Paul and Wisdom: Part 3 of 5 (series: Lessons on 1 Co.)
by John Lowe
save Christ, and him crucified.
The apostle not only had a spiritual knowledge of Christ, but he also had experienced the Savior first hand, on the road to Damascus; which he valued above everything else; and this qualified him to make Christ known to others by preaching the Gospel, which he was willing and capable of doing. His heart's desire was to communicate the knowledge of Christ as God's salvation for the souls of men; and this was his focus, and he took great delight and pleasure in it. He made known those things relating to the person of Christ; that he was God, the Son of God, and truly man, and God and man in one person. He spoke of the things relating to his work; that he was the Messiah, the mediator, prophet, priest, and King, the head, husband, Savior, and Redeemer of his church and people. And he pointed out the blessings of grace procured by him; and that justification is by his righteousness, pardon by his blood, peace, reconciliation, and atonement by his sacrifice, and salvation alone and entirely by him. His determination was to preach about Christ, and nothing else; not himself, nor man; nor the power and purity of human nature, the free will, and works of man, but to exclude all and everything except Christ and the business of salvation.
The Greek implies, "The only definite thing that I made it my business to know among you, was to know Jesus Christ (His person) and Him crucified (His office)" ALFORD. Christ was not exalted on the earthly throne of David, but executed as the vilest malefactor. The historical fact of Christ's crucifixion had probably not been preached as often by the seekers after human wisdom in the Corinthian church, because, like today’s preachers, they want to avoid offending the learned heathens and Jews. Christ's person and Christ's office constitute the sum of the Gospel.
Now I want to make some personal remarks on this matter—
1. This should be the method of every minister of the gospel; to preach Christ, and him crucified. This is his business. He is not to be a politician; not to engage in the strife and controversies; he is not to be merely a scholar; not to mingle with his people in rowdy parties; not to be a man of taste and philosophy, and distinguished mainly for good manners; not to be a profound philosopher; but he should make Christ crucified the grand object of his attention, and seek to make Him known everywhere he goes.
2. He is not to be ashamed of the humbling doctrine of Christ crucified, even though the world may ridicule him; though philosophers may sneer at him; though the rich and the gay may put him down.
3. It doesn’t matter what entertainment is available to him; what fields of science are open to him, or what salary or advancement are offered him; the minister of Christ is to know Christ and him crucified alone. If he studies science, it must be so that he can more successfully explain and defend the gospel.
4. The preaching of the cross is the only kind of preaching that will be blessed with success. Preaching that has in it respect for the Great Commission, the dignity, the works, the doctrines, the person, and the atonement of Christ, will be successful.
That was how it was in the time of the apostles, and that is how it has been in all revivals of religion. There is a power about that kind of preaching which philosophy and human reason don’t have. Paul preached a crucified Savior, One who had died for the sins of the world. That is the type of ministry so desperately needed today.
3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And I was with you in weakness,
Here in this clause, weakness means, either the weakness of his bodily appearance (Possibly he had a little body), the distasteful sound of his voice (Perhaps he had a low voice), and his unimpressive persona as a preacher of the gospel, both with respect to the substance and method of his ministry; or his lowly and humble demeanor, not exerting the power and authority Christ had given him as an apostle; but choosing instead to work with his own hands, to provide for his own necessities, and those of others; or the many persecutions which he endured there for the sake of preaching a crucified Christ; and which he sometimes calls "infirmities”—“ Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first” (Gal 4:13; KJV).
Paul was not brimming with self-confidence when he wrote this. It’s clear that he knew his limitations and that made him weak and afraid. But, on the other hand, it kept him from the poison of self-reliance, and it let God's strength flow to him. Vincent says the implication of this verse is that his condition grew out of the circumstances in which he found himself in Corinth. Paul's weakness, fear, and trembling could have been the result of an illness he suffered through while in Corinth, and some, like Calvin, believe it was because of the threat of persecution that existed for all Christians during the early years. The Holy Spirit has chosen not to tell us the exact cause of his weak condition; however, Morgan has lent his opinion to the question "So great was his sense of weakness and fear, and so profound his lack of trust in himself that he quaked, he trembled. Those are the secrets of strength in all preaching."
The apostle didn’t preach like the popular orators of his time, but there is plenty of evidence that he was an effective preacher. The men of Lystra thought he was the heathen god Mercury, come down to them in the form of a man, because he was the chief speaker—“And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:12; KJV). He preached the truth about Christ with plain speech, and in their native language, He laid down the doctrine like the Spirit delivered it to him; and then, he left it up to the Spirit, who by signs and miracles, and influences on the hearts of men, revealed the truth of it, and obtained its reception.
In these verses, Paul opens his heart and lets us see his inmost thoughts. He makes it very clear that while he was among them he was very troubled. He was “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” It’s no wonder that he could say that God had chosen the weak things of this world. Paul had no exalted conception of himself, yet he was a great intellect and a great man in many ways. Obviously, he never thought of himself as great.
and in fear, and in much trembling.
Here we get a look at Paul's undaunted courage, but we should not think that this has reference to any fear of physical danger, but what it does suggest is that he recognizes his weaknesses and he realizes that the salvation of many persons was dependent upon so feeble an instrument as himself. Dummelow paraphrased this verse this way: "It was with much anxiety and self-distrust that I preached the gospel to you." Paul was aware that he would encounter many enemies--“And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6; KJV); and he was aware of his own natural disadvantages as a public speaker—“For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor 10:10; KJV). And he knew how much the Greeks valued a manly and elegant kind of oratory; and therefore, he delivered his message with a lot of anxiety and concern for its success. It was at this time, and while he faced these circumstances, that the Lord spoke to him at night in a vision, and said, "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace; for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city," Acts 18:9, 10. If Paul was conscious of his weakness, there may be ministers today who also know theirs; and if Paul sometimes trembled with concern about the result of his message, there may be other ministers who tremble. It was when he was in such circumstances, and had such feelings, that the Lord encouraged him. Friends, I will get personal now; I have never given a sermon when I wasn’t nervous, and I have never finished preaching that I didn’t feel inadequate. My hands have shaken, my voice was too low, my mouth dry, and I couldn’t remember some of my talking points. But, my consolation was the knowledge that I had done my best, and that the word of God never returns void. In spite of all Paul's fears, he was successful there. If there is one thing I know it is this: when ministers go to their work conscious of their own weakness; burdened with the weight of their message; insecure in their own powers; and deeply anxious about the result of their labors, that God sends down his Spirit, and converts sinners to God. The most successful ministers have been men who have felt like this; and most of the revivals of religion have begun, and blossomed, when ministers have preached, conscious of their own feebleness, distrusting their own powers, and looking to God for aid and strength. We may add that it is then and only then, that they are successful.