1 Corinthians 2:3-5
3. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
3. Et ego in infirmirate, 1 et in timore, et in tremore multo fui apud vos:
4. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
4. Et sermo meus, et praedicatio mea, non in persuasoriis humanae sapientiae sermonibus, sed in demonstratione Spiritus et potentiae:
5. That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
5. Ut fides vestra non sit in sapientia hominum, sed in potentia Dei.
3. And I was with you in weakness. He explains at greater length what he had previously touched upon -- that he had nothing shining or excellent in him in the eyes of men, to raise him to distinction. He concedes, however, to his adversaries what they desired in such a way as to make those very things which, in their opinion, tended to detract from the credit of his ministry, redound to its highest commendation. If he appeared less worthy of esteem from his being so mean and abject according to the flesh, he shows that the power of God shone out the more conspicuously in this, that he could effect so much, while sustained by no human helps. He has in his eye not merely those foolish boasters2 who aimed at mere show, with the view of obtaining for themselves a name, but the Corinthians, too, who gazed with astonishment on their empty shows. Accordingly a recital of this kind was fitted to have great weight with them. They were aware that Paul had brought nothing with him in respect of the flesh that was fitted to help him forward, or that might enable him to insinuate himself into the favor of men, and yet they had seen the amazing success which the Lord had vouchsafed to his preaching. Nay more, they had in a manner beheld with their own eyes the Spirit of God present in his doctrine. When, therefore, despising his simplicity, they were tickled with a desire for a kind of wisdom, I know not of what sort, more puffed up and more polished, and were captivated with outward appearance, nay, even with adventitious ornament, rather than with the living efficacy of the Spirit, did they not sufficiently discover their ambitious spirit? It is with good reason, therefore, that Paul puts them in mind of his first entering in among them, (1 Thessalonians 2:1,) that they may not draw back from that divine efficacy, which they once knew by experience.
The term weakness he employs here, and in several instances afterwards, (2 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Corinthians 12:5, 9, 10,) as including everything that can detract from a person's favor and dignity in the opinion of others. Fear and trembling are the effects of that weakness. There are, however, two ways in which these two terms may be explained by us. Either we may understand him to mean, that when he pondered the magnitude of the office that he sustained, it was tremblingly, and not without great anxiety, that he occupied himself in it; or that, being encompassed with many dangers, he was in constant alarm and incessant anxiety. Either meaning suits the context sufficiently well. The second, however, is, in my opinion, the more simple. Such a spirit of modesty, indeed, becomes the servants of the Lord, that, conscious of their own weakness, and looking, on the other hand, at once to the difficulty and the excellence of so arduous an office, they should enter on the discharge of it with reverence and fear. For those that intrude themselves confidently, and in a spirit much elated, or who discharge the ministry of the word with an easy mind, as though they were fully equal to the task, are ignorant at once of themselves and of the task.3
As, however, Paul here connects fear with weakness, and as the term weakness denotes everything that was fitted to render him contemptible, it follows necessarily that this fear must relate to dangers and difficulties. It is certain, however, that this fear was of such a nature as did not prevent Paul from engaging in the Lord's work, as facts bear witness. The Lord's servants are neither so senseless as not to perceive impending dangers, nor so devoid of feeling as not to be moved by them. Nay more, it is necessary for them to be seriously afraid on two accounts chiefly -- first, that, abased in their own eyes, they may learn wholly to lean and rest upon God alone, and secondly, that they may be trained to a thorough renunciation of self. Paul, therefore, was not devoid of the influence of fear, but that fear he controlled in such a manner as to go forward, notwithstanding, with intrepidity through the midst of dangers, so as to encounter with undaunted firmness and fortitude all the assaults of Satan and of the world; and, in fine, so as to struggle through every impediment.
4. And my preaching was not in the persuasive words. By the persuasive words of man's wisdom he means that exquisite oratory which aims and strives rather by artifice than by truth, and also an appearance of refinement, that allures the minds of men. It is not without good reason, too, that he ascribes persuasiveness (to> piqa>non)4 to human wisdom. For the word of the Lord constrains us by its majesty, as if by a violent impulse, to yield obedience to it. Human wisdom, on the other hand, has her allurements, by which she insinuates herself5 and her blandishments, as it were, by which she may conciliate for herself the affections of her hearers. With this he contrasts the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, which most interpreters consider as restricted to miracles; but I take it in a more general sense, as meaning the hand of God powerfully exercised in every way through the instrumentality of the Apostle. Spirit and power he seems to have made use of by hypallage,6 (kaq j uJpallagh<n,) to denote spiritual power, or at least with the view of showing by signs and effects in what manner the presence of the Spirit had shown itself in his ministry. He appropriately, too, makes use of the term ajpodei>xewv, (demonstration;) for such is our dullness in contemplating the works of God, that when he makes use of inferior instruments, they serve as so many veils to hide from us his influence, so that we do not clearly perceive it. On the other hand, as in the furtherance given to Paul's ministry, there was no aid furnished from the flesh or the world, and as the hand of God was as it were made bare, (Isaiah 52:10,) his influence was assuredly the more apparent.
5. That your faith should not be in the wisdom of men. To be is used here as meaning to consist. His meaning, then, is, that the Corinthians derived this advantage from his having preached Christ among them without dependence on human wisdom, and relying solely on the Spirit's influence, that their faith was founded not on men but on God. If the Apostle's preaching had rested exclusively on the power of eloquence, it might have been overthrown by superior eloquence, and besides, no one would pronounce that to be solid truth which rests on mere elegance of speech. It may indeed be helped by it, but it ought not to rest upon it. On the other hand, that must have been most powerful which could stand of itself without any foreign aid. Hence it forms a choice commendation of Paul's preaching, that heavenly influence shone forth in it so clearly, that it surmounted so many hindrances, while deriving no assistance from the world. It follows, therefore, that they must not allow themselves to be moved away from his doctrine, which they acknowledge to rest on the authority of God. Paul, however, speaks here of the faith of the Corinthians in such a way as to bring forward this, as a general statement. Let it then be known by us that it is the property of faith to rest upon God alone, without depending on men; for it requires to have so much certainty to go upon, that it will not fail, even when assailed by all the machinations of hell, but will perseveringly endure and sustain every assault. This cannot be accomplished unless we are fully persuaded that God has spoken to us, and that what we have believed is no mere contrivance of men. While faith ought properly to be founded on the word of God alone, there is at the same time no impropriety in adding this second prop, -- that believers recognize the word which they hear as having come forth from God, from the effect of its influence.