It is very important, for the proper understanding of the first four Chapters of I Corinthians, to bear in mind that Paul is here waging a very consistent battle against the sin of schism and party strife in the church; he will not rest till this evil is wholly exposed for what it is. It must be eradicated with root and branch!
Why must it be eradicated?
Because it is contrary to the accomplished work of Christ on the cross, where he has by His own blood become our peace, having made the redeemed one in body by true faith, so that by the one Spirit we are made more and more flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones, and that we should thus forever be ruled by Christ our Head, even as our body is ruled by one soul. (See also Question 76, Heidelberg Catechism.)
This law of the unity of the body also has its implications for Paul himself as he preaches the Word of the cross. He must not only purely preach the Word, but his manner of preaching and his conduct must be wholly consonant with this accomplished work of Christ on the cross.
In the last day the books of the conscience will be opened. Then shall every man’s work be tried. Paul’s work will then be tried also. The day will reveal it. Yet, Paul even now walks as in that day. And although he will not be tried by those who criticize him, for God is his judge, who tries a servant to find him faithful, (I Cor. 4:1-5) yet Paul is willing to cite the “record” of his own labors and conduct at Corinth, since that can serve in showing “fidelity and truth to the glory of God, and the safety (edification) of the neighbor”! Such is then not a glorying in “self,” but even as Paul says in I Corinthians 15:10b . . . “I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me”!
Thus Paul cites the record in the verses which we wish to consider in this essay. I Corinthians 2:1-5 reads as follows: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
We would have you, clear reader, notice the following with us:
In the first place that Paul here asserts and testifies that the banner of his preaching wholly agreed with the exalted aim and rich content of the gospel of Christ!
That is quite a wonderful testimony to be able to make, is it not, dear reader? And, when true, it is also effective as a weapon against all glorying in man, a preacher, rather than in the Word of the cross. It stops party strife because of the person or talents of a preacher dead in its tracks. Such is its indirect and negative purpose. We will notice more of the positive purpose of Paul later in this essay.
Surely the more positive aim of Paul is that the faith of the believers should stand wholly in the power of God, as this is wrought in the hearts of the saints, by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word of the cross, and as it is strengthened by the use of the sacraments. Thus Paul expresses it in, where we read “that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” See also Question and Answer 65 of the Heidelberg Catechism “Since then we are made partakers of Christ and of all his benefits by faith only, whence doth this faithproceed? From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.”
In these verses Paul turns his heart inside out!
It is the pure heart of a great preacher, separated unto the gospel from his mother’s womb, and in whom Christ, the Son of God has been revealed in grace and glory!
Here is a preacher who says: I, yet not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
All he could possibly preach and did preach was:Jesus Christ and Him crucified!
What does it imply that he preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified?
Certainly, this does not mean that Paul’s preaching here in Corinth was limited to the death of Christ in the narrow sense of the term, as if he only preached “christology” and not all of its implications as this truth affects also the questions of the fall of man, his creation, the plan and purpose of God in all things, the glory of His Name; nor that he did not instruct the congregation concerning the meaning of the church (see I Cor. 12) as a body with its many members, or the doctrine of the last things. (See Cor. 15)
On the contrary this means that Paul’s preaching was the accomplished work of Christ on the cross as the anointed of God, prophet, priest and king, who has come to reveal unto us fully the secret counsel of God concerning our redemption, and to pay our debt on the cross, making satisfaction to the divine justice, and also to protect and keep us by His power against every foe and bring us to final) glory. And that this Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, is the one who is come to “save His people from all of their sins.” Such, indeed, was preached by Paul at Corinth. He preached the full counsel of God concerning our redemption, as this is set forth in the Son of God, Jesus Christ; in His being set forth a propitiation for all of our sins, and in His being raised from the dead for our justification!
Paul sums this all up by saying: proclaiming unto you the testimony of God!
There is here first of all the fine touch in the Greek verb used by Paul in this phrase. Paul employs the compound verb: kataggeloon. This does not simply mean: bring the message, as a messenger, but it means bring the message down to any one, bring ithome to him. Paul was a preacher who was mighty in the Scriptures, according to the singular grace given him, and could really bring the message of Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures to stand forth in the Christ, who was crucified in the year 33 A.D. under Pontius Pilate.
Secondly, there is the question of the reading on the text. The question is whether the reading “mystery” or “testimony” is the proper reading. It is our conviction that the reading of the King James Version is correct. There we read “testimony” of God. In the first place because it is a very striking reading, bringing out a very fine shade of emphasis. “Testimony” indicates, that the message which Paul brought concerning the “mystery” of the cross, was the very authoritative Word of God Himself. It was: thus saith the Lord. And this “thus saith the Lord” did not need to be brought with human wisdom and enticing speech, but could be brought with authority, confronting every man’s conscience with the Word of God in the Cross, together with the command of repentance! And thus the reading “testimony of God” emphasizes a very important element in all proper preaching of the Word, which is not done in the wisdom of men, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power!
And so Paul herewith insists that his preaching was wholly consonant with the divine nature of the “testimony” concerning the Christ of the Scriptures, His crucifixion and a His accomplished redemption.
The party leaders in the schismatic factions could not point to Paul’s preaching as an example of Hermeneutical and Homiletical demonstration of rhetorical skill, nor of philosophical acuteness!
However, it should not pass our notice, that Paul did not anticipate all of this party strife and schism in the church of Corinth when he came there from Athens on his second missionary journey. On the contrary Paul knows that the Son of God gathers His church out of the whole human race, that He defends and preserves her to himself by His Spirit and Word—a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith!
Shall he be a minister, by whom the churches believe, then he must so preach the Word of the cross, that, spiritually-psychologically, the believers, too, will say: we heard the gospel story, we heard the Word of God and the Holy Spirit worked in us both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure! We know that what Hehas begun “He” will also finish even unto the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will cause us to continue to eat and drink, to have spiritual life, and refreshment even to the end. He will “make me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.”
When our faith rests in this power of the Holy Spirit, when all our confidence lies in what God does for and in us, then we have a rock-bottomness to our faith, which all the hosts of hell cannot assail successfully. We do not believe then because a certain minister persuaded us, because we fell under the “spell” of a minister. Or, the logic of the minister was then strong, his arguments were impelling—but they were the arguments which “carefully” interpreted the meaning of the Spirit, a reasonable service, and when we heard him we could not gainsay his arguments. They are the arguments that make a Felix terrified and say “go thy way for this time; and when I have a convenient season I will call for thee.” (Acts 24:25) and an Agrippa cry out “but with little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian.” (Acts 26:25) And the believers recognize in the minister a man by whom “as it were God speaketh” saying: be ye reconciled to God, enter ever more into the enjoyment of the reconciliation wherewith I have reconciled thee unto myself. And the publican hearing this with the hearing of faith says: O, God, be propitious to me, the sinner! And he goes home justified and blessed, knowing that his faith rests not in the absolution of men, but in the power of God’s word, the comfort of the Holy Spirit, applying all the promises unto the hearts of the penitent sinners, who repent out of faith, according to God’s law and unto His glory!
Such was indeed Paul’s aim in preaching everywhere; and such was Paul’s aim also here at Corinth. He never departs from this aim and content of the gospel.
The testimony of God must stand.
We cannot for various exegetical reasons agree with the theory that Paul in our text speaks of a certain rededication to the gospel preaching when he came to Corinth.
What we have to say on this question must needs wait till the next issue, D.V.