Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"Keeping Your Heart Clean and Your Hands Dirty"
1 Corinthians 2:1-5

by Dr. Kevin Ezell
Pastor, Highview Baptist Church
Louisville, KY

Dr. Kevin Ezell

The Apostle Paul is perhaps one of the best examples of a person striving for purity, keeping his heart clean, and not afraid of getting in the trenches of sharing the gospel. Many Christians and churches are afraid to get their hands dirty; afraid to do the grunt work in the trenches of everyday ministry.  The Word of God instructs us to keep our hearts clean and our hands dirty.  The Apostle Paul is an excellent model of a person with a passion for ministry.  He applied himself to every good work for the glory of God.

I.  How to Minister With Fervor  (v.1).

We see here that the Apostle Paul is committed to the message of the gospel.  His heart was completely on fire for God.  His passion for souls had driven him through beatings, shipwreck, poverty, hunger, stonings and imprisonments.  Never did a man preach as Paul preached.  God used him to alter Asia and rile the Romans.  He preached with a fervor, with passion, and with heart.  There was  thunder and lightening in his soul. He had a heart for sharing the gospel as he said in I Corinthians 9:16 “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.”  A man who understands the gospel and who has experienced the life changing power of Jesus in his heart cannot avoid the passion that is involved in the gospel witness.

1.  Paul used a simple strategy (v.1).

The Corinthians were accustomed to eloquence.  As we see in this context, Paul did not come to add to their culture.  He did not come to be a sightseer, but a soul winner.  He did not use a method of communication that was lined with eloquence.  He refused to speak in beautiful words, flowing rhetoric or superiority of language.  Paul could easily have swept them off their feet with his phenomenal mind and impressive education, but he chose not to.  No display of rhetoric--just a message of profound simplicity.  Paul was extremely qualified.  He understood that the gospel had its own inherent power.  The single story of Jesus dying on the cross of Calvary could grip the hearts of men and women and change their lives.  He made it as simple as he could.

When the National Cemetery in Gettysburg was dedicated in 1863, public officials asked Edward Everett, a great orator, to deliver the oration.  It was a masterpiece.  When the oration was over, the crowd clapped and shouted because of Everett’s tremendous message.  Later, with apologies, President Lincoln delivered a very simple and direct address at Gettysburg.  Today, few of us are familiar with Everett’s message.  This illustrates the fact that when we preach the gospel, we must have the passion in our hearts to preach it as simply as we know how.  The witness of Paul to these people says to us that a worthy witness is one motivated by love, one who employs methods of simplicity, and one who speaks a message of urgency.

2.  Paul was determined (v.2).

Paul must have wrestled with this decision.  He had been beaten and imprisoned at Phillipi, and run out of Thessalonica and Berea.  Although a few responded when he preached on Mars Hill in Athens, others mocked him.  Paul walked two or three days to Corinth and he must have reflected on the prior days of difficulty and challenge.  When he arrived in Corinth he had decided, thus in v.2  I have determined...” which means a “settled conviction.”  Paul had considered the options and made up his mind to continue to preach only one message: Jesus Christ and Him crucified.   The message of the cross should dominate our witness and our preaching.  The only message that can comfort broken hearts, that can mend broken families, and that can turn a sinner into a saint is the simple message of the gospel.

3. Paul was humble  (v.3).

Physically Paul was weak. He was emotionally trembling, mentally fearful, and filled with anxiety and a sense of inadequacy.  Every time I stand to preach or go into a home to make an evangelistic visit, I have some of the same anxiety. Paul knew that the task was bigger than he was.  The population of Corinth at this time was at least 700,000.  Perhaps Priscilla and Aquilla were the only Christians besides Paul.  God often gives us assignments greater than our ability to accomplish them. 

When I am weak, then I am strong”(2 Cor. 12:10).  Many churches and Christians need to learn this lesson.  So often pastors and congregations want to do only the things they feel comfortable doing; adopt budgets they can afford, start only those programs they know will succeed.  It is time we get out of our comfort zones.

Paul possessed not an inner fear due to inferiority, but a fear and trembling anxiety that he might not perform his duty to the very best of his ability.  The result was that whatever was accomplished was because God intervened and demonstrated His power, His might.  God wants us to see our weakness.  We are absolute failures without His presence.  John Stott said, “It seems that the only preaching God honors, through which His wisdom and power are expressed, is the preaching of a man who is willing in himself to be both the weakling and the fool.”

II.  How to Minister with Power  (v.4).

Paul now shares how he communicated the message.  The Corinthians were mesmerized by great oration, but little action resulted.  They were used to just listening and doing nothing.  We are messengers.  The power of the message is not in human persuasion; it is a divine persuasion.  James writes about being only hearers of the word and not doers.  Many love the eloquence of a speaker, but do not change.  Paul says that our power is not found in human persuasion.  Divine persuasion is a demonstration of the Holy Spirit moving in His power. The Spirit of God can take the weakest words of a preacher, a witnessing school girl, or a well dressed businessman and use them to bring conviction to the hearts of lost people.

III.  How to Share your Faith with Purpose  v.5.

Paul's motive was that their faith would not “rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.  Paul made it clear to the Corinthians that they could not rest their faith in Peter,  Apollos, or himself.  Faith placed in anyone but Christ, the only worthy object of our faith, is misplaced faith.  Paul preached the simple message of Christ crucified passionately and humbly.  He depended on God’s supply of power, not his own strength.  He had great purpose and so do we.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “The power that is in the Gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise, men would be the converters of souls.  Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise, it would consist of the wisdom of men.  We could preach until our tongues rot, until we would exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless the Holy Spirit be with the Word of God to give it the power to convert the soul.”

If the Corinthians had come to have faith in the wisdom of men, even in Paul’s wisdom, they might have changed intellectually, but they would not have changed spiritually.  The faithful hymn of old is so true,

“My faith is built on nothing less,
Than Jesus’ love and righteousness.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”

What type of witness are you?  How do your family, your friends, and those you work with view you and your relationship to the Lord?  The story is told of a young father and husband who became seriously ill and died leaving behind his  young wife and a five-year-old son.  The young mother tried to explain to the little fellow that Jesus needed to take his daddy home to heaven, but the boy couldn’t seem to understand.  Finally one night, when he knelt down to pray he said,  “Dear Jesus, mommy told me that daddy was going to come to live with you now.  She said that you needed him to help you in heaven.  But, you know, I need him too.  But mommy said the other day that in heaven daddy would not be sick anymore.  I’m so glad about that because he used to hurt so bad down here.  Now there are a few things that you need to know about my daddy.  He can’t preach, he can’t sing in the choir, and he doesn’t have much education because he had to work all of his life.  When they called on him to pray at church, he used to always mess it up and it used to embarrass me and my mommy so bad that we just could hardly stand it.  But there is one thing, Jesus, he thought a lot about you.  He loved you a lot.  He used to tell everyone what a fine fellow you are.  And when you get to know my daddy, you will really like him.  The kids in the neighborhood just love him to death.  When a toy broke down, they would bring it to my daddy.  He would go get that old black toolbox and he knew exactly what to do to make those toys just like brand new.  Mommy told me the other day that there are children in heaven.  And where there are children, there are toys--golden toys.  I think that is why you want my daddy in heaven.  You need someone to help you, somebody to help you fix those golden toys.  Well, I’ve got to go now and I’ve enjoyed talking to you.  Tell my daddy that me and my mommy miss him and that we love him a lot.  One day we will be in heaven and we will see my daddy again.”  What would your son or daughter say about your relationship with Christ?  If they were praying to the Lord and said, “There is one thing, Jesus,....” what would be that one dominating characteristic that they see? 

Gypsy Smith was asked how to start a revival.  He said, “It is very simple.  Go into a room all by yourself.  Take a piece of chalk and draw a circle.  Get down on your knees in that circle and ask God to start a revival in that circle.”  My prayer is that God will bring revival to our hearts that we might minister with the fervor, power, and purpose that only comes from Him.

Written by: Dr. Kevin Ezell
Pastor, Highview Baptist Church
Louisville, KY


Dr. Kevin Ezell is pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  Dr. Ezell is a 1985 graduate of Union University.  He received the master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and the doctor of ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  He and his wife, Lynette have three children, Anna, Shelly, and Michael.

Joanna Moore, Campus Ministries & Church Services

R.G. Lee Center for Christian Ministry