Before preaching on this text the preacher ought read Acts 16:6 to 18:11. Several things need to be pointed out. Paul was the first Apostle to preach in Europe (Macedonia). In Philippi Paul had his joys and his griefs (look at 16:14,19,23,33). Likewise in Thessalonica (17:4-5). Likewise in Berea (17:11-13). Likewise in Athens (17:18,32,34). But Paul preaches Gospel in Athens as is clear from 17:31. The mere mention of Gospel turned off the men of Athens. Thence Paul went on to Corinth. 18:1-11 tells us of Paul's joys and griefs in Corinth.
Two things are noteworthy: He truly becomes the Apostle to the Gentiles (verse 6) and his despondency must have been so deep that the Lord appeared to him personally and comforted him (verses 9-10). We do not agree with some modern exegetes who claim that Paul failed in Athens and therefore changed the substance of his preaching in Corinth. He did preach the Gospel in Athens (17:31) and verse 34 tells us that the Lord granted him success.
Paul was a highly educated man but when he became a Christian he considered his former religion as mere dung (read Philippians 3:2-11). Evidently he understood the two foremost schools of philosophy of the Greeks of his day (look at Acts 17:18). But Paul was not an anti-intellectual man.
Our text for today does not condemn true learning or oratory. It does not condemn careful preparation, outlining, writing, and delivery of a sermon. But, it does condemn anything and everything that gets into the way of the clear preaching of Christ and Him crucified.
The city of Corinth was much like the city of Athens. They admired philosophers and orators. They were always sitting around waiting to hear or tell the latest philosophy. Many of them were sophists, teachers of speech and philosophy who came to be disparaged for their oversubtle, self-serving reasoning. Many of them were skilled in devious argumentation. In court cases it often happened that the reasoning and delivery of a lawyer meant more to the people than did justice.
That is the situation in which Paul found himself when he went to Corinth. It is not difficult to understand why Paul became despondent. His fellow Jews persecuted him, Acts 18:6. And so Paul turned to the Gentiles, with success, Acts 18:8. But Paul was fully aware of the fact that the preaching of Christ was foolishness to the Greeks, 1 Corinthians 1:23. And that is why he tells us about his own preaching and teaching in Corinth from the moment he came there.
Paul emphasizes his consistency with what he had said in 1 Corinthians 1:18-30. The preaching of Christ and His cross is power, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. "When I came" evidently indicates from the very moment that he got to Corinth. "Eloquence or superior wisdom" denotes eloquence of delivery and cleverness in thought and word. TEV reads: "I did not use long words and great learning." AAT: "With any extra-fine speech or wisdom."
Rienecker: It does not mean that he did not employ any kind of speech or wisdom. It is just that these were not prominent in his evangelism.
Morris: It was an unvarnished setting forth of the simple Gospel.
Kretzmann: The subject-matter excluded, by its very nature, a show of eloquence and wisdom. The testimony concerning Christ and His salvation is supremely excellent only as it is communicated in all simplicity.
"Testimony" or the variant reading "That which is unknown until it is revealed" does not affect the sense of the passage. We consider "of God" subjective genitive in any case. Therefore, it means either "that which God revealed" or "that which God testifies."
Rienecker: 'The mystery of God' the counsel of God, unknown to man except by revelation, especially concerning His saving work and ultimate purposes in history.
Morris: Preaching is bearing witness to what God has done in Christ for man's salvation.
Bengel: The testimony of God in itself is most wise and most powerful.
Kretzmann: The testimony concerning Christ and His salvation is supremely excellent only as it is communicated in all simplicity.
Lenski insists that the genitive is subjective: "God did the testifying."
In other words, Paul's preaching was so devoid of mere oratory and human wisdom that God was actually testifying through Paul. That is the only way to preach. 2 Corinthians 1:12 reads: "For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you."
"For" is the explanatory "you see" and explains verse 1. The worst form of punishment known in the Graeco-Roman world at the time of Paul was crucifixion. Even Cicero called it the cruelest form of death ever invented. When a Roman wanted to curse a fellow Roman he said: "I in crucem" which means "Go to the cross" or "Be crucified."
Furthermore, the Greeks were far more sensitive to the beauty of the body than were the Romans. They had no death penalty as such. They would banish a person or give him the choice of taking poison (for example Socrates taking hemlock). But crucifixion? Most unpalatable for the Greeks who loved philosophy, art, beauty, oratory, etc. No wonder Paul says "I made up my mind." He knew what he was up against. Look at verse 23. A crucified Christ was offensive to the Jew and foolishness to the Gentiles.
Rienecker: 'Resolved' emphasizes a deliberate act of the will.
Bengel: Although I knew many other things, yet I acted as if I knew them not. If a minister of the Gospel, however, turns from the things in which he excels, in order simply to preach Christ, he makes those things of the highest benefit to Christ.
That is true. Preach purest Gospel and God will use your gifts to glorify the crucified Christ. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:31. "To know" is to exhibit the knowledge of, to recognize. Paul's knowledge about Christ came out plainly in what he said. "With you" or "among you" whether in public or in private, whether as a group of personally.
Rienecker: 'And Him' or 'And this One' specifies the point on which stress was laid, the effect being that of climax.
Morris: The particular point about Christ that is singled out is the crucifixion. That is the heart of the Gospel. On that Paul concentrated.
Luther: It is a wisdom which is powerful, secret, and hidden, and appears like nothing, because He was crucified and gave up all might and power of the Godhead, hangs there like a miserable, forsaken man, and it seems as though God would not help Him; of Him alone I know to say and to preach, says St. Paul.
Lenski: The emphasis is on the participle 'this One.' The cross always offends . . . Christ once crucified is such forever . . . 'Jesus Christ as the one crucified' is the perfect summary of the entire Gospel; whatever is not comprised in this summary is not Gospel, not Gospel in any sense . . . He states the same truth in Galatians 3:1. 'Crucified' means blood, death, sacrifice atonement, substitution, reconciliation, as the Scriptures show in full detail.
Note that this verse has "came to you" in common with verse 1. In verse 1 Paul spoke about what he preached. In verse 3 he stresses his own condition when he preached. Again, "to you" indicates close association. The three "in" phrases are adverbial, denoting manner, answering the question "how."
The word "weakness" reminds us immediately of Galatians 4:13 and 2 Corinthians 12:9. Like Luther, Paul often suffered from illness, but that did not stop his preaching.
Morris: The Corinthians were not very impressed by Paul's personal presence as we see from 2 Corinthians 10:10.
Bengel: We must not suppose that the apostles were always in an agreeable frame of mind, and quite free from perturbations, 2 Corinthians 7:5; 11:30; Galatians 4:13.
A very good observation. Dear preacher, don't let your mental, physical, and spiritual weaknesses discourage you. God lets these things happen to you so that you preach only Christ crucified and glorify only His name.
Kretzmann: Paul was ever conscious of his want of resources for the task before him, and therefore was troubled with diffidence and timidity, 2 Corinthians 7:5. At least in his own opinion, Paul seems to have lacked the bold appearance, the imposing personality which makes an impression upon the average audience. But the very fact that he came without all artificial expedients served as a foil to bring out all the more strongly the quality of the message with which he was entrusted.
The expression "fear and trembling" is found four times in the writings of Paul: 1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Ephesians 6:5; Philippians 2:12. Read all four and you will note the following:
Rienecker: The words point to the anxiety or solicitude of mind arising out of a sense of his insufficiency, and of the infinite importance of his work.
Morris: His fear was primarily of God rather than of men. It was fear in the light of the task committed to him, what has been called 'anxious desire to fulfill his duty.'
Lenski: Fear and trembling not of a concern for his own person, but for the work and its success in Corinth.
Before we go any further, we quote a pertinent passage from the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Art. II, Free Will, Tappert 535:71,72:
Man's natural powers cannot contribute anything or help in any way (1 Corinthians 2:4-12; 2 Corinthians 3:4-12) to bring it about that God in His immeasurable kindness and mercy anticipates us and has his holy Gospel preached to us, through which the Holy Spirit wills to work such conversion and renewal in us, and through the preaching of his Word and our meditation upon it kindles faith and other God-pleasing virtues in us, so that they are gifts and works of the Holy Spirit alone. This doctrine directs us to the means through which the Holy Spirit wills to begin and accomplish all this, reminds us also how he preserves, strengthens, and increases these gifts, and admonishes us not to receive this grace of God in vain but to exercise ourselves in considering what a grievous sin it is to hinder and resist such operations of the Holy Spirit.
And now to the text. Verses 1-2 speak of what Paul preached. Verses 3-4 speak of Paul's mind set and his method of preaching. The grand purpose of it all is given in verse 5. The "and" at the beginning of verse 4 is practically "and in keeping with this."
What is the difference between "message" and "preaching?" Note that both have an article and both are modified by "my." Therefore, Paul is making a distinction between the two. We think Bengel is right when he says in all simplicity: "'Message' is speech in private; 'Preaching' is preaching in public."
Morris: Probably Paul is not differentiating between the two with any exactness. He employs both terms to stress both the message he preached and the way he preached it.
Lenski: Paul uses two terms to describe the message he brought to Corinth both of which include the substance and the form of its presentation. The repetition is for the sake of emphasis, and "message" is broader than "preaching": any 'statement' (message) Paul made of the Gospel, plus the public 'proclamation' (preaching) he made in the synagogue.
KJV and NKJV have: "speech and preaching"; NASB has: "message and preaching"; AAT reads: "when I spoke and preached"; and, TEV has: "teaching and message." In any case, it covers all instances of Paul preaching the Gospel to the Corinthians.
There is no verb in verse 4 and therefore "were" must be supplied unless one translates as does AAT: "When I spoke and preached I didn't use clever talk to persuade you, but I let the Spirit and His power prove the truth to you." This, of course, requires recasting the syntax, though it does not change the sensus literalis. The two uses of "in" in this verse are not easy to explain grammatically. Rienecker says they mark the medium or sphere in which faith has it roots. Lenski call it sphere. The translations render them as follows: KJV and NKJV: "with-in"; NASB and RSV: "in-in"; LB: "with-in"; TEV and NIV: "with-with." AAT, JB, and NEB paraphrase. We have already quoted AAT above. JB has: "And in my speeches and the sermons that I gave, there were none of the arguments that belong to philosophy; only a demonstration of the power of the Spirit." And NEB: "The word I spoke, the gospel I proclaimed, did not sway you with subtle arguments; it carried a conviction by spiritual power."
In verse 3 the word "in" (three times) denotes manner or state. In verse 4 "in" denotes manner or means. "By persuasive words of wisdom" Paul is not saying that his words were not persuasive, nor is he saying that human wisdom in itself is sinful. He is saying that human wisdom, though a gift of God, has been contaminated by sin. Ever since the fall natural man wants to hear words, mere human words, whereby he can save himself. Heretics can be very persuasive. "Wisdom" is an adjectival genitive, distinguishing sinful human wisdom from what follows. "But" after a negative makes this word very strong: "quite to the contrary."
Morris says "demonstration" means "the most rigorous proof." Lenski defines it thus: "Proof or demonstration of some proposition or of some claim or fact." Six of our translations render it "demonstration."
Are the genitives subjective or objective? Rienecker says that it is both: "The spirit and power are manifested and the spirit and power bring proof and conviction." Morris is noncommittal: "Paul's preaching had carried conviction because of the power of the Spirit." Perhaps he means it is subjective. Lenski says they must be objective: "Proof demonstrating that the Spirit and power are present." It is not easy to make a decision. AAT is attractive: "When I spoke and preached I didn't use clever talk to persuade you, but I let the Spirit and His power prove the truth to you." Beck seems to make it subjective genitive.
Could "spirit and power" be a hendiadys? If so it means "spiritual power." LB translates: "The Holy Spirit's power." So does JB. And NEB has "spiritual power." On this verse compare John 14:26 and Acts 4:8 and all the passages noted in the margin of the Nestle Greek text at Romans 1:16.
"So that" modifies verses 1-4, going back to everything that denoted his attitude and the content and manner of his preaching and teaching. Does "so that" denote purpose or actual result? TEV takes it of actual result, which is very attractive: "Your faith, then, does not rest on man's wisdom, but on God's power." In other words, Paul is not telling them why he preached as he did, but with what result he preached as he did.
Bengel: Wisdom and power; Power and wisdom.
That is exactly right. Our faith is not based on the wisdom and power of men but on the power and wisdom of God. The genitives are adjectival, distinguishing the two. In actuality, natural man has no spiritual wisdom and power. My flesh has no spiritual power. Both my justification and sanctification are based on the power and wisdom of God. We quote some apt remarks from Lenski.
Lenski: The plural 'men's' wisdom deserves notice, as a variant for 'the wisdom of the world' 1:20. This plural denotes many men, not only many as found in one generation but in successive generations. Their 'wisdom' is not constant by any means, it changes completely from age to age . . . 'Men's wisdom' changes ceaselessly because each generation finds all manner of unreality, untruth, and falseness in the wisdom of the generations that have preceded.