Study Notes for I Corinthians 2:1-10a (click here for Study Sheet)
Paul reminisces about his first experiences with the Corinthians. He admits he was afraid and weak. He knew the worldly sophistication the Corinthians enjoyed. He knew they boasted at least twelve temples to gods as diverse as Diana the fertility goddess and Asclepius the god of healing, and juxtaposed to these pagan altars was a Jewish synagogue. The Corinthians were not isolated country folk. Corinth was a bustling metropolis, the home of international trade and a center of Greek culture and wisdom.
He resolved that he would not try to appeal to the Corinthians on the intellectual level to which they typically responded. Instead, he went before them dedicating his mind and tongue to God. He submitted himself to the Holy Spirit and allowed the Spirit to speak through him.
Preaching by a "demonstration of the Spirit's power" was a risk. The Corinthians were used to having their intellects challenged, and if they found Paul's preaching simplistic, boring, or foolish, they would ignore him. Paul could have debated and presented arguments for Christ that were logically satisfying and intellectually stimulating. But he knew that if he did that, the Corinthians would respond to him only as to another great orator with a new idea. They would not be confronted with the crucified and risen Lord. They would not be humbled into realizing their brilliant, educated façade for sin. Their spirits would not be touched.
Paul completely avoided using the oratorical techniques of his day. He did not try to appeal to the Corinthians worldly-wisdom nor did he preach using persuasive tactics. He did not try to make the gospel fit into the Corinthian's world view. He simply preached Christ and his crucifixion. He knew the Corinthians would have no framework within which to understand the story of Jesus. Unlike the Jews who worshiped God and had the Old Covenant pointing to a Messiah, the Corinthians worshiped a pantheon of evil spirits and false gods. He knew the people would ridicule him and consider him a foolish, fanatical eccentric.
But he also knew that if he persuaded them of Christ's reality, their faith would rest not on the Lord but on Paul's arguments. Faith based on rationale will not stand in the reality of living. Faith based on clever arguments, proof texts, and interpretations is not faith; it is dogma.
Death and the Savior
Paul wanted the Corinthians to meet Jesus. He wanted them to experience God intersecting their lives with the same transforming power he experienced on the Damascus Road. He didn't want to convince their intellects. He wanted the Spirit to touch their souls.
So he preached "Jesus Christ and him crucified." Telling them about Jesus' birth and life wasn't enough. He had to talk about His death.
Since Adam and Eve ate the fruit, humanity has been the same. We don't want to think about death much less actually talk about it. Death is the unknown; it is like a black hole into which we're all being drawn, and there's no rescue in sight. We feel out of control because we all believe that somehow death is natural; it's maybe even what we deserve. It's so mysterious and final, however, that we deny its presence and scramble to create some immortal legacy before the blackness claims us.
Satan has made the problem of death confusing and deceptive. We think of death equaling physical demise-which certainly is a form of death! But death in an eternal sense is more than the demise of a body and mind. Eternal death is our souls being disconnected from God.
When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they died. Their bodies were still alive, but their spirits died. They lost their intimate connection with God. And they knew they had died. They knew that they were suddenly afraid and ashamed. They felt naked, and they knew God could see their sin and shame. They covered themselves to try to hide their shame from God. But their shame wasn't about their bodies; their shame was about their betrayal of their intimacy with God. They had betrayed their Lover, and they were ashamed for Him to see them. Their sin and shame became their legacy to the human race. All of us are born with souls severed from God.
Jesus the sinless became sin for us (Gal. 3:13) and died the death of separation from the Father. But because he was our Creator and life was in him, he rose from the dead, destroying forever the power of death to separate us eternally from God. Paul preached "Jesus Christ and him crucified" because without the death of Jesus, we have no life. God is Love-yes. But preaching the love of God without the death of Jesus is only part of the truth-it is heresy.
Many theologians argue that we are saved because God is Love. His character is loving and forgiving; it is His nature to forgive, even where it's undeserved. The death of Jesus, some say, was not the pivotal point in our salvation. It was incidental-a tragedy God allowed in order to emphasize our depravity. Our salvation, they say, would have happened with or without Jesus' death. But Jesus' death was essential. Love created the plan of salvation. But Love also gave itself to die.
Author and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck says that truth is always a paradox, and to teach half of the paradox is to teach heresy. The paradox of salvation is that it requires death in order to grant life. To teach that Jesus didn't have to die in order for us to experience salvation from our sins is heresy.
Paul knew that the dualistic Corinthians would have no respect for a dead Savior. But he also knew that they had to accept Jesus' death as central to the mystery and gift of life.
Furthermore, without experiencing the devastating reality of Jesus' torture and death, the Corinthians would have no need to face their own sin. If salvation were clean and bloodless, sin would seem less serious. If salvation did not require death, then the wages of sin would not truly be death.
Paul concludes this passage by saying he has a "message of wisdom". It's the message of God's secret wisdom that had "been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." Paul says in other epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, I Timothy) that the hidden wisdom is that the Gentiles would be converted and would share the glory of salvation. The hidden wisdom is the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. (Matt.: 13:11-12)
God hid this wisdom until Jesus came. Before that, the prophets foretold the coming Messiah and the Messianic age. The Old Covenant foretold the Messiah in symbols. Israel was commissioned to live for God, to declare God's glory to the nations. But all of these were a shadow of the reality; all were pointing to Jesus.
The reality of the kingdom of heaven is experienced only when we know Jesus. And to know and accept Him, we must accept his death. Only then the Holy Spirit gives life to our dead souls. We become one with God, and our souls touch eternity. When we know Jesus, spiritual truth becomes real. The physically intangible truths of God become real, not just theories or abstractions.
God calls us to be strong and courageous. He calls us to declare the truth of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. He calls us to embrace Jesus' death and to accept the cleansing of that sacrifice. He calls us to be responsive to the Holy Spirit-the seal of our belief in Christ.
He calls us to humble ourselves before Him and to offer our knowledge and intellectualism to Him.
He asks us to declare his love and his death. He calls us to risk being foolish for his wisdom.
He calls us to embrace His truth and to be one with Him.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised April 23, 2000.