Paul makes a quite remarkable statement in his first letter to the church at Corinth when he offers this testimony: “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (2:2.
The Greek civilization of which Corinth was a part thrived on knowledge of culture, logic, argument, and other rhetorical skills. Paul’s epistles give ample proof that he excelled in that knowledge and those arts. In all likelihood, as the saying goes, he could have argued them all under the table, could have flashed such a brilliant display of rhetorical skills as to make him the envy of the city, and could have demonstrated such a command of philosophy and the arts as to mesmerize them all. Was Paul tempted to do that? Scripture does not tell us, so we are left to wonder. But what we are told is that Paul made a deliberate decision not to address the Corinthians in that manner. Should they be inclined to listen to him, should his words move them it would not result from the superior quality of his speaking but rather from the superior quality of his subject. “I determined,” Paul said. Grit and resolution charge those words, as do confidence toward God and humility in himself. Paul believed the message to be far more important than the messenger.
And what was the message? It was profound, certainly, when truly grasped, but simple—not something expressed with impressive elaboration or verbal flourishes. The philosopher would not come and hear the expounding of great human thought regarding the conception of the world and the nature of man. The poet would not come and be titillated with great flights of language, flowery descriptions, and clever turns of phrase. There would be none of the drama for which the Greeks were so famous. No, Paul had determined to deliver to them in a straightforward fashion information regarding an obscure Jew who had lived several decades earlier without ever having written a single book, sculpted a single figure, or for that matter done anything calculated to impress them.
In fact, though Paul had determined to tell them about Jesus Christ, it was not the facts of His life that formed the substance of his message. How very strange! How is it possible to say anything significant about someone without focusing on his life, or some aspect of it? Paul answers that unspoken question: “I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Both the plan and power of God are ultimately revealed in Christ’s death. Yes, the Lord had to live a perfect life, and, yes, He had to demonstrate through the power of miracles who He was, but the crux of the message—for Paul and for the Corinthians—dealt with the death of Christ both in its purpose and its power. Its purpose was to glorify God through paying the penalty for men’s sins—a price no man ever could afford to pay. Its power was to redeem those God chose to save, to grant them eternal life, to make them sons of God, and to raise them to joint-heirship with Christ.
Two thousand years have flown past since Paul recorded his determination. Today many have forgotten or rejected the same. Flashy programs, catchy entertainment, and clever marketing are intended to appeal to the masses. We must recognize what Paul knew: pageantry is folly. God’s message, the message of the Word of God, is still Christ and Him crucified. Nothing else glorifies God, and nothing else delivers a man or woman from sin. “Sir, we would see Jesus,” certain Greeks said to Philip (John 12:21). May we show forth the crucified Christ.
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