(A) Introduction: the matter prompting Paul's remarks. (Read the reference)

It is not easy to understand this chapter! It will help if we bear in mind the problem Paul was addressing. An 'intellectual' faction existed in Corinth who admired Apollos but criticised the preaching of Paul because it was:

    (a) Narrow in its scope. Paul says of his ministry in Corinth: I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. v2. When Apollos arrived in Achaia he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. Acts18v27and28. It is likely that the teaching of Apollos was more wide ranging than that of Paul.

    (b) Ordinary in its delivery. Paul admits: I did not come with eloquence .... v1. My message and my preaching was not with ...... persuasive words. v4. Paul was no orator. He did not belong to the fraternity of tearjerkers. He may have been rather disappointing to listen to.

    (c) Lacking in contemporary references. Paul made no mention of the burning issues of the day. He didn't quote the work of Greek scholars or refer to Greek literature. Paul writes: I did not come with ..... superior wisdom. v1. My message and my preaching were not with wise words. v4.

I have two observations to make:

(1) It is very difficult to cope with criticism. I can imagine slaves from the household of Chloe arriving in Ephesus and telling Paul with great indignation that he was not much thought of by some in the church at Corinth. They stirred Paul up!

Now Paul, unlike Jesus and very much like us, was not perfect. He was rather thin skinned and easily hurt by criticism - especially if undeserved. He may have over reacted to the information provided by Chloe's slaves. Certainly some of the things he writes are very uncomplimentary to those who disparaged him: 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. v14.

Paul does write with an edge to the Christians at Corinth. He may have been too concerned about defending his reputation. For all his efforts the divisions among the Corinthians persisted and still existed at the turn of the first century.

(2) Many sermons, especially in Grace Baptist churches, are probably quite like Paul's. A simple gospel message is fairly plainly delivered with a few homely illustrations to hold the attention of the congregation. It is easy for those holding high academic qualifications to belittle this style of preaching and to complain that it lacks intellectual rigor, is inelegantly expressed and contains few references to contemporary issues or views.

Does this mean we would welcome sermons that are little better than an extended, 'Thought for the day'? The talks we get on BBC radio every morning are scripted, wide-ranging and reflect modern preoccupations and political opinions. How I long for a speaker on 'Thought for the day' to follow Paul and resolve to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified. What a refreshing change that would be!

(B) Paul explains his policy.

Paul told the Corinthians: I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. v3. Why was this? There are at least three possible reasons:

    (1) Paul had experienced rejection and persecution at Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. He had been forced to leave those three cities. The hostility he faced left its mark on Paul.

    (2) Paul had little success in Athens where he adopted a more philosophical approach to evangelism. In his sermon at the meeting of the Aeropagus there is little mention of Jesus and no reference to the cross. Luke records: A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Acts17v34. Failure makes us weak and fearful. I have seen cricketers who have had a run of low scores going out to bat with trembling hands.

    (3) Paul was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task facing him. Corinth was a very wicked city. The forces of evil were obvious and rampant. What could he and his few associates hope to achieve in the face of such Satanic power?

In this situation:

(a) Paul stuck with what he was sure of. I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ and him crucified. v2.
Paul elected to play safe - a bit like the cricketer in testing circumstances who restricts his shots to the ones he plays best or the pianist experiencing a crisis of confidence who sticks to her tried and tested repertoire.

Paul concentrated on what he knew worked. If anything was going to change Corinthian sinners it was Jesus and him crucified. In the words of the familiar Sankey hymn:

          Would you be free from your burden of sin?
          There's power in the blood, power in the blood.
          Would you o'er evil a victory win?
          There's wonderful power in the blood.

          There is power, power, wonder-working power
          In the precious blood of the Lamb.

(b) Paul concentrated on what would do his hearers most good.
The preaching of the cross does this by:

    (1) Making men uneasy. The cross demonstrates conclusively that God takes our sin seriously. It demanded a sacrifice. Jesus came to earth to be the ultimate guilt offering

    We do not take sin seriously. We ignore it, forget it, trivialise it, make a joke of it and find all manner of excuses for it. There is a verse in one of Thomas Kelly's hymns about the cross that we do well to heed:

            Ye who think of sin but lightly
            Nor suppose the evil great
            Here may view its nature rightly,
            Here its guilt may estimate.
            Mark the Sacrifice appointed,
            See who bears the awful load;
            'Tis the Word, the Lord's Anointed,
            Son of man and Son of God.

    (2) Providing much comfort. Our sins have been dealt with. They have been laid on Jesus who bore their consequences. He paid the price of our forgiveness.

          There's a way back to God from the dark paths of sin;
          There's a door that is open and you may go in:
          At Calvary's cross is where you begin,
          When you come as a sinner to Jesus.

    (3) Putting the believer under an obligation. If we trust in Christ for full salvation it is inevitable that we will show our gratitude. Christians cannot rest on their laurels and expect to be carried up to heaven on flowery beds of ease. If Jesus has saved us we will love him and if we love him we shall serve him. In spite of this there are some who confess to follow Jesus who are strangely unwillingly to make a commitment. A pastor's wife dropped in for a cup of coffee this week - a very rare occurrence, as I do not often have a visit from a lady! She talked a little about her church and how difficult it was to get anyone to take responsibility. Very few were prepared to be deacons or Sunday school teachers. Christians are shying a way from taking on jobs that tie them down! It is a good thing that Jesus is not a part-time Saviour and only intercedes for us on an occasional basis!

            Give me a faithful heart,
            Likeness to Thee
            That each departing day
            Henceforth may see
            Some work of love begun,
            Some deed of kindness done,
            Some wanderer sought and won,
            Something for Thee.

    Paul said that the gospel was God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden. He quoted loosely from Is54v4: No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. v9. But on the Day of Pentecost all was revealed by the Holy Spirit. In the truly marvellous words of Paul writing to the Colossians: For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. Col1v13and14.

(c) Paul relied on the Holy Spirit's power. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. v4.

First of all this is a reminder that the effectiveness of a gospel message does not depend upon:

    (1) Close reasoning and theological precision.
    (2) Originality and the presentation of wonderful new insights.
    (3) The beauty of the language.
    (4) The quality of amusing contemporary illustrations.

The use of all of these might make for a very brilliant sermon. C.H.Spurgeon used an illustration to highlight the difference between brilliant and saving sermons.

Sir Astley Cooper, on visiting Paris, was asked by the chief surgeon of the empire how many times he had performed a certain wonderful feat of surgery. He replied he had performed the operation 13 times.

"Ah, but monsieur, I have done him one hundred and sixty times. How many times did you save his life?" continued the curious Frenchman, after he had looked into the blank amazement of Sir Astley's face.

"I," said the Englishman, "saved eleven out of the thirteen. How many did you save out of one hundred and sixty?"

"Ah, monsieur, I lose dem all; but the operation was very brilliant."

Of how many popular ministries might the same verdict be given! Souls are not saved, but the preaching is very brilliant.

So what does it mean to rely on the Holy Spirit's power? It doesn't mean preaching a sermon without preparation or thought. Nor does it mean that we shouldn't speak as well as we can with the use of apposite illustrations. Men like C.H.Spurgeon, Charles Finney, John Wesley and George Whitfield all prepared thoroughly and preached with great eloquence.

Paul does not tell us how to rely on the Holy Spirit's power! So I cannot be sure of what was in his mind. I think that we depend upon the power of the Spirit when we preach in the way that the Spirit operates. The preacher and the Spirit must be in sympathy. In these circumstances the Spirit enhances the preacher's efforts and adds a cutting edge to his words.

Gospel preaching should be:

(1) Direct. I occasionally preach at a small Baptist church in Suffolk. Among the congregation is a man called Walter. After one sermon Walter came up to me and said, "You are the bluntest preacher I have ever heard. But at least you get our attention." Now the Holy Spirit is direct. He doesn't beat about the bush. He can use direct preaching not merely to grab men's attention but to awaken the dead in trespasses and sin.

(2) Clear. If we are clear the Holy Spirit will make us clearer still. He is the great illuminator - the Spirit of truth. In 2005 the Archbishop of Canterbury was invited by the Daily Telegraph newspaper to write a defence of Christianity. Now what the Archbishop wrote was thoughtful and quite sound but it was not clear. His apology for the Faith was too academic, too theological and inaccessible to the majority of readers. If our teaching and preaching is complicated and involved we are not on the same wavelength as the Spirit of truth and he is liable to give up in disgust.

(3) Certain. Preachers must speak with conviction. It is entirely unacceptable to parade our doubts! We are called upon to proclaim the truth about Jesus without apology, caveats or reservations. No Christian should make excuses for Jesus! The Holy Spirit will use confident preaching to convict men of sin, righteousness and judgment. He also reveals to convinced sinners a blessed Saviour.

(4) Fervent. Preaching should be warm. When we speak of Jesus and his dying love we must do so from full hearts. The Holy Spirit loves fervent preaching. At Pentecost he descended upon the disciples as tongues of fire. When George Whitfield preached with great winsomeness about Jesus to coalminers in Somerset the Holy Spirit so melted their hearts that tears washed the coal dust from their cheeks.

All the great evangelists preached with directness, clarity, certainty and fervour. So, too, did the poor, illiterate, vulgar converts in the East End of London who were recruited by William Booth to proclaim the gospel. As one of them said: "I know Jesus had the power to turn water into wine because in my home he has turned beer into furniture."

God still ensures that many are saved by the simple but sincere proclamation of the gospel so that, to use Paul's words, your faith might not rest on man's wisdom, but on God's power. v5.

(C) Paul describes the wisdom of the mature Christian.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. v6.

It is evident from other parts of the New Testament that spiritual maturity depends upon several factors:

    (1) Persevering when faith is tested and prayer. James1v2to5.
    (2) Enduring hardship as discipline. Heb12v4to13.
    (3) Applying Christ's teaching. Col1v10 onwards.

In the passage under consideration Paul stressed the role of the Holy Spirit because the Corinthian Christians were mistakenly confusing worldly wisdom with spiritual enlightenment. He finds it necessary to emphasise the importance of 4 aspects of the Holy Spirit's work:

(a) Bringing understanding. 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. v12.
When a person becomes a Christian they are made aware very quickly of what God has done for them. They see God's wondrous grace in making provision in Christ for reconciliation and fellowship. A dramatic change in attitude occurs whenever a person is converted. I have witnessed this in the small church I attend. Men and women who have been pretty much indifferent to God's word develop a great interest in spiritual truth. This change is caused by God's Spirit.

(b) Help with communicating spiritual truths in appropriate language. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught us by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. v13.

Who can doubt that that the Holy Spirit gave Paul the words to write about the resurrection from the dead in chapter 15. The epistles of Paul are striking confirmation of the Spirit's role in assisting a Christian teacher to communicate spiritual truth.

When we witness for Jesus the Spirit gives us the right words to use. It is far better to rely on him than a Bible College education! The greatest teacher of them all had no academic qualifications!!

(c) Producing spiritual discernment and judgment. 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. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things .... . v14and15.
Paul exhibits the keenest Spirit assisted discernment in his letters to the Corinthians. For example, many folk are greatly impressed by eloquence, knowledge, faith, philanthropy and sincerity; but Paul wrote that all of these things without love are nothing. See 1Cor13.

A Spirit led Christian will be able to discern between right and wrong, what is God's will and what is not, what is seemly and what is unseemly and when to rebuke and when to show mercy. I have certainly been guided by the Spirit in school and church life.

(d) Getting us to think like Jesus. But we have the mind of Christ. v16.
One thing unites all the New Testament writers - they have the mind of Christ. Peter, Paul, James, John and Luke are all on the same wavelength as Jesus.

We see how Paul was in sympathy with his Master in the early chapters of 1Cor when he is so concerned for the unity of the church. Christian unity was a priority with Jesus and so it was a priority with Paul.

I am always pleased to see my cousin Andrew. When we talk together it is just as if I was chatting with my uncle Ted, Andrew's father. Andrew so loved and admired his dad that you could say they were of one mind. If we love and admire Jesus and are indwelt by his Spirit then we will have the mind of Christ. We will think like him, speak like him and act like him.

Paul is teaching the Corinthians very firmly that in the final analysis such enlightenment as they possess has nothing to do with worldly wisdom but everything to do with the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This remains a difficult lesson for some Christians to accept. It leaves very little room for pride.

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