1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Neither by Human Wisdom or Rhetoric, but by the Power of God
Paul continues speaking of wisdom—human wisdom, that is. I should now bring up the point that I have heretofore left out, and that is that in speaking of wisdom and knowledge, the Apostle is carefully admonishing these Corinthians who thought themselves full of both. For example, Paul writes, “If anyone among you thinks he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise” (3:18), and “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (8:2). “Knowledge” (Greek, γνωσις or gnosis) was a big deal in the Greek world, and some Corinthians (who were indeed Greeks), may have thought that Christianity was a means of attaining some higher, secret knowledge, known only to a few—which was a popular idea among the Greek cults or “mystery religions” of that day. Yes, the Corinthians were quite proud of themselves, and that was a problem Paul would deal with in his letters.
And so Paul expresses to this church, which he founded and under whose ministry many came to saving faith, that when he was among them, he was quite timid. He did not come to them as some famous philosopher or orator (oratory was another highly respected asset in the Ancient world), but has the humility to admit that he came in “weakness and in fear and much trembling.” Please note: If you ever feel afraid or awkward sharing the gospel, so did one of the greatest evangelists of all time. Paul had just arrived from Athens where the gospel was not received but by a few. He had been beaten at Philippi, and run out of Thessalonica and Berea prior to that (Acts 16:11-18:1). Maybe he was a little broken. But whatever the case, Paul makes it clear that the gospel, which he calls “the testimony of God,” does not rest on “lofty speech or wisdom.” The gospel is about Christ crucified, and it needs no help from man in the way of “plausible words of wisdom” to do its work. Why is this? Because the gospel works on people’s hearts by the Holy Spirit and power.
No doubt, we Christians sometimes get in the way of our own presentation of the gospel. To say that the gospel does not depend on soaring rhetoric or worldly wisdom is not to say that Christians should be ignorant or express themselves poorly. But we should be mindful that the gospel itself has power to save because the power of God is behind it. We need neither to dress it up nor dress it down; we need only present it clearly and coherently. So let us trust the Holy Spirit to do the work that only he can do, while we go about in faith and humility sharing the gospel where we are able.