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  • David Mathis

How to Know Nothing, Except the Good News (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

[And] I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. ²For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. —1 Corinthians 2:1-2

Jesus Christ and him crucified. Paul says he decided to know nothing but this when he was with the Corinthians. Acts 18:11 tells us “he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” Which may seem like a long time to talk only about Jesus and his gospel. “Really, Paul?” you might want to ask. “That’s all you knew when you ministered among the Corinthians for 18 whole months?”

Surely, Paul doesn’t mean that all he did in teaching the people of Corinth for a year and a half was simply parrot the “simple gospel.” No doubt Paul was wise enough to cover all the necessary topics to leave a deposit of instruction for this fledging church.

Throughout his Corinthians letters, he says again and again “you know” when referring to various things the Corinthian believers had been taught in addition to the simple gospel.

The Whole Counsel in Ephesus

Paul spent two years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10), and at the end, he was able to say, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable . . . . I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole the counsel of God” (Acts 20:20, 27).

Anything that was profitable, says Paul. The whole counsel of God. In two years, he sufficiently instructed the Ephesians for the whole of the Christian faith. He left a substantive core of teaching in Ephesus that would serve the church there for decades to come.

So, how does teaching the Ephesians “the whole counsel of God” relate to knowing nothing in Corinth “except Jesus Christ and him crucified”?

The Whole Gospel in Corinth

Was Paul’s approach in Corinth significantly different? Did 18 months in Ephesus, compared to 24 in Ephesus, materially alter his method? Would Paul really have taught “anything that was profitable” to the Ephesians but only “Jesus Christ and him crucified” to the Corinthians?

The answer is no. We don’t have any indication that Paul approached his extended stay in Corinth any differently than Ephesus.

The better solution is that Paul is referring to essentially the same body of teaching, from two distinct perspectives, when he mentions “the whole counsel of God” in Acts 20:27 and “Jesus Christ and him crucified” in 1 Corinthians 2:2.

The Bigness and Breadth of the Good News

This is hard to see without a big, biblical vision of the gospel of Jesus. If you think of the gospel as that little bit of information you believed in order to “get saved” and now have moved on from to other deeper truths, then it won’t make sense that “the whole counsel of God” and “Jesus Christ and him crucified” could be materially the same thing.

But if you’ve had your small vision of the good news of Jesus challenged, if you’ve been confronted by the terrible depth of your sin and the astounding bigness and breadth of Jesus’s person and work—if your small gospel has been swapped out for the real one—then it makes swimmingly good sense that “Jesus Christ and him crucified” is a beautifully fitting label for “the whole counsel of God.” This is, if that “whole counsel” is truly Christian.

The truth is that “Jesus Christ and him crucified” does much more that just tip us into the kingdom. The good news of who Jesus is, and what he does to saves sinners like us, carries much more meaning than merely how to get saved, or how we got saved (as if that’s anything but huge), but how we live everyday and how we look at everything in the world.

All Things—in, through, and for Jesus Christ

In Colossians 1:16–17, Paul teaches how extensive Jesus and his gospel are in the Christian worldview. There is a “whole counsel” to be taught, and it fits snuggly within the frame of “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” It is not just in God, but in Jesus, that “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Not only is the whole of the universe “in Jesus,” making him unceasingly relevant to everyone and everything, but also, Paul says, all things are “for him”—that is, for his glory and honor—and he actively holds all things together.

The Gospel Matters for Everything

The person of Jesus, and his finished work in the gospel, are always relevant for the Christian. As we learn and teach “the whole counsel of God,” if we are to do it Christianly, we must do it in such a way that we can truly say with Paul, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” In this way, all our theologizing must be gospel-theologizing, if it is to be Christian theologizing.

The pattern of the gospel not only matters for every Christian doctrine under the sun, but it is essential for their proper formulation and understanding. Not only is this the path to real humility, but it is also the only path to healthy theology.

The secret to knowing nothing, except the good news, is not narrowing the scope of our knowledge, but extending the relevance of Jesus’s big gospel to everything we know.


For Reflection

  1. How would you define a “simple gospel” that is apparently different from what Paul preached?

  2. How can you “extend the relevance of Jesus’s big gospel?” What areas of your life most need to be brought under the reign of his good news?

  3. How would this “knowing nothing except” look in your home, school, or workplace?

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