An Unknown God
I’ve always thought it was pretty nifty how Paul ministered to the Athenians. Distressed at pervasive idol worship in Athens, Paul was quick on his feet, referencing an idol to an unknown god that he had found in the city (Acts 17:22-34). He had found a talking point that he believed that he could use to persuade them to follow Christ. Yet however clever he may have thought that he was, his appeal to the Athenians did not bear much fruit. Paul gained only a handful of converts there and we have no indication that he planted any churches in Athens.
Persuasion to Preaching
And so from Athens, Paul moved on to Corinth where this time he attempted to persuade the Jews. He had about the same luck with the them as he had with the Athenians (Acts 18:4). But when his associates arrived, Paul began to alter his tactics. For whatever reason (perhaps his poor results), he abandoned the power of persuasion for the power of preaching and testifying (Acts 18:5) which, in New Testament terms, are always accompanied by a demonstration of the Spirit's power (Mk 3:14,15, Acts 10:42-44, 1 Co 1:17, 18, Heb 2:3,4). So while up to this point, the had Jews tolerated and even welcomed a good argument, they were in no mood for signs and wonders.
Jews to Gentiles
So, Paul shook off his feet and left the Jews behind and turned to the Gentiles in Corinth. With a handful of defeats behind him, Paul swore off “wise and persuasive words." Instead, he preached to the Corinthians through much fear and trembling, but in return, operated under the Spirit’s power. According to Paul, this resulted in their faith being established, not through human wisdom, but by means of the power of God (1 Co 2:3-5). And so, Paul stayed with them for a year and a half and established a Church there.
Fear and Weakness
The humbling effects of Paul's fruitless encounters with both the Athenians and the Jews likely affected his demeanor, leaving him weak and fearful. I like how some of the words used here are defined. In the Greek, trembling, or weakness, speaks of either an illness or a problem that comes from being wrongly overdependent upon something. Being very wise and learned, it would have been very easy for Paul to have become overly dependent upon his intellect. What’s more, the word used for fear in this passage has to do with a feeling of inadequacy that would make one withdraw. In this case, these would be considered healthy fears.
Weakness to Power
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.…For Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Co 12:9, 10 NIV).
Paul discovered that his real weakness was his reliance upon his greatest strength...his intellect. While he did not abandon his ability to persuade, he learned to subjugate it under Christ's power—the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Eph 1:19-20, Ro 8:11). This fact should inspire each of us to ponder what drives or hinders our own effectiveness and how we can submit what we can do to what he can do.
[This post was inspired by a teaching from Ray Lander Vaan]