The Unadorned Message of the Cross (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
The second chapter of 1 Corinthians presents an amazing display of the Spirit’s work in bringing to us the glorious truth of God. Paul emphasizes that God’s truth was revealed in the first place by the Spirit (2:6-12), that this truth was conveyed by his chosen apostles as inspired teaching by the Spirit (2:1-5, 13), and that this truth is understood by believers as the truth that it is only through the Spirit’s illumining work (2:14-16). Amazing, isn’t it! But Paul begins this discussion by reminding his readers that the truth he presented to them was not from his own ingenuity or cleverness, but it was by the Spirit (2:4-5), and it focused directly on Jesus Christ and Him crucified (2:2).
There was a practice in the time of Paul, often carried out by the educated elite in the Graeco-Roman empire, of showing off the cleverness and rhetorical craftiness of the speaker in order to get people to believe what was said—just because of how persuasive the speaker was in presenting it. This, Paul insists, is not what he was doing when he presented the gospel of Christ. He did not use the kind of superior rhetorical gimmicks others used (2:1), nor did he use manipulative types of persuasion (2:4). Rather, he depended on the Spirit (2:4) to present the truth. In this way alone could he and his listeners be sure that when they believed the truth presented by Paul, it was the result not of the cleverness of men but of the power of God, by his Spirit (2:4-5).
And what was the content Paul was speaking to them? Verse two provides an amazing answer, and one for which every Christian should take note. Paul writes that he made it his goal and determination to know nothing among his hearers other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In other words, the Spirit empowered Paul to speak of what the Spirit was sent to uphold and magnify: the person of Christ as Lord and Savior, and his saving work on the cross for sinners.
You might recall that Jesus had said of the Spirit that when he comes, He would not speak of Himself, but He would glorify Jesus and speak His word (John 16:14). So here, Paul, empowered by the Spirit, seeks to speak ultimately of the one thing that matters most: of Christ and His work to deliver sinners from the penalty and power of their sin. Of course, many other subjects flow from this central truth of Christ and his saving work (e.g., consider how much Paul talks about in the Book of 1 Corinthians). But this is the core, the foundation, the framework, for all else that Paul will say. Christ and Him crucified is at the heart of the Christian faith.
How confident are you that the Word of God is true? Does it help to know that it came not from the cleverness of men, but through nothing less than the power of the Holy Spirit?
Why should the teaching of the person and work of Christ be central to all else in the Christian faith? Think deeply and broadly about this– just how much of our lives should be affected by this truth?
If Paul didn’t worry about cleverness of speech in presenting the truth of Christ to others, does this impact how you think of yourself in sharing the gospel? The same Spirit that was in Paul is in you, and the same truth that was his, is yours. Does this help free and empower you as you consider sharing your faith?
Bruce A. Ware is professor of Christian Theology and chairman of the Department of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He has written several books, including his theology book for children, Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God. Bruce and his wife, Jodi, have two daughters and three grandchildren. The Wares love drives in the country, hikes in the woods, walks on the beach, and time with their daughters and son-in-law and grandchildren, along with reading and good music.