It was a time of war. The opposing forces were lined up against one another across a valley. On the one hill was the Philistine army, on the other the Israelites. It’s a familiar story. You know of Goliath and how he would come out and taunt the Israelites. Actually, in the process, he was also mocking their God. The young shepherd boy goes out in faith with only a sling-shot. Through God’s providential guidance, David had precise aim and that one little stone sunk into Goliath’s frontal lobe and he collapsed face-first to the ground. Goliath and the Philistines were finished, done with their mocking of God and his people. One little stone was mighty in God’s hand to fell all these mockers. God’s cause triumphed through someone weak – a boy, and through something silly and pathetic — his shepherd’s sling-shot.
Flash-forward some centuries now to a little slice of land between the Peloponnesian peninsula and mainland Greece. There we find the city of Corinth, a port city. As a port city, it was a rough and tumble place. It went through at least two incarnations. In its first it had a reputation as being a sort of ancient Las Vegas. “What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth.” In its second incarnation, during the days of Paul, it wasn’t much better. This was not the sort of place where a devout Christian family would go for a nice relaxing vacation. And the overwhelming immorality spilled over among those in that city who called themselves Christians.
When the gospel came to Corinth, opportunists soon followed. They saw an opportunity to advance their own name and reputation and to make a few bucks. They were men who had the appearance of spirituality, but their “gospel” was something different than what Paul and the other apostles had preached. In fact, they mocked Paul and the true gospel message with which he’d been entrusted by Christ. Just as Goliath was really mocking God, so also with these false teachers. Perhaps you’ve heard how big Saul became little Paul. Soon after his conversion, Saul of Tarsus became known as Paul. And you’ll recall that Paul literally means, “little man.” From a worldly perspective, that’s exactly what he was. He wasn’t impressive in his approach or in his speaking style. He was a nobody when compared with the great philosophers and speakers of his day. His message of a crucified Jesus – well, that too just isn’t all that impressive, in fact, it’s rather pathetic from a human point of view. “We’re going to take a naked man on a cross seriously?” As it says in 1 Corinthians 1:22, Jews found the cross a stumbling block and the Greeks found it to be foolish. So, they mocked Paul and they scorned his preaching, and they cut down his message. That’s the background to this passage we’re looking at this morning.
There’s a lot of overlap between Paul’s day and ours. Today too, the gospel has no credibility in the world. The world thinks we’re fools for sitting here twice every Sunday to listen to one man speaking to us at length. Faith is okay, after all it is “a personal thing,” but keep it there, on the sidelines. They might not say it, but many in the world think of Christians as idiots: “You losers should learn to think for yourself and do your own thing. You’ve got to live for happiness within yourself.” And they might present all sorts of arguments to try and make you see it that way.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel like war, but it is. It always has been. There has been a constant struggle since the fall into sin between the children of Seth and those of Cain. Or as the church father Augustine framed it, between the city of God and the city of men. It was a struggle in David’s day, it was in Paul’s day, it is in our day, and it will be a continual war until the day our Saviour returns. The question is: how do we wage this war? All of us have been drafted into God’s army. We’re all Christian soldiers, enlisted for the holy war of God. This passage reveals how this war is to be fought.