“And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5, NASB95)
Still in the theme of the simplicity of the gospel message of “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” Paul draws them back to the example of his own coming to them. This comment takes us to the starting point, the time when they heard the truth about salvation in Christ from Paul. Though Paul surely taught believers after their salvation, prior to their salvation all that matter was this central message. It was as a result of the impact of Christ saving them that the riches of all that Paul had to share about God was to be unfolded for them. We will see this distinction developed more clearly as we move to some hard words found at the beginning of chapter 3.
Paul had already pointed to the divisions and even arguing among the Corinthian believers as factions had developed and people had aligned themselves with others who had brought the truth to them (even without the awareness of those to whom they were aligned). Paul did not come to set up a camp of Paulites. He did not come and immediately unload the dump truck of all that he knew about God to impress people with his superior knowledge, nor did he reason extensively with them to impress them with inarguable logic. He said that he “determined” or he made a purposeful effort to make the sole message at that time among them to be “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
He told them of his own personal state at the time. He was “in weakness.” He had already been beaten and imprisoned. He knew his own frailties and inabilities. He knew that what he was given to do was not something that he could do in his own strength. He was not powerful enough to accomplish what God had given him to do. He said that he was “in fear.” It can be a fearful thing knowing the harsh and even violent resistance that you would encounter, especially after having encountered it elsewhere. Imagine even the fleeting though that you have the eternal souls of everyone you meet resting on your shoulders. This can be a fearful thing as you contemplate the possibility of failure. Humanly speaking there was much for him to fear, and it was with that awareness that Paul came to them in “much trembling.” Any of these things could surely turn anyone away, except for them possessing a confidence that goes far beyond the individual.
Paul stated that his “message” and his “preaching were not in persuasive words.” He knew that what he had to say on his own was not God’s way to convince anyone. Their response was not to rest on his ability to sway them through the most reasoned message or the most charismatically moving preaching, but on the simple truth as God moved men’s hearts. Paul knew that he did not come to them in his own power, but in the power of God. He wrote that the real moving in the message was “in [the] demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that [their] faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” Countless people have been led astray by glitz, glamor, and flashy speech. But Paul knew that it was the power of the Spirit working in the hearts of men that would really demonstrate the power of the gospel to bring men to salvation (Romans 1:16).
Paul demonstrated further his vulnerability in Ephesians chapter 6 after speaking about how we have all been spiritually equipped for battle, by asking that the Ephesians believers pray for him. He wrote, “and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:19–20, NASB95)
And, the same is true for us. Understanding that we all might approach sharing the truth with others with a realization of weakness, sensing fear and maybe even trembling, we can be encouraged by the example of Paul. The same Spirit works today to open the eyes of people who opened the eyes of these believers in Corinth. It doesn’t depend on us getting everything exactly right or in presenting it in the smoothest way, but in us being willing to trust God as we share the simple truth that we know about Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
Years ago, while I was in college I had the privilege of being involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, and I can still vividly remember the first time that I went up to a person by myself to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. The person did not believe at that time, and I don’t know if he ever did. While his decision at some point has eternal consequences, that was not the reason that I remember it still today. I remember it because despite my fear and my uncertainty of how I was going to do, I shook off my resistance and went up to him and asked Him if I could speak with him for a few minutes about a booklet I had in my hand. What made the difference was a biblical principle of Campus Crusade taught to me by the person who discipled me, “Success in witnessing is simply sharing Christ in the power of the holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.” This was the method used by Paul, and it works because God is powerful to bring to Himself those whom He has called.