Contemplations From Corinth’s Pulpit

Lately, I’ve been thinking about preaching from the standpoint of 1st Corinthians 1:18 – 2:5. Here are nine reflections from a passage that is plunder for our thinking about preaching:

1.  Gospel preachers are not the only one’s preaching. Paul understood that the voice of the preacher was competing with the voices of the “wise men”, “philosophers” and “scholars” (1:20).  In our day, newspaper columnists, soap script-writers, and scientists, to name a few, are shaping the public consciousness as much as the evangelist.

2. In Christian preaching, substance is far more important than style. Popular Corinthian philosophers were masters of eloquence and emotional manipulation. Unfortunately, the Corinthians Christians were bedazzled by such rhetorical flourish (1:17). Paul, on the other hand, was  more absorbed with the content of his message. What matters, says the Apostle, is not polished presentation but “the message of the cross” (1:18).

3.  Preachers should be wary of gaining a response by mere human eloquence; far less by emotional manipulation. While often found ‘arguing’ and ‘persuading’ unbelievers, Paul did not rely on rhetorical techniques to see people converted. Especially in a place like Corinth, Paul wasn’t afraid to adopt plain language as he preached the straightforward message of the cross. “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words” (2:4). How should this shape our approach in modern homiletics?

4.  No preacher worth their gospel-salt will shy away from preaching the ‘crude’ subject of the crucified Christ. The humiliation and horror of crucifixion will never be a welcome subject in polite company. But Paul and his fellow evangelists “preached Christ crucified” (1:23).

5.  Unbelievers will always demand other things from the preacher instead of the gospel. We mustn’t cave in to their demands. “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified” (1:22-23).

6.  Eternal destinies hang in the balance every time we preach. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1:18).

7.  The gospel is powerful to save all who believe it.  The gospel, and nothing else! Don Carson sums up Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 1:18b:  “The gospel is not simply good advice, nor is it good news about God’s power. The gospel is God’s power to all who will believe.”

8.  The gospel message is not limited to the people we think are most competent to receive it. Too easily we can target our preaching towards the people we believe are likely to embrace it. People in a certain age bracket, or from a certain demographic background, are viewed as liklier recipients of the gospel of grace. But Paul contradicts such notions: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were of noble birth” (1: 26)

9. Preaching that changes lives relies on the powerful working of the Spirit. True preaching comes “…with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but God’s power” (2: 4, 5).

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