I Know Nothing

1 Corinthians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  43:19
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While sharing the gospel, we should embrace our feelings of inadequacy and fear, depending on the Holy Spirit's power, instead of human wisdom or persuasion.

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Paul has been taking a break from his discussion on unity to talk about the Gospel. He is doing this because our unity is based on the Gospel. If we believe that our unity is based on anything else than the Gospel, we will not be unified.
If we do not have a true understanding of the Gospel, we will not be unified.
The Corinthians, being caught up in their culture, started to believe that the Gospel was based in human wisdom and power, but as Paul said, it is not. It is based on the wisdom and power of God.
They had been caught up in what humanity could offer: wisdom, strength, and wealth, forgetting to pursue what only God can offer.
So, knowing that the Gospel is not based in human wisdom or power but in the wisdom and power of God who provides all the things we discussed last week, how do we relate the Gospel?
Sometimes, because of our own sin, or because of the culture in which we live, we are tempted to share the Gospel in a way that people will like us, or in a way that they will look up to us. A pastor has this temptation all the time, because he likes it when people say that they like listening to him.
But, when we share the Gospel or the truths of the Bible, we should share it in a way that people will follow God, not us. This is important because we are all sinners. We will all do things that betray someone’s trust or hurt someone else.
We can talk about Ravi Zacharias or Mark Driscoll. We could mention Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips, Jimmy Swaggart, and others. All these people who inspired a following, instead of calling people to follow Christ. As such, when they sinned, people stopped following God, churches shut, ministries folded.
Paul wanted people to follow Christ, so here he reflects on his preaching.
Read 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
1 Corinthians 2:1–5 NIV
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human 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. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 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 human wisdom, but on God’s power.
Paul uses phrases that describe a spirit of dependence and subjection to God’s authority. In addition, we know that his manner of preaching was unimpressive.
Let’s dive in. He talks about an emotion behind his preaching.

1A. His Emotion

Paul was not a bold preacher. He constantly asked people to pray for his boldness.
Consider Ephesians 6:19-20
Ephesians 6:19–20 NIV
Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
His timidity was based on human fear, but it was also based on a spirit of dependence on God instead of dependence on himself. He uses three terms to describe his emotion of weakness.

1B. Inadequacy

He says that he came in weakness.
1 Corinthians 2:3 NIV
I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.
This term does not speak of physical weakness, but a feeling of inadequacy or timidity. He realized that he was not enough to adequately explain the Gospel to the Corinthians.
Any of us could sympathize with him. The number one reason that people do not share the Gospel is that they are afraid. That fear comes from a feeling of inadequacy, that they are not enough.
Many churches have training session on how to share the Gospel. We’ve had them hear. Organizations have been built all around the concept of training people so that they will feel adequate to share the Gospel.
However, we are never adequate. Our whole faith is based on the concept that we are not adequate.
Jesus died for us when we were still sinners.
Romans 5:8 NIV
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Ephesians 2:8–9 NIV
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
We cannot earn our salvation. We cannot even muster up enough faith to grasp our way to God. It is all based on God’s gracious gift.
Our sanctification, our process of becoming more and more like Jesus, is not based upon our own works either.
Peter says:
1 Peter 1:1–2 NIV
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
As we admit our inadequacy, God’s glory and his strength are able to shine through us. As Paul learned:
2 Corinthians 12:8–10 NIV
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
So, anyone who says that they feel inadequate to share the Gospel: you are uniquely qualified to do it, because you will depend on God.

2B. Fear

Paul continues to talk about his emotion of weakness and mentions that he came with great fear.
There are many things he could be afraid of. He definitely experienced persecutions. He details them in his next letter to the Corinthians
2 Corinthians 11:23–27 NIV
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
He knew persecution. We know that he was afraid about something during his ministry to the Corinthians.
Acts 18:9–11 NIV
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
The amazing thing for us is that Paul never said that his fear was a bad thing. His fear never kept him from sharing the Gospel: It merely caused him to depend on the God who takes away fear, who gives strength through the fear.
Paul himself tells Timothy, perhaps speaking from his own experience:
2 Timothy 1:7–8 NIV
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.
It is for us to admit our fear, as well as our inadequacy, and depend on God to work through, because the work is his to do, not ours.

3B. Trembling

The third term Paul mentions is trembling. This is tied to fear a lot. In fact, ever time it is used, it is used with fear: fear and trembling. Fear is the inward emotion. Trembling is the outward sign.
This is what is used of the ladies when they left the tomb:
Mark 16:8 NIV
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
When I play the piano and sign, I have fear and trembling. My fingers are literally shaking when I play the piano during special music.
So, can you imagine Paul standing in Corinth, at the synagogues and in people’s houses, talking and his voice sometimes trembling while he spoke. From time to time, he might have gained confidence, his voice growing and strengthening.
We don’t imagine Paul this way. But he said that he was, because he was afraid.
His fear, his inadequacy, might have stemmed from experiences in Athens, which he had just come from. We don’t know.
All we know was that he was afraid. He felt inadequate. And he showed it.
Through it, he was grateful, because by his weakness of emotion, God would shine through. People would follow the Messiah rather than the messenger.

2A. His Delivery

Not only did Paul discuss his emotion behind his preaching, but he discusses his delivery.
During this time, many orators were traveling around the Roman empire. They were called Sophists. They tried to use oratorical tricks to drum up emotions or wow people’s minds, in order to be paid. They made money off of their speaking.
They would travel into town and use these tricks in order to gain followers.
As one commentator wrote:
The First Epistle to the Corinthians 3. The Issue Demonstrated in Paul’s Own Experience of Evangelism in Corinth (2:1–5)

His aim here is to expose the true basis and nature of Christian proclamation in contrast to the “self-presentation” of the visiting sophist. Christian proclamation does not allow for high-sounding rhetoric or a display of cleverness which could impede the gospel by putting first what pleases the audience and the personal “style” of the speaker. The apostle does not arrive with displays of pomp and applause

He specifically mentions two delivery methods that he did not trust in.

1B. Not trusting in persuasion

He did not trust in persuasion.
1 Corinthians 2:4 NIV
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,
Persuasion is about using our own human wisdom to force someone to come to a specific belief system. Politicians use persuasion. We are in election season. We have two Republicans on the primary ticket, for those of you who are Republican. Those candidates are going around to use persuasion so that you will follow them.
Doctors use persuasion sometimes to get patients to take a specific treatment.
Now, I must go on record to say that Paul used rhetoric. This letter is full of rhetoric. He used word plays and specific sentence structure. But none of it was designed to draw someone’s attention to himself. He wanted to draw attention to God, and he sure wasn’t doing to line his own pockets.
Do you remember the story of the man sitting in the window? Eutychus was sitting in a window while Paul was talking. Actually, the Bible describes it this way:
Acts 20:7–9 NIV
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.
Paul was talking on and on. Why? He was passionate about what he said, but he was not concerned with how it sounded or came across. He wanted people to know God, not to be impressed by his flashy speech.
If we turned on a television and turned to a Christian channel, we would probably see many preachers who were dependent more on flashy persuasion rather than the a simple telling of the Word of God. Unfortunately, many people will start trusting in that flashy speaker rather than the God who will save.
Paul refers to this in his letter to Timothy:
2 Timothy 4:3 NIV
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
Paul did not trust in persuasion, though he used a form of it. He trusted in the God behind the Bible.

2B. Not trusting in wisdom

He also did not trust in wisdom.
Again, remember the Sophists, they were trying to go around and impress people with what they knew. They were the ultimate one-upper. Look how I can reason! Look at what facts I know! Look at how I can impress everyone.
Paul wasn’t concerned with that. Remember he just spent several verses describing the error of human wisdom:
1 Corinthians 1:20–25 NIV
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
He was not here to prove the truths of God to people. He wasn’t there to prove Creation, or the inspiration of Scripture, or the literal life, death, and resurrection of Christ. He wasn’t there to be an apologist. Though again, he did use wisdom. He did have wise words.
Luke is going to describe his preaching this way in Ephesus:
Acts 19:8 NIV
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.
Previously, when Paul was in Athens, Luke spoke of him reasoning and debating, which is based on a form of wisdom and persuasion. But, Paul’s focus was not on the form or the delivery of his message. His focus was on Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:1–2 NIV
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human 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.
He wanted people to know Christ. That is all. Nothing was going to stop the centrality of the message of the cross. Yes, he spoke of the creation, and the inspiration of Scripture, the life, death and resurrection Christ, but everything dove-tailed into the message of the cross. Nothing was going to detract from that message.
As humans, we are tempted to want to have a following, as I have said. We are tempted to want to grow this church. So, we will do things to get people into the doors and stay here. I am flooded by materials from various organizations with titles like: 9 things to do so that a visitor will come back.
This is all human wisdom. We are not here to grow a brand. We are not here to pack people into the pews. We are here to grow the body of Christ. If people come to faith through our ministry and go somewhere else, I will feel bummed for a couple days, but then I will be okay. Because, I am not here to make people like me or like our church. We are all hear so that people will be enamored by Christ.
So, if you could, as a midway application: repeat after me. “It’s not me. It’s him.”
That is why we follow the example of Paul, having an emotion of weakness behind our delivery and an abhorrence to trusting in human persuasion and human wisdom in our delivery, so that people can know Christ and him crucified.

3A. His Dependence

Which brings us to Paul’s third subject. He spoke of his emotion behind his preaching. He explained his delivery. Now he speaks of his dependence.

1B. Depending in Spirit

First he was dependent on the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:4 NIV
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,
The NIV combines several words into the phrase “the Spirit’s power.” The NASB and the KJV similarly say this:
1 Corinthians 2:4 NASB95
and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
I don’t blame the NIV for combining those into a single phrase. I believe that they adequately explain what Paul is saying. However, for the sake of this sermon, I want to flesh out what he means by Spirit and power. Through that, we will end up where the NIV is.
The Corinthians were caught up with a misunderstanding of the Spirit and the Spirit’s role in their life. They exulted specific spiritual gifts, which we mentioned at the beginning of this sermon series, and which we will explore more fully when we finally get to 1 Corinthians 12-14.
For the Corinthians, “Spirit” meant being able to speak in tongues or having arrived at an “excellence of wisdom.” Paul mentions this in 1 Cor 4 10
1 Corinthians 4:10 NIV
We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!
They thought that the Spirit meant being raised above merely earthly existence. It had nothing to do with actually living by the Spirit according to a Christian ethic.
Paul believed that the Spirit included all this, as long as it was about edification, and not the exultation of people. He believed that the emphasis lay in the Spirit’s power to transform lives. He believed that the Spirit gave one wisdom to understand and speak the things of God.
1 Corinthians 2:11–13 NIV
For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.
He believed that the Spirit gave the strength to minister in weakness
1 Corinthians 4:11–13 NIV
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
In other words, the Holy Spirit enables us to do what we are called to do. He enables us to perform the good works that God has prepared us for. Instead of trusting in our own wisdom or persuasion, instead of trying to get ourselves to a place of confidence and lack of fear, instead of changing our message and our presentation to a thing that the culture will accept, we are called to rely on the Spirit to do what we cannot do.
Jesus said it this way, in the context of persecution:
Luke 12:11–12 NIV
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
We are called to depend on the Holy Spirit, instead of ourselves. Why? Because ultimately, we can do nothing by ourselves. We need God to work through us. As he does, he is glorified and we see the result of his work. Which bring us to the next thing Paul depended on.

2B. Depending in Power

Not only did Paul depend on the Spirit, but he depended on Power.
This was not the power of the sign gifts of the Spirit, though we do know that God did heal people through Paul’s ministry, along with other signs. Paul was depended on a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
1 Corinthians 2:4 NIV
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,
How does the Spirit ultimately show itself? Through changed lives.
Paul is going to describe the Corinthians in chapter 6
1 Corinthians 6:7–11 NIV
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
When the Holy Spirit changes people’s lives, others notice.
An extreme example of this is the ministry of the Saints and the Elliots. They were part of a missionary group to reach the Waodani people in Ecuador, also known as the Auca’s. Five men of that group were killed including Nate Saint and Jim Elliot by the tribesmen. Nate’s sister and Jim’s wife went back to that tribe to show Christ. And the tribe overwhelmingly converted. They expected retaliation, but the women were able to show love and peace because of the change Jesus made in their lives.
As each tribesperson accepted Christ, they too showed change, leaving behind their revengeful ways and immorality. As each change happened, more people accepted Christ.
There is another story about ministry to cannibals:
In the 1840s, John Geddie left the pastorate of a church in Canada to take his wife and two small children to the South Sea Islands to begin a mission work there. After a voyage of more than 20,000 miles, they arrived in the New Hebrides Islands at Aneityum. The island chain was filled with cannibals, and more than twenty crew members of a British ship had been killed and eaten just months before the Geddies arrived on the mission field.
They faced the difficulty of learning a language that had no written form and the constant threat of being killed. Slowly at first, a few converts came, and then soon many more received the Gospel. Geddie continued his ministry faithfully, including translating the entire Bible into the native language and planting twenty-five churches. For many of those years, Geddie labored with little help and little word from home, but God was faithful to His servant. In the pulpit of the church Geddie pastored for so many years stands a plaque in his honor which says: “When he landed in 1848, there were no Christians here, and when he left in 1872 there were no heathen.”
Life change is proof of the work of the Spirit. Life change is the power that Paul depended on.
When I teach evangelism to teens and college students, I always tell them to share their testimony, because that is the work of God in their life. That is the best tool, because it shows people God’s work rather than our own understanding and persuasion.

4A. Result is in faith in God

When we depend on the Holy Spirit and power, not on human persuasion or human wisdom, accepting our inadequacy and fear, guess what: the result is faith in God instead of in man.
As Paul says:
1 Corinthians 2:4–5 NIV
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 human wisdom, but on God’s power.
Unfortunately, many churches forget this. They follow a man. I know several churches, including this one, who went through church splits after a pastor retired or left, because they were caught up in following a man, instead of Christ.
Our goal as Calvary Bible Church should be to present the Gospel and the work of God as completely dependent on God’s power, not in a human’s wisdom or power, not in one person’s teaching or ministry. We should follow the example of Paul and resolve to know nothing except Christ and him crucified.
We are all sinners. Our thinking and our reasoning is broken. Our lives are not perfect. We should continually, in humility, be pointing everyone around us to the God who has made all things new. To the God who is perfect, who does all things well. The God whose foolishness and weakness is more powerful and wise than anything humanity can offer.
Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 4:7–12 NIV
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Last month, I asked you to write a name down somewhere you will see it, a name of someone whom you will invite to our Easter services. I challenged you to pray for this person everyday. Now, I challenge you to start praying about how you can depend on God to work through your inadequacy and fear, teaching you to rely on the demonstration of the Spirit’s power in your life and in others, to bring about a conversation with this person about Jesus and about coming to church.
In addition, ask God if there is something which you are doing which is removing Christ and him crucified as the central theme of your life. If there is, have the humility to own it and change.
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