1 Corinthians 2:1-5
And I, brothers, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring to you the testimony of God.…
The apostle has shown that God does not save men by human wisdom, but by the preaching of Christ. He now declares that his own practice at Corinth was in accordance with this great principle. His example is a pattern for all preachers of the gospel.
I. THE MATTER. AND METHOD OF PREACHING. Paul's business was to "proclaim the mystery of God," "even the mystery which hath been hid from all ages and generations; but now hath it been manifested to his saints" (Colossians 1:26) The substance of that mystery is set forth in "Jesus Christ, and him crucified. The person and the work of Christ, what he was and what he did, constitute the great theme of the preacher. These two great heads cover all that is distinctively called the gospel. How is this to be preached? "Not with excellency of speech or of wisdom;" "not in persuasive words of wisdom." Not as a new philosophy to supplant the old; not as a well reasoned argument, compelling the assent of the mind; not as a rhetorical display, taking captive the imagination. The temptation to seek to win men in this way is frequently great, as Paul felt it to be at Corinth, but it must not be yielded to. The preacher is the bearer of a Divine message to men which needs no adventitious helps (compare what is said above on 1 Corinthians 1:17-25).
II. THE SOURCE OF POWER IN PREACHING.
1. Self distrust. "And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling." Paul magnified his office and humbled himself. In presence of the forces arrayed against him and the great trust committed to him, he felt his own weakness. And if the great apostle trembled in view of his work, does it become any preacher of the gospel to be self confident? Human power at its best can produce no spiritual result. The most highly gifted are impotent to convert a single sinner. To be confident in our own strength is to be weak; for this confidence prevents the exercise of Divine power. To be self emptied, self distrustful, consciously weak, is to be really strong; for then God can work by us. Whilst we preach the Word, we are to stand still in impotence and see the salvation of God. This is a negative source of power to the preacher, a keeping of the field clear to let the Divine force have full play. Here also the law holds, "He that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
2. The presence of the Holy Spirit. The apostle's preaching was "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." The truth he uttered was carried home to men's minds and hearts by the Spirit of Christ, and consequently with a power of conviction which no force of reasoning could produce. Here lies the preacher's strength. Great results may be wrought by human power on a lower level: logic may convince the intellect, rhetoric may dazzle the imagination, pathos may touch the heart; but the Holy Spirit alone can convert, and nothing short of conversion should satisfy us. As the powder to the ball, as the strong arm to the sword (Hebrews 4:12), so is the Spirit to the Word. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6). This was the secret of the apostle's power, and all workers for Christ must depend on the same source of strength if they would "be strong and do exploits."
III. THE CHIEF END OF PREACHING. Paul aimed at producing faith in Christ, and he was careful that this "faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." Belief in Jesus Christ may rest upon evidence addressed to the understanding, or upon the authority of a teacher or Church; and this is important in its own place. But such belief implies no more than a mental assent to certain facts or truths, and requires for its production nothing beyond the natural force of proof. The faith which saves is the product of the Holy Spirit working effectually in the hearers of the Word, and is based upon his "demonstration" of the truth. It is, therefore, a stable and abiding thing, upheld by him who produced it; and it is an operative thing, affecting the heart and life of the believer. The end of gospel preaching is to bring men to exercise this living faith. Let the preacher pray and work for this; let the hearer ask himself if he has obtained it. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.