When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

Paul had been careful not to impose on the new Christians in Corinth some prefabricated system of orthodoxy. Instead he wanted their theology and Christian worldview to grow out of a spiritual experience – coming through them, not packaged and imported from somewhere else.

A theology that is fixed and rigidly defined will only be an obstacle, especially if its definitions have achieved a mystique of sanctified authority.

And this is where Paul had a decided advantage over where many find themselves today. As the principal architect of the emerging dogmatic system of Christianity Paul could work in and with his mission churches in this early construction, bringing the forms and ideas through the real-time experiences of his converts and fellow Christ-followers.

But for us who are coming to the scene not on the heels of Paul but after two thousand years of expansion and remodeling, the creative freedom and experiential relevance of Christian orthodoxy today is anything but lively, dynamic, and expressive of transcendent truth. In our time, an important renewal movement is reaching back for the “first voice” of Jesus himself, to the genesis movement of spiritual rebirth and world transformation that was the vital center of his gospel.

What then, if not orthodoxy? If not “lofty words or wisdom,” what did Paul first present to the Corinthians as the core truth of Christianity? Jesus Christ, and him crucified.


Observe: Jesus on his cross holds a very different value, as far as potency and meaning are concerned, from that of Jesus in the system of Christian orthodoxy. Besides there being a difference of a physical device for carrying out state-sanctioned murder versus a conceptual theory for explaining the significance of what happened there, we might simplify the distinction by saying that, while the system defines Jesus within a closed set of terms, the cross reveals the inner truth of what Jesus had been about.

For the one, Jesus is an object of explanation, and for the other he is the subject of a revelation. (We might also say that there is a difference between head and heart here, but we don’t want to encourage internal divisions of the whole person.)

For Paul, the cross of Jesus had become the epiphany of what his gospel was all about. Through the image of Jesus surrendering to his higher identity as the Christ, putting aside his own right to life and hanging in solidarity with all God’s children who suffer oppression and violence at the hands of arrogant orthodoxies, Paul perceived the very purest energy of love.

The same Spirit that searches out the deepest mysteries of God was there, penetrating the world’s darkness with its redemptive light. It’s not about doctrines. It’s about love, and it always has been.

Those who want tight and convincing definitions will be disappointed here. And those who think that salvation depends on holding the right beliefs will readily condemn it to the dustbin of heresy.


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