The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
February 9, 2020
I Corinthians 2:1-5
The Word Works!
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
One of the things that I learned “the hard way” is that if you want to get a job done right you need to use the right tool. That truth applies no matter whether you are working on a car or whether you are working on a lakehouse. Let me share with you a real-life example. A number of years ago I wanted to start replacing the siding on the lakehouse we inherited from my Mom and Dad. I figured I’d start with the two sides of the house where there was a deck to stand on. It took a little bit of convincing but I finally got my brother Mike (who is an expert woodworker) to agree that If I purchased all the materials and if I got all the old siding off the house and if I got all the new siding stained, he would install the new siding. After he finally agreed I asked him, “How do I get the old siding off?” He said that it was actually quite simple. You take a crow bar and get it into the seam between the 4’ by 8’ pieces of siding. Once you have the crow bar underneath the edge, you just grab hold of the siding and pull it off! Easy peasy! Then I tried to actually do it!
When I went up to the lake the following summer I did as I was told. I got the crow bar underneath the edge of the siding, I grabbed hold of the edge and I pulled! Nothing! I re-positioned myself and pulled as hard as I could. Still nothing! I tried using the crow bar to get underneath the head of the nail and pull it out. That didn’t work. I tried using a wood chisel to expose the nail head enough to pull it out with a hammer. It worked— but it was painstakingly slow! I knew that I would never be done by the time Mike got up there the following weekend.
Finally, I went down to the lumberyard in town and explained to the elderly man behind the counter what I was trying to do. He looked at me and said, “What you need, son, is a crow’s foot. (aka a ‘cat’s paw’” I said, “O-kay, what is a crow’s foot?” He said, “Follow me.” He took me to the aisle where there were all kinds of crow bars and hammers displayed on a wall. He reached up and took down what looked like a miniature modified crow bar and said, “This is a crow’s foot.” It was about 10 to 12 inches long with a claw on the end of the handle as well as a claw on the end of the curved part. The L-shaped curve also had a flat side to it. He told me to position the claw by the head of the nail and then use a hammer to drive it underneath the head of the nail. Then you just push down on the handle and out comes the nail. I took my crow’s foot back to the lakehouse, did exactly what he said and guess what? It worked! I finally had the right tool for the job I needed to get done!
When you want to get a job done right you need to use the right tool. Just as that truth applies in a variety of situations in the world around us, so also that truth applies when it comes to the “work” of the church. But what “tool” do we need in order to get the “work” of the church done correctly? Our text for today reminds us that there is only one correct “tool”— the holy inspired Word of our God! For that reason let’s study our text under the theme: The Word Works! We want to see two things this morning. First let’s see that Paul was absolutely confident of this truth. Then let’s see that we need to be just as confident of this truth today.
As we mentioned last week, the ancient city of Corinth was a very large, a very important and a very cosmopolitan city. At the same time, the ancient city of Corinth was a magnate for philosophers and for professional orators. Intellectual arguments and sophisticated rhetoric were highly valued. The Corinthian Christians were undoubtedly very well acquainted with the eloquence and the intellectual abilities of more than one “professional preacher.” Then there was Paul. As someone who had receive an excellent education (See Acts 22:3), as someone who was an inspired apostle of the crucified and risen Christ, Paul could undoubtedly “hold his own” with the best orators in Corinth. But that was not Paul’s goal— nor was it his standard operating procedure. Look at what Paul says in the opening portion of our text, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.”
Even though Paul was capable of using “eloquent” words, even though Paul was capable of speaking with “superior wisdom” (humanly speaking), he consciously chose not to do so! Why? Because Paul had just that one goal! Paul did not go to Corinth to debate philosophy. Paul did not go to Corinth to teach the people what they could do to improve themselves. No, my friends, Paul went to Corinth to proclaim “the testimony about God”! Paul went to Corinth to proclaim God’s Word in its fullness— both Law and Gospel! Paul went to Corinth to proclaim “Jesus Christ and him crucified”!
Why? Why did this highly educated man speak to the Corinthians “in weakness and fear, and with much trembling”? Because Paul knew, my friends. Paul knew that on his own he had nothing to offer to the Corinthians. Paul knew that there was no amount of intellectual prowess or slick talk or creative presentations that he could use to help the Corinthians to be ready for eternity! Paul knew that when he shared God’s Word with the Corinthians he had to step back, get out of the way and focus on the power of God the Holy Spirit as He worked through the power of God’s Word! And it worked! For eighteen months Paul trusted in the power of God’s Word to work in the hearts of the people of Corinth. For eighteen months Paul saw how God’s Word led the Corinthians to recognize their sins, to repent of their sins and to trust in “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (Pointing to the cross) for the complete forgiveness of their sins!
The Word works! The apostle Paul was absolutely confident of that truth. We need to be just as confident of that truth today. In many ways the area in which you and I live, the area in which our congregation exists is very much like the ancient city of Corinth. Intellectual knowledge and technological abilities are highly valued and well-compensated. Differing and sometimes even contrasting philosophies are almost always given equal merit— unless, of course, they are based on Scripture. Even we sometimes think that if only we would change our style of worship, if only we would change some of the things we believe, teach and confess, if only we would change (you fill in the blank) then our congregation would grow! If we fall into the trap of focusing on ourselves, what we do and how we do it, we could easily find ourselves no different from so many churches which emphasize social concerns, political causes and helping people to “feel good” about themselves no matter what they believe or how they are living their life. As I was preparing this sermon I ran across a warning that quickly got my attention. It is a warning about proclaiming “a God without wrath bringing men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross.” Not only do I need to take that warning to heart every time I stand here in God’s pulpit, but each and every one of us need to take that warning to heart as we speak to others about God, about His Kingdom and about their eternity.
The Word is the only tool that works, my friends! Whether that Word comes to us through God’s holy Sacraments or whether that Word is being read or preached or heard only the Word has the ability to produce a “demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” Each and every one of you is living proof of that truth!
The Word works! How can we make sure that we are putting that truth into practice— not only in our own personal life, but also here in our congregational life? We follow the example that Paul gives to us here in our text. We make sure that every time we gather together here in God’s house the focus is clearly on “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (Pointing to the cross)— not on ourselves, not on the preacher, not on the attitude of “What is the church going to do for me?” Does this mean that we do not need to be concerned about striving for excellence whether it is in our worship, the hymns that we sing, the sermons that are preached or the Bible studies that we offer? Of course not! That would not only be naïve, but it would also be unscriptural. What it does mean, my friends, is that like the apostle Paul we remain fully convinced that the Word works— because the power of God the Holy Spirit works through the Word!
The Word works! Why is that truth so very important to remember? It is important, my friends, because of what Paul says at the end of our text: “…so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” If we were to base our faith on the ever-changing “wisdom” of this world, our faith will fail us. If we were to base our faith on the personality or on the preaching style of a particular pastor, our faith will fail us. If we were to base our faith on what we “feel” is right, our faith will fail us. But, if we base our faith on the “power” of God as it comes to us through His holy Word, our fail will not fail us— because our God cannot fail us! When we base our faith on the “power” of God as it comes to us through His holy Word, then no matter what storms we encounter as we journey though this world we have nothing to fear— because our faith is built on a rock-solid foundation! (See Matthew 7:24ff)
“What you need, son, is a crow’s foot!” That simple statement reminded me that if you want to get the job done right— you need to use the right tool! As true as that is in the world around us it is even more true when it comes to the “work” of the church. The “work” of the church always has one goal, my friends. That goal is beautifully summed up in Paul’s statement: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” The Word works! May the good Lord not only help us to always remember that truth, but may the good Lord help us to always strive to put that truth into practice!
To God be the glory!