And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
The writer of these words, Paul, was a highly educated, eloquent man. He could hold his own amongst the most intellectual Greek thinkers of his day (such as in Acts 17:22-34). His CV was quite impressive.
But when he comes to the church in Corinth, he comes in fear, trembling and weakness. So what is going on?
The Greek citizens of Corinth valued wisdom and education highly. Corinth was a very prosperous, thriving city with two trading harbours. It had a plethora of temples for worship of Greek gods. It was very civilised on the surface. But it was also a place of such depravity that the term, ‘to Corinthianize’ became shorthand for practicing sexual immorality.
The church in Corinth had a few, um, issues. They were divided, they were spiritually immature and sexually immoral like the culture around them. And it is into this context that Paul writes.
He could have blown them away with his human intelligence or intimidated them with clever reasoning. But Paul knew that the only thing that had the power to transform this church was the unadulterated, unadorned, unabridged, glorious truth of Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Paul had previously laid this message out for them in humility and simplicity, not relying on his own intellect or wisdom, but trusting the Holy Spirit to work through his weakness. His goal was to point away from himself and towards Jesus.
The most powerful intellectual arguments for Christianity are not capable of saving a single person. And, for sure, there are powerful intellectual and historical arguments! But no, a person has to come face-to-face with the reality of Jesus Christ – living and dying, crucified and resurrected. And that is all-sufficient. We need add no more.
Paul only wants to point to that man on the cross. Bleeding and dying there for our sins.
In the words of John the Baptist, another great example of a life lived in humility:
He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30
The whole of the Bible is about Jesus. It’s all part of his glorious story. And when we teach, or preach, or tell others about what we believe, he must always be the focus, the crux, of the message. We can be weak, fearful and trembling – in fact, that’s exactly when we’re most useful to God.
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.
2 Cor 12:9