God’s Perplexing Power

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The new kid walked timidly into Mrs. Johnson’s third grade classroom. His glasses were too big for his face, and his blonde hair was messy. He carried a lunchbox that had a butterfly on it, and his pant legs were too short. As if his first day couldn’t get any worse, he tripped on his way to his desk and nearly fell flat on his face! As would be expected, the other students started laughing and pointing in his direction. With red cheeks and shaky knees, the new kid sat in his desk and slid down in the seat, trying to disappear and be forgotten.

An hour passed—and then it happened. To his horror, the teacher smiled at him and asked him to come to the front of the class and write on the board. The other students gasped because the phrase he was asked to spell was sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia! The new kid bravely walked to the board and began writing in perfect cursive. To the astonishment of the class, he spelled it correctly too! With a grin, the young man turned to face his now wide-eyed classmates and said, “This, my friends, is the medical term for what is commonly known as an ice cream headache.” The teacher couldn’t contain herself any longer. Mrs. Johnson jumped to her feet and excitedly told the class that the new kid was actually a five-time national spelling championship winner! He walked back to his desk with his chin up, whistling a tune.

Even though being able to spell big words and phrases isn’t a superpower, it’s pretty close. The new kid looked like an easy target for bullying, but his power was in his brain rather than his biceps. His story helps us understand what the apostle Paul tried to explain to the Corinthian Christians:

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 (1 Cor. 2:2-5). 

Even though Paul was a very talented guy, he didn’t go to Corinth and try to impress people with his speaking abilities. If he did that, he knew that people would be impressed and start following him rather than God! Paul was so eager for God to get the glory (rather than himself) that he refused to try to look powerful, to do and say things that would impress people. Paul knew that God’s power was perplexing; it showed up in unexpected ways. So, he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ!

But there’s another problem—sinful people can’t understand the gospel that Paul preached. Like the kids in the classroom who didn’t know what sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia meant (i.e., an ice cream headache), we need God’s power to help us understand God’s message! That’s why Paul said, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Just like we need a medical dictionary to understand complicated phrases like the one the new kid spelled, we need the Holy Spirit to enable us to understand the gospel. So, Paul was obedient and preached about Jesus, the cross, his resurrection, and his coming back to earth at the end of time and trusted God’s Spirit to awaken sinners and enable them to see the glory of Jesus. If this happened, God would get all the glory, not Paul. Even though Paul was a smart man, he did not have the power to change someone’s stony heart to a tender, God-honoring heart. Only the Spirit of God working through the gospel can do that!

Did you know that you can have a superpower too? No, you can’t fly through the air or shoot lasers from your eyes. You can have something infinitely better and way more powerful—the ability to understand the gospel. When you hear the gospel preached at church, taught at home, or sung in a song, the Holy Spirit can help you see your sin, God’s holiness, and Christ’s power to save you by taking your punishment on the cross. To many people, the gospel seems foolish. It looks weak and silly. But when the Holy Spirit enters your heart, he shows you the truth and helps you understand God’s truth. This is why Paul makes the amazing statement that, by faith in Jesus, “…we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). Like the new kid at school, the gospel has a perplexing power!

Big Idea: Even though others might think it is silly,we should boldly share the gospel because the gospel has the power to save sinners.

Talk About It: According to 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, why did Paul go to Corinth and preach the gospel? Why do sinful people think that the gospel looks weak or silly? What does the Holy Spirit do to help them understand it so that they see and love Jesus?

Key Verse: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

The following is an excerpt from Paul’s Helpful Letter: A Kid-Friendly Journey Through First Corinthians by J. Aaron White

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