Relying Upon the Spirit and Not on Our Apologetics

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 2:3-5

There are some great books that defend the Christian faith that I’ve personally enjoyed in the past. They could be grouped broadly into the category of “apologetics.” This name isn’t based on our saying “sorry” for our faith, but the word relates to giving a defense. While I certainly believe that there are reasons to believe in Jesus Christ and that our Bible is a trustworthy book, it is important to remember that we cannot argue someone into faith. We shouldn’t present some sort of bullet point list to someone, then demand that she believe.

While Paul does use argumentation and is thoughtful with his words and his audience, he is primarily a witness pointing to Jesus. Paul can’t make someone believe. In fact, he doesn’t want to. His desire is that a person’s faith “might not rest in the wisdom of men.”


This chapter goes on about how what we now know–the wisdom of God that we see in the cross of Jesus Christ–is not based in our own intellectual achievements. It is not because I’m smart enough that I’m a Christian. Likewise it is not because someone is dumb that they may not believe. The eternal purposes of God are known to us because they have been revealed to us by the Spirit of God.

But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”
1 Corinthians 2:9–10

We can’t even boast in our knowing because it is a gift of God’s grace. Our coming to believe and understand is a work of God’s through and through.

We ought to love God with our minds, seek to know him better, to discern the mind of Christ, and speak ably about Jesus to those around us, always giving a reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15). But we do not do this as though everything hinges on my skillful argumentation. Christianity is not an anti-intellectual faith, but it is not a faith dependent on advanced understanding and academic achievement. Our faith is dependent on the working of the power of God.

Who is Sosthenes from 1 Corinthians 1?

Paul writes his letter and begins it by noting that it is sent from he and his brother Sosthenes. But who is this Sosthenes?

While we cannot be sure who this refers to, there is a Sosthenes mentioned in chapter 18 of the book of Acts.

12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, "This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law." 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things." 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

This Sosthenes was a Jewish leader who, when his plans to attack Paul ended in an embarrassing rejection by the Roman ruler Gallio, was beaten and rejected by his own people. It is not far fetched to think that this man that was beaten and isolated may have been one that Paul himself would have approached, showing compassion. In so doing maybe this onetime enemy of Paul became a friend of the church and a brother. Paul probably would have had a special sympathy for Jewish leaders persecuting the church, for that was Paul’s own history back when he was Saul.

No Leader is Good Enough to Replace Christ

An issue that arises in this first chapter is the way in which factions have developed within the church, each seeking to ally themselves with a different teacher. Some follow Paul, others, Apollos, Cephas, or Christ.

This may have reflected ethnic divisions in Corinth, with the Roman contingent in the city preferring the Roman citizen, Paul. The Greeks identified with the Greek, Apollos. Jews with Peter, here identified with his Jewish name, Cephas. Ken Bailey writes:

Breaking into ethnic enclaves is unacceptable. Furthermore, loyalties to individuals is not an excuse for breaking the unity of the church. Their leaders are not adequate centers for primary loyalty. (Emphasis mine.)

We still fall into this trap of lifting individuals up into a role that is only properly filled by Jesus Christ. That is a clear emphasis of Paul in chapter 1: Jesus Christ is who matters more. Did Paul die for you? Were you baptized into Paul? No. Jesus Christ, and he alone, has died for you and could do so. Being indentified with Christ is what is greatest importance and he is whose name we call upon and whose name is placed upon us. After all, we’re called Christians.

Again, Bailey sums up the issue well and very succintly, “The question is not ‘Who is my leader?’ but rather, ‘Who died for us?’” These divisions are problematic, but the solution lies in turning to the cross, which dominates the next section of 1 Corinthians.[1]

Today I saw this article on the front page of Christianity Today that I thought (was going to) fit perfectly on this topic. It’s titled ‘Our Unhealthy Obsession with Pastors,’ by Luma Simms. The article does do a good job of hitting on this point that we can focus too much on a local church leader, and Simms writes, “Many of us have come to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that the man standing up front every Sunday is the only one doing real ministry.”

Of course that is not true. Pastors are just one group among the whole royal priesthood of God’s people. While we need to be cautious that we are not idolizing the man or woman that stands behind the pulpit, we need to at the same time lift up the varied work of the whole church.

I said that I thought this article was going to be a perfect fit, but it went from being a critique on the celebrity culture that seems to trace itself from 1 Corinthians 1 to today and became more an article about making sure that people don’t idolize the pulpit so that women don’t covet that sort of leadership. It is as though the greatest concern here isn’t a pastor taking attention from Christ, but that a certain group of people thought to be disallowed from the pastorate are sinfully drawn to it.

There is a better reason to not idolize the pulpit, and it is so that Jesus Christ remains as our focus. And we have no reason to fear a woman leading, as this letter of 1 Corinthians itself will give us examples of both men and women who exhibit leadership as they prophesy in the church.

  1. Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 71. ↩

To Whom Was Paul Writing?

The opening of 1 Corinthians sets the stage for what will follow in Paul’s letter. [1] This is not unique to this letter, but is often how Paul works. So it is good to spend this week making sure we’re on the same page before we digest any more.

One key question, which may sound obvious, is, “To whom is this letter addressed?” Is it simply to the “church of God in Corinth”? If so, is this letter very limited in its application to just the pastoral setting of that one church in that one city long ago?

Or is this letter to this church, and in response to its needs, as well as to “all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”? Is Paul addressing the Church (big C) as he addresses this Corinthian church (little C)? Because if he is, then his intent is larger and his teaching more dynamic as it applies even to us today, living centuries later.

Some scholars take the first view and see 1 Corinthians as an “occasional” letter very much written in response to the particulars of Corinth and its people. One commentary I’m using in studying this book is Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes by Ken Bailey and he offers an alternative. He doesn’t think Paul was quickly jumping from thought to thought as he addressed the particulars of Corinth–the issues he heard either by letter or word of mouth. Rather he sees a well-organized structure to 1 Corinthians and that the questions of Corinth are fit into Paul’s outline, and not that his outline is based first on their questions.[2]

Understanding a broader audience for Paul, we are now able to continue into the letter keeping our eyes open to what he wants this church, and all churches to understand and believe about our Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. This is why I’ve made the opening lines our memory verse. While others may pack more punch, the opening lines will benefit us throughout our reading. I posted this a week or so back, but this visualization may help you to memorize: 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 ↩

  2. Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians., 23-26. ↩

“The Waiting is the Hardest Part”

When we think of the word “wait”, what does that look like? If someone is waiting for someone or something, what are they actually doing? It is easy to think of waiting as doing nothing. Waiting can seem like inaction, waiting for a later time when you will act. But read the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians. Read it all but the last verse.

Paul writes of their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ,” they are imitators of Paul–who was no slouch, and they did this in affliction. The church has been an example all around Achaia and Macedonia, and beyond that, the word of the Lord has sounded forth from them everywhere. They welcomed Paul and his colleagues and they turned from idols to worship the living and true God. Does that sound like they’re doing nothing? This is how they wait, waiting for the the Son from heaven.

Waiting for Jesus’ return is not sitting on our hands. Later in his letter Paul explicitly tells them to admonish the idle. To wait upon Jesus is a vigilant life. It is active, for he did not leave us here to do nothing. We have a purpose and he has given us his Spirit! Why would we be blessed with the Holy Spirit if all we’re expected to do is nothing? Let’s wait, but do so in a way outline here in 1 Thessalonians.

A Mix of Boldness and Gentleness

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, butaccording to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:1-7

Paul urges gentleness for the believers in these churches. He does not want the Christians to be quarrelsome but rather courteous to others. By the early churches example of such humble love and service, many were impressed with the new movement of Christians.

It didn’t mean they were pushovers. Just before this section Paul exhorts them to be bold in the truth, not letting anyone disregard them. They are to teach and rebuke with authority.

In today’s church, especially as it acts more publicly, do we find such a balance? Is it courteous and nice to the extent that we disregard ourselves and our own teachings, not wanting to offend anyone? Or are we so bold about the truth that we lose all humility and kindness?

Paul wants them to be both, and the humility I think is key. He reminds Titus, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” How can we treat those who do not know Jesus Christ and his gospel when we are no better ourselves, save for the mercy of God? We should treat others well in hopes of impressing the love of Christ upon them, rather than condemn them as though we were in a position to be the judge ourselves. We all need the mercy of God, and that should be central to the message we carry to others, and to each other in the church.

Remember Jesus Christ: a lesson from The Silver Chair

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
2 Timothy 2:8-10

To remember Jesus Christ was important for Paul, since it was for Jesus’ that Paul suffered. And he charges Timothy to remember, and not only for himself and for his work, but for others. Timothy is to guard the truth, care for it, and pass it on, reminding the brothers and sisters of this gospel.

Likewise, our common calling is not just to speak about God, but to remind each other of this gospel: That God came to earth in Christ, he put to death death itself, has forgiven our sins and will give us life with him forevermore. Do you remember that? Something has happened on the cross and who we are is a consequence of Jesus Christ. We should never grow weary of thinking back to these things.

To understand better what Paul is saying here we need to stop and look at what it means to remember. I want to make sure the active tone of this word is coming across. It is not just reminiscing or simple, dull memorization so that if someone quizzes you about Jesus you can ring in with the answer.

It’s not quite, “Don’t forget.” It’s more.

My family does a far bit of road tripping up and down the East Coast. One thing we do to pass the time is listen to audiobooks. One year we went through a great recording of The Chronicles of Narnia. In my favorite, The Silver Chair, I think we learn well what it means to remember, and why we should. The Christ figure, Aslan, a lion, tells a girl Jill four signs to lead her on her journey. And before he sets Jill on her way, he gives her a speech in which he says:

“But first, remember, remember, remember the signs, say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. … The signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you met them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart, and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs.”
(Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis, 560)

Jill leaves Aslan and discovers her quest is to find a lost Prince. Tragically, all along the way the signs are forgotten or misunderstood. The result is her group had to begin their journey without official support, they end up on the menu of a group of giants, and almost fail entirely when they come face to face with the prince himself—since they hardly were able to recognize him.

The Silver Chair Cover

The problem was she had learned the signs, but was not remembering them.

She knew one sign was to find an ancient city, but failed to recognize it in the rubble she saw because she was distracted and her attention was on the bitter cold and dreams of a warm fire. She knew the Prince would be the one who spoke the name Aslan, but when that person who spoke was an imprisoned, enchanted mad-man, she was paralyzed with fear. Fortunately – against all her “better judgment”, she decided to let this dangerous man loose, freeing the prince, for she says, “What was the point of learning the signs if we weren’t going to follow them when they came up?!”

If only she could keep the signs straight. If only she could remember.

The Silver Chair Illustration

We try so hard to do the same in our lives and in the life of the Church, and how far off the path do we find ourselves. Once we are entrenched in the world the commands of Jesus, the truths of the Bible, even simple ones like “love you neighbor,” do not seem so clear to us. We get distracted, we are afraid or anxious about life, or maybe we focus on our own comfort.

We veer from our course, and all too often also try to justify it. If only we could see more clearly. To follow Christ can be simple enough, but it is difficult. It is easy to lose sight of him. That is why we need to have the discipline to remember Jesus Christ… each night, every morning, and even when we wake in the middle of the night. Only when we keep him fixed in our sight are we able to live the life and follow the path that God has laid out for us.

*This was originally a sermon I preached years ago, but have chosen a selection of it and edited it down as it fits with readings for Year in the Bible this week.

Questions of Women in Ministry, 1 Timothy 2

There is a passage in 1 Timothy that draws a fair bit of attention and controversy. As Paul gives instructions to Timothy in how to safeguard the church, he also includes descriptions as to how men and women ought to conduct themselves.

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

1 Timothy 2:11-15 ESV

Much of the controversy hinges on whether these specific instructions are specific to this church and its contexts, or whether they are universal in scope. Should the women (or woman) in Ephesus set their sights on learning humbly and restrain themselves from inappropriately teaching and seizing authority because they have been deceived, and were especially prone to deception given that women in that culture were not often allowed the same access to education? Or should women not teach nor speak by mere fact that they are women?

I’ve been reading more on this text in the last few days, looking for resources on this issue to help present the arguments eloquently. I’ll include a link to a short essay found on Biblegateway that I think does a good job of presenting the different views, and does so without a quarrelsome, arrogant, or dismissive tone. Many articles on this issue can be aggressive, and especially given the way in which the whole of 1 Timothy speaks to that problem in the church, I wanted to find something respectful.

Personally, as I’ve said before, we need to read Scripture in light of Scripture. There are examples throughout the Bible of women of influence and authority. In the Gospels women play a very prominent role, even more so when taken in light of the prevailing customs of that culture. We see in books like Romans and Acts that women already had prominent positions in the early church. Given that fact, and other theological assertions of Paul himself in letters like Galatians, I believe when we come upon Paul’s writing here, we are warranted to spend more time on the passage that may seem to more easily lean one way, and read it in light of other passages and understand it to mean something else. Again, if we note the culture to which he writes, the mere assertion that the women ought to learn (v11) already pushes the boundaries of the roles of women.

That being said, I’d encourage you to read this article. It is from the IVP New Testament Commentaries, provided “generously by InterVarsity Press.” Isn’t great what you can access for free on the internet?

Men and Women in Worship, 1 Timothy 2