And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech 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 fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
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 glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
1 Corinthians 2:1–8 ESV
The big idea: Followers of Jesus must live cruciform lives.
Peoples’ words say a lot about what is going on in their lives. In 1 Corinthians, Paul often begins a thought by addressing his audience as siblings. He then goes on to offer stark contrasts. He does that in this passage, just as he did in several sections of the preceding chapter. The apostle has already noted deep-seated divisions within the assembly. The believers, like Paul’s words, are clashing.
One important contrast has to do with the fact that Paul did not initially come to Corinth in the likeness of a used car salesman—with flashy rhetoric and stellar showmanship. Instead, he came in weakness, with fear and trembling, having the appearance of one who was unwise and unpersuasive. Paul is not being self-deprecating to gain pity but highlighting the fact that he lives as one being crucified with Christ daily.
In Paul’s society, honor was a hot commodity, but not everyone could attain it. Shame, the inverse, was to be avoided at all costs. Part of living a cruciform life, one conformed to the shape of the cross, is embodying the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the gospel. Paul admits that this is a scary proposition. It can strike fear and trembling into a person. Even Jesus wasn’t beyond this fear (Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).
Paul’s “testimony about God” was not one delivered with an iron fist. Neither does he lace his messages with empty rhetorical flourish. Had he desired, he could have approached the Corinthians with high-style rhetoric. When he first met them, however, his preaching was not of that sort. Instead, he endured suffering because of it. As such, the content of his preaching focused on Christ’s suffering and how we should be ready to endure when it befalls us. Following a suffering, crucified God seems unwise. Further, to those who view themselves as elites, a life riddled with suffering is unpersuasive. Wouldn’t a powerful God spare himself and his followers pain and suffering? How could a true God be conquered by the rulers of this world? What is enticing about this type of thinking? Well, for the apostle, those who believe themselves to be powerful in the here-and-now are being made powerless by a gospel that calls its adherents to self-sacrifice, submission, and serving one another.
- What does it mean to live a cruciform life?
- How does the apostle’s critique of the “rulers of this age” fit into the argument presented here?
This is an entry from Michael Halcomb’s Bible study, The First Letter to the Corinthians.
If First Corinthians was a show, it might be slotted into the daytime melodrama genre. This letter has it all: fighting, sex, jealousy, divorce, money, and death. Like many of the apostle’s works, First Corinthians reminds us how dysfunctional the early church was. Two thousand years on, the church’s warts show no sign of fading. In some ways, that’s good news. If Paul held out hope for this stunted community, God’s people today are in no less position to receive his transforming and sanctifying grace.
The difference is that we have the opportunity to learn from their moral failures, not to mention their gross misunderstanding of the gospel. But it’s also a cautionary tale—many of the behaviors celebrated within the church today are patterns the founders of our faith ardently opposed. Thus, we’re left to wonder: Can this epistle offer some guidance on such things? Amid the turmoil present in this letter and paralleled in our present world, there is hope. This study will walk us through a vision of what a life of faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, can look like.
- Sunday school classes
- Weeknight small groups
- Individual Bible study
In these pages you’ll:
- Gain an in-depth understanding of the Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians
- See parallels between the ancient church’s struggles and our modern context
- Appreciate how the saving grace of God in Christ transforms us into his holy people
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