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Lowell Brueckner

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The Cross Principle


“For He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but in dealing with you we will live with Him by the power of God.”                                                                                                                       2 Corinthians 13:4
Paul understood this principle well. He saw the need among the believers in Corinth, especially, to grasp it. The Corinthians were boasting in men and their abilities. He presents the problem, as he begins his first epistle: “Each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas, or ‘I follow Christ’” (1:12). From there, he alluded to water baptism and the confidence that the people were placing in the agent who baptized (v.14-15). In chapter three, he returns to this Corinthian dilemma and attributed it to carnality, which was based on having mere human mentality: “For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?”

This mentality is colliding with the mind and nature of God, as well as the heart of the message of the gospel. What is the heart of this message? Paul said it is the “word of the cross” (1:18) and a few verses later, he declares, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (2:2).  The message was singular and Paul had two ways of defining it, as far as any earthly school of thought was concerned, among Jews and among Gentiles. He said that they would think that it was foolish and weak! (1:23-25).

It was the message of One who surrendered His hands and feet to be nailed to a cross, where He hung helpless, while His life’s blood flowed from His veins. “He was crucified in weakness.”The cross was the Roman mode of criminal execution; it was a shame and an offense. The person who hung there was nothing; he was a public disgrace. The world was not looking for a bleeding Conqueror or a dying Champion, but Paul said that this was our message and he wanted no other!

He showed that this message could not be approached along the lines of human wisdom, because that wisdom was contrary to God and God said, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart” (1:19)… “The wisdom of this world is folly with God” (3:19). What was the individual to do, if he considered himself a possessor of human wisdom? What was the professor of Christianity to do, if he thought himself wise in earthly wisdom? Here is Paul’s answer: “If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool, that he may become wise” (3:18).

Weakness joins with foolishness in this message and in its presentation. The one who felt himself strong in human strength, talent and ability, had to become weak, so that he could be truly strong. It is essential that the strong and the wise release their grip on earthly, human strength and wisdom in order to receive the godly wisdom and power that come from above. To those who are called to grasp the message, taught by the Holy Spirit (2:13), it is the power and the wisdom of God, which surpasses all human, earthly power and wisdom.

Paul saw the need for his preaching to match his message. His message was the cross of Christ and that message was foolishness to them that are perishing (1:18), therefore his speech could not be one of cleverness (1:17). “I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom, … and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom” (1 Co.2:1,4). Here is the testimony of his own personal presence during his stay in Corinth: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (v.3). Paul is showing through his person and his preaching that neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything…” (3:7).

He did not fare any better in Galatia: “You know that it was because of weakness of the flesh that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my flesh you did not despise” (Gal.4:13,14). Neither the Galatians nor the Corinthians received the gospel through a strong personality or a clever preacher. What they did receive was “Jesus Christ… publicly portrayed as crucified” (Gal.3:1) and through the agency, wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit working through Paul, “you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself” (4:14).

The apostle, you see, identifies with the crucified Christ in our text: “For we also are weak in Him”. This is the principle of the cross and it applies to the Christian. We must live and minister by it. It must be so, because “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Co.12:10). It must be so, because “God gives the growth” (1 Co.3:7). It must be so, because “my message and my preaching were… in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God”(1 Co.2:4,5). It must be so, because “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Co.10:4). It must be so, because “of the power of God directed toward you” (2 Co.13:4). Therefore, Paul maintains, “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness” (2 Co.11:30).

We are useless to God, when we operate in our strengths, intelligence, talents and so-called natural “gifts”. You don’t have to worry, God will see to it that His true servants maintain a position of weakness. Here is what happened to Paul: “To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me” (2 Co.12:7). That verse is a strain on some people’s theology; that is, the fact that God gave to Paul a messenger of Satan to torment him. I think it’s time that we understand, who sits on the throne in heaven and reigns. He, who is sovereign Lord over all of heaven, is also sovereign Lord over all of mankind and He is sovereign Lord over the kingdom of darkness.

To those who don’t receive the love of the truth, “God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth” (2 Th.2:11-12). Similarly in the case of Ahab, “The Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you” (1 K.22:23). As we all know, the Lord allowed the devil to get to Job on two occasions, attacking his possessions, his family and finally his health. God turned it all into blessing. Finally, we have the case of Peter, in which the Lord saw his need to become weak and fail. All was necessary in order that he would lose confidence in himself and throw himself into God’s hands.  

Throughout the Bible, the cross principle is at work, bringing down the strong and using the weak, so that no flesh can glory in His presence. Abraham couldn’t have children, because Sarah’s womb was sterile and she was too old. Isaac and Rebekah had the same problem with barrenness. So did Hannah, Samson’s parents and in the New Testament, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Moses was too strong in Pharoah’s court, so he became the shepherd of his father-in-law’s sheep. God thinned Gideon’s army down to 300. David was too young and untrained for warfare. Israel time and again has been threatened to the verge of extinction right up to this day.
Edward Payson

I have read enough biographies to know that the principle continues after the time that the biblical canon was completed. I read about the great man, Praying Payson, whose knees wore grooves in the wooden floor by his bedside, and became like a camel’s knees.  In the middle of his very successful life and ministry, his mind was ravaged with thoughts of atheism. He had to go to the pulpit, for a period of time, to preach about a God, whom he doubted existed. The Lord brought him through victoriously.

Spurgeon related openly of suffering a time of depression. Charles Finney was smitten with thoughts that he had been deceived and that he was deceiving people. The Lord strengthened and delivered him. And Newton, ah poor John Newton… let’s just let his poem tell the story:

                                                 Prayer Answered with Crosses
Written in 1779 by John Newton (1725-1807)

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face.

Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low.

John Newton
Lord, why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way”, the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”
“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in Me
 That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”

What means the Lord uses to bring us to our knees in weakness and helplessness in order that we look only to Him for our strength! Much to our surprise, His life flows through us during those terrible times of darkness, ministering grace and healing to others, with whom we come into contact. That’s the principle of the cross. It is not the popular principle of our day, to be sure, but the reason is not because God has changed His ways, but because the church has erred greatly. Like the Corinthians, it has taken on the carnal mentality of mere men, who exalt human ways and abilities. And for that reason, as well, we lack so much among us the power of God and the wisdom of His ways.


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