1 Corinthians 2:1–14
Going to hear a speaker was public entertainment in the days of Jesus.
It was seen as great entertainment right up until the modern age of cinema and television. Even today skilled orators still make a huge impact on society. Among the most famous, who are all men, we find Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Cicero, Demosthenes, and Barack Obama.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, for example, was a Roman philosopher who was murdered 43 years before Jesus was born. Cicero defined the basics of rhetoric, which are still remembered in Western society. He said that without oratory skills, knowledge remains powerless; but oratory skills without knowledge are useless.
An examination of orators reveals that many who were very popular in their time spoke without any real substance. In France there was a man you have probably never heard of. He was named Peter du Bosc. The Sun King, Louis XIV, said that Peter was the perfect orator. Many French people agreed with the king. Born on 21 February 1623, Peter du Bosc was a Protestant preacher of great popularity. Further investigation reveals that it is difficult to see Peter’s appeal from what he preached. On the other hand, Peter had a wonderful full harmonious voice, and a noble and princely appearance.
Paul says in our reading today in 1 Corinthians 2:1 “I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan.”
Paul is writing to people in Corinth who value attractive speech and good rhetoric.
The culture of Corinth was invading the church. Corinth was a city in Greece, but under considerable Roman influence. It enjoyed Roman law and order, which was probably a good thing. It had also embraced Greek philosophy, and this was a root of many of their problems. In fact the influence of Greek philosophy on the West was so great we still feel it today in the church, and it still causes us trouble.
Take democracy, for example. This is a Greek political idea. There isn’t any democracy in the Bible, and yet many Christians assume it is how God wants to run the church.
A more pervasive error in Greek thinking was the separation of the physical and the spiritual. To the Greeks, the body and spirit were separate things. This is also common in Christian thinking.
This is the view that when the body dies and rots, the spirit is set free. The Hebrew view was that the liberated spirit needs another body. It needs an immortal body. Because of their view, the Greeks either ignored the body or indulged it. Two equal and opposite errors.
They didn’t see how the body could influence the spirit.
Paul in his letter to the Corinthians has to remind them of this connection. He has to remind them that it does matter if they get drunk at communion. Visiting a prostitute does affect the state of their spirit, because in effect they are trying to join Christ to that prostitute. Why? Because your body is part of Christ’s body. Today also we sometimes forget we should worship God with our bodies as well as our minds and hearts. And not just our mouths either.
So in verse 1 Paul is stating that we are not saved by rhetoric. We are not saved by clever words. We are not saved by beautiful phrases. Paul is saying that it is not his words that should be impressive, but the message of the cross. He is reminding them that wisdom does not come from his words, or the words of any clever speaker. Wisdom comes from the spirit.
In verse 4 he says, “my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.”
In verse 2, Paul says, “I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.”
This is important to Paul. He is emphasising this point. The work of the cross was offensive to the Greeks because they insisted the body didn’t have any value. The thought it was foolish to say spiritual salvation could come from a body killed on a cross. From that point, the members of the church in Corinth became confused and went wildly astray. At the end of his letter to the Corinthians Paul returns to this topic in chapter 15 to talk about the resurrection. They saw no reason or value in getting a new body. Paul had to teach them the need for a resurrection body such as Jesus had that could eat fish and cook breakfast.
A favourite pastime of mine used to be people watching. Is this something you enjoy as well?
It works like this. Start by finding a comfortable outdoor cafe. If you cannot find one, try a park if the weather is warm and dry, or sit near the window of a cafe.
While you sip your coffee or nibble your cake, look at the people passing. Mostly it can be one of those times when we switch off our mind. I used to switch mine on. Actually I think what really happened was that it was already on, but in the peace I began to notice what it was doing. There was a dialogue flowing through my brain. A script written by my subconscious was being played out. It would go something like this.
Wow, do you know what you look like in that shirt? Did you wear that on purpose? You don’t really think you look good in those colours do you? He must be a foreigner, maybe French. That guy obviously is a banker. Look at his polished shoes, and smart suit. He seems very pleased with himself. I expect he’s got a wife and two children who cost him a lot, and he’s stressed that he has to bring home a lot of money every month to keep them happy.
There goes a woman holding a big Bible where everyone can see how holy she is. I bet she is a hypocrite. Oh no, why has that girl done that to her hair. It looks horrible. Doesn’t she have any sense of fashion.
Wow! Can you relate to this? The soundtrack never stops. The commentary is continuous.
Press the pause button.
I wasn’t speaking out loud, but this was obnoxious gossip. It was rising up from a subconscious desire to make me look good. It is me trying to compensate for my own insecurities. And it isn’t me doing my job. When I do this I’m sitting in God’s seat of judgement.
What if God walked up to me while I was doing this? What would he say to me? Is there any way that God would be happy with what my inner dialogue is saying.
“Simon,” he might say. “What are you doing?”
“Is this the work that I called you to do?”
Let me try to follow Paul’s advice and think only about “Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified”. Now when I see a woman with the ring in her nose and the spiky green hair, my inner voice says, ‘God thought she was worth dying for.’
The worker struggling with debt, who cannot afford nice clothes, was worth going to the cross for. So was the single mother who dropped out of high school and works in a supermarket to keep her baby.
It is a very simple thing to do, but it changes the way I people watch. Now I pray for the people I see and bless them. Each one is so precious to God that Jesus Christ went to the cross for them. When I stopped putting myself in the centre and put Jesus and the cross in the centre, my eyes were opened.
Not only were my eyes opened, but I even felt different. When my heart was filled with gossip, I was poisoning my soul. I did not feel good for long when I criticised the people I watched. Now I have the cross in centre and my soul is fed by each prayer and blessing. I feel the difference. I feel calm and clean.
People watching with Jesus at the centre brings peace and a peculiar joy. The power of the Holy Spirit is at work in me now. If you put Jesus Christ in the centre of your life, it will change you too. Your body will be a temple of the Holy Spirit. You will remember that God puts so much value on the people you see that he died for them, just as he was crucified for you.