Resolved To Know Nothing
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First Corinthians

Resolved To Know Nothing

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

One of the enduring principles of Christianity is the foolishness of God. It seems that God hasn’t the sense to do things our way – he prefers a different method. We want things to be delivered to us in glowing words and smooth packaging. He delivers the Cross of Christ, rough and ugly. Why?

  • First, so that we might be sure the message is from God. If it comes with dazzling eloquence we might be swept away – for a while. But soon the reaction sets in. If it comes in God’s simplicity, it stays.
  • Next, so that its agents might be humble. If you are to carry the word of God, you need to know to whom it really belongs.
  • Finally, so that we might not depend upon the eloquence of any one individual – who will, of course, pass away.

Saying that, here’s how Paul expressed it to the Corinthians:

(1 Cor 2:1-5 NIV) When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. {2} For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. {3} I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. {4} My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, {5} so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.

Messenger and Message

 The personal side

Paul says that he came to them in weakness and fear, with much trembling.

  • Weakness – we don’t like to think of this as being a characteristic of a preacher. We prefer our preachers to be strong men, bold and vigorous. But consider it this way: who is strong enough to carry the burden of the Gospel with his own strength alone? Wouldn’t we really prefer one who is strong in Christ, rather than strong of his own strength? For if he is strong in Christ, there is hope that we may become like that. But if his strength is natural, then most of us can not hope to attain such things.
  • Fear and trembling – let’s be clear about the nature of courage. Courage is not the absence of fear – that’s mental illness. It’s not the denial of fear – that’s bravado, a teenage failing. Courage is the overcoming of fear. If there is no fear, is there real accomplishment? If the thing were not dangerous, would there be any honor in overcoming it? And again, if it is by natural courage that the preacher prevails, what hope is there for the man in the pew? Perhaps the preacher is there by calling, not by natural talent.
  • But not discouraged – As the account in Acts makes clear, Paul needed God’s direct encouragement while he was at Corinth. The great test of the Christian worker is not how they perform when things go well – but when they are in weakness, fear and trembling. So we should always give encouragement to our preachers.

 

The message

The message itself has three key characteristics:

  • It is not a message of eloquent thought. It deals with sin; it deals with judgment; it deals with death. It is very “nitty-gritty.”
  • It is a message of power: it has the power to convict the sinner of sin and judgment to come. It is a life changing message.
  • It is a message of grace – for it proclaims the love of God at the price of the Cross.

Just the Facts

Paul makes a curious statement: he has decided to know nothing except Christ among them. Why?

All the facts I need to know

Just exactly what are these facts?

First, who is the person Jesus? Is he not both son of man and Son of God? If you know this, you are on the road to knowing all you really need to know for eternity. If he is not this, then his death on the Cross means nothing. But if he is, it means everything.

If Christ had come only to teach, we would have some great wisdom left behind for us. But we would not have salvation. Only by the Cross can the righteous judgment of God upon our sins be satisfied – and satisfied only by the person of Jesus Christ.

The key: who he is, and what he did.

Why just these facts?

To quote a well known passage: “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.”

It is an important point. Sometimes in life we’re up to our armpits in alligators – so it’s hard to remember we went in to drain the swamp. If you want things to fit together in life, you have to know what’s important and what’s not. This is the important thing.

There’s another reason: without it, all our good works are in vain. God honors the good works of those who love him – but those who try to work their way into heaven are ignored for it.

Perhaps we can see it this way. For many years now we have had an influx of illegal immigrants. Good politically correct people see no problem with this; after all, most of us are descended from immigrants as well. I suspect that those who object might raise the point that we’re talking about illegal immigrants. PC people reply, “what difference does it make?” All the difference. The legal immigrant has the rights and protections of the Constitution; the illegal one is prey to every scoundrel around. Those trying to work their way into heaven are the illegal immigrants; it is so tragic. The right to become a citizen of God’s kingdom is freely offered.

 

“Resolved” to know

The word in the Greek is “krino,” meaning to decide or to judge. It is a deliberate word, implying that I have made a decision akin to a judgment in court. In effect, Paul has decided to look no further at these Corinthians than to know that Jesus Christ was crucified for them. It is a noble decision.

The Cross – the love of Christ – these form the basis for our relationship with one another. If I see my brother only through the Cross – a conscious decision – then I see one who is my fellow sinner. I am not entitled to pass judgment on them – but I am obliged to warn them in love and mercy of the troubles their sins are causing them. It may sound like there is no difference. But consider: if my wife nags me about my drinking, don’t I tend to ignore her because she’s nagging? But if my doctor warns me, I’m more likely to listen – because I know that I pay him to have my best interests in mind. Who hires a doctor only to ignore his good advice?

How much more, then, when someone whose basic relationship to me is that they are a sinner just like me, coming in the humility that springs from the Cross, approaches me and warns me of my failings?

 

Alternatives

This sounds so easy; but in practice it is very difficult. So we seek alternatives. We need to see two of them: the way taken by Christians when they want the easy way, and the world’s way.

 

The easy road for Christians

Every preacher knows the temptation: popular preaching. It is to tailor your preaching to what you think will play well to the audience – rather than the Gospel you were called to preach.

One way is “scientific” preaching. The most common form in our day is to take the latest and greatest of pop psychology and proclaim it from the pulpit. Your audience nods head up and down – after all, they heard the same thing on television just the other day. You are “right” – but you are also irrelevant in eternal things.

Another way is to be politically correct – either right wing or left. We most commonly hear it in the right wing vein, but it comes in either flavor. The politics of the moment are the call of God. But the things of God are eternal.

Most common of all is to measure your success, week by week, by the crowd you draw. Attendance is easy to count. When you preach to what drives attendance, you will soon be one who is tickling the ears of those who do not want to repent.

 

Why would a man do such a thing? One reason is that we know the world’s reaction to the Gospel – and we fear it.

Start with the obvious: they crucified Jesus Christ. They did it because of who he claimed to be.

They still do it. The world is afraid he might be right. What if we really are sinners? What if there really is a God who cares about righteousness? We have to prevent that from happening – or at least from appearing.

 

Dorothy Sayers put it this way:

The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore -- on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him "meek and mild" and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.

To those who knew him, however, He in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to Him as a dangerous firebrand. True, He was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before Heaven; but He insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; He referred to King Herod as "that fox"; He went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as "gluttonous man and winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners"; He assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the Temple; He drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; He cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people's pigs and property; He showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, He displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and He retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb.

He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if He was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But He had "a daily beauty in His life that made us ugly," and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without Him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness.

 

Our Times

“That’s all well and good,” you say, “but things are different now. I don’t see this power of God on display all that much.” So we think. So we put this section aside, saying that it applied then, but not now. But consider:

 

Why isn’t this power displayed today?

There are two forms to this question: the cynical and the Christian.

The cynic asks with the implied statement that the reason is that this never happened in the first place. But think about it: of all religions, only Christianity burst out on to the stage of the world in weakness. Others grew slowly, or came with “Islam, tribute or the sword.” But Christianity exploded despite its lack of worldly power. How did that happen, if not by the power of God?

The Christian has a more serious problem. He knows this did happen – and wonders why it does not today. Our Lord tells us the answer: “blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” We are not treated to a parade of miracles first so that our reward for faith might be all the greater.

 

Why, then, isn’t there an explosion of faith in America today?

Remember, first, that we are the evidence of Christ. We are his witnesses; if the world wishes to see Christ, they must look at us.

Perhaps the reason there is no revival in America is that we are such poor witnesses – and the world therefore continues to look elsewhere.

 

Why are we such poor witnesses?

Because we will not do as our Lord commanded us. Consider your obedience to his words:

(Luke 9:23-24 NIV) Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. {24} For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.

Is it not really the case that we believe that our Lord has forgiven us – and now we can kick back and enjoy the good things of life, since all our spiritual needs have been met? We are willing to live the abundant life, but not at the expense of the Cross.

Note that the phrase is to take up the Cross daily – not just at baptism, or once in our lives.

 

I can find no better words to say it than these from Thomas à Kempis:

JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus -- love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!

Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing? Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all things. And who shall find a man so truly poor in spirit as to be free from every creature? His value is like that of things brought from the most distant lands.

If a man give all his wealth, it is nothing; if he do great penance, it is little; if he gain all knowledge, he is still far afield; if he have great virtue and much ardent devotion, he still lacks a great deal, and especially, the one thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one thing? That leaving all, he forsake himself, completely renounce himself, and give up all private affections. Then, when he has done all that he knows ought to be done, let him consider it as nothing, let him make little of what may be considered great; let him in all honesty call himself an unprofitable servant. For truth itself has said: "When you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: 'we are unprofitable servants.'"

Then he will be truly poor and stripped in spirit, and with the prophet may say: "I am alone and poor." No one, however, is more wealthy than such a man; no one is more powerful, no one freer than he who knows how to leave all things and think of himself as the least of all.

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