Community Group Study Guide — Nothing but Jesus
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
We’ve explored many of the ways that our modern culture is similar to 1st century Corinth; sports, celebrities and power are all things both cultures celebrate. Another similarity is valuing entertaining and engaging speaking. In the ancient world people could be trained up as professional rhetoricians (professional public speakers) who would pick a topic and then give a message around that topic. For example, the early church father Augustine was a professional rhetorician before coming to know Christ. After his conversion Augusutin put his abilities and skill into service of God and the church. In our culture today we are bombarded with many public speakers in the form of TED talks, college profs giving lectures, politicians, celebrities using their platforms and one can just go down the rabbit hole of YouTube and be bombarded with the many and various entertaining messages there. Some of us are drawn because of the content, but many of us are drawn because of the entertainment it takes. The best TED talks are not only informative but also highly entertaining with high levels of public communication on display. In our passage today we want to draw out two lessons first, Paul warns us about valuing entertaining and engaging communication too highly, instead we are to seek Christ crucified and nothing else. Second, we get some wisdom from Paul here that can great help us with personal evangelism.
First, remember nothing but Christ crucified:
It can seem like Paul is down on using persuasion or reason in his messages. Looking at 1 Corinthians 2:1 we learn that he did not build his message on lofty words or wisdom; and in 1 Corinthians 2:4 he tells us that his words were not “plausible” or persuasive. Is it wrong to try and convince someone of the truth about Jesus? Is it a lack of faith if we desire to find reasons behind our beliefs or to share those reasons? Does this passage advocate that we should have a “share the gospel but if necessary use words” type of faith? Paul is not arguing that we abandon reasonable arguments or that we should strive to speak in non-engaging ways so that people are not caught up, accidentally, in being entertained. Boredom is not a better method when it comes to speaking. We can look at Paul’s own ministry and see that he would vary his way of speaking based on the group. His message on the Aeropagus was founded on reason and he argued for Christ in a way they’d understand (Acts 17). Likewise, at one point Paul was confused for the god Hermes who was a messenger god in the Greek world; we can take this as evidence that Paul was a good speaker (Acts 14:8-18). Reasons, arguments and persuasion are all good and useful tools, but what Paul is getting at is that those tools are not where we should put our hope when it comes to someone hearing and responding to the gospel.
The gospel is proclaiming the testimony of God (1 Corinthians 2:1). It is good news of an event that happened in real time and history and it is good news of a new life that is made possible to us through Christ. The testimony of God is “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). In real space and time, God the son took on humanity to be the sacrifice for our sins and to make forgiveness and reconciliation with God possible. It is an event that happened in history and it is good news to be proclaimed to the end of the earth. Likewise, this reconciliation with God is the end goal of all of Paul’s preaching. His speaking was unlike the ancient equivalent to the YouTubers of his day, rather than striving to build a platform and a bank account from his speaking Paul endeavored to point people to Jesus. This means that Paul did not sideline the message of Christ and take up the mode of communication that the culture bought into. He had a bigger goal than just entertaining with his speaking.
Paul was criticized for being weak, and in fear and trembling because he took this approach. This echoes another complaint the Corinthians had against Paul where they said he was “strong in his letters but weak in person” (2 Corinthians 9:10). Paul uses this as an example to emphasize the point he made in the previous verses, that God chooses the weak, foolish and nobodies to emphasize his power and demonstrate the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). What does all this mean? That even in his own conversion, his personal abilities and his weak presence that he was pointing people to the cross and therefore was demonstrating the power of the Spirit. The goal being that one’s faith would never be attributed to any human’s reason or wisdom. Sure, God used a human messenger to communicate the gospel, but it was God who saved. Even if the person who led you to Christ fails or leaves the faith you need to remember that your own faith never rested in their arguments, persuasion or ministry; it is God who saves and your faith rests in his power.
Second, faith resting in the power of God:
This passage is primarily about how the gospel is preached and how one should value the gospel content of a message more than the speaking style itself. But, a great secondary application of 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 is how these words impact our evangelism. Many of us are hesitant to share about Jesus with others because we are timid about our ability to respond to objections or have well thought out answers to people’s questions. We’re often timid because we think we lack enough human persuasion or reason. This passage informs us that our primary role is to proclaim the testimony from God (1 Corinthians 2:1), meaning we are to witness to the work of God in Jesus. This means we can sincerely and passionately tell others what God has done in Christ. We should all be in the word and prayer and try to gain more understanding about objections or common questions people have because we can be part of helping them question the doubts they have about faith. Yet, the good news of this passage in relationship to evangelism, is that you do not need to be smarter or more well reasoned than someone else in order to share your faith. Likewise your own story of placing your trust in the work of Christ is a demonstration of the power of the Spirit. The fact that anyone puts their hope in Jesus is a miracle and your story may involve weakness, fear and trembling but it is also a powerful example of how God saves sinners. Do not allow fear of what others may think or feelings of inadequacy around not being an expert in whatever apologetic issue you perceive as a barrier prevent you from following the lead of the Word and the Spirit in sharing about Christ. Faith does not rely on human reason, but on the power of God.
Main idea: To a culture obsessed with entertaining and eloquent speaking, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the powerful work of the gospel to save the weak and fearful. Paul modeled this truth in how he preached “nothing but Jesus” instead of making it his aim to focus on reason, wisdom and eloquence like the Greek culture.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Modern Christians can put Paul on a pedestal, but this passage seems to be showing us a picture of Paul’s weakness and humanness. Why would the Corinthian church see Paul as one who was weak, fearful and trembling?
What is the goal of good preaching in Paul’s mind? How is that not an excuse to be boring or non-engaging? Why should one not rely on wisdom or “plausible words”?
What does it mean to proclaim the “testimony of God” or “demonstrate in Spirit and in power”?
What are some things we learn about sharing our faith from this passage? How is 1 Corinthians 2:5 really good news?