God’s Power and Men’s Wisdom

Reflection: 1 Corinthians 2: 1 – 5

This was Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church after his visit with them. His goal here was to reinforce what he had addressed in the earlier part of his epistle, reminding them that their faith ought to be based on God’s power (i.e., to be empowered by God to live within the Holy Spirit’s purpose) rather than the wisdom of men (v.5). A challenging undertaking for us today too, but an excellent understanding of the basis of Christian ministry! As long as Christ is the object of their faith, why was it important for Paul to articulate further the basis of their faith? For Paul, it was imperative that the Corinthians do not buttress their faith on the wisdom of this world, as the substance of such a faith will cease to be a saving faith, thereby no longer bearing witness to what God had done in Christ to effect salvation (1:18-25).

2_Corinthians_3_3 LetterHow is the wisdom of men destructive towards genuine faith? God Himself passed judgment on worldly wisdom by the foolishness of the cross’ message of Christ crucified; an eternal salvation through a humiliating execution of a humble Jewish carpenter’s son turned teacher, who called Himself the Son of God. It is the world’s foolishness that is at the root of pride, that dares to rear its head against God for which He judges (vv. 19-21); so that no one can boast before Him who is wisdom personified (vv. 27-29). In this conclusion, it then becomes clear that all wisdom created in the human mind becomes fertile ground for boasting before God. Hence, to embrace the cross is to admit to themselves the repulsiveness of their own sinfulness for which they could do nothing about. This leaves the Corinthians two choices with respect to the death of Christ: either consider it foolish and move on in life in their own self-sufficiency, or respond as Paul did, “but may it never be that I would boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). If Paul is to be believed, they were to surrender all grounds for boasting in their lives, for to maintain any worldly basis of pride in their hearts became a contradiction to and a denial of Christ’s sacrifice.

How then does the power of God pan out in Paul’s efforts to strengthen the Corinthians’ faith? Worldly wisdom would consider the power of God released to save sinners as weakness, but it was exactly this weakness that God used to demonstrate to the world, in order to shame the things that are strong (v.27). Christ’s weakest moment on the cross was God’s most powerful manifestation (vv. 1:20-24), that resulted in the gracious transformation of each human sinner – an act which conclusively determined that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and His weakness is stronger than men (v.25).

imagesIn fact, Paul modelled this power in weakness and humility as he taught them in person and through his letters (vv.1-4): all the time being absolutely aware of his own limitations and failings. And his enemies reminded him of them too (2 Cor 4:7-11; 10:10; 12:8). His point was that the real danger in preaching is self-reliance, where the content and form became paramount, thereby jeopardizing the work of the Spirit in changing lives through the human-divine encounter. His motto was ““My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10). This inverse logic is anathema to the wisdom of men, but when it is received, it sets us free to serve in humility in the Spirit’s presence.