1 Corinthians 2:1–16 (NRSV)
Proclaiming Christ Crucified
2 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
The True Wisdom of God
6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.
14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.
16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.
For the past few years I have heard a common theme from many within the church. Things like; there is a war on Christians, we must stand up and defend our faith, culture war, and many others. Each of these statements and many more focus on a very negative aspect of the trends within society. They are being proclaimed by people on TV, on the radio, and throughout the pulpits of American Evangelical Churches. The problem with these statement is that they detract from what is truly important, the simple Gospel of Jesus and Him Crucified.
This is not something that is new in the church, similar themes have been touted throughout the history of the church. Prior to the fall of Jerusalem as the threat of imperial war stood at the gates of Jerusalem a similar theme was being preached throughout the streets and when war broke out both Jews and Christians fought at Masada. After the great persecution of Christian in the empire ceased and Constantine formally proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the Empire, a movement of deeply devoted followers left their homes and withdrew to the wilderness and deserts of Palestine and Egypt. These Desert Fathers and Mothers developed the monastic movement within the church, and they proclaimed a similar theme, we must stand up and defend the faith from corruption. The church has become soft and has conformed to the ways of the world.
At the turn of the first millennium other movements began using similar themes. The church and culture were getting too comfortable with each other. If we look at the emergence of the Protestant churches, we again hear a similar theme spreading among the people of the church. During the English civil war when the Society of Friends emerged there was a similar theme in much of the rhetoric.
There have been many eras throughout the history of faith, each one re-evaluating and returning to the core of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Each one facing a cultural shift that seems to threaten the advancement of the Kingdom of God. So often we think that what we face today is new, but it is not it is the continuation of a cycle just as the moon revolves around the earth, the earth revolves around the sun, and the sun revolves around the core of the milky way galaxy, human existence also revolves. We see the course in the names of the genealogy of Christ, we see it in the textbooks in our schools, we feel it as we consider the events of the day. Yet often we fail to see the course, and get swept in the current and struggle with the undertow.
This is the feeling Paul has as he writes this letter to the church of Corinth. Already the church is entering a cyclical course, already within the first generation or first era of history we see that the current of the culture is exerting the force of distraction on it. And those within the church cry out just as the disciples cried on a boat upon a stormy sea, “Lord don’t you care that we are dying.” There are factions within the church, groups that claim superiority over each other. I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Peter, I am one of Chloe’s people, I am of Christ and through all of this they are unaware that they are being distracted.
Paul tells them, “I didn’t come to you using lofty words or wisdom.” This to me sounds odd but what he is meaning is he spoke to them using simple language. He spoke to them friend to friend. The words he used were the words that you might use with some at work, or with your family he did not fill the conversation with churchy catch phrases and if he did need to use a word that they may not understand he explained the meaning. The reason that he mentions this is because there were others that had become masters in the arts of persuasive language. These individuals could convince anyone that they believe by carefully crafting the words that they use. When they speak they, people want to follow and listen more, they latch onto the stories, and they love the manner of speech even if they do not understand what is being said. These individuals had large groups following them and hanging on every word being spoken, yet the words did not translate into lasting change. They were becoming the people of itching ears that Jesus warned us about. The minister and those that followed them came to be set at ease, and to justify their actions.
Paul goes on to say, “My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” His proclamations were not filled with persuasive words of learned man, but were filled with a demonstration. This set of verses stopped me in my study of this passage. At first glance one might say that Paul was persuading people not by language but because he was a miracle worker. Many make this claim, but I do not think that is the case. He used words filled with a demonstration, meaning he spoke and he lived what he spoke right out in front of them. He explained the teachings of Moses, the prophets, and Jesus, and he not only described them vocally but he showed them how to live it. The way Paul lived highlighted the words he spoke. He became an example for them, and honestly says “follow me as I follow Christ.” Which means let us walk this road together.
This week I thought about the concept of words of demonstration. I came to realize that faith must be action, without active participation all we have are fancy words that are empty. But Paul also says that with those words of demonstration there is power. Paul does not engage the culture using the wisdom of the world, and they call him foolish yet he was the one who first carried the gospel message into this city of earthly delights. The world did not understand him yet they watched the way he lived and they responded and followed.
So often we seek the wisdom of the world when we consider our faith and our Meeting. We see the programs others do, we hear the sermons on the radio, we watch the evangelist on TV and we begin to think that is what we need to do. We look at the news and we get worked into a frenzy believing that we are being persecuted and we begin to engage in public debates and make demands in various government offices to protect our freedoms. We use the wisdom of the world, and we attempt to force others to submit, or we attempt to sell faith by making it more appealing. But that is not discipleship, that is not being a friend of Christ. Or maybe we go to the other extreme and we begin to say all things are acceptable and we can do anything because of grace. We conform to the wisdom of the world and we attempt to sell faith by making it more appealing. When we do this, we cheapen the cross, and we make leave people yearning for hope for the life to come yet completely powerless today.
There is another way. Words of demonstration. When we speak words of faith and live them out in our daily life we have more power than we could possibly imagine. When we take the words that Jesus taught and apply them in our lives, in our businesses, in the relationships we have with others there is power. When we become our words, people watch and what seemed foolish takes on flesh. When the foolishness becomes flesh, they begin to question their wisdom. When they begin to question, they begin to hear the voice of God say to them follow me, and they must choose to walk or remain. We have the most powerful tools of the kingdom, we have our story and we have our lives.
But this is not easy to do. What if someone has hurt us deeply? How can we be expected to demonstrate our faith when they spread lies or continue to live contrary to their words? How are we expected to live a life loving our enemies when they seek to destroy us? How are we supposed to help others when we can barely pay our own bills? These questions are going through all our minds, every day I personally struggle with these very questions. Jesus still calls us to follow Him. He calls us personally to follow him first, then together with Christ we can begin to look at the other issues.
I say all this and I look at my Facebook feed and I begin to wonder again. I ask what is the world coming to, what is going on. I hear the voices in the air saying we must stand up for our rights because our culture is in decline. And the I again hear Paul asking who are you following? My heart sinks yet again because I responded to a friend out of the wisdom of mankind instead of using words of demonstration. Then I demonstrate something and I failed to use words to encourage a friend to follow. I failed to see that of God in my neighbor and I get distracted by the cycles of human history. I fail, I fall.
Faith is a constant confession, it is a constant walk and sometimes a run to keep up with Christ. One moment I am following and I stop to grip someone out and suddenly realize that Christ kept walking. Faith is a relationship of movement. Faith is a demonstration. I like everyone else can get caught up in fear. I like everyone else questions the direction our culture is going. And as I question I must ask, is this a response to my personal demonstrations of faith? Constantly we hear reports of how the next generation is leaving the church, and we wonder how we can keep our kids in church. Have we ever stopped and asked if we have continued the church?
Every major movement within church history began when a group of people looked at the world and decided to dedicate their lives to living the words that they spoke. Every major movement observed the church in relation to the world and realized that the problem was not the world, but it was those that called themselves the church. They saw that the church over the course of time got distracted and got caught up in the things of the world and they forgot to demonstrate faith. So, they began to change that. They began to help and encourage other. Every movement from St. Francis’ brothers and Clare’s sisters to mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, to the Protestant Reformation and the Society of Jesus and Friends. Each major movement saw some aspect of life within the church that did not demonstrate faith and they sought to live differently. They did this in a world that thought their faith was foolish, yet their faith changed the course of history ushering in a new era. We look today at the world, and at times we respond in fear. I understand, but what do we have to fear? An authentic life of faith lived as a demonstration to others, a life that has become an embodied sacrament dedicated to the things of God is the most powerful force available to humanity. We have all we need in this room to change our world. Be honest, be authentic, tell your story and live the love of Christ with others.