Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 November 26, 2017
“Demonstration of the Spirit and of Power”
Text: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Many years ago I heard a sermon of D. James Kennedy in which he quipped about a preacher who discerned in his preparation a deficiency. Kennedy noted that the preacher, in his pulpit notes, just at the point of deficiency, scribbled in the margin these words: “Argument weak; pound pulpit.” Apparently the preacher referenced in Kennedy’s sermon hoped his elevated animation would cover his weak argumentation.
Too often presentations generally—and, alas, Gospel preaching particularly—relies on human technique for its efficacy. Let such not be said in this place—and let it be said less across the wider Church—but let our preaching, and our faith, rest upon the power of God. Let’s hear more of this as we hear the Holy Spirit speak through these very words that He inspired the Apostle Paul to write.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Let’s look first at how Paul did not come to Corinth. He came not with pompous words. He did not employ either erudite or flowery words—words designed both to impress the hearer and to exalt the speaker. Nor did Paul utilize what the text here calls persuasive words—words designed to manipulate the masses and, again, to exalt the speaker. Greco-Roman rhetoric leaned heavily on such techniques that Paul shunned, but Paul shunned these techniques to a blessed end—an end we’ll note shortly.
Paul, further, did not come to Corinth knowing anything save Christ and Him crucified. Note what this is not; this is not anti-intellectualism. Sadly, many have interpreted this text to mean that we should pursue no other learning than that having direct bearing upon Gospel understanding and declaration. Hence, a number of thoughtful critics of the Christian faith accuse us of checking our brains at the doors when we enter our church buildings.
This charge would not stick to the Apostle Paul. He had the best secular education available at the time, for he was, after all, a Roman citizen. He also had the best religious education available then. He studied as a rabbi at the feet of Gamaliel, who studied at the feet of Hillel, who himself was the leader of a main school of thought within Pharisaic Judaism. What Paul did was bring this massive first-century classical and rabbinic training to bear upon his Gospel service.
When Paul says that he resolves to know nothing among the Corinthians save Jesus Christ and Him crucified, he does this to two God-approved ends. First, Paul resolves thus in order to quench burning Corinthian pride—a pride that poses persistent problems in their individual and group discipleship. Second, Paul aims to keep the substance of the Gospel ever before the church—and that without any distraction whatsoever. Paul, led by the Spirit, would keep the main thing the main thing in Corinth. The Corinthians needed this. We need this as well.
We now have seen how Paul did not come to Corinth. Now let’s see how Paul did come to Corinth. Paul comes in a way that worldly folks do not expect. He comes in ways that diminish him. He comes in fear, and not in self-confidence. He comes in weakness, not strength. He also comes in much trembling, apparently without any self-possession. Why would Paul come in such a way, if coming in such a way could be avoided?
Two reasons come to mind. First, Paul may come in fear, weakness, and much trembling to Corinth because the magnitude of the task at hand daunts him. He serves, as every Christian does, as an ambassador unto the King of kings and Lord of lords. He has both incredible privilege and weighty responsibility, and these can inject robust level of fear, et al., into his soul. Second, Paul may come thus to Corinth because of the stakes involved in his work. Heaven and hell, in God’s sovereign wisdom and decree, lie in the balance; Heaven awaits the ones believing the Gospel message and receiving Jesus by faith as Lord and Savior, but hell awaits the ones persisting in rejecting the Gospel and the Savior to life’s end. Of course, results are out of Paul’s hands (as they are out of ours too), but thinking of such eternal verities can make the legs wobble.
Paul also comes in things that magnify God, namely, in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. When Paul uses the Greek word here rendered demonstration (Greek apodeixis [apodeixiV]), he literally means proof, or incontrovertible evidence. Paul wants his preaching to provide proof of both the Holy Spirit’s presence and His power. He wants the Corinthians, apart from human rhetorical art, to perceive in their spirits the powerful presence of God the Holy Spirit in his imperfect preaching. Paul wants this, through the Spirit, to an end. He wants the faith of the Corinthians not to rest in wisdom of men, but he wants it to rest in the power of God. If our trust for ultimate rescue and healing rests anywhere save God in Christ alone, then it will be shaky at best in this life and inexpressibly insufficient in the next. Hence, the Lord would have our faith rest in Him alone.
We now have heard three sermons from 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 over the last month (1:18-25 three weeks ago, 1:26-31 two weeks ago, and 2:1-5 today). Note the great reversals that God engineers in this part of His Word. First, the message of the cross is folly to the perishing, but is the power of God to the ones being saved (1:18-25). Second, the people this world values are brought to shame and confusion, but many among the people despised by the world are exalted in Jesus (1:26-31). Third, the world often applauds style over substance, but the Gospel message trumps any style employed to deliver it (2:1-5). Therefore, in closing today, let us express two great hopes for God’s people from this text. First, may Gospel preachers aim not at self-aggrandizement via human technique, but at a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Second, may your faith in Jesus rest not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.