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That Your Faith Might Rest on God’s Power

Sermon passage: (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5) Spoken on: May 26, 2019
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Dr. Tan Hock Seng
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1 Corinthians

Tags: 1 Corinthians 哥林多前书

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About Dr. Tan Hock Seng: Dr. Tan teaches New Testament studies, theology and languages in various seminaries in Singapore.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Title: That Your Faith Might Rest on God’s Power
Date:26 May 2019
Preacher: Pastor Tan Hock Seng


Explanation of Reconstructed Situation

The Corinthian Christians criticized Paul for his preaching. The criticism was sharp and hurting. Any preacher who receives such criticism today might tender his resignation. But Paul was not any speaker to the Corinthians, he was the founder and pastor of the Church in Corinth. He preached the Gospel to the people, led them to know to Christ, and guided them to grow. Now these people are telling Paul, “You must improve your preaching”.

Paul asked, “What should I improve? My preaching style, or my sermon contents? The people said, “Both!” “You ought to improve your contents and your style?”

Paul: “What do you mean?”

Corinthians: “Your sermon focus is always the same – The cross of Jesus Christ. Don’t you realize that the Jews hate to be told that their Messiah died as a crucified Criminal? The testimony about Jesus’ physical resurrection sounds ridiculous to the Greeks. You lack eloquence because you don’t use rhetoric; and you don’t project confidence. Occasionally, we see you trembling; and that’s embarrassing in public speaking, especially for an apostle.

Q: How did the Apostle Paul response to such criticism from the Corinthian Christians?

C. The Central Idea of Each Paragraph-Division

God’s modus operandi [way of doing things] is to use the foolish and the weak things of this world to manifest His power. [The message of the Cross may appear foolish, but Gospel is a means of God’s transformation power to change lives].

You, Corinthian Christians yourselves are examples of God’s modus operandi. [You were foolish, weak, and lowly, yet God chose you]

My cross-focused preaching is patterned after God’s modus operandi. [I deliberately preached in plain and simple manners. I wanted God’s power to be manifested through my preaching without the frills and the thrills].

I. God’s Modus Operandi of Manifesting His Power & Wisdom

God uses the foolish and weak things of this world to manifest his power and wisdom.

A. God Chose the Foolish Things to Shame the Wise.

In the OT times

The Conquest of Jericho by walking around the city was a foolish strategy (Joshua 6:1-27).

God told Joshua to instruct the Israelites to march around the city once, for six days. Then on the seventh day, march around the city seven times with the priests blowing the ram’s horns. Then when you hear a long trumpet blast, everybody must shout, and the wall of the city will collapse. [A God did not tell them what to shout, so some shouted “Majullah!” “some, “Merdeka!;” and some shouted “Goal!” but the city fell.]

That, in retrospect, is actually a foolish battle strategy. But God used it to defeat a well-fortified city.

Today, the battle strategy that Joshua employed has evolved into a kind of religious ritual known as “prayer walk”. Christians would pray as they walk around a town they want to construct a church-building. They pray that all the demonic forces and strongholds within the estate would be bound and defeated by the people’s marching, just as Jericho walls had collapsed, But Joshua’s Jericho march is not meant to be a battle-strategy. God used something that is ridiculous simply to display His power. We should rely on God and not upon rituals.

Elijah’s lighting up the sacrifice altar that was drenched with water was another foolish strategy that God chose to display His power. You may read this story in 2 Kings 18:30-39.

B. God Chose the Weak Things to Shame the Strong

During the period of the Judges, Israel was overpowered by the combined armies of three enemy kingdoms: the Midianites, Amalekites and the eastern Canaanites. Gideon summoned 32,000 men to fight with him. But God said, “Gideon, you have too many men.” “I don’t want the Israelites to boast that they are saved by their own strength. God reduced the numbers of fighters from 32,000 to 22,000, and then from 22,000 to only 300 men (Judges 6:33; 7:1-25). And Gideon and his 300 men defeated the three bands of armies.

Here, we see an example of God using a weak number to shame a strong, formidable enemy force. God intentionally choose a small number so that no Israelite may boast, “We are saved because we are mighty”.

Similarly Paul told the Corinthians that God chose the foolish and the Greek to become His people “So that no man may boast before him. ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the LORD’.”

If you read 2 Chronicles 20:18-23, you will see that God once again chose to use another foolish and weak strategy to defeat the strong. Jehoshaphat fought a battle against the armies of the Ammon, Moab and Edom. The king sent out a “Hallelujah” men’s choir, instead of an elite force. They sang a simple Hymn, “Give thanks to the LORD, for His mercies endure forever,” and God caused the enemies to fight among themselves. You may read this story in 2 Chronicles 20:18-23.

C. God Chose the Insignificant Things to Nullify Things Highly Valued.
(God chose the lowly things, the things that people despised and rejected).

God chose the people who are despised

Tamar, was a twice widowed Canaanite (Genesis 38:6-24);
Rahab, was a prostitute (Joshua 2);
Ruth, was a Moabite widow without any foreseeable future and hope.

God chose Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth to be the great, great, grandmothers of Jesus the Messiah.

Likewise, Jesus also chose people who were despised as His disciples:

Peter, was an unreliable loudmouth. His mouth always entered a room, first.

Matthew was the tax collector. All the Ah Long’s tactics of collecting money were not strange to him.

Simon, the Zealot was a member of a terrorist organization in the first century).

D. God Still Chooses the Lowly, the Despised and the Rejected Today

Let me show you a painting. What rating would you give this painting?

Let’s observe how the picture was painted.

Now, let us meet the painter. Her name is Zuly Sanguino.

Like Nick Vijicic, Zuly was born without limbs.

She tried to kill herself by jumping down from a high building, but her mother stopped her. A pastor of a church in the town where she lived led her to believe in Christ.

God used people like Zuly Sanguino and Nick Vijicic to teach other healthy and fortunate people how to enjoy life and be happy. These lowly, despised people have become extraordinary people in the hand of God.

Q: Is it true that God has destroyed the wisdom of the wise?

A: Paul answered “Yes”

He asked “Where are the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?

Throughout Bible history, God chose the foolish thing, the weak things and the lowly and the despised things to save the world.

Jesus’ atoning death on the cross has saved people from many nations and brought them to become the people of God.

The world through its wisdom did not know Him (1:21a).

Atheists assert that there is no god;
The New Age movement believe that “we are gods”
UFO religionists think that aliens are gods

Ancient Thinkers described the Creator as the “Logos,” or the “Unmoved Mover,” or the “Dao”.

Through nature, they could know the existence of a Creator.
But even if they are aware of a Creator, they only knew Him as an impersonal Being – the Unknown God.

Q: Who are those who can know God?

Paul: Those who are preached the “Gospel of Jesus Christ”

God is pleased through the foolishness of what was preached
to save those who believed.

Christianity is not a religion; Christianity is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

II. The Corinthian Christians Were Living Evidence of God’s Modus Operandi

Not many of you were wise by human standards
Not many of you were influential
Not many of you were of noble birth

Those three conditions are inter-related.
People of noble birth are usually influential. Their children will grow up to be learned and “wise” because they were taught by private philosophers whom the parents hired.

Paul reminded the Corinthians,
You were not wise but God chose you who were foolish;
You were not influential, but God chose you who were weak
You were not of noble birth, but God chose you who were lowly & despised

So, if you laughed at the Gospel of Christ, you are laughing at yourselves

You might ask, “I am not foolish or weak, will God still choose to use me?”

We see the same issue in one of the Beatitudes:
Luke 6:20 reads, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” Then some readers may react, “I am not poor, but quite rich, so how may I still be blessed?” Matthew 5:3 clarifies “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

III. The Success of Gospel Preaching is the Work of the Holy Spirit

1. Salvation is a calling

“Salvation is a Calling” in the sense that in Christ we are called to be God’s people. God’s people has a mission in this world. That mission is to be God’s agents to draw other people worship the One True God – the Creator of Heaven & Earth. We may say, “We are saved with a purpose – to draw people to worship the True God.

As we have read, this concept is mentioned twice in today’s passage, in verse 24 & verse 26:

but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1:24)

“Brother, think of what you were when you are called,
Not many of you were wise … influential and of noble birth (1:26).

2. The message of the Cross is appraised differently by the unbelievers and believers.

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing
To those who are being saved, it is the power of God (1:18).

To the unbelievers, the Gospel is foolishness; to the believers, it is the power of God.

To the unbelieving Jews the Gospel can be a stumbling block; to the believing Jews, the cross is the Power of God.

The message about Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1:23-24).

3. A believer’s salvation is the work of God

It is because of God, we are saved:
“God was pleased through … what was preached to save those who believe” (1:21b)
It is because of God, we are called:
“Think of what you were when you were called” (1:26).
It is because of God, we are united with Christ:
“It is because of Him you are in Christ” (1:30)

I have never saved anyone through my Gospel sharing; God is the One who saves.
My part is to share the Gospel; and God’s part is to save.

4. God’s saving power transpires through the preaching of the non-compromising Gospel.

Because the Gospel is the Power of God at work,

a. Paul was never ashamed of the Gospel

When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16, ESV)

b. Paul chose to preach the Gospel without any appeal to consumerism.

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified (1:22-23a)

Firstly, Jews demand miraculous signs. They had been demanding miraculous sign since Jesus was preaching. Did Jesus performing any miraculous sign? Yes, all His works of healing and preaching to the poor were actually messianic signs, miracles included, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:5)
What more signs were they expecting? Perhaps, the kind of spectacular wonders that the devil tempted Jesus to do “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread (Matthew 4:3); “Jump down from this highpoint, and God will send His angels to catch you (4:5,6). Jesus did not want to do magic like Criss Angel, and Paul also does not want to be another David Blaine.

Greeks look for wisdom. They enjoyed a speaker’s display of rhetoric and sophisticated arguments. But Paul told the Corinthian Christians,
“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God” (2:1)

On the contrary, I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling (2:3).

Despite the Jewish and the Greek consumerists’ preference, Paul retorted, “I shall keep on preaching the message of Christ and Him, crucified.

5. A believer’s salvation is an evidence of God’s power.

Paul chose to preach the Gospel message without the frills and thrills.
He reason was “So that the hearers’ faith might rest on God’s power, and not on men’s wisdom”

so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power (2:5b).

Knowing that God is the One who saves, we do not have to employ emotionalism tactics.

I’m not saying that we should be emotionally detached in worship.
God created us with emotions. It is alright express emotions to God.

I’m talking about emotionalism, that is, the manipulation of emotions to obtain desired results.

Sometimes, when churches choose to rely too much on technical stuff, like using lightings to create mood, using music to stir emotions, people can be manipulated psychologically to make decisions that have no lasting effects.

[Dr John White, an English pastor and also a psychiatrist, would often ask his audience to take a break and wash their face when he sensed that they are affected by emotionalism. After those unhealthy emotional elements wear off then he proceed to elicit for commitments for Christian living and missions.]

[This example is consistent with Paul’s concerning, so that your faith is solely based on the work of the Holy Spirit, and not by some clever manipulation.]

6. Every people will learn the Gospel differently, and will respond at different time.

My Testimony
I came to Jubilee Church when I was 8 year-old. I attended the Children Sunday School. Over the next three years I listened to the Bible stories about the Creation, Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham and all the interesting stories in the Old Testament. But at the age of 11, my best friend in school introduced me to the Evolution and the Big Bang theories. For one day in the week I listened to Bible stories, and for the next five days I was continually hit by information that apparently contradicted Genesis 1 & 2 [the Creation account]. My Sunday school teacher could not help me resolve my confusion because Jubilee Church did not have a good library then. Now it has a very good one. So, I became an atheist. Although I continued attending Sunday school classes, and sang in the children’s choir, I did not believed in God. Then when I went to secondary school, another atheist became my best friend. In addition to atheism, he introduced me to the life and thoughts of Chairman Mao Zedong [毛泽东]. He himself was a teenaged recruit of an underground communist party. He often told me, “Many Christians actually go to church to just to have fun – sing songs, play games and be entertained. This is an example of “Religion being the Opium of the People.” One day that atheist friend asked me, “Tell me, how many times have you read the New Testament?” I was taken aback momentarily. Just as I was about to tell him, “I know many Bible stories; occasionally I would read a verse here and a verse there…” Then my atheist friend said to me, “I’ve read the New Testament three times.” I was embarrassed. I had been going to church for seven years, and I had never read a single NT book. So, one week later I began reading the Bible beginning from Genesis. I only did that to save face. I started to read ten chapters a day. I was 15 year-old when I completed reading the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, but I still did not believe in God. However, by that time, I could understand why John the Baptist referred to Jesus as “The Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” The Gospel started to make sense to me. I became open to ‘believe in God’. Being an atheist was a life without hope to me because everything would come to end when I die. So, I uttered my first prayer as an unbeliever, “God, if you exist; assure me that you are not a projection of my fear and desire. I want to know if the Bible is reliable and believable.”

For the next two years, I was on a journey of “learning to believe”. In the Youth Fellowship one brother said to me, “I don’t know how to convince you that God exists. I only know that God is real in my life and also in the lives of many people. So, I started observing the lives of some mature Christians in the Youth Fellowship. I could see that their lives truly testified of God’s reality. As I continued with an open mind to learn about God and the Bible, many critical questions I had about God & the Bible were gradually answered. Of course, there were also a few questions that remained unresolved, and those questions became life-time learning issues for me to read more Bible and Science. By the Holy Spirit’s guidance and working in my life, I finally believed and was baptized at age 17.

The focus of my conversion experience is that it took me about 10 years of exposure to Christianity to come to the point of trusting Jesus as God and Savior. Q: Where was God when I was search for Him? Did I come to know God through my own effort? No, God had been guiding me; God was working in every stage of my life, drawing me to know Him.

I joined a mission organization, Campus Crusade for Christ in 1982, and served in that mission for 25 years. My colleague, Robert Harrison, in Manila led a Filipino to Christ. That believer’s name is Joey Carlos. This moment I want to show you a video of Joey Carlos’es testimony.

There are people like me who became believers only after a period of questioning and learning. Then one day, a miracle happened, we believed and are baptized.

However, there are also many people who are not like me. They are ready to believe and commit their lives to Jesus after a simple presentation of the Gospel, such as the Four Spiritual Laws. Although their faith is simple but it is genuine faith. After they believed, then they go through a process of learning more about God, the Bible and Theology. After that they are baptized.

There are also some people who will trust Jesus easily, and are baptized within a month after they believed. Then doubts and questions will come later. Only then, they will start to learn about God, the Bible and Theology in-depth.

Joey Carlos was led to Jesus by means of an evangelistic tool, the Four Spiritual Laws. The contents of this booklet have been a stumbling block to many pastors and foolishness to theologians. I am one of the pastor-teachers who “hated” and “despised” this kind of materials. Nevertheless, through my years of doing evangelism, I learn that the Holy Spirit can use simple tools to bring people to Jesus.

7. We must learn to share the Gospel in a way that each hearer learns best.

No evangelistic tool or method is complete, whole and perfect. Even when a person commits his life to Jesus, the Gospel education does not stop there. He/she will continue to learn the Gospel, and gradually realized the whole and complete Gospel. This continual learning is called “Follow-up”.

There are many methods designed by people from their respective experiences of sharing the Gospel.

The Bridge (Navigators, Dawson Trottman); Fours Spritual Laws (CCC, Bill Bright)’ Evangelism Explosion (US Presbyterian, James Kennedy); Continual Christian Witness (Baptist adapation of E.E.) the Alpha Course (Anglicans, Rev. Charles Marnham, 1977; & Nicky Gumbel, Jewish, 2013).

Many of the methods will have a “Gospel in a Nutshell” presentation.
If you are not comfortable with sharing “Gospel in a Nutshell,” then you may choose to use the evangelistic Bible Study discussion method, like the Alpha Course or the Jubilee Church Gospel A & B design. The Roman Catholic churches in Singapore use a 10-month catechism approach to share the Gospel.
I have not come across the best method of Gospel presentation. All I know is that I prefer to use the Bible discussion method, like the Gospel A & B courses, but it is not the best method.

In 2005 one mission organization, known as the “International Orality Network [ION; http://] developed the story-telling approach to share the Gospel to people who do not read or write. Church members are trained to tell selected stories from Genesis through Revelation. Each story is about 2-6 min long. The method effectively transmits the Gospel via story-telling.

However, the more effective Gospel-sharing components will include:

[1] Prayer
[2] Your Personal Testimony
[3] Current Stories of God’s Activities in Your Life.

My great concern is that many churches would exhaust their time and efforts in looking for a perfect method but having little or no burden to share the Gospel.

8. Evangelism is a concerted effort of the God’s People as a Community.

In 1 Corinthians 3:5-8 we read,

5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul?
Only servants, through whom you came to believe—
as the Lord has assigned to each his task.

6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.

You may share your testimony, others may share stories of God’s activities in daily life; and another person may share the Gospel in a Nutshell. But bear in mind that God is the One Who gives the increase. He is the One who causes hearers to become believers. Then the pastors may do the baptizing. Everyone has a part to play in evangelism as a community.


Here is a review of the three central ideas of 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 text:

I. God Uses the Foolish and Weak Things of This World to Manifest His Power and Wisdom.

II. Corinthian Christians Were Living Evidence of God’s Modus Operandi.

III. The Success of Gospel Preaching is the Work of the Holy Spirit.

Here are the eight application principles of the message:

1. Salvation is a calling

2. The message of the Cross is appraised differently by the unbelievers and believers.

3. A believer’s salvation is the work of God

4. God’s saving power transpires through the preaching of the non-compromising Gospel.

5. A believer’s salvation is an evidence of God’s power.

6. Every people will learn the Gospel differently, and will respond at different time.

7. We must learn to share the Gospel in a way that each hearer learns best.

8. Evangelism is a concerted effort of the God’s People as a Com

1 Corinthians 1:18–2:5 (Listen)

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

2:1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.