We continue to pursue details of features that Paul described as being "among" the Corinthians, and what we have in 1 Corinthians 2.2 is perhaps the only positive thing that is stated as being among them. Paul was reflecting on his visit to their city, and his determination to be focused in his preaching "among" them; the message was exclusively "Jesus Christ, and him crucified". Remember their environment; perhaps they were not as sophisticated as their Athenian cousins but, nevertheless, they had a huge tradition of Greek culture and philosophy, and with that there was an immense commitment to every conceivable sin, evidenced in the catalogue of vices that Paul draws up in 1 Corinthians 6.9-11a. The little Jewish preacher had penetrated that philosophical yet debauched community with a message that held nothing to satisfy the deep thinkers who were exploring new intellectual theories. Neither did it condone their licentious behaviour nor that of the underclass of the city; the message was, "Jesus Christ, and him crucified".
The moral and spiritual conditions of that ancient port city are prevalent in the western world today. Men still pride themselves in their intellectual prowess. Theories propounded in recent centuries have augmented the arsenal of the anti-God camp. Technology has opened up new territory in pursuit of the excitement that sin brings, attempting to satisfy an appetite for new methods of wicked behaviour. It is what Paul called, "working", plying as a trade, "all uncleanness with greediness" (Eph 4.19). For us, the temptation is to counter intellectual arguments by apologetics, endeavouring to outmanoeuvre polished debaters with skilled and practised reasoning. Rather, the answer is "Jesus Christ, and him crucified". Another temptation is to counter the hunger for evil by suggesting that a cleaner, healthier life of fulfilment is achievable by taking Jesus Christ into the equation. Again, rather than that, the answer is the preaching of "Jesus Christ, and him crucified". Let us observe an apostolic pattern then, and in these few verses note how an effective work was undertaken; let us resolve to replicate it in our own circumstances.
The chapter opens with Paul saying, "I came to you" (1 Cor 2.1). Acts 18 records the details. The second missionary journey had commenced with the Lord's servants consolidating assemblies that had been established previously; it is recorded that "the churches (were) established in the faith, and increased in number daily" (Acts 16.5). From there, they were directed to Europe, and places from the north to the south of Greece were touched by the gospel; Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and then, "I came to you", Corinth. God had been a step ahead in using the emperor at Rome to expel the Jews including Aquila and Priscilla. These refugee tentmakers were in place just in time for Paul's arrival; lodgings and employment were all divinely arranged and the timing was absolutely precise as is always the case when God is at work; they were "lately come from Italy" (Acts 18.2). Jews and Greeks were blessed with salvation, and for a further eighteen months Paul was in residence, "teaching the word of God among them" (Acts 18.11). There are lessons to be learned from the foregoing.
• Like Paul and his companions, be sensitive to the leading of God.
• Realise that there are new horizons as far as the gospel is concerned.
• Be aware that God is in overall control of the circumstances of His people.
• Be diligent in facilitating the teaching of new believers over a period of time.
Paul used a term to describe his message - he called it "the testimony of God" (1 Cor 2.1). Earlier he had called it "the testimony of Christ" (1 Cor 1.6). He was bearing witness to a declaration that originated with God and whose subject was Christ. Elsewhere he indicated that the message would be "testified in due time" and the "due time" had arrived as far as Corinth was concerned. In an environment where there were "gods many, and lords many" (1 Cor 8.5), he was testifying that there was "one God", and only "one mediator…Who gave himself a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2.5-6). This glorious testimony was "declared" by Paul. We too are the custodians of this wonderful news; are we proclaiming it personally and publicly as Paul did? Frequently, the challenge from the story of the four lepers at Samaria has been put to us: "We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace" (2 Kings 7.9). Or, to cite a New Testament passage that similarly pricks the conscience, "…how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom 10.14).
The content of Paul's message is described as "Jesus Christ, and him crucified". "Christ crucified" was a stumblingblock to the Jew who had anticipated that the Christ would be a conquering monarch who would inaugurate the Kingdom of God with its regime of universal peace and righteousness. It violated logic as far as the cerebral Greek was concerned (1 Cor 1.22-25). Yet that was the message that Paul preached at Corinth, with the explanation that while the manner of His death was that of crucifixion, the purpose for His death was, "for our sins" (1 Cor 15.3). That should still be the core of our preaching. If snappy titles are employed to stir interest, move on quickly to Christ and the cross. If a current issue is used to capture attention in the early stages of a message, take a short cut to Calvary. While a whole range of concerns should be addressed when preaching a full gospel, a sermon that devotes minimum time to Christ and ignores the cross has missed the mark.
It is evident that Paul did not employ the tactics of the high-powered salesman when presenting the gospel, for he was with them "in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (1 Cor 2.3). His style was not confrontational; any boldness that he had was sourced in God (1 Thess 2.2), and there were no attempts to coerce people. Peter discouraged an "in-your-face" approach to witnessing when he insisted that while we should be "ready always" to do it, it should be done "with meekness and fear" (1 Pet 3.15).
Not only were high-pressure tactics absent from Paul's approach, but so too were the skilled arguments of the debater; "not with enticing words of man's wisdom" (1 Cor 2.4). Doubtless, a preacher who has been gifted by God will be able to communicate lucidly and interestingly, but Paul did not depend on spectacular oratory or well-reasoned debate. The content of the message was paramount, and messages preached throughout the book of Acts were liberally sprinkled with quotations from Scripture and with plain statements about the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Paul did use "words" and there was accurate content in his "preaching", that is, the thing preached, but the exercise "was not with enticing words". The point is, his method of communicating the gospel was to preach it! That cannot be bettered, and trends to convey the message by mime and drama and music have no precedent in the record of New Testament evangelism. Paul's charge to Timothy was, "Preach the word" (2 Tim 4.2).
So Paul preached in the right way, and he preached the right thing, but that would have been futile without another element; it was "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor 2.4). "Demonstration" carries the idea of providing proof, so it was the Spirit who gave proof of the veracity of the message and not human argument. Similarly, at Thessalonica the "word" was preached in "much assurance", that is with conviction or in fullness. Added to that was the obvious integrity of the Lord's servants, but the power of the Holy Spirit was the crucial element as far as effectiveness and lasting results were concerned (1 Thess 1.5). That cannot be humanly generated; the best we can do is to acknowledge our dependence on His activity and create moral and spiritual conditions to allow Him to move in power among us if it should be His will.
What was Paul's aim in repudiating human ingenuity and depending exclusively on accurate preaching and the Spirit's power? It was "That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (1 Cor 2.5). It has often been said that if people are talked into something they can be as easily talked out of it again. Paul had no desire to make "converts" who were shaky because they had embraced a defective message that had been urged upon them by overpowering rhetoric and slick techniques. The work had to be a divine activity, so his motives dictated his methods. The message he preached to them was a message of which he could say, "wherein ye stand" (1 Cor 15.1). Let us all avoid any methods that would create unstable adherents who like Jonah's gourd come "up in a night, and perish in a night" (Jonah 4.10).
To be continued.