Commentary on 1 Cor 2:1-5
Paul continues to explain the basis on which he was proclaiming Christ to the people of Corinth.
When he first arrived among them from Athens about the year 51 AD, he did not come as a polished orator with convincing arguments. Perhaps Apollos, a Jewish exile from the sophisticated society of Rome who became one of the leaders of the community, had led the Corinthians to place more emphasis on eloquence and intellectual arguments. Paul more than once acknowledges his weaknesses in this area. Was this the “sting of the flesh” which distressed him so much?
The only message Paul had to bring was that of Jesus Christ and him crucified. On the face of it, it did not look like a very encouraging message. Not one to attract followers in large numbers, especially given Paul’s acknowledged weakness as a persuasive speaker.
No wonder, then that he had come among them “in great fear and trembling” (a common biblical expression) for he had none of the eloquence which they might have expected and to which they were accustomed from the intellectuals of the day.
All Paul had to offer was the persuasiveness that came from “power of the Spirit”. He came to proclaim to them the “mystery of God”. ‘Mystery’ here is not so much something that is difficult to understand as a truth which had previously been hidden but is now made known to those who are ready to hear it. Greece at the time had its ‘mystery religions’ where the beliefs of the religion were only made known to initiates, something akin to some secret societies today. The ‘mystery’ here was the revelation about what God did for us through the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son made man – something that could never be discovered by the most sophisticated philosophers.
As Paul discovered in time, his deficiency was, in fact, his strength. All he had to offer was his personal knowledge and experience of Jesus as his crucified Lord and that was all that was needed. Paul was only the fragile “vessel of clay” through whom God did his work. As a powerful orator the focus would have been more on himself and his arguments. His message did not rest on human wisdom but on “the power of God” which was clearly visible even in his weaknesses.
What Paul says here is of great importance to us in communicating our faith to others. There are those who try to convince non-believers or those who have fallen away by piling on apologetic arguments and proofs of God’s existence or the validity of the Church’s teaching.
Ultimately, though, the only really effective way to lead people to Christ is by the sharing of our own experience of knowing him and by the witness of a life that is clearly influenced by the vision of the Gospel.
It is also consoling for us to realise that the success of our evangelising does not depend on our own abilities. As Paul would say elsewhere, “when I am weak then I am strongest of all”. It is not a matter of intellectual power but of our integrity which allows God’s truth and love to shine through us.
At the same time, as one commentator reminds us,
this does not give preachers a licence to neglect study and preparation. Paul’s letters reveal a great deal of knowledge in many areas of learning, and his eloquence is apparent in his address before the Areopagus [in Athens] (see Acts 17:22-31). Paul’s point is that unless the Holy Spirit works in a listener’s heart, the wisdom and eloquence of a preacher are ineffective. Paul’s confidence as a preacher did not rest on intellectual and oratorical ability, as did that of the Greek orators.
Our communicating of Christ and his vision to others will also depend much more on the inner truth of our message than on our powers of persuasion.