|
When the aposle Paul established the church in Corinth, he emphasized the teaching of the Gospel. But now, just a few years after its founding, that church stood in danger of losing the Gospel—trading what Paul called the wisdom of God for an inferior wisdom based in human (anthropocentric) philosophies. The result in the church was confusion and division. So Paul sends an urgent admonition: Remember the Gospel! To help them do so, he recounts three fundamental, interrelated truths concerning the Gospel: the Gospel is Jesus, the Gospel is the Father’s wisdom, and the Gospel is the Spirit’s ministry.
1. The Gospel is Jesus (2:1–5)
More than a “what,” the Gospel is a “who”—the God-man Jesus. And Paul makes it clear that in his ministry in Corinth, Jesus was the focus of all he taught and did. Jesus was Paul’s message, method, attitude and aim. For Paul, it is all about Jesus in whose life we are included.
a. Paul’s message and method (vv. 1–2)
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.
In 1Cor 1:30-31, Paul has already noted that Jesus, God’s Wisdom in the flesh, is our “righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Therefore our boasting is in God, not men. And now Paul continues: “And even so, when I came to you…I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom” (2:1, literal translation). Paul sought to glorify God, not himself. And that is why he proclaims “the testimony about God” rather than a testimony that magnifies human wisdom or eloquence—his own included.
Itinerant philosophers and teachers abounded in the city of Corinth, and they depended on their unique and superior abilities to gain a following. But Paul “resolved to know nothing” among them other than the man “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” For Paul, this phrase is a summation of the person and work of Jesus: The divine Son of God who became through incarnation fully human: lived with and for us, died with and for us, rose with and for us, and ascended to heaven with and for us. Jesus is the Gospel! Sadly, this truth of all truths was not enough for some (many?) in the church—they wanted to glory in human philosophies and a focus on human achievement and wisdom. But for Paul, it’s all about Jesus: he is the Gospel, both its message and its method.
b. Paul’s attitude (vv. 3–4)
3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power,
In order to keep the focus on God and his power, Paul came to them in humility. He “became nothing” (humanly speaking) in order that Christ might be seen as everything. Paul relied on the Holy Spirit, not on his own (rather impressive) ability and resume. Thus his preaching was a “demonstration” (meaning “proof”) of the Spirit’s ability, not his own. And the Spirit used Paul’s preaching to point people to Jesus, which led to many changed lives (1Cor. 6:9-11). Indeed it is this life transformation that is all the proof Paul needed that his message was indeed from God. Certainly, ministers of the Gospel should use all the gifts God gives them (and use them with excellence), but they must not put their confidence in this giftedness (see 2Cor. 3:5).
c. Paul’s aim (v. 5)
5 so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.
Had Paul presented a gospel of human philosophy, the Corinthians would have put their trust in an explanation. Instead, Paul declared the Word of God (Jesus) in the power of God, and thus his converts put their faith in a demonstration of God’s power. They embraced Christ and his power, not Paul and not a philosophy. Jesus is not a concept or a philosophy—he is a living person! Effectiveness in evangelism does not depend on clever arguments or persuasive gimmicks, but on the power of the Spirit at work in the life of the evangelist and in the lives of those with whom they share God’s Word (the Gospel).
2. The Gospel is the Father’s wisdom (2:6–10a)
6 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.
The basics of the Gospel are simple enough for a child to grasp and believe. Yet as we mature in Christ, greater depths of God’s “wisdom” revealed in the person of Jesus (the Gospel) are opened to our understanding. Paul mentions five defining characteristics of this wisdom:
a. It’s God’s wisdom, not man’s (v. 7a)
7 No, we speak of God's secret wisdom…
The Gospel is “God’s wisdom in a mystery” (NASB). “Mystery” (musterion in Greek) means secret. The idea is of something which the unaided human mind can not discover. This secret wisdom from the Father is none other than Jesus; and God’s plan for humanity and the entire cosmos in union with Jesus. Indeed it is an astounding plan—and in many ways “too good” to be true. Yet it is the “truth of all truths,” and it is about what God has done, not what man can do.
b. It was formerly hidden (v. 7b, 8)
7b…a wisdom that has been hidden…8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
This wisdom was formerly “hidden” from the understanding of humanity, and from “the rulers of this age”—likely a reference to demonic rulers of this present age of which Satan is prince (John 12:31). Of course, these demonic rulers work through human rulers, so perhaps both human and angelic rulers are in view. Both humans and angelic rulers had been blinded to God’s glorious plan in Jesus.
c. It was predestined (v. 7c)
We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that…God destined...
God the Father authored and set the secret Gospel plan in motion. And God insures its success from start to finish. Note that the plan—which is the plan of the redemption of humankind in and through Jesus—was not an afterthought on God’s part after he saw what man had done. The plan was “predestined” (NASB) before God created the universe. The incarnation and death of Jesus was no afterthought because of man’s sin. It too was foreordained by God as part of his plan for humanity (Acts 2:22–23; 1 Peter 1:18–20).
d. It involves our glory (v. 7d)
…destined for our glory before time began.
The goal of God’s marvelous plan is our glory. This is made clear in Ephesians 1 where Paul explains that God predestined that all humans be adopted into God’s family and there share God’s glory. That glory is our sharing in the triune communion of love the Father shares with the Son and the Spirit (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; see also John 17:22–24; Rom. 8:28–30).
e. It is now revealed (v. 9-10a)
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.
This verse is an adaptation of Isaiah 64:4 which tells of Judah’s captivity, awaiting God’s deliverance. The Jews cried out to God for deliverance and God answered after 70 years of exile. God had plans for their good all along and they need not have been afraid (see Jer. 29:11). Now Paul applies this to the truth of the Father’s inclusive love for all humanity. Our lives are secure in God’s love manifested in Jesus no matter our circumstances. In fact, God’s plans for his children are so wonderful that our minds cannot begin to comprehend them! God has predestined our glory in Christ (1 Cor. 2:7). This glory involves sharing in his life now and even more so in a new heaven and new earth.
This truth of the Gospel of salvation in Jesus was formerly hidden (vv 7-8)—but now it is being revealed. Jesus came and accomplished the plan; the Apostles testimony to Jesus is going out to the whole earth; the Gospel is being lived and shared in and through the church (Eph 3:10). The plan is no longer hidden—it is a revealed mystery! And this revelation is the ongoing ministry of the Spirit—a ministry to which Paul now turns.
3. The Gospel is the Spirit’s ministry (2:10–16)
Paul now makes it clear that God is now revealing the truth of our salvation in Jesus through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. His point is that our focus and confidence as Christians should be in the Spirit’s work, not in human wisdom. In order to make this point, Paul highlights three aspects of the Spirit’s ministry in our salvation:
a. The Spirit illuminates (v. 10-12)
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.
The Spirit opens our “eyes” to understand all that God has prepared for us—“the deep things of God.” He helps us see clearly what is already true—namely what he has “freely given us” in Christ.
b. The Spirit teaches (v. 13)
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.
Not only does the Spirit illuminate (opens our eyes), he teaches. Jesus promised that the Spirit would do this (John 14:26)—guiding us into the truth found in Jesus (John 16:13). This truth came first to the Apostles (like Paul), and is now conveyed to us in the Apostles’ teaching (the New Testament, which illuminates the Old Testament). This teaching is not from human wisdom, it is from the Spirit. Part of our challenge as Christians is to understand and embrace the Spirit’s “vocabulary” as he teaches us through the Apostles’ writings. We seek to be conversant in this “language” of God’s grace—which is the inner “logic” of Jesus himself (we might call it “Cristo-logic”). It is this mind, coming to us through the Spirit, which reveals Jesus in all his beauty. Indeed, Jesus himself constitutes the “deep things of God” (1Cor 2:10).
c. The Spirit grants maturity (vv. 14–16)
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. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: 16 "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
A person actively following the Spirit’s lead is a “spiritual man” – here contrasted with the “man without the Spirit” (“the natural man” NASB)—one who rejects what the Spirit teaches. Of course, every human (“spiritual” or not) has their being in God (Acts 17:28). Moreover, all humanity is included in Jesus’ substitutionary and representative life (Ephesians 1-2). Thus the Spirit is intimately connected to every human being. Yet Paul notes here that not all “accept the things that come from the Spirit.”
Not all are “spiritual” people who live according to “the mind of Christ,” but Christ-followers do. They are thus “spiritual” people—those who are yielded to the mind of Christ and who “accept the things that come from the Spirit of God” (which are foolishness to those who are not yielded). As the spiritual person receives more of the things of the Spirit, they grow and mature. This maturing includes growth in spiritual discernment (the ability to “make judgments”)—the ability (with the Spirit’s help) to understand more and more of God’s will and mind. The Corinthians lacked this discernment; they were spiritually immature.
Note that to “have the mind of Christ” does not mean being infallible. We must not play God in our own lives or in the lives of others. Nobody instructs God, or takes God's place as judge of all humanity (and here Paul quotes Isa. 40:13). To “have the mind of Christ” means not to take his place, but to see through his eyes—to discern with his mind. Note the NASB translation: “But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man.” This “no man” includes other Christians. We must be careful not to become spiritual dictators in the lives of other people, nor to allow people (and their ideas) to take God’s place in our own lives. Let us all rely on the ministry of the Spirit—and his ministry is to reveal to us the mind of Jesus more and more.
The true Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us of our inclusion in the triune life and love of God: from the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit. Let us remember this Gospel—it is God’s word; God’s truth; God's wisdom. And let us grow ever deeper in understanding and living it. Remember the Gospel!