A Summary of Paul’s Epistles in Two Words

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Ask any Christian “What is the gospel?” and you will get a ready answer in some way corresponding to Paul’s definition of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. There he tells us that the heart of the gospel is that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and rose again on the third day.

To Paul, the death and resurrection of Jesus were physical, historical facts, occurring in and around Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. It was not some metaphysical, philosophical abstraction. It was a real death (in fact, a murder, carried out by religious people under the cover of Roman governmental authority), complete with blood, pain, a real, human heart ceasing to beat and a real, human body ceasing to breathe. Also, to Paul, Jesus’ resurrection was just as concrete and physical as His death, as attested by the myriad witnesses mentioned in this passage who saw the resurrected, physical Jesus.

Somehow, the sum of these historical events was “for our sins.” Receiving and continuing to stand upon them was proof of the salvation of the Corinthians, and by extension, ours as well today. In this passage, Paul does not say what we are saved from, or what we are saved to, as he does in other places in his epistles.

A Bible-believing Christian obviously believes this gospel; it is often called “the simple gospel,” because when God opens our eyes we “see” and know it is true. “Seeing is believing” when applied to spiritual sight. However, when it comes to thoroughly comprehending it, sinful man suffers from the “just enough knowledge to make himself dangerous” syndrome. It is hard for us to honestly believe that we actually do “see,” but “through a glass, darkly;” that we only “know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Generally, we believe we already know and understand the gospel fully and we are now ready to move on to the “deeper truths of God.”

This was not Paul’s attitude. There was no “moving on” from, or “going deeper” than, the gospel. His understanding of the gospel formed the essential foundation of all the theological and practical topics that Paul addressed in his epistles; everything else sprang from his understanding of it. He told the Corinthians, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). In other words, “When I speak,” Paul says, “Everything I teach can be summed up in two words: ‘Christ crucified’—what happened at the cross, which is the gospel—and you must hear all my teaching with that understanding.”

In 1 Corinthians, Paul discussed a whole range of other issues that were problems in the Corinthian church: divisions in the church (different factions were following different leaders), immorality, marriage and divorce, taking a brother to secular court, head covering for women during worship, misuse of spiritual gifts, eating meat that had been offered to idols, etc.

But he said that he knew (and taught) only the crucifixion-resurrection event. When I first noticed 1 Corinthians 2:2, I had been ministering as a church leader many years. “How can he say that,” I thought, “considering the deep theological ideas he developed and the myriad, complex issues he addressed in his letters? What am I missing?”

Turns out, quite a bit.

1.) I don’t know everything there is to know about the gospel; surprisingly to me, I realized I have not yet “arrived” and I really do only “know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Am I open to learn from the Holy Spirit at this time, recognizing that “going deeper” doesn’t mean “going deeper than the gospel” but instead discovering more about how the gospel itself affects all of my life? Or will I continue to pretend (albeit completely unknowingly) that I already understand the gospel fully? Do I want to go “deeper than,” moving on past the gospel, rather than “deeper into” it, i.e., am I not really open to learning something new about it I may have missed?

2.) What are the personal implications of the gospel to me? Are they simply that I am saved from Hell and will go to Heaven when I die, or is the gospel much more than that? How, then, do I learn to do as Paul did in Corinth: attack all the problems I face in life with the gospel, “Christ crucified,” not only affecting, but determining how I handle each one?

I want to explore this question next week.

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  1. Temple says:

    I am really interested in where you are going with this! Just observing God’s creation that tells us how multi-layered, multi-faceted and infinite He is. Why would His Gospel be any different, right?

    1. Robert Andrews says:

      Bingo! However, I naturally want to master an idea and then congratulate myself for having done so. When somebody comes along and says, “There is more to know about this,” I resist still being a learner. Lord, show me I am in God’s kindergarten!

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