An Outline of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Part 4)

M.A. Rudge

Human wisdom and the Gospel (1:18-2:5).

Wisdom among them that are Perfect (2:6-3:4)

The important line of development in these sections of the epistle (1:18-2:5 and 2:6-3:4), draws a contrast between human wisdom with its inability to comprehend Divine revelation and the message of the cross, "to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved...the power of God" (1:18). The preaching of the cross does not appeal to human intellect. It is not human wisdom. It is foolishness to the natural mind but it is salvation. Paul does not use the obvious antithesis to foolishness, which would be but unto us which are saved it is the wisdom of God. Instead, he says, "but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." A person requires more than enlightenment of the intellect in order to be saved. The emphasis is upon the power of God in using a message that is not only unattractive and lacking in human appeal but foolishness to the natural mind and deeply resented by the human heart. The preaching of the cross brings to an end all that man is in the flesh (1:29). It requires a message that reaches the heart and conscience and a demonstration of the power of God (2:4,5), to deliver "them that perish." The power of God is not only demonstrated in saving those to whom the message of the cross is naturally unattractive but also in the life which follows, "to us that are [being] saved it is the power of God" (1:18). The emphasis upon the power of God is continued in the word order, "unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1:24).

Paul now appeals to the word of God (Isa. 29:14), to confirm what he is saying. Cp. 1:31; 2:9; 3:20, etc. He shows that God’s method of dealing with men in the gospel is the same in principle as His dealings with men in the past but reaches its fullest expression at the cross and his appeal to the passage in Isaiah is extremely relevant. Judah was in a critical situation as they faced invasion from the north. They had followed the counsel of their " wise men who were incapable of bringing a message of deliverance. Secret plans had been made to form an alliance with Egypt, instead of acknowledging the hopelessness of their position apart from Divine intervention and turning to God for wisdom and deliverance. Isaiah prophesies that it will all come to nothing and that judgment must inevitably follow. First of all, they would have to come to an end of themselves and turn away from looking to any source but the Lord. The first step towards deliverance is to recognize the truth of the prophet’s message and afterwards, God "will proceed to do a wonderful work among this people." (Isa 29:14; 1 Cor 1:19). Deliverance would be a work wrought by God and not by human wisdom.

It is of the utmost importance that all those who engage in the work of the gospel are aware of and appreciate the principles upon which God works and that they act in keeping with them. It will keep us dependent upon God to produce results and save us from human wisdom, carnal methods and presentation that appeals to man in the flesh. Later, in his practical application of this section, the apostle will draw attention to his own consistency on this point and his own example (2:1-5).

In verse 26-29, Paul draws attention to the historical con firmation of what he has written in 1:18-25. The failure of human wisdom to apprehend Divine revelation, is further demonstrated in God’s choice of those classes in society where the gospel was most effective. F. Godet writes, "What God makes of human wisdom has been clearly manifested by the character of folly which He has stamped on the salvation offered by Christ; it is equally so in the choice God makes of those in whom this salvation is realized by faith in the preaching of it. Such is the idea of verses 26-3 1. The apostle shows us the most honored classes of society remaining outside the Church, while God raises up from the depths of Gentile society a new people of saved and glorified ones who hold everything from Him. The fact was not accidental; it belonged to the Divine plan. God did not wish that human wisdom should mix its alloy with His: the latter was to carry off victory alone."

In chapter 1, Paul has been teaching that human wisdom has been utterly destroyed, rejected, set aside, made to appear foolish, put to shame and reduced to powerlessness, in God’s dealings with men in the gospel. This shows the need to be aware of the dangers arising from the influence of the natural mind in the things of God. In chapter 2, Paul is speaking as an evangelist, determined that his message and his methods would be consistent with the character of the gospel. As he came to Corinth, he was not without fear that he might simply appeal to the intellect or the emotions. He was conscious that it was possible to accomplish only superficial results by these means and he had felt his weakness but preached in simple dependence upon the Spirit of God.

The words "and I" (vv. 1, 3), show that the man and his message were consistent. He uses the personal pronoun "I" on four occasions and twice emphatically. The apostle shows that his manner and the methods that he used at Corinth were consistent with the character of the gospel and with the ways of God in His dealings with men. His preaching at Corinth was also designed to meet the specific need of the situation. He had determined as a matter of settled policy that his message of Christ and Him crucified would be presented in the greatest simplicity and without resorting to the skills of human oratory or philosophy. His presentation of the gospel made it clear that what was accomplished was the result of a demonstration of the power of the Spirit of God. This is of the greatest importance.

The whole passage weighs against the message and methods used in modern evangelism and the pressuring of individuals to make a profession of faith. In the parable of the Sower and the seed, some seed fell on "rocky" ground ("stony ground" AV; can be fruitful, rocky ground is not). The soil is shallow on the "rocky" ground, "not much earth," "no depth of earth" (Mark 4:5). The immediate result is encouraging but it is short-lived. There is plenty of top growth but no root formation, "because it had no root it withered away." This is comparable to where the emotions are stirred to a quick response but the effect is only superficial. The rocky under-strata needs to be broken up, if it is to receive the seed and retain moisture and achieve a more lasting result. This is the work of repentance.

Evangelism which is deliberately aimed at an emotional or intellectual appeal (where music, visual aids or other attractive features of a social gospel are used to create an atmosphere), will produce an emotional response. We recognize that God is sovereign and that He can use these means but that does not justify their use, neither does it offset the damaging results of the superficiality it frequently produces.

A further point is, that frequently, the circumstances in which a person is saved, have a significant bearing upon their subsequent spiritual development. If methods which have an emotional or intellectual appeal are used, they will frequently be required subsequently but they are unable to provide for spiritual growth and their use will effectively hinder it.

(To be continued)