The church at Corinth had a problems. Sometimes 1 Corinthians is known as “The Problem Epistle”. It seems that Paul just spends the long letter jumping from issue to issue and giving godly exhortation and admonishment. One of the underlying issues–if not the underlying issue–was their pride. Pride fueled much of their problems. It was their pride that led them to form factions about who baptized them. It was their pride that made them allow grievous sexual sin into the church. It was their pride that caused division in regard to eating food sacrificed to idols.
Their deep-seated pride was, in part, a product of the culture around them. They were in Corinth, a booming metropolis, a center of trade, athleticism, and philosophy. They were proud to be Corinthians, and the Corinthians we’re proud.
So, when Paul starts writing this letter, he hearkens back to when he had first planted the church there. This is part of what he says:
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. – 1 Corinthians 2:2
Paul’s aim when he evangelized in Corinth was that people would say that all the man knew was this Jesus and the gospel. Paul would not suffer being known as the brilliant preacher, the expert public speaker, the great debater. He wanted their impression of him to be that all he knew was Christ and Him crucified.
That way, when these brilliant Corinthians did come to faith, it couldn’t be said that it was done through reasoning and knowledge. No one could say they were smart enough or wise enough to believe the gospel. No Corinthian Christian could boast about being a Christian.
The message of the cross was “foolishness“. Even today, people find the gospel (that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for the sins that sinners like us deserve) to be idiotic. Imagine how foolish it was back then when you consider how shameful crucifixion was.
So, anyone who came to faith in Christ as a result of the faithful preaching a foolish gospel had no room to boast. We who are Christian today also have no room to boast. We are not Christian because we’re smarter; we are not Christian because we’re wiser; we are Christian because God gave us understanding of the foolish gospel. Our only boast is in Christ.
Here are some other applications for us:
1. Exegete your audience
Paul used this method for the Corinthians, because he understood their culture. In the synagogues, Paul demonstrated his vast knowledge of Old Testament scriptures. In the Areopagus, he clearly knew about the Parthenon and polytheism. He preached the gospel faithfully, but it mattered to him to whom he was preaching and how he would go about it. Don’t use a cookie-cutter evangelism. People matter. Talk to people as people. At the same time,
2. Know that the gospel is sufficient
One of the most striking things about what Paul has said is that knowledge, philosophy, oratory, and debate skills are not required to lead people to Christ. In Corinth, all Paul needed was the basic gospel of Jesus Christ. The foolish gospel is what God has ordained to use to call his people to Himself. So, go and preach Christ and Him crucified. It is not you who saves. It is God Himself. We are simply the messengers of the good news of salvation in Christ.
We live in a culture not too different from ancient Corinth. Let it be said about you that you know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.