1 Corinthians 2:1-2 “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Not every good missionary is an outstanding public speaker. Paul realized it wasn’t his mastery of rhetoric and grammar and vocabulary, it wasn’t his ability to move a crowd to tears or laughter, that changed hearts. In Paul’s day expert public speakers were highly thought of, especially in Greece and Rome. For many, they were one of the chief sources of entertainment. There was no television, of course, and even a book could cost as much as a house. A gifted speaker could draw an impressive audience and wield a powerful influence over his listeners, more so than today. Paul may have worked hard at it, but he wasn’t counting on superior speaking gifts to win the Corinthians to faith.
We want our message to be interesting and our worship to engage the people. But that is as much as entertainment and winning souls have to do each other. There are those who say we live in an entertainment age, and we need to put on a good show for those who walk through our doors. We certainly want to hold the attention of those who attend our churches, but the message can also disappear under the dazzle of clowns, balloons, and juggling acts. What works for people is a message that offers the straight stuff, not our ability to spiff it up for them.
Paul mentions another thing that appealed to the Greek residents of Corinth: wisdom. The Greeks were thinkers. They thought about the meaning of life and the best way to live. They thought about the world in which they lived. They loved thinking so much that they actually looked down on those who worked hard for a living. They favored people who did nothing but sit around and think and talk.
Paul knew that in Jesus Christ he had much more to offer than all the solutions the thinkers of his day invented. The Corinthians had the Epicurean philosophers, whose motto was “eat, drink, and be merry.” So do we. This wisdom tells people that if you have problems, you can escape them in leisure, or perhaps a bottle of booze, a pipe, or syringe. These solve nothing, make problems worse, and drive practitioners further away from God and salvation.
Then there were the Stoics. Stoics were realists who believed people should accept the way things are and take responsibility for themselves. They resemble those who think science, education, or self-help books and counseling will solve all our problems. Those may be helpful. They aren’t bad. But they are not the ultimate solution.
You see, we know the difference between good and bad, right and wrong. The problem is that we still make the wrong choices anyway. The problem is sin. It doesn’t just make our lives miserable, it destroys them eternally. Paul’s solution was superior to “superior” worldly wisdom.
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Jesus was the answer. Knowing him is everything people need to experience God’s power in their lives. Paul’s own appearance and life were in many ways rather ordinary. He admits, “I came to you in weakness and fear, with much trembling.” When he came to Corinth he was at a low point in his ministry. He had been chased out of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. They laughed him out of Athens. He suffered health problems that made him weak. Knowing Jesus Christ and him crucified didn’t REMOVE all the problems in Paul’s life.
Nor will it for us. It doesn’t mean our problems suddenly vanish. In some ways our problems may multiply. Remember Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount? “Blessed are you when men insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”
But knowing Jesus equips us to deal with the one great problem: our sin. You and I haven’t stopped sinning. But when we do, we have someone to whom we can go with them. When we confess them to Jesus, he carries them to the cross and disposes them there. We experience God’s power as he replaces sin and guilt with peace and joy. Knowing Jesus Christ and him crucified means knowing he has taken my place, paid for my sin with his blood, reconciled me to God, and carried me to the very doors of heaven.
Jesus Christ and him crucified is power—not the kind that gives me control over other people or all the circumstances in my life; the kind that changes my heart and my eternity. It’s all we really need to know.