A Clash of Cultures ~ 1 Corinthians 2
Big Idea: God tends to use ordinary people for his extraordinary purposes. Truly mature believers don’t overlook Jesus’ unremarkable servants for a slick spiritual superstar.
Walk past him in a crowded street, you won’t stop to take a second look. By any measure, Joshua is utterly unremarkable. Skinny, black plastic glasses, floppy bowl haircut, baggy t-shirt, cargo pants, overstuffed backpack – he looks just like any other nerdy school kid in Hong Kong. To the authorities in Beijing, however, this skinny teen is dangerous.
On 26 May 2015, Joshua was denied entry to Malaysia at Penang International Airport. Why? His presence, the Malaysian police Inspector-General said, “would jeopardize our ties with China.”1 Thai authorities did likewise one year later (5 October 2016). The powers that be obviously see something more when they look at Joshua.
Joshua Wong was the face and voice of Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Revolution.’2 (This pro-democracy protest was so named because that’s what many ordinary citizens used to fend off the tear gas fired at them.)
Incensed by the Chinese authorities’ tightening grip over the city, Joshua rallied a number of his fellow students for a civil disobedience campaign. His small crowd sat outside a prominent government building in central Hong Kong – reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street in 2011.
Joshua’s youthful passion and courageous example inspired many. Soon after, over 100,000 people joined in across the city bringing Hong Kong traffic and business to a standstill. A boy with an umbrella paralyzed a whole city! Who knew that a scrawny, bespectacled kid could have such power?
We misjudge a person’s power if we look for the wrong things as a measure of influence. That’s what the Corinthians did with Paul. Great leaders, they believed, are always impressive speakers. Think Churchill. Think Obama. How did Paul compare?
“When I came to you,” Paul says (2:1), “I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom.” Worse, instead of poise and confidence in his public speeches, Paul admits (2:3), “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.”
It probably also didn’t help that Paul’s insipid delivery was paired with a gloomy message. Likely nothing – “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2) – stirred them in the way that Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” (1963) speech had inspired us.
How good can Paul’s message possibly be if everyone who heard it walked away unimpressed?
Yet of all people, the believers in Corinth should have seen something more in Paul. More than what others “without the Spirit” (2:14) saw.
The unbelieving world looked down on Paul because they admired the wrong (superficial) things. Believers who make the same mistake today – like those in Corinth – show they are not as wise or mature as they ought to be.
Rhetorical brilliance alone is a poor substitute for “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (2:4).
True power results in people believing in Jesus. Only then will a radical life-change follow. This doesn’t happen when a slick preacher opens his mouth. It happens when ordinary believers dare to share the gospel. A boy with faith can change a city. Can you see this happen?
The heart of the matter:
Worldly people idolize the charismatic leader as the hero.
Gospel people believe every ordinary Christian can be a hero.
1See New York Times report (May 26, 2015), “Malaysia Denies Entry to Joshua Wong, Hong Kong Democracy Activist.”
2The name ‘Umbrella Revolution’ is a shorthand reference to a series of non-violent sit-in protests that occurred in Hong Kong from 26 September to 15 December 2014. This protest began when many ordinary Hong Kong citizens felt the Chinese authorities had reneged on their earlier promises of open local elections by 2017. China had promised Hong Kong would be governed under a ‘one country, two systems’ framework when Britain handed back control of the city-state to Beijing in 1997. Hong Kong was to enjoy limited self-governance and civil liberties (e.g. independent judiciary, unrestricted press) while China retained absolute power over the city’s defense and foreign affairs.
Questions for personal reflection or group discussion:
1. When sermons are preached in church, what do you think people want to hear and see from the preaching?
2. What do you think Paul would say to your analysis in Question 1?
3. What does Paul want us to seek when we listen to sermons being preached?