The Power of the Cross
In the previous lesson we looked at how the Apostle Paul responded to those who were causing division in the church at Corinth. It seems that there were some who were cultivating a following by debating other teachers on various points of doctrine. They measured their success by the size of their audience and the eloquence of their preaching. In addition to this, they tried to bolster their reputations by aligning themselves with the Apostles or other great teachers, even Jesus Himself.
This, of course, was causing the church to break into camps, and shifting the focus of the church away from God and onto their preferred teachers, and this led to pride and division.
In chapter 2:1-5, Paul compares himself and his teaching to those men, and reveals the true source of power in the church, the cross of Jesus Christ.
Vs. 1 – And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.
Paul still refers to them as brethren, even though their activities are sinful, immature and discouraging. He continues to extend the hand of fellowship, which is what contributes to unity and peace.
In comparing his "style" with theirs in preaching and teaching, he acknowledges that he is not a trained speaker, orator or philosopher as they were. This is not false modesty or irony; he is not saying this "tongue in cheek" to be sarcastic. Paul acknowledged that others did not find his public speaking ability very impressive (II Corinthians 10:10).
And so, by self-admittance, in the present competition between the various teachers based on style and appeal, he admits that he would not do well.
Vs. 2 – For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
In this verse, he also acknowledges that his ability or lack of it is not the point anyway; his original intent was to bring them the gospel of Jesus Christ, pure and simple.
The good news that Jesus, the Son of God, came in the form of a man, and lived among men for a time teaching, healing and doing miracles. How Jesus died in order to pay for the moral debt caused by the sins of all men. The good news that on the third day after His death, He was resurrected through the power of the Holy Spirit in order to prove that He was God, and that sin would now be forgiven and eternal life would now be offered through faith in Him. Paul said that his objective was not to impress anyone with his style; his objective was to bring to them this simple message of the gospel.
Vs. 3 – I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.
He reminds them of the original circumstances of his preaching to them.
- He had just been ridiculed in Athens.
- He was near the end of a grueling mission trip.
- He was in an unfriendly pagan city with no church, only a few Christians and a tremendous job to do.
Unlike the Corinthian teachers who had a ready-made audience, Paul was constantly disputing with the Jews at the beginning of his ministry in Corinth.
Vs. 4 – And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
Paul now makes the true comparison between his preaching and theirs, based on the criteria that really counted. He mentions the attributes of their preaching:
- Persuasiveness – logic, argument, style, debate, eloquence.
- Wisdom – refers to human intelligence, strategy, knowledge, training.
Then he compares this with the main elements of his preaching:
- Spirit – his message was a message from the Spirit of God, not some clever new philosophy or argument designed by man.
- Power – the power of God also accompanied his message. They simply had to look at the miraculous gifts they now possessed to confirm that the power of God was at work among them.
Each of their preaching styles had certain elements, but Paul demonstrates that his preaching came from God and this fact was confirmed by the power of God. He doesn't state it, but the obvious conclusion is that his preaching (although not as eloquent) was much more dynamic and important, and much more powerful in its results.
Vs. 5 – so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
Now, just in case they might think that he is playing the same game that they are, he quickly reminds them why his preaching is so much more effective than theirs.
The object of the preaching is faith in God, and through Paul's preaching men believed in God because of what God did, not what Paul did. Paul understood that the power of God was not demonstrated by the tongues of men but rather by the cross of Christ. His preaching was superior because it revealed the power of the cross of Jesus Christ, which among other things had the power to do three things.
The preaching of the cross had the power to destroy Satan and death.
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
- Hebrews 2:14-15
Through His death and resurrection, Jesus removed from Satan the ability to lead men into sin without hope of forgiveness, thus leading to death.
Before the cross there was no real way to pay for sin, so whomever Satan seduced into sin was doomed to be condemned and suffer eternally.
With the cross of Jesus, God pays the debt for sin so that even if men continue to sin there is now a way to cleanse them and avoid eternal damnation.
Satan doesn't lose his ability to deceive and seduce, but he no longer can do eternal damage to our souls. He is thus defeated, and so is death.
There is an "antidote" to the deadly infection of sin – the cross of Christ.
The Preaching of the cross has the power to create hope.
In Colossians 1:5 Paul talks about the "..hope which is laid up in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel."
Before the cross of Jesus, people could only speculate about life after death. Those who had some spiritual insight understood that there was some relationship with the way that a person acted here on earth and what would happen later. In pagan religions people would try all manner of sacrifice (even sacrificing their own children) in an attempt to appease the gods. Others would build elaborate burial places in preparation to enter another world that they thought was much like this one.
The cross, however, provides real hope for man's guilty conscience before God, as well as a demonstration of God's willingness to resurrect man from the grave. Unlike the promises of men that are not always kept under the best of circumstances, the preaching of the cross produces hope because God never fails in carrying out His promises.
The preaching of the cross has the power to draw all men to God.
And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.
Jesus said this to his apostles to indicate the manner that He would die: crucifixion. I am impressed by the word "all" in this verse because it says that everyone will or can be drawn by the cross of Jesus. I don't think Jesus meant that all people would be fascinated by crucifixion as a manner of dying. I think Jesus meant that what He was doing was on behalf of all people since all people needed it, and all people would recognize their universal need for forgiveness and His way of offering it to them.
Throughout history missionaries have not had problems with different cultures and languages responding to the cross so long as they can explain it in their own language; the heart is always drawn to the cross once the head understands the message.
Paul reminds the Corinthians that the power of salvation is the gospel, not the gospel preachers; and the power of the gospel is the power of the cross. The cross has the power:
- To destroy Satan and death because it provides an antidote to the poison of sin that Satan seduces us into, causing our spiritual death. We're guilty of sin but the cross provides the forgiveness and healing we need.
- To create hope in one's heart by demonstrating God's power. I can have a secure expectation that all my sins are forgiven, and I will be resurrected to eternal life because of the power I see operating in Jesus' death and resurrection. If God can do that for Jesus, He can surely do this for me.
- To draw everyone to God. Sin is universal and affects everyone the same way (death) regardless of time or culture. The cross is also universal because everyone can understand the meaning of it for their own lives. Forgiveness, reconciliation, life after death – these are all universal experiences that are beyond culture or time (i.e. the parable of the prodigal son is as clearly understood today in our internet world as it was in first century Israel).
One of the points that we need to take away from this lesson is that the power is in the gospel message – not in the messenger. You sharing your faith, your story of conversion, the details of the gospel over lunch with a friend, is as powerful as the minister preaching a prepared sermon from the pulpit. The reason for this is that the power to change hearts from disbelief to belief and the power to draw men closer to God resides in the message – not the messenger.
The only way to reach the lost is to find ways to repeat the message to as many people and as many times as possible. This is why we say that the goal of our BibleTalk.tv ministry is to preach the gospel to the world every day without fail until Jesus returns.