The Use of God's Wisdom
Tim Temple

Introduction

There was a very real problem in the church at Corinth, and it is a problem in our day, and that was the problem of the use of clever wording to sway people about spiritual things. One of the problems that can arise in the church that arose in the church at Corinth, that can arise in the church in Abilene or anywhere else, is this problem of the use of eloquence, the use of clever speaking, as Paul refers to it, to sway people and sometimes to sway them away from the truth rather than toward it.

Paul is writing to the Corinthians about a whole series of problems that were keeping their church from being all that it could be and should be. The very first problem that he deals with, and he devotes a couple of chapters to it, is the problem of building the church around a man or around the wisdom of men. In the last part of chapter 1, as we studied last week, he pointed out that as we exalt human wisdom, all kinds of errors creep in.

Another thing that he touches on in that chapter, which really becomes the theme of chapter 2, is that human wisdom is not necessary in understanding the wisdom of God anyway. The question arises, since God has equipped all of us to understand His Word and to understand Him without the necessity of a brilliant intellect and all of those things that the Corinthians were exalting, how should we approach the task of preaching? If we can all understand the things of God, why do we need a preacher anyway? I want to be quick to tell you that there is a need for the preacher. The first part of this chapter really is addressed to pastors, or at least the subject affects most directly pastors and teachers. It affects you as you sit under the ministry of a teacher. What kind of a pastor should you seek when you move to another place? What should you expect from your pastor as you stay here?

In this chapter, Paul uses himself as an example of the way teaching and preaching should be handled. Chapter 2 falls into three parts. First of all, in verses 1-5, we have the power of divine wisdom. In verses 6-13, we have the presence of divine wisdom. Then in verses 14-16, we have the participants in divine wisdom.

The Power of Divine Wisdom

The power of divine wisdom in verse 1-5 is what we want to think about today. Open your Bible, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 2, verses 1-5. The first aspect of that wisdom to notice is the message concerning divine wisdom in verses 1 and 2:

I Corinthians 2

1And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
2For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Right here in the beginning of chapter 2, we have what my dad and others of his generation would call an “unhappy translation”. I always liked to hear him say that. It is an “unhappy translation”. I don't think that means that the words are unhappy; it makes us unhappy that it is an incomplete view of what Paul really intended to say. It is a poor translation. Actually a better one is in the New American Standard Bible, which here is closest to the Greek text. It says, “I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom when I came to you.” Paul isn't saying, as our King James text might imply, that he came with some kind of shoddy or uneducated speech. He is not saying, “I was deliberately shoddy in my approach,” and he is not saying that there was something wrong with his education or that there was anything wrong with good speech technique. What he is saying is, “When I came to you, I didn't come with an attitude of superiority; I didn't come lording it over you or talking down to you as I talked about the things of God.” Paul spoke on the level of the people. He did not come as some kind of exalted professor or someone whom you had to think very carefully about just to understand what he was saying.

Importance of Clear Communication

We are going to see, as we get into the book farther, that Paul dealt with some very technical information with the Corinthians. We know from the things that he covered in these letters that they were familiar with some pretty deep truths. Paul was their first teacher, but when he was originally teaching them those complicated, technical things when he was first with them, he had to get down on their level so that they could understand. He didn't try to impress them with some kind of theological jargon and let them be impressed with his great intellect and his great wisdom; he just spoke to them very clearly and in language they could understand.

I think a good example of this might be the way a good doctor does when we go to him with an illness, and he diagnoses an illness, and then he explains the illness to us. We have several doctors in this church, and I am sure that this is true of every one of them. When they explain an illness to us, they sit down and talk in terms that we can understand. They might use a few technical words here and there, but they explain it to us usually in laymen's terms. Sometimes when we hear the explanation, we wonder how it ever got the name that it had. The name is sometimes a lot more complicated than the illnesses, but good doctors can do that. They know how to communicate with us on our level. This is the same thing that Paul did. It didn't have anything to do with his intelligence or with their intelligence; it just had to do with the fact that the Word of God does not have to be technically and theologically complicated.

I remember the story of a man who had written a commentary or an explanation of the great work “Pilgrim's Progress”, an allegorical story of the Christian life. This author had come along years later and because Pilgrim's Progress is written in kind of archaic language, he had written an explanation of it, so he was visiting in the home of some people as he was passing through and noticed that on their coffee table, they had a copy of “Pilgrim's Progress” and they also had a copy of his explanation of it. He was very pleased with that, and he said, “Oh, I see you have a copy of my book.” They said, “Well, yes, we do. You know, we like it. The more we read ”Pilgrim's Progress“, the more we understand your explanation.” That's the way it is sometimes, isn't it? The commentaries and the comments about the Bible are very often much more complicated than the Bible itself. So Paul is saying, “I did not come to you with that kind of speech; I came to you with an explanation that you can understand.”

Declaring the Testimony of God

When we get to verse 6, we will see that Paul did have the ability to deal with intellectuals on their level, but even that was from God. If you will just skip down to verse 6 for a minute, he says:

I Corinthians 2

6Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

He was able to deal on their level when he had to, but his point is that as believers seeking to understand the Lord better, we don't need to deal with all those philosophical-type things. God has given His truth to us in ways that we can understand regardless of our level of education or our lack of it. In the last part of verse 1, he also characterizes his ministry in general. Notice the phrase in the last part of verse 1, chapter 2:

I Corinthians 2

1…you the testimony of God.

That phrase is a summary phrase about his ministry. “I came, declaring the testimony of God.” The reason that he didn't have to speak in great, intellectual wisdom was because of the nature of what he was declaring. What he was declaring was the testimony of God.

That might be more significant to us if we understand the Greek word from which this English word comes. It is the word marturion , which means “a message that can be verified by witnesses”. Really, the focus of that word is more upon the witness than it is upon the message. It is the word from which we get our English word “martyr”. What is a martyr? One who is willing to die for the message that he delivers. He gives a testimony about a certain fact and he sticks to that testimony even unto death. That is the word that Paul uses here. “I have a message to give you that I am convinced that is absolutely true, and it can be verified by witnesses–the message of Jesus Christ. I came to you with a message that could be verified by witnesses, and therefore I didn't need to use any kind of impressive language. I could prove what I was saying when I was with you.”

Importance of the Crucifixion

He elaborates a little further on that in verse 2:

I Corinthians 2

2For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Remember that Paul is saying that he didn't have to use philosophical arguments because of the nature of his message. That message is summarized in two terms: first, the term “testimony”, which we have just talked about; and second, in verse 2, he points out the phrase, “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” What was the testimony? What was that message that could be verified with witnesses? It was the message not just of Jesus Christ, but of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It was not just the life of Christ or His example or His miracles or His teachings. All those things are important, and they are all legitimate. A great many of the wise preachers of our day talk about Jesus Christ; they talk about His wisdom; they talk about His teaching. Paul said, “None of that really matters except in the light of His crucifixion.” All of those things that are true, that are legitimate to talk about, really only fit together when they lead to the matter of Christ's death for us. Those things are only important in the light of the fact that as a conclusion to all those things, He was crucified in our place.

The Greek structure of this word “crucified” is also helpful in seeing this point. The word “crucified” in verse 2 is written in the form of a perfect participle. In the Greek, a perfect participle is a part of speech that refers to something that took place in the past with results that continue in the future; so what would have been immediately clear to those original readers of his letter is that the crucifixion had effects down through the years. Christ had been crucified probably thirty or so years before this letter was written. There were still people alive who had seen it, but probably many of the ones who read this letter had not been there when Christ was crucified; they had not seen the crucifixion. It was already in the past, but Paul says that we can legitimately talk about it because it has an effect that continues in the future.

You know, that is true even now, two thousand years after the Cross of Christ. It is not just an historical fact; it is a fact that has ramifications that continue clear on down to this day in which we live. So we can talk about the crucifixion of Christ as though it happened yesterday. In terms of its effectiveness, in terms of its relevance to our lives, we can talk about it as though it happened this week end. It has important pertinence to our lives today.

As we pointed out last week, that was not all that Paul talked about. Paul touched on many subjects even in Corinthians. He talked about marriage; he talked about parenthood, childhood, spiritual gifts–just all kinds of things. Some have taken verse 2 to mean that all we ought to ever preach about is the Cross of Christ; but, as we talked about last week, all these other things that he did talk about fit in with the crucifixion and set the death of Christ in its proper setting.

The Message of Divine Wisdom

Let me just remind you that that ought to be our goal, too. Any spiritual thing that we talk about, especially as we are witnessing to other people, ought to always have as its goal to bring us to the point of talking about the fact that Jesus Christ has paid for our sins, the Cross of Christ. All these other things are only important to preach as they related to the Gospel.

Now, that is the message concerning God's wisdom, a message of salvation–a salvation that is all God's doing, a salvation in which God paid for our sins, a salvation in which God the Father poured out the punishment of our sins on His Son, and a salvation of a punishment that God is satisfied with, a salvation that makes possible our knowing God, being personally related to Him. That is God's wisdom; that is the message of divine wisdom, and it can all be attested by witnesses. Therefore, there is no need for human wisdom, for flowerly language and all those kinds of things.

Method of Communicating God's Message

The next thing that we see about the power of divine wisdom is the method that is based upon divine wisdom. We have talked about the message in verses 1 and 2, but notice the method that comes from that in verses 3 and 4. With a message of salvation like this, we don't need to depend upon methods and human wisdom. In verses 3 and 4, Paul elaborates:

I Corinthians 2

3And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
4And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

See, from a human standpoint, Paul readily recognized his own frailties. Notice the words he uses in verse 3–weakness, fear, much trembling. If we were to go back to the book of Acts and look at the history of this time of when Paul had first come to Corinth–Acts is the history book of the New Testament–it tells about the historical setting in which Paul first came to the Corinthians.

Later on, he wrote this letter which we are studying now back to them. If we look at that, we would realize that Paul had reason to be afraid. People were trying to kill him, and people were trying to do whatever they could to put a stop to his ministry. The people he was ministering to gave him a lot of headaches; they weren't responding as they should, so Paul had a lot of problems there in Corinth. But what he was saying was not that he was a poor speaker, but that in the face of all of the problems and the difficulties of his life at that time, he depended on God's power instead of on his own power. He had good speech, and he had good preaching. He was highly educated. But using himself as an example, he said, “Those are not the kind of things that communicate God's message.” There is nothing wrong with having a good education if God provides it. There is nothing wrong with being an eloquent speaker if God has given you that ability, but those are not the things that we depend upon. We make use of those things, and God makes use of those things, but what we depend on is the power of God's wisdom to communicate to the people to whom we minister.

Faith In the Power of God

He didn't have to depend on gimmicks or singing just one more verse of an invitation hymn or being sure that he had exactly the right number of clever illustrations or pleading and pounding the pulpit and those kinds of things. He simply spoke the truth of the Word of God, Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The power of God can take that kind of message and apply it to hearts and lives. That provides real motivation for preaching, and that is the subject of verse 5, motivation in using divine wisdom:

I Corinthians 2

5That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Why does Paul relate everything he teaches to our relationship to God through Jesus Christ? Why is that his approach in everything he does? He says, “That your faith should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” You see, Paul did not want his disciples to be dependent on him. This is an extremely important issue to understand. It is an issue that is being illuminated, I think, by a lot of things that have happened in the last year or two, but it is the issue of putting a man on a pedestal or building our spiritual life around the teaching of a particular man or putting a man in the place that only God ought to have. That was the focus of chapter 1; it is the focus that he continues to carry on in chapter 2 and on into chapter 3. The difference is that in chapter 2, he is using himself as an illustration. He said, “I came to you simply depending upon God's power, speaking as simply as I could, even in the midst of a lot of weakness and fear, and I did that deliberately so that your faith would not be in my wisdom. Your faith would be in the power of God.”

Danger of Accepting Human Wisdom

Have you ever thought of the danger of depending upon human wisdom? Have you ever stopped to think about the danger of accepting something as true just because the pastor says it is true? The problem with that is that it is possible for any of us to make decisions about spiritual things or come to conclusions about spiritual things just because the man says it is so. If we get very far into that kind of an attitude, we may even come to the place where we don't even try to verify what he says with the Word of God. Even though he may be sincerely mistaken, we can buy his mistakes without even checking it out. An illustration of the problem with that is that every cult that I know anything about is based on eloquent persuasion. Every group that has false teaching has very eloquent speakers and very persuasive writers. They are not dummies. They have credentials, from a secular standpoint, that are very impressive in many ways; but they are absolutely wrong in the conclusions that they draw. In fact, they draw men away from Jesus Christ rather than to Him.

Listen: Faith in a man or in the wisdom of men collectively is always at the mercy of a more persuasive argument. If you base your relationship with God on the eloquent presentation or the clever presentation or the interesting presentation of the pastor without checking it out with the Word of God, if you base it on a man's explanation rather than on the wisdom of God, then you are just at the mercy of the next more clever man who comes along. But when God has convicted a person, that decision is final and unshakable.

Teaching Verified By Scripture

This is why, at Abilene Bible Church, we major in the teaching of the Word of God. This is why our primary ministry is to take a book of the Bible and go through it verse by verse. Sometimes we take a subject as we are doing now, but even when we take that subject, we relate it to a verse by verse teaching of the Word of God. Why is that? So that whatever I say, you can tie in with the Scripture. We go verse by verse in an honest and genuine attempt to let you see that I am coming from the Word of God, and every pastor ought to do this. This does not mean that a pastor is not doing what he ought to do if he doesn't go verse by verse. There are some very effective teachers of the Word of God who use a topical teaching method, but I will tell you something: The ones who are accomplishing something for God, the ones who are being used by God are the ones who tie it in very clearly with the Scripture. When you listen to someone speaking about spiritual things, the first thing that you ought to always keep in mind is, where does the Bible say this? The question that ought to be uppermost in your mind is, is he showing me where the Bible says this? He doesn't need to go verse by verse although I think that is the best way to do it. I believe that that is what God has called me to do; it is the method that God has impressed upon me to use, but he doesn't have to go verse by verse. However, if you can't find what he is talking about in the Scripture, if he doesn't show you that what he is talking about is in the Scripture, then he is very probably depending upon man's wisdom, on human eloquence rather than on the power of God. It is only the power of God that changes lives; it is only the message of God that will make you what God wants you to be. It doesn't matter how eloquent that pastor is, if he is only talking about his ideas, no matter how sincerely you may inculcate his ideas, you are not going to reach God's goals for your life. They may be fine ideas; they may win friends and influence people. But the important thing is what God has to say. The important thing is the wisdom of God expressed in the message of God which is written in His Word. So that is the goal of every teacher of the Word of God.

The Test of Good Teaching

Incidentally, that teaching of the Word of God, that teaching of the wisdom of God, doesn't always make people feel good. A real problem that we have among Christians in general is this idea that you ought to go to church and be made to feel good. Let me tell you something: If I teach the Word of God and if I am faithful to what the Word of God says in my teaching, there are going to be Sundays when you leave here feeling worse than you did when you came in because the Word of God convicts of sin. The Word of God also redeems. The Word of God instructs what to do about that sin, but the Word of God can be very convicting.

If you come to church just to be entertained, you probably don't come to this church anyway; but if your goal in hearing a preacher is so that you will feel better when you leave, you may be disappointed. Sometimes that will be true because the Word of God has great blessing, but sometimes you will leave very convicted and very burdened about something that needs to be changed in your life. The test of a good sermon is not whether or not you feel better; the test of a good sermon is how clearly does it show us the wisdom of God. The Word of God has redeeming power and strengthening power and stabilizing power, and this is the message that believers need to hear and that teachers need to give–the wisdom of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Conclusion

It is the wonderful truth that the barrier between God and man has been broken down, and when we know Jesus Christ as Savior, we can communicate directly with God. We can have communication from Him. Not only that, but we can have His power in our lives to obey Him and to be used by Him. That is the wisdom of God. That is the message that Paul preached. That is the message that, by God's grace, we will attempt to preach as long as God enables us.


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