This is the second sermon in our series on 1 Corinthians. The scriptures passages are Proverbs 2 and 1 Corinthians 2. You can find the previous sermon mentioned in this one here.
Rev. Charissa Clark Howe
Liberty Presbyterian Church
I want everyone to step into their time machines this morning and go back just a little way to March of this year. Now, I know that if someone asked me to get into my time machine and go back in time, I’d want to go somewhere cooler than this past March. But March has something important for us. You see, back in March – during Lent – one of the passages that I preached on was the second half of the chapter right before the one I just read. During our series, those of you who are reading along at home and using the study guide will read the whole book of 1 Corinthians. But in the interest of time, I won’t cover every single word of every single chapter in my sermons. Conveniently, I recently preached on the second half of 1 Corinthians 1, so if you’re interested in filling that gap, you’ll find that sermon attached to the manuscript for this week.
In the second half of chapter 1, after the introduction to the letter, Paul begins talking about how what the world thinks wisdom is is not what God says wisdom is. In chapter 2, which I read from today, Paul continues on the theme of wisdom. Here he provides a bit more detail about what exactly he means and how this wisdom can be proclaimed.
The Corinthians had a flawed view of what wisdom is. The whole known world at the time had a flawed view of what wisdom is. Paul was up against a great number of blow hard politicians and philosophers who knew how to use pretty words to get people to hear what they want to. Paul know how to use pretty words too, and he frequently did. But remember, he says: God is a mystery. As soon as you talk like you know exactly how God operates and like you know all that there is to know about God, you’ve missed the point.
We like to be smart in our culture. We want to know everything there is to know about everything. But that doesn’t automatically make us wise. We talk up the importance of accumulating facts with phrases like “knowledge is power” and “the more you know. . .” We have whole gameshows on TV that are just a contest to see who knows the most stuff. Education is important for getting along in our culture and for developing ourselves as people. And shows like Jeopardy! are pretty fun – my sister is auditioning for that show soon and I think that’s pretty cool. Paul doesn’t want people to shun education or fact or knowledge. In fact, in other places in his various letters, he spends a great deal of time telling everyone his testimony – including his impressive education.
It’s just that wisdom is more than having a smart or clever thing to say in every circumstance. It’s more than just knowing the trivia and being able to recall it quickly to answer tricky questions. But this can be elusive. Maybe that’s why we cling to fact and knowledge so much. It’s easier to measure fact and knowledge than it is to measure wisdom. We can sound and look smart when we have a long list of educational and factual accomplishments. It’s easier to measure and prove data than this mystery Paul is talking about.
Wisdom is knowing God, which means that wisdom has to do with a big, giant mystery. We can’t even begin to understand God by our own power. Every bit of understanding we have about God we have because the Holy Spirit has shown it to us. Proverbs 2 says it’s the Lord who gives us wisdom. It’s not something we achieve on our own. The trouble with this is that it’s pretty frustrating to admit that we can’t really know anything of eternal value on our own. And it can be frustrating to admit that everything that we rest our eternity on is based on what Paul calls “the mystery of God.”
Fortunately, Paul doesn’t leave us hanging here. He gives us some insight as to how we can deal with this. We just have to dig around for it a little bit. The first thing Paul does is he continues to talk about God’s wisdom as he does at the end of chapter 1. Even after saying that God’s wisdom is different than anything we can get our hands on in the world and from all the pretty speeches and monologues the other philosophers and politicians are giving, Paul keeps preaching. He doesn’t let the idea of mystery stop him He doesn’t let the idea of sounding foolish compared to worldly wisdom stop him. He keeps proclaiming the message of freedom in Jesus Christ – the message of true wisdom – the Gospel.
He admits that wisdom is a mystery without the Spirit. He is bold in proclaiming the message, but not because he’s got it all figured out. He’s bold in proclaiming the message because he is filled with the Holy Spirit. Before Paul became a Christian, he was a hot shot in the Jewish faith in Jerusalem. He knew all about talking a good talk, and he was bold then as he persecuted the Christians he would later join. He knew he was big stuff and he knew he knew all the right facts one was supposed to know. But as a preacher of the Christian message, he was no longer bold because he was full of himself or just plain confident.
He is saying these things by the power given and wisdom revealed by the Spirit. There is more to being filled with the Holy Spirit than a good, noisy church service. Those who are filled with the Holy Spirit are given the power and the courage to proclaim real truth to a hurting world. Those who are filled with the Holy Spirit are shown the wisdom that is mysterious and impossible to understand on human terms. Wisdom that is illuminated by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit like Proverbs 2 says we are to make our ears attentive to Wisdom, we open ourselves up to be those who proclaim the Gospel to others.
We can follow Paul’s example when we too proclaim wisdom. That is our job as Christians, after all – going into all the world to proclaim the Gospel.
That’s a daunting task. Many people feel like they don’t know enough or that they don’t have great speaking skills. It’s important to never stop studying your Bible and going to Sunday school classes and learning more about your faith – no matter how old and smart you are – but that’s not all there is to it and even those who don’t feel smart or full of facts and knowledge can proclaim wisdom through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We start by talking about the center of real wisdom –Jesus. Paul says earlier that this is going to sound silly to some people, but we can’t let that deter us. This doesn’t mean that we have to go around knocking on people’s doors or passing out flyers. It doesn’t mean we have to have some magic evangelism script memorized. What it does mean is that people don’t come to know Jesus if we’re silent. Rarely will someone walk up to any one of us and just strike up a conversation about Jesus. As individuals and as a congregation, we are the ones who need to start the conversation.
Speaking this wisdom boldly isn’t about self-confidence or being a master orator. It’s not about having a list of bullet points memorized by which to argue the other person into submission to Christ. We are bold to proclaim the Gospel because of confidence in the Spirit to guide us. We can’t understand this real wisdom without the power of the Holy Spirit and we can’t share it with others without the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the introduction to this letter, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are to present a united front to those outside of the church. They are to proclaim one message – the message that Jesus Christ is Lord and in Christ we are made free from the bondage of sin. He moves on to tell the readers that this is real wisdom. Real wisdom – God’s wisdom – the Wisdom we are shown by the Holy Spirit in the cross of Jesus Christ - is much greater than that of any fancy speech-maker or really smart person. Any wisdom that is not based on the work of Jesus is just earthly knowledge. In the coming chapters, he will talk about how to treat self and others, in order to best proclaim this wisdom in action as well as word. He’ll talk about how to proclaim the message with words as well. Later yet, he’ll talk about how we glorify God when we proclaim his wisdom, how we are to worship and behave in church. Finally, he’ll circle back around to this idea of God’s wisdom. The other stuff is important, but it always comes around to remembering that God’s ways are not our ways. God’s wisdom is not our wisdom. And if we are to be faithful witnesses in the world, we need to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal the Gospel through us rather than relying on our own power.
Let’s spend some time over this summer thinking about ways in which we can start the conversation with the neighborhood, with Liberty Borough. How can we proclaim the foolish wisdom of the cross to our community?
I’d like to close in a brief prayer this morning before we move on to the hymn. As I pray, please join me in praying for those with whom you want to share this wisdom. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you and to shine a light on God’s wisdom – the message of the Gospel – to those people in your words and your actions. This summer, we’ll be holding a few casual Saturday night services out on the lawn of the church. Pray about neighbors and friends who you might invite to those services. How do we start the conversation?