- For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. [1 Cor 1:19-21 RSV]
I’ve been stuck on the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians for several days now
What is worldly wisdom? In most cases, it is getting yourself off with or in your mind. It is used to impress people. The image that comes to mind is one of stroking the mind until it explodes in an orgasm of understanding and pride. Displaying this level of mental self-gratification in public is as distasteful as doing it sexually. I’ve experienced those revelatory pleasure spasms many times in my life—most commonly when I was returning to sanity after a long night of LSD-induced sensory and intellectual pleasure, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The wisdom experienced was always transitory. I’d always left out some important consideration that crumbled my hard-gained knowledge when it made contact with reality. That’s the way it is, isn’t it?
Paul continues to explain the problem thoroughly.
- This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. [1 Cor 1:25-29 NLT]
Boy, that is certainly not a motivational message for teachers, is it? Actually, Paul was fairly gentle. John says it even more strongly.
- But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know… [1 John 2-27a NLT]
Obviously, as we teach and witness we need to be careful. What does this tell us as Christians? I suspect that it says clearly that attempting to talk someone into belief is a waste of time. It puts into question the entire concept of apologetics—the intellectual defense of the faith.
Powerful sermons are rarely intellectually satisfying
I’ve talked about this many times before. Power in preaching has to do with allowing the Holy spirit to use you to present content that He can convert to a rhema for the individual hearer. My most powerful teachings had results in people that I never taught about. In the best scenario, the Holy Spirit uses a heard phrase (even if the person listening hears something you did not say) to produce repentance, forgiveness, worship, thanksgiving, and the like.
The results of powerful preaching are produced by the Holy Spirit. As a teacher I need to study and prepare. More than that, I need to pray and seek the face of the Lord. However, I must be sure that I remember and realize that without the anointing—unless the Holy Spirit converts my words to the power to discern between soul and spirit, the sword of the spirit—my most well-reasoned teachings are simply mental masturbation—though they may gratify the fleshly needs of the listeners also.
Paul tells us how to teach in Chapter 2 of 1 Corinthians. He shows us the attitude to take and content to preach when trying to touch new believers. Read the following passage carefully:
- When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. [1 Cor 2:1-5 RSV]
Only God can save, through Jesus by His Holy Spirit. Our witnessing and preaching must acknowledge this within our soul and spirit. We must understand this deeply on a personal level. We must be certain that our efforts can only be a framework for the Holy Spirit to use when seeking the lost.
There is a spiritual wisdom that we share
Paul talks about this in the next verses in chapter 2.
- Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,” God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. [1 Cor 2:6-13 RSV]
But only those reborn from above can hear or understand this wisdom. We need to be sure of our audience. Seek the Lord and have Him tell you clearly who you are to be talking to the next time you witness, teach, or preach. Once that is settled, you can proceed boldly by the grace of God with great power and good fruit in your life and in the lives of your hearers.