“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” .(1 Corinthians 1:17)
PAUL WROTE THESE WORDS TO A CHURCH HE PLANTED in Corinth. He is concerned. They have divided into parties over their favorite leader…Paul, Apollos, or Cephas. Paul reminds them of an important truth. Although Baptism is important and needs to be performed, they shouldn’t be attached to him or the other leaders. Why? Because God did not send Paul to baptize. God sent Paul to preach the gospel. In addition, God sent Paul to preach the gospel with spiritual power, and to the degree that he is willing to preach the foolishness of the cross, he knows God’s power will accompany the message. From this text, we can extract two lessons. First, preaching is pastoral priority number one. Second, foolish preaching attracts God’s power.
Preaching is Pastoral Priority Number One
NOT EVERY PASTOR SHARES THIS CONVICTION. Judy and I were recently in another part of the country for two months. While there we attended a local evangelical church. The pastor was a good communicator. When he preached it was edifying. But, he didn’t always preach. Sometimes, in place of the sermon, he had members share their testimony. At other times he had members share what God was currently doing in their lives. Although a good and sincere brother, he lacked Paul’s conviction about preaching, and his congregation suffered.
People’s testimonies matter, and there is a place for them, but God does not send pastors to give their pulpits over to testimonies, but to preach the gospel. A man with this conviction will not give up his pulpit to anything less than clear, convicting exposition of God’s word.
Foolish Preaching Is The Key To Spiritual Power
“Words of eloquent wisdom,” Paul writes, empty the cross of its power. What does Paul mean by “words of eloquent wisdom?” He means preaching to attract people to yourself. Or he means preaching motivated by the fear of man, not the fear of God.
In Paul’s day, public preaching was a form of entertainment. They did not have a radio, TV, or internet. So many men made a living entertaining the masses with oratory. This was Augustine’s job before his conversion. Paul is very careful not to do this.
By contrast, foolish words fill the cross with God’s power. Paul depended on this power to convict people that they were sinners, to convict them that the gospel was true, and to convict them that Christ could be trusted enough to bank their entire lives on his goodness. Power to bring conviction that permanently changes lives like this only comes from the Holy Spirit, and he gives that power to men who communicate the gospel his way, and that way is foolishly.
What does Paul mean by foolishness? He means a message that humbles people. Our great sin is pride. More than any other sin, arrogance keeps us from God. It kept the Pharisees from God. It keeps most of our friends and acquaintances from God. “Are you telling me I am a sinner,” people will ask with amazement?
“Yes, and it is even worse. Your sin is infinitely offensive to God. Unless you repent you will go to hell and suffer the pangs of God’s judgment forever. But, here is the Good News. Jesus suffered on the cross to satisfy God’s judgment in your place. He took the punishment you deserve. If you believe and repent, God will spare you because Jesus will take the punishment that you deserve in your place. It follows, therefore, that the faith that saves is a humbling faith.
This is what foolish preaching sounds and looks like. It emphasizes the horror of sin, the holiness of God, what we deserve, and only then does it pivot to the gospel solution. Here is the good news. Although this kind of preaching attracts persecution, it also attracts God’s power. “For the gospel [the foolishness of the cross] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:15).
Paul came to Corinth with these two convictions, and only the manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s power explains the existence of a new Christian church in that city. In fact, Paul describes his coming to Corinth as preaching a foolish message in the Holy Spirit’s by the power of God.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Those who plant churches, or nurture existing ones, with these two convictions will experience spiritual and numerical growth to the glory of God.
For more depth on this subject read my book, Gospel-Powered Humility. Click on the picture in the right-hand column.