TODAY’S READING: 1 Corinthians 1–4
Paul wrote to the Corinthians (Greece) from Ephesus (Turkey), probably during his third year there, around 55 A.D. Paul was in the midst of his third missionary journey and seeing unprecedented levels of fruit. All Asia was hearing the Word of God, yet he couldn’t forget his friends back in Europe. Corinth was located on a trade route and was rich and immoral. The church Paul planted on his second missionary journey was diverse and starting to fragment, so Paul wrote to remind them that salvation is based on Christ alone, not on human wisdom or personalities.
Corinthians clearly establishes that missionary methodology must center on preaching the gospel. In an age where missions is becoming everything but verbal proclamation, let us allow the Spirit to clearly speak from the text without hermeneutical gymnastics diluting what Jesus clearly wants us to do: Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. We preach Christ crucified…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. My speech and my preaching were…in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. But we speak the wisdom of God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches. The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. We are fools for Christ’s sake.
Here Paul addressed two essential problems in Corinth: worldly wisdom and worldly power. In the Greco-Roman system of patronage, power was derived on who you knew, not on a system of equal access to services. Patrons had connections who could grant favors. Clients pledged their loyalty to patrons, giving patrons more power as they had more people at their beck and call. Wisdom was based on logic, persuasion, sophistry, rhetoric, and charismatic communication. Paul stood against both concepts, objecting not to the realities of power and wisdom, but to where the world said they were sourced.
It is true that power and favor come from whom you know; Paul’s point was that any patron other than the Lord Jesus Christ is limited. It is true that wisdom is communicated through words; Paul’s point was that wisdom is not in clever words, but in gospel truth. As missionaries go out to all nations, let us not unwittingly fall back into Corinthian error. Let us be consumed with knowing Jesus, loyal to the Patron of patrons. Let us be consumed with gospel truth, not slick campaigns or marketing. Jesus is both our power and our wisdom. The strong and wise missionary never veers from that simplicity.