Sometimes, Paul’s words are confusing. At times, he even seemed to pit wisdom against preaching the Gospel:
· And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
At first glance, it seems that Paul had wanted us to abandon wisdom in favor of trusting God for miraculous confirmations of the Gospel. However, this conclusion doesn’t square with many other things that Paul had stated and his use of wisdom. He certainly showed great acumen when he debated with the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17). He displayed wisdom when he reasoned in the synagogues:
· And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2-3)
· And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:4)
Paul even reasoned with the rabbis who had come to see him when under house arrest:
· From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. (Acts 28:23)
Why then did Paul resort to reason and wisdom and not to the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:5)? Gradually, I began to understand that he did resort to the power of the Spirit working through the Gospel:
· For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
The Cross itself is the power of God as He draws the unsaved to Himself. Elsewhere, Paul had written:
· For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)
Instead of a demonstration of external miracles, the Gospel itself is the demonstration of the power of God as the Spirit applies it to our heart and mind, convicting and convincing us of its reality.
I also find this understanding liberating. How? It informs me that I am not a failure because my attempts at evangelism aren’t validated by external miracles. Instead, I leave it to the Spirit to validate His Gospel.
However, I still don’t see great numbers of people coming to salvation. Why not? Simply this – the Gospel is the power of God for those being saved, but not all are being saved. For one thing, the natural man does not receive the Gospel because it is foolishness to him (1 Cor. 2:14). The mere sight of miracles will not open heart and mind to His message (Romans 1:18-21).
Perhaps we are even in the last days, when humanity will no longer even listen to the Gospel:
· For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Let’s now return to the question of wisdom? Was Paul against the use of wisdom in the proclamation of the Gospel? In our opening verses, he wrote, “I…did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.” However, he wasn’t referring to godly wisdom but to the wisdom of the world:
· Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise [in the things of] in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19; 1:20)
This is not a portrait of those who are truly wise but of those who think that they are wise, even while they reject the things of God. Paul did not disparage real wisdom:
· Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. (1 Corinthians 2:6-7)
If the wise were truly wise, they would have imbibed the Word of God. However, since they had rejected it, there is no “wisdom…in them”:
· “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them? (Jeremiah 8:8-9)
“The wise men” are called “wise” because this is the way they are regarded by the people of the world.
I had also been perplexed that Paul had described the Gospel as the “foolishness of God” (1 Cor. 1:25):
· For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)
Does this mean that the Gospel is “foolishness” and “folly?” Should I call my preaching “foolishness?” Should I act foolish as I preach it to acknowledge that it is foolish? Certainly not! However, in the eyes of the world, the Gospel is foolish:
· The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
God’s ways are not at all foolish. Instead, we are to seek His wisdom above all else (Proverbs 2). When I evangelize, I like to reason. Perhaps, when I initially present the Gospel to those who have never heard, I will present the Gospel in a very simple and straightforward manner, to not interfere with the work of the Spirit. However, when I speak to those who question or have become hardened against the Gospel, I will reason with them. I will try to start with what they already know and apply it to what they refuse to know.
I might argue that they are trapped in the sin-rut of self-condemnation, rationalizations, and always having to prove themselves, that are right, good, and worthy, since they know, deep inside, that there is something wrong. Sometimes, they will even harm themselves to “atone” for their guilt. I then try to demonstrate that the Gospel is the perfect antidote, a glove that fits perfectly on their hand.
Do I have a good batting-average? Certainly not! However, I am encouraged, seeing that as Paul had used reason, so can I.