1. Corinthians 2 - Preaching about the cross

Erkki Koskenniemi

Arrival in Corinth trembling with fear 2:1-5

In the first chapter, Paul started to deal with the quarrels in the church in Corinth. Now, he seems to talk about something else. He already emphasized at the end of the chapter 1 that the Gospel of God is not a human doctrine. God’s wisdom is completely different from people’s ideas. However, we must not forget that Paul had the disputes in the church of Corinth in his mind all the time. We will notice this in Chapter 4.

The Apostle's arrival in Corinth was not a triumph. On the contrary, Paul had been through a lot on his way through Greece. There had been assault and imprisonment in Philippi, escape from Thessalonica, and waste of time with the philosophers of Athens. Paul was not a super preacher whose nerves were made of steel. When passing from Athens to Corinth, he was simply afraid. Who knew what awaited him in Corinth?

Because of this, his appearance in Corinth was not captivating and strong. In this situation, he could only focus on what was most important; he talked about the atonement of Christ and the forgiveness of sins. He was preaching God’s secret. All those who God called to himself came to hear the Gospel and were baptized.

Paul could not compete with the skilled and eloquent speakers, nor did he start to argue with philosophers. The message was simple. Those who believed it, found God. Those who did not believe it, passed by. This is why the faith of the Corinthians was not based on human wisdom, Paul’s abilities or charm. Their faith was based on God himself and his amazing teaching about Christ’s atonement. This message bore fruit wonderfully.

The Gospel is the most beautiful flower in the world 2:6-16

When talking about the fact that that the wise men of this world ignore the Gospel of God, Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. On the contrary. In this chapter, he praises the awesomeness of the Gospel. It is the true and perfect wisdom, marvellous and wonderful. The problem is completely with the wise men of this world. When they neglected the Gospel, they walked past the most precious thing in the world.

The powerful men of this world appreciate their power, and they are highly respected. Wisdom is valued and admired. Eventually, the wise and powerful men will, however, find their wisdom and power worthless. Instead, God's hidden wisdom - the blood of Christ, the Gospel - was on God's thoughts even before the creation of the world.

The biggest proof that man doesn’t see things right is the fact that the Lord of Glory himself, Jesus Christ, was nailed to a cross. God's wisdom is ignored by those who people appreciate. Instead, those who love God will receive, through the Gospel of Christ, more than any human being has ever been able to think of.

How then can anyone come to know the Gospel, if the human wisdom can’t reach it? If no one can receive the message about Christ by reasoning or by instinct, how can anyone be a Christian? If the human wisdom only acts as a barrier, is the human stupidity then the key to reach the wisdom of God?
- Neither wisdom nor stupidity, says Paul. It is only by God's Holy Spirit that anyone can become a Christian. The mysteries of God are enormous. The human being is not in a position to investigate them. No one else but man himself knows his own thoughts. This is even more true of God. To us He is hidden, but not to His own spirit, the Holy Spirit. Man's only chance to come to know God's wisdom is that the Holy Spirit calls him.

Luther talks about this in the Catechism, on the third article of faith:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith."

Without the work of the Holy Spirit, any talk of the cross of Christ is strange, difficult and sounds foolish. When the Holy Spirit is acting, it makes Christ dear to us, and the Gospel starts to be a comfort from God. This is the only way man can learn what God has given to him.

Because the Gospel is not based on human wisdom, Paul does not want to base his own speech on human wisdom. He speaks about Christ’s cross with the words given to him by the Spirit. This resonates with the hearts of those people, who the Holy Spirit calls. A natural man (a man as he is) rejects the message of the Gospel and considers it totally crazy. In a spiritual man - in who the Holy Spirit works - there will be a response to the Gospel of God. We call this response faith.

Paul ends this chapter by quoting Isaiah (40:13). Paul does not quote here the Hebrew Bible but the Greek, the Septuagint, which does not speak of "the Spirit of the Lord", but rather of “the mind of the Lord". Maybe he avoids claming that “we own the Spirit of God". This is why he does not talk about the “Spirit of the Lord", but about “the mind of Christ". In any case, this text shows how Paul is reading the Old Testament: Even if the passage is talking about God (the Father), he shifts it to refer to Christ (Son). The secrets of the Trinity are already on the Old Testament pages.

In the first and second chapters, Paul has already talked in depth about the Gospel of Christ and human wisdom. This chapter is one of the greatest among his letters. From the human perspective, these chapters raise Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, to a top-level thinker. Paul didn’t have to be ashamed when talking to the philosophers of his time, even though his strong Jewish education apparently did not include Greek wisdom.

Many scholars assume that philosophical-religious thinking was the hobby of some Christians in Corinth, and that this section has been written especially for them. However, we have to acknowledge that we do not know enough about the circumstances in the church of Corinth in order to be sure of such things.

It is interesting that in this particular chapter, which is so deep and hard to understand, Paul sets aside all human wisdom. Perhaps this is good; if an ignorant fisherman says that human wisdom is of no use, people would just laugh at it. This is not the case with learned and bright Apostle Paul: he is at the same level as other wise scholars. He can show that their wisdom is futile if they deny the cross of Christ. His words are difficult to ignore by a sincere seeker of truth.

God created us all with unique personalities. Some of us does not like profound thinking at all, but for some of us, in-depth thinking is what makes life interesting. This chapter has shown that a believer is allowed to use the intelligence he has received from God as a gift. The best example of this is the Apostle Paul.