Confident Christianity: “The Odd Couple” – 1 Corinthians 2

THE ODD COUPLE, Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, 1970-75
THE ODD COUPLE, Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, 1970-75

Felix Unger and Oscar Madison were two men, tossed out of their respective houses by their wives, and they ended up sharing expenses in a two bedroom apartment. Based on a play from Broadway, the two were featured in a weekly TV comedy sitcom back in the seventies, and showed America that two people – a neat freak and an unmitigated slob – could live together if it became an absolute necessity. The two men could not have been more completely opposite one another. Oscar wrote a sports column and never met a vacuum cleaner. Felix was a surgeon who couldn’t get things truly clean enough to suit him. Each episode began with a classic prologue:

On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. (Unger’s unseen wife slams door, only to reopen it and angrily hand Felix his saucepan) That request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday, he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Sometime earlier, Madison’s wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?

Over the next five years, the two showed that it was not only possible for them to live together; it was unusually funny. They made it work against all odds. Odd couples can work – but it takes extraordinary effort. I mention this because all of you who follow Jesus in this world find yourself in an “odd couple” situation. Your value system, one that came from being instructed in God’s Spirit, has made you very different from the others you work with and are surrounded by in life. Believers think, feel and act in unique ways – and that makes them stick out. In fact, the odd couple scenario plays out every time a believer is place in the world and paired off with a team of non-believers. Every church in our community that seeks to follow Jesus is increasingly showing the odd nature they have, called to live in the same period and place, but by distinct rules. Let’s say it this way: God has distinct standards for believers that He doesn’t expect from the world… and that makes following Jesus look costly to some who are outside the faith. Often the church is better at articulating the standard than how extraordinary a relationship with God truly is.

This series of lessons is entitled “Confident Christianity”, and – though it is based on the Corinthian church – it is not a joke. It could SEEM like one if you have ever read much about the church of Corinth in the New Testament. That church was FILLED with sin. I wish I could say it was unique, but it was not at all – every generation of the church was a sinful one being slowly transformed by God. Corinth didn’t represent the best in their time, but Paul did – and he wrote the letter. Why then, should we call this “Confident Christianity” at all? Because the confidence we have as the church is not IN the church – but in the God Who regenerates and His message. Just because some people, even prominent ones, don’t yield themselves to God doesn’t mean that God cannot and does not change people through the power of the Word and His Spirit – He does and He IS.

God’s church is a unique organism. It is not a committee, but it engages people together. It is not a club, but its members draw encouragement and strength from one another. It is not primarily an organization, though it has rules and commitments. It is the living body of Christ – His hands and feet – to touch a lost world with a message of hope. The way it is to do this is unique as well. It is, in some clear ways, ODD. Here is the truth…

Key Principle: God made specific and clear guidelines for the church’s actions that are unique to her operation.

There is nothing like the church of Jesus Christ. We had a Divine initiation, and the rules of how we do what we do are set in fences that are unique to this work. Things that work in the world to attract and engage people are not necessarily allowed in the church. Consider the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians where Paul noted there were four reasons that church bodies divide that were NOT good reasons:

1. They confuse the STANDARD of truth – the Eternal Word of God properly and carefully interpreted. No one gets to overrule God on what is important – and He has spoken. The church must stand for systematic, careful instruction of God’s Holy Word. If we do nothing else well, we must do this well. If we do everything else well and not this – our work is near meaningless in eternal value.

2. They confuse the CENTRAL TRUTH of the church – the work and Word of Jesus our Lord. We aren’t a social agency or a social justice agency – our work eclipses those needs. The church must emphasize at every turn the importance of surrender to Jesus Christ, because He alone can save a man or woman, and He alone can change what is broken within them.

3. They confuse the importance of the WORKER with the importance of the transforming work of God’s Spirit. It isn’t primarily Christians that make the church a place where successful life changing happens – they play a secondary role. Men and women of God are not the source of change, but can be an example of the open and free flow of the transforming power of God through His Word.

4. They confuse POPULAR thinking for RIGHT thinking. There are many ways to get people to respond emotionally that are not spiritually correct approaches. The church cannot be simple pragmatists – believing that if it works it must be good. We must test every method and approach with the Word to be sure it is real and lasting in its quality.

As Paul continued his letter into what is now known as the second chapter, he went back in time to the way he approached the beginnings of ministry at Corinth. He offered several important insights based on his experience:

Some churches underestimate MESSAGE and emphasize METHOD:

Paul argued, the basis of the conversion of lost people and foundation of that ministry was NOT simply or even primarily based on TECHNIQUE. There is much written today about the way the church should appeal to people. I don’t want to overstate the case – there certainly IS a point to having a clean and neat environment to our church home and a creative presentation of God’s truths. There is a reason we want the environment to reflect order and personal care – just as our homes should. At the same time, message should drive method in the church – not the other way around. Paul says it this way:

1 Corinthians 2:1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.

Paul wasn’t arguing that he came unprepared or in mediocrity of presentation – simply that it wasn’t his impressive pyrotechnic display that drew people to Christ. The CENTER of the ministry is the MESSAGE, not the METHOD. Creativity is not only FINE, it is even REQUIRED in thinking through our public deportment and presentation of the Gospel – but this is much more than a local talent show – and we need to remember that.

Look closely at the verse again. Paul made clear that he took pains to balance creativity against distraction from the message and persuasive presentation of the simple truth of man’s lost-ness and need for a Savior. Primary attention needs to be placed on the TRUTHS we are communicating. After that, and only after that, do we need to be open to using methods that enhance the delivery of the message. We need to be careful not to codify old methods as sacred. Even experts can’t see forward well. I read some of these and they made me realize the weakness of expert forecasting in this regard:

“This ’telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” –Western Union internal memo, 1876.

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” – Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” –David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.

“Who the heck wants to hear actors talk?” –H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” –Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” –Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

“I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.” –Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone with the Wind.”

“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” –The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” –Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” –Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

“So we went to Atari and said, ’Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary; we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ’No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ’Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.’” –Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in he and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer.” (From sermon central illustrations).

We live in times when substance seems reduced and replaced with creative presentation. In entertainment that makes sense – in education it doesn’t. Math, science, reading – all of these skills require commitment to learning basic facts and a steadiness of logic – along with a lot of drills to ensure methods are sound. The church is primarily and education and information organization that houses a Divine transformation service offered by God’s empowering work. Our education must be sound – and drilled. Catchy sayings don’t replace solid truth – and people need the clear and concise teaching of the principles of God’s Word put in a way that will help them apply the right principles at the right time to the right problem.

Conventional corporate logic in America makes it perfectly acceptable in the world to consider the packaging of a product more than the product itself – but not in the church. The church must move TECHNIQUE behind the message – or it could easily be caught up in just another show.

Some churches overemphasize PERSONALITY and distract from the Headship of Christ:

Paul purposed to put his PERSONALITY in the background, and tried with all that he was to put the person and work of Jesus out in front. The stronger the personality, the more tempted we become as leaders to drive what is happening around us. Someone said to me one time: “That man is too talented for his own good!” I knew what they meant. They LOVED the man, but his talents and natural abilities left you knowing HIM and not Jesus. Paul said it this way:

1 Corinthians 2:2 … For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

Look at the two things Paul emphasized in his own life – Paul wanted to really KNOW Christ while he was in their midst, and Paul wanted to really know the work that Christ did on the Cross. On first glance, Paul’s words seem wrong. After all, didn’t Paul already KNOW Jesus when he arrived on that second mission journey? Surely he was aware of all that Jesus had done – he already planted numerous churches across Asia Minor and Macedonia. So what was he saying?

Andrew Murray wrote these words, and I believe they will help set up exactly what Paul was communicating to the Corinthians: “God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him.” When Paul arrived in Corinth, he had recently been physically beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, had his family attacked in Thessaloniki, been singled out in Berea as the problem member of the team, and lost his footing on the presentation he made in Athens – basing it on relevant poems without Biblical text. He was dragged out, and he was alone. He didn’t feel strong – and he didn’t know feel like he could put much into the “flash” of his speaking. He simply fell into the arms of Jesus, who met him in a dream and promised him:

Acts 18:9 And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” 11 And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

It was because of this history that Paul went on to remind the Corinthians of the early days of the ministry by saying: 1 Corinthians 2:3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

In the world, it is perfectly acceptable to build celebrities and let them mark brands with their identity – but not in the church. We are a BODY, and the trend toward Christian celebrity is a dangerous one that will yield “prima donnas for Christ” and allow us to elevate men beyond the truth – but we are ALL SINNERS. I am not arguing to demean men and women of God – just not sacrifice truth to keep them happy.

Yet, the problem isn’t only the presenters and leaders. Some of the problems reside in the hearers…

Some churches emphasize THE SPEAKER but do not remind people of the responsibility of the HEARERS:

Paul knew it would always be TEMPTING to put every truth in the simplest terms for the least mature believers – trying to require very little of the hearers of the Word. The message of real surrender to Jesus and committed study of God’s Word would not be as easily accepted. Many ministries are deliberately cutting content so that they can be more appealing – as are our school systems. Over time, the slow “dumbing down” of the nation and its believers are leaving an anemic church in an immoral generation. Paul said it this way:

1 Corinthians 2:6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9 but just as it is written, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” 10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

Look very carefully at the way Paul described his ministry.

First, Paul spoke in a godly and discerned WISDOM (Gk: “sophia”), in a way that required a level of spiritual discernment and growth to grasp (2:6a). The message of God’s Word isn’t supposed to be dressed in excessively hard words, but it truly requires people to THINK. The point of ministry isn’t simply the number that come to church, but the number that become like Christ in the daily practices of their life. Trying to always make it simpler isn’t always the right thing. Hearers need to learn to carefully scrutinize teachers – even if it doesn’t seem kind – because people are gullible, and can be tricked. Poor logic well delivered is merely an entertaining side show – Christian or not. We must present answers, or leave people drift toward those who won’t hesitate to offer critique. It is one reason we lose so many of our children to the world – they didn’t get substantive answers here. Our youth may need games to attract them, but they will need a diet of solid truth to sustain them.

Second, the grasping and discernment was not simply based on education in this world, but real engagement with the things of the SPIRIT – “not of this age” (2:6b). People who don’t have the Spirit at work in them will be bored to tears with what a good church is doing. Some movements in the church therefore conclude that the church is not as RELEVANT as it should be – and force it to change what it is doing. That may be justified in some cases when the presentation has become sterile or stale, but often it is a reflection of a culture that is increasingly led to do what is popular in the short run over what will solve problems in the long run. We cannot run the country based on dramas that replace the floor speeches of the Congress, but increasingly we are being told to replace the pulpit education with “more effective” communication methods. Truth must be logically presented, defended and argued – and entertaining the church won’t get the job done.

Third, note the words were spoken “in a mystery” – that is, in conjunction with revealed truths of God that He alone could truly direct and explain through His Spirit within (2:7-8).

1 Corinthians 2:7 “…but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

The study of the Bible and its truths cannot simply be an academic exercise based on intelligence and human reasoning. It must be consistent in the hermeneutic (the method of study) and not contradictory – but it requires a spiritual component to a man or woman’s thinking. God must energize them – and that happens through their surrender to His will. Smart people who do not possess the Spirit of God, or perhaps are resisting Him will fail to grasp the counsel of God when reading the very same passage. That doesn’t necessarily mean our message is too hard – it may mean their surrender is too soft.

Fourth, the message is spiritual and goes well beyond the experience of the lost man (2:9-16). People can’t conceive in the natural the powerful, optimistic, uplifting, exciting truths revealed by God’s Word concerning those who surrender their heart to Jesus. God has some incredible things He wants to show man – but they must first yield themselves to Christ for salvation and to the Spirit for dominance and depth.

Paul knew that many would clamor to have the teaching of God’s Word to ever adjust to the language and desires of a lost world. Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

Look at the words and note how they close out his argument. Paul made clear:

People without the Spirit don’t understand the Word of God properly, nor do they respect it – it seems stupid to them. They cannot understand what the text is driving at. This is the reason we must be careful not to “Bible bomb” people in social media and think our Bible verse trumps their argument… They don’t care what an ancient book says, and apart from the Spirit the Word seems like a simple record of a dusty past.

Don’t overplay verse 14. Paul isn’t saying that until you believe you will have no interest in the Word. Often people nibble truth before they bite it. They put their toe in the pool but aren’t sure if they want to jump in yet. Let them. Speak God’s Word and celebrate what it does to you. The bottom line of Paul’s words in 2:14 are this: People will use the Bible, quotes pithy Bible sayings and even use Bible logic – but the surrender part makes no real sense to someone who is not prepared to follow Jesus with their whole life. Poetically speaking, it takes the Spirit of God and surrender to His will to offer you the “glasses” through which the Word will really make sense.

In the end, the entire passage presses us to recognize that ministry is not about the world most people desire to live in. People hunger for success in THIS world, happiness in THIS world, fulfillment in the things of THIS world – but we preach a Crucified Savior, and selfless Christian and a servant’s heart. He stands as God above all – in direct opposition to the gods of FORTUNE, FAME, POWER AND PLEASURE – the gods of our age to which men pay homage. Surrendering this life to God is not the STUFF of popular worldly thinkers. That’s why we cannot use the world’s measures and methods as our drivers. We aren’t driven – we are led by the Spirit as expressed in the Word.

Experience Jesus, surrender your future to Him the way He surrendered His life for you – and you will discover a life waiting for you that you never knew you could have. Your values will change. Your perspective will change. What you find fulfilling will change – as you yield to the Spirit. The world around you will look different. You will see life in a whole new way…

A tourist was admiring the necklace worn by a local Indian. “What is it made of?” she asked. “Alligator’s teeth,” the Indian replied. “I suppose,” She said patronizingly, “they mean as much to you as pearls would mean to us.” “Oh no,” he objected. “That isn’t true. We know that anybody can open an oyster!”

There is nothing like seeing the world through new eyes. There is nothing like the call of Jesus Christ. When you enter His family, you begin to understand the rules change for you – and the world looks more and more ODD. That is the reason that what we do are set in fences that are unique to this work.