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We Can’t Strengthen the Gospel

Date: January 29, 2023
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 2:1–5

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We Can't Strengthen the Gospel

Benjamin Tangeman – 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 – 1 Corinthians: Being God's People – January 29, 2023

Introduction

Reading of 1 Corinthians 2:1–5. 

Let’s put this text in the perspective of the whole of the letter. Paul is developing a thought that he began in 2:17:

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Remember, Paul started his letter reminding the church of who they are. Their identity as being in fellowship with Jesus Christ.

He promptly launches into an appeal: “That they agree.” Stop your divisions, stop your disputes. 

The disputes primarily appear to be about these different church leaders—personalities/influencers—who they tend to prefer. 

Paul drives right to the heart of the issue by saying that all those guys are about wrong to be picking favorites and pitting them against each other—because it robs God of his Glory. 

Chapters 1-4 is a section all about unity and the foundation of their call to be people of God. Remember they are a diverse collection of people from many classes, demographics, ethnicities. 

The point of this section is to defend and recenter the ministry of Jesus and his work on the cross.

It is reconnecting them to the only foundation of their faith—Jesus, the cornerstone. 

Four weeks ago Daniel made a few points that I’ll draw on:

Distinct for its length and diversity of topics—unity and leadership in the church, sexuality, food sacrificed to idols, marriage and singlehood, corporate worship, prophecy and speaking in tongues, Jesus’ resurrection and ours. Don’t read it like Wikipedia, where each entry is separate and an island.

If the topics in this book aren’t meant to be handled separately from each other—what are they supposed to be anchored to? This should be pretty self-evident, but this text helps answer that question. It’s all build on a cornerstone. But that cornerstone isn’t an ideology or a philosophy or a religion, it’s built on facts and faith.

It will keep circling around: True Spirituality, True Holiness/Sanctification, Eschatology, and Christology. The Collision of Worldviews is unavoidable for Christians—Bible’s and World’s.

Fitting sermon to start the New Year: Knowing who we are (saints) and knowing what we’ve received (grace), we want to commit ourselves to God.

Three weeks ago John challenged us about “What makes all the difference?” in our life. What is the most defining thing about you that you attribute to you being who you are? His answer was—what Jesus did on the cross. The Gospel.

John did a lot of work a few weeks ago helping us understand Paul’s explanation into how the wisdom of man and the wisdom of God oppose each other. 

His last point—A Boasting that Displays the Difference—is basically what we are going to drill into today.

Let’s take a quick flyover the text and make some preliminary observations, explanations and ask some questions of it.

Outline

  1. And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 
  1. When Paul came to them (Acts 15-18).
  2. The job of the apostle, especially the eye-witnesses, was to proclaim what they had seen. 
  3. A distinction between testimony and lofty speech or wisdom.
    1. A witness in a courtroom. 
    2. Evidence vs interpretation.
  4. He didn’t come to convince them to believe his ideas—he simply testified to what he had seen. 


 

(2) For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

  1. Knowing nothing but Jesus Chirst (Jesus, the Messiah, the teacher, the prophet, the healer, the friend)
  2. And Him crucified (Prophetic fulfillment, atonement, judgment of God for sin.) 
  3. Jesus was all these things, but he wasn’t testifying that you should be a good person like Jesus was. 
  4. Paul’s focus is on the cross—what happened there?
    1. Sacrifice & Provision—Abraham & Isaac (Gen 22).
    2. Salvation—Israel and the fiery serpents (Num 21:9, John 3:14).


 

(3) And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, (4) and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, (5) so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 

  1. Why was Paul weak, fearful and trembling?
  2. Message and speech weren’t persuasive.
  3. He demonstrated the Spirit and of power.
  1. “The word translated demonstration (apodeixis) means the most rigorous proof. Some proofs indicate no more than that the conclusion follows from the premises, but with apodeixis ‘the premises are known to be true, and therefore the conclusion is not only logical, but certainly true”

Leon Morris,1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 7, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 56–57.

  1. Paul’s very defects had afforded the most convincing demonstration of the power of the Spirit. Though there was nothing impressive about his preaching from a human standpoint, it had carried conviction: It was not human excellence that accomplished this, but the Spirit’s power (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9; for the linking of power with the Spirit, cf. Rom. 15:13; 1 Thess. 1:5; with the gospel, Rom. 1:16).

Leon Morris,1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 7, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 57.

  1. So that—their faith wasn’t in him, but the Power of God—Jesus.
    1. “...because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit”

you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,10 and to wait for his Son from heaven”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Th 1:5-6,9–10.

I basically have two points for us today and two main applications for us:

  1. A Weak Man Boasting
  2. In the Power of the Gospel 
    1. No matter what circumstances you find yourself in—no matter what weaknesses you know about yourself, or what torments Satan buffets you with, the cross of Jesus is power for your salvation and sufficient for your life and calling. 
  • We can’t make the gospel stronger—but we can weaken it.


 

  1. And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 
  1. When Paul came to them (Acts 15-18).
  2. The job of the apostle, especially the eye-witnesses, was to proclaim what they had seen. 
  1. A Weak Man Boasting

How he got where he was—Act 15-19

Act 15-18 is the backdrop for this section of the sermon.

Paul and Barnabas split ways over John Mark. This was a bitter loss for Paul as Barnabas has been a kind of an advocate and friend.

He meets Timothy and he finds a new son in the faith. Someone who will become invaluable to him.

He tried to go to Asia and God directed him to Macedonia instead—a man pleading for help.

As he journeys through the major cities of Macedonia. Philipi saw him attacked, beaten, imprisoned and survived an earthquake—yet sees remarkable fruit and dear friendship before being run out of town for his life.

After that he goes to Thessolanica and sees a church planted, but again run out of town for his life by the Judaisers.

In Berea he finds discerning Jews who listen to him and accept his teaching, even doing the work of looking into Scripture with him. Yet again forced out for his life.

This finds him in Athens. He reasons again at the Synagogue with the Jews, until the Stoics and Epicureans hear him and they invite the “babbler” to tickle their ears with news of a new God, new wisdom.

He preaches a message tailored for his audience, to the humanly wise, philosophical the upper-class, poly-theist. It is a powerful message to the Gentiles concerning the One True God. For this his mocked, but for a few who are interested in hearing more. There is no reason to believe that this effort was a failure, but certainly it was not what we can imagine Paul was hoping for after his experience in the previous cities and the calling from God to this place.

His next stop is Corinth. When he arrives his traveling companions aren’t with him, Timothy and Silas are still in Berea. Paul meets two fellow Jews from Rome, Aquila & Priscilla—who he stays with because they are of the same profession; tentmakers.

He spent time working his craft and reasoning in the synagogue on the Sabbath; when Timothy and Silas arrive, they find him occupied with the word. However he encounters more hardness from the Jews when they “opposed and reviled him”. 

Description of Paul’s Weakness.

  1. I was with you in weakness and in fear and much tremblingThe Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 2:3.
  2. For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. 12Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
    The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 10:10–12.
  3. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.
    The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 11:6.
  4. In any case the Corinthians were not very impressed by his personal presence (2 Cor. 10:10; in the second-century Acts of Paul and Thecla Paul is said to be ‘a man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked’). Paul says that he had been without strength and afraid, even to the point of trembling (Phillips, ‘I was feeling far from strong, I was nervous and rather shaky’). 

Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 7, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 56.

A Word about Weakness vs Humility

However, aware he was of his weakness, he was more certainly aware of the strength he had in Christ. His weakness, in concert with the power of the Spirit, created humility.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 12:7–10.

Paul’s confidence wasn’t in himself, his (wisdom) knowledge, his stature, ability or success.

He was a witness of the risen Jesus on the way to Damascus—and God told Ananias that Paul was, “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.

He had been called by God at Antioch to be set apart for this apostolic ministry to the Gentiles.

He had been called by God to Macedonia and Achaia.

He had been giving the ministry of reconciliation.

Examples of Paul’s Humility.

  • Super Apostle - 2 Cor 11:5, 12:11
  • Least of Apostle - 1 Cor 15
  • Least of Saints - Eps 3:8
  • Worst of Sinners - 1 Tim 1:13-15

It’s at this point that God tells him something amazing: “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you , and no one will attack you to harm you for I have many in this city who are my people.”

So obviously Paul was afraid—when God has to tell you not to be, you must be pretty scarred. 

Also, consider this, God tells him that he has many people in this city. Maybe Paul’s perspective changed from one of “persuading” to saying—I’ll know nothing except Jesus and him crucified. 

�� The Cross compelled Paul’s weakness—he was modeling Jesus

Isaiah described the Messiah as a suffering servant—one who men would reject and not esteem. Jesus lived on the road, with no possessions to speak of, no place to lay his head. He went to serve, not to be served. He was poured out as an offering to the Father on behalf of his people—for the world to redeem those who the Father had given him.

Jesus came preaching his Father’s message—it was actually very simple: This is my beloved son, listen to him.

This is Paul’s burden—this is why Paul is willing to entrust his weakness to God and endure the suffering of the cross.

Here is what I want you to Hear:

  • No matter what circumstances you find yourself in—no matter what weaknesses you know about yourself, or what torments Satan buffets you with, the cross of Jesus is power for your salvation and sufficient for your life and calling.

Okay, back to the text for the next point…

(3) And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, (4) and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, (5) so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 

  1. Why was Paul weak, fearful and trembling?
  2. Message and speech weren’t persuasive.
  3. He demonstrated the Spirit and of power.
  1. “The word translated demonstration (apodeixis) means the most rigorous proof. Some proofs indicate no more than that the conclusion follows from the premises, but with apodeixis ‘the premises are known to be true, and therefore the conclusion is not only logical, but certainly true”

Leon Morris,1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 7, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 56–57.

  1. Paul’s very defects had afforded the most convincing demonstration of the power of the Spirit. Though there was nothing impressive about his preaching from a human standpoint, it had carried conviction: It was not human excellence that accomplished this, but the Spirit’s power (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9; for the linking of power with the Spirit, cf. Rom. 15:13; 1 Thess. 1:5; with the gospel, Rom. 1:16).

Leon Morris,1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 7, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 57.

  1. So that—their faith wasn’t in him, but the Power of God—Jesus.
    1. “...because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit”

you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,10 and to wait for his Son from heaven”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Th 1:5-6,9–10.

2. The Power of the Gospel

Paul makes a very distinct connection between his audience and himself in verse one: He’s carrying the point he started making in verse 26:

“For consider your calling, brothers…”

1 Co 1:26.

As to say, you weren’t called by my convincing arguments, or because you were some amazing specimen. You were saved by the Power of the Spirit and by the message of the gospel. 

Rather, his preaching had been a clear demonstration of the power of the Spirit. The word translated demonstration (apodeixis) means the most rigorous proof. Some proofs indicate no more than that the conclusion follows from the premises, but with apodeixis ‘the premises are known to be true, and therefore the conclusion is not only logical, but certainly true’ (Robertson and Plummer). Paul’s very defects had afforded the most convincing demonstration of the power of the Spirit.Though there was nothing impressive about his preaching from a human standpoint, it had carried conviction: It was not human excellence that accomplished this, but the Spirit’s power (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9; for the linking of power with the Spirit, cf. Rom. 15:13; 1 Thess. 1:5; with the gospel, Rom. 1:16).

Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 7, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 56–57.

Paul’s intention had been to ground his converts in the divine power and to make them independent of human wisdom. Wilson (another commentator) points out that ‘a faith that depends upon clever reasoning may be demolished by a more acute argument, but the faith which is produced by the power of God can never be overthrown’.So Paul had refused to employ rhetorical arts and had concentrated on the message that was so unpalatable to natural men, the message of the cross.

Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary. vol. 7, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 57.

  1. Sharing the gospel with my good friend—Lack of confidence and fear.

What is this Gospel?

Last week John had this excellent summary of the Gospel.

While answer the question, “What makes all the difference?” he says:

…the message that makes all the difference is not one of philosophy or a promise of religious ceremony or miracle. It is a Spirit-revealed interpretation of actual historical events that happened in the first century. God sent his own son as a human child to be born by the Virgin Mary. He lived a sinless, righteous life. He died a shameful criminal’s death to pay the penalty for the sins of all those who put their faith in him. After three days, he rose from the dead.These are historical events. They really happened. They are not mere metaphors for how to be made right with God. We are not putting our faith in some idea, but in the very concrete actions of the Son of God.

There is only one thing to add to this, what really makes it good news: that is, if you repent from your sin, your “independence” from God, and believe that he will forgive you for your sin, that he suffered for, you will be adopted as his child and given eternal life with him—and that is paradise.

Remember how we identified the role of an apostle was to “bear witness”. Paul bookends the letter to the Corinthians with his testimony of the gospel. turn with me to the end of 1 Corinthians, chapter 15:3:

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

1 Co 15:3–8, 9-11.

These things really happened. There were witnesses! The most critical scholars in the world agree that Jesus was real and that he did amazing things. They of course reject that he rose from the dead or that he is the Son of God. This where the element of faith comes in. You either believe this to be true, which is reasonable, and you trust it to be true—or you reject it and face the eternal consequences.

There are seven or so times in the book of the Acts that we see a clear and complete presentation of the gospel. 

(I encourage you to go read the gospel presentations in Acts: They are Acts 2, 3, 7, 10, 13, 17, 26) 

Letters like Romans and Galatians were written to churches explaining the mechanics of the Gospel in amazing details. These deep explanations bless us as the church to try to understand the amazing Providence of God. However the gospel is as simple as Jesus words to Nicodemus in John 3:

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Jn 3:14–16

Whoever believes this message, whoever believes what Jesus claimed will be saved from the condemnation of their sin and be given eternal life with God!

How can you dress that up? What could we possibly say that is more clear than that!?!

Now Jesus said more than that about salvation—he actually said that there is no way for someone to believe this unless he is born—regenerated—of the Spirit.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jn 3:5–8.

So try as we might, neither you nor I can convince someone to be saved. All we have is the message of the Gospel. We can only appeal to them with the simple truth that there is an answer to their greatest need and the answer is Jesus.

The ancient world deployed various polarities for describing humanity: Romans and barbarians, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free. But Paul here sets forth the only polarity that is of ultimate importance: he distinguishes between those who are perishing and those who are being saved. The dividing line between these two groups is the message of the cross: “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18).

  1. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry, 14.

When a Skeptic Questions Us:

A skeptic who is willing to consider the idea of God may confront us with questions that they wrestle with, or perhaps questions they think will stump us. (Another reason why we don’t want to rely on “man’s wisdom” or human arguments and reason as the foundation of our faith.) 

One question that is often brought up is, if there's a God and if he is good and all-powerful and all-knowing, how can he let the terrible things that happen in the world happen?

This is called the “problem of evil”. And it’s a conundrum. We inherited a sense of wisdom from Adam by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. However, it is a broken understanding of right and wrong. 

God’s law is on our hearts, which gives us a proverbial spiritual compass that always points towards the ultimate true north of morality—the One True God. 

However in our sin God has handed us over to ourselves to do what we like, under the authority of the Satan—the Father of Lies. Our eyes were darkened and our hearts hardened towards him because we are selfish beings. The world’s wisdom is ultimately only selfish.

There are several answers to the problem of evil, but one that has most recently profoundly struck me is that even though God allowed all these things to happen, in his good plan for mankind he chose to die to fix it.

Think about this for a second (My experience last Sunday). 

I don’t want to wow you, but if the Spirit is willing to impress upon you, I want you to be moved by the reality that God know all things, the end from the beginning, knew the terrible choices mankind would make and his decision, as the all good, all powerful, all knowing God was to die for mankind. He could have started over, or not let the bad things happen, instead he chose to demonstrate his love toward us by dying for sinners in their sin. That is love. Mankind in all our finite, self-focused wisdom could not have conjured up that kind of plan. One would scarcely die for a righteous man, but who would die for an unrighteous one? And God died for billions of them, while they were in their sin and opposed to him.

This is the gospel. This is what it means to know only Jesus Christ and him crucified. It is to know the love of God for sinners.

Here’s what I want you to Hear:

  • We can’t make the gospel stronger—but we can weaken it.

This is why Paul didn’t testify with lofty words of wisdom or with plausible—or persuasive— words of wisdom. He didn’t want to risk weakening the power of the true gospel.

And so that our faith, our confidence, and our boast would be our unity to Jesus.

Rejoice in the Love and Salvation of God!


 

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