Last week I made the claim that Paul’s goal (in 1 Corinthians 2:1-4) was not just to convince people’s minds but to get into hearts, and convince the conscience. This becomes apparent from what he says in verse 5:
so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
Clearly this verse provides a key to understanding why he took the approach he did in preaching to the Corinthians, or to any people, for that matter. Ultimately, it is faith that must be stirred up.
Faith is required to please God. We are told in Hebrews 11:6 that in order to please God, we must “believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” To some, faith is believing what you know isn’t true but believing anyway because you will somehow get “brownie points” for it. However, in the Bible, faith is believing or trusting that God, after all, is right in what He says.
While faith has an important rational component, it’s something more than mere mental assent. Trust is a necessary component of any personal relationship—certainly one with God. The kind of faith that is going to change the direction of their lives, that is going to be the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) demands a firm foundation. All genuine “saving” faith must be based on more than fine-sounding arguments. Ultimately, human wisdom is not up to the task.
The faith Paul wants to instill must be based on a personal encounter with the living God Himself. This encounter Paul calls the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Now what, exactly, is this demonstration? What is going on here that is more than what goes on in a normal debate?
A number of answers come to mind in reflecting on this question, but certainly one that occurred frequently, at least in New Testament times, is the performing of “signs and wonders.” Perform a miracle and you get a lot of people’s attention. Jesus even said this to his audience when He told them “though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand” (John 10:38). The words of the apostles also were often affirmed with various works of power (Hebrews 2:3-4). So, it is possible that Paul’s “demonstration” here for the Corinthians was miraculous in nature.
Somehow, though such a demonstration may have occurred, I have the impression that he is talking about something much deeper. The context argues for a demonstration that involves an internal conviction rather than an external sign. Ultimately, signs and wonders are never very convincing anyway unless there is first a change of heart. After that they are hardly necessary. Many people know from having to deal with a rebellious teenager that it takes a greater miracle to change their mind on the inside than it takes to get their momentary cooperation. I would suggest, then, that “demonstration” refers more to the internal working of God’s Spirit, establishing the authority and truth of Paul’s words and bringing about conviction of sin, than it does to an outward act of power.
It is a lot like when Jesus spoke in His Sermon on the Mount. Afterwards, the people were amazed, and said that He spoke “as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:29). The forcefulness of the argument is due not so much to its intellectual appeal, but to a gracious authority established by God’s Spirit in the heart of the one who will receive it.
Next week we’ll see how people have responded to such gracious authority.
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