Paul and Wisdom: Part 4 of 5 (series: Lessons on 1 Co.)
by John Lowe
4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
And my speech, and my preaching
The phrase And my speech, if it is to be distinguished from preaching, refers, to his private conversations; and my preaching, to his public sermons.
was not with enticing words of man's wisdom,
Enticing words means the same as “persuasive preaching.” Paul is not saying that his preaching lacked the element of persuasiveness. His sermon before Agrippa in Acts 26 is a remarkable example of persuasive preaching. Paul is simply rejecting any reliance on the preacher's ability to persuade with human wisdom. The subject matter of his ministry did not take into account the liberal arts and sciences, or the philosophy and dry morality of the Gentiles, but his message was salvation by a crucified Christ; and he did not resort to the arts and enticements of Greek oratory or philosophy— “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16; KJV). That great English preacher of the nineteenth century, Charles Spurgeon said, "It is ours to speak the truth boldly, and in every case we shall be a sweet savor unto God; but to say what people want to hear in the hope of making converts is evil. The preacher should never use the kind of oratory that was adapted to captivate and charm, and which the Greeks so much esteemed. This is never to be thought of for an instant."
Note: “man's” is omitted in the oldest translations; but still "wisdom" does refer to "man's" wisdom.
but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power:
In the previous line, Paul stated what his preaching was not, and here he is saying what it is; it is a demonstration (manifestation, revelation) of the power of the Holy Spirit. His sermons incorporate solid proofs taken out of the OT writings, enhanced and driven home by the Spirit of God, and which amounted to a demonstration of the truths he delivered. Then there were signs, and wonders, and miracles, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, those extraordinary instances of divine power, which greatly confirmed the doctrines he preached: and besides all these, the Spirit of God marvelously assisted him in his work by informing him of what he should say, and how to say it; not what human wisdom taught, but that which the Holy Ghost taught; and the outcome was that his ministry had power, to convert, comfort, edify, and save many. Paul knew it is the preacher's job to preach and it is the Holy Spirit's job to demonstrate. His preaching may not have been impressive or persuasive on a human level, but on a spiritual level, it had power.
Persuasion is man's means of winning over his fellow man. God's means is demonstration, leaving no doubt, and inspiring unreserved faith. This demonstration was prepared and carried out by the powerful work of the Spirit, which was exhibited both outwardly by miracles, and inwardly by working on the heart. When Paul preached he demonstrated the power of the Holy Spirit: “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:10; KJV); and his listeners were obliged either to yield to its teachings, or were bewildered by its truth. Paul did not preach a social gospel meant to tickle the ears of the congregation; but, he preached the word of God, which he described as powerful: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:11-12; KJV). He didn’t leave anything out; he preached the entire gospel: “Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19; KJV). Through the power of the Holy Ghost, he was enabled to work mighty signs and wonders among the Gentiles; so that they were convinced that both his doctrine and mission was Divine; and therefore they cheerfully received the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit demonstrated that the Gospel was true by the remarkable conversions fashioned by it. Every converted sinner furnishes such a demonstration, and every instance where it produces peace, hope, and joy shows that it is from heaven.
In our day we have a great many words of man’s wisdom. There is a great deal of preaching, but very little of it is done “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” The feeling is that we only need the right method or the right topic or the right style. Oh, how we need the power of the Holy Spirit in our preaching!
5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men,
That your faith. That is, that your belief in the Divine origin of the Christian religion.
Should not stand in the wisdom of men. Your faith should not rest upon, or be sustained by the wisdom of men. God intended to furnish you a firm and solid demonstration to show that the religion which you embraced was from him; and this could not happen if it’s preaching had been accompanied with the graces of eloquence, or the abstractions of refined intellectual reasoning. It would then appear to rest on human wisdom. But human wisdom was not employed; and human power, if it had been employed, could not have produced the change. Hence, it was produced through the means supplied by God.
It has been truly said that "What depends upon a clever argument is at the mercy of a clever argument"; and Paul wanted the faith of the Corinthians to be grounded in the facts and certainties of the Christian gospel, not in the showy eloquence of polished oratory. There can hardly be any doubt that this paragraph condemns much of the preaching of our own times.
Up to this point Paul was stressing the truth, that the gospel of Christ owes nothing to human wisdom, and that his rejection of the popular methods of preaching it, resulted in his preaching being despised by those who considered themselves sophisticated; but, beginning in the next verse, Paul effectively refuted the notion that "Christianity is contemptible, and proceeded to show something of its wisdom and dignity." He showed that it is not wisdom which he rejected but false wisdom; he preached God's wisdom, which is higher than man's wisdom, and the only true wisdom. Observe: If someone's faith is in the wisdom of men and not the power of God; if someone can be persuaded into the kingdom by human wisdom, they can be persuaded out of the kingdom by human wisdom also.
but in the power of God.
The Spirit of God directed him, and while he was under his influence he chose this style of preaching for a reason; that faith in Christ, and in the doctrines of his Gospel, which comes by hearing, might not be attributed to the force of human eloquence and oratory; but that it might be credited, as it ought to be, to the almighty power of God. And he tells the Corinthians that he did it for them, so that they might know that the Gospel was from heaven.
The little wisdom that I possess tells me that if human wisdom is used to win a man, then his faith stands on human wisdom. If a man is brought to faith through the power of God, then his faith rests upon that. This is the reason I sincerely question a great deal of the dry, apologetic preaching of today—such as trying to prove that the Bible is God’s Word or that the first chapter of Genesis is scientific or that the Flood really happened. Don’t misunderstand me, there is a place for that, and I thank God for men who have specialized in those areas. But we need to understand that salvation does not rest upon whether we can actually prove the inspiration of Scripture, although I certainly believe we can prove it. The question is: What does your faith rest upon? Apologetic preaching will call our attention to the Word of God, but our faith must rest on the power of God.
Here is where the apostle ends his discourse on how he came to preach Christ crucified in this manner: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of man, but the power of God—that they might not be enticed by human motives, nor overcome by mere human arguments, for fear that it could be said that either rhetoric or logic had made them Christians. But, when nothing but Christ crucified was plainly preached, the success must be founded, not on human wisdom, but divine evidence and action. The gospel was so preached this way so that God would be glorified by the outcome.
In the power of God. That is, the power of God is found in the evidence of Divine power accompanying the preaching of the gospel. That power is irresistible, affirming that the Christian religion was not originated by man, but was from heaven. That power is seen in changing the heart; in overcoming the strong inclination of our nature to sin; in subduing the soul, and making the sinner a new creature in Christ Jesus. Every Christian then has, through his own experience, furnished a demonstration that the religion which he loves is from God, and not from man. Man could not subdue these sins; and man could not so entirely transform the soul. And although the unlearned Christian may not be able to investigate all the evidences of religion; although he cannot meet all the objections of cunning and subtle infidels; although he may be greatly bewildered and embarrassed by them, yet he may have the greatest proof of all; that he loves God, that he is different from what he once was, and that all this has been accomplished by the religion of the cross.