“There once was a preacher who was at a dinner and was asked to get up and give a short, 10-minute talk. Well, we all know the dangers involved in asking a preacher to give a short talk. Anyway, after 20 minutes had expired, the preacher just kept on talking. After 35 minutes, the master of ceremonies gave a little rap on the table with his gavel. The preacher just kind of ignored it and kept right on talking. After 40 minutes, the master of ceremonies gave a little louder rap with his gavel. Still, the preacher kept right on talking. After an hour with no end in sight, the master of ceremonies banged his gavel as hard as he could. But still, the preacher went on. Finally…the master of ceremonies threw the gavel at the preacher. The gavel sailed over the preacher’s head and hit an old man who was sitting at his table, fast asleep. The old man woke with a start and shouted, ‘Hit me again! I can still hear him!’ ”1
We have a message that demands to be preached and proclaimed, and which keeps us preaching until we go home to be with the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:14 states, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” Preaching would be a waste of time and pointless if Christ is not risen. But because Christ lives, preaching is not meaningless. Our faith has meaning. We have true hope, and we have a message of good news to make known.
The old adage for preaching is “Preach not because you have to say something, but because you have something to say.”2 We have something to say because Christ lives. And God, by the working of the Holy Spirit, uses the preaching of His Word to lead sinners to Christ under grace and to establish believers in their faith.
Preach the Gospel
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (1 Cor. 1:17).
As mid-Acts dispensationalists, we often defend the one spiritual baptism under grace (Eph. 4:5), and therefore we tend to focus on the negative teaching of verse 17, that “Christ sent me [Paul] not to baptize.” However, the positive aspect of what Paul was set apart to by Christ is equally important. The Apostle Paul was sent by Christ “to preach the gospel.” Later in this letter, Paul reiterated this calling, when he wrote, “…for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).
To advance the cause of Christ in this world, like Paul, we, the Body of Christ, are called to preach the gospel. Preaching the gospel doesn’t mean you need to have a pulpit to do it. In the original Greek, the words “to preach the gospel” just mean to bring good news, to announce glad tidings. We preach the gospel in any and every way in which we evangelize and make Christ and His finished work known to others.
Like the apostle, we are to preach the gospel “not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” By this, we learn that it is possible to preach the gospel in a way that makes it of no effect. A reliance on “wisdom of words” can cause men to trust in men and to take their eyes off of Christ. But Paul did not want anything to draw attention away from the Savior and the truth of the gospel.
Thus, Paul preached the gospel without attempting to impress others by his eloquence; instead, he simply pointed others to trust Christ and trust Christ alone. It is not necessary to have degrees, training, clever tactics, or eloquence to preach the gospel. The power is in the truth of the gospel (Rom. 1:16), and we are called to make that message known faithfully, humbly, and plainly by reliance on the Spirit.
“A certain church had a beautiful stained-glass window just behind the pulpit. It depicted Jesus Christ on the cross. One Sunday there was a guest minister who was much smaller than the regular pastor. A little girl listened to the guest for a time, then turned to her mother and asked, ‘Where is the man who usually stands there so we can’t see Jesus?’”3 In preaching, Christ can be obscured either by the presentation or the content of the message. However, we are called to preach the gospel so that all can clearly see Christ and what He’s done for us by His grace.
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:1-4).
In the same vein as 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul stated here that he came to the Corinthians “not with excellency of speech or of wisdom.” Paul did not rely on lofty words of eloquence or human philosophy to convince his listeners. Paul didn’t come to the Corinthians as an orator; he came as a witness, declaring unto them the testimony of God.
The focal point of that testimony was the person and work of Christ: “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (2:2). As Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, “For we reach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Cor. 4:5). Preaching is to be centered on Christ, on Who He is and what He has done. And when we preach the Word, “we preach… Christ Jesus the Lord,” because the Holy Spirit has authored a Book that is all about Him.
Paul came to the Corinthians not teeming with confidence and self-assurance. Instead, as he wrote, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Paul came to Corinth after being beaten and imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16:16-24), run out of Thessalonica and Berea by persecution (17:1-15), and mocked in Athens (17:16-21,32). To encourage Paul upon his arrival in Corinth, the Lord spoke to him in a vision and told him, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).
And so, despite his weakness in the flesh, Paul was most powerful, because, as a result, his preaching was in the power of the Spirit. Paul’s weakness, fear, and trembling kept him from relying on and placing his confidence in himself, and it allowed God’s strength to flow through Him. Thus, Paul’s speech and preaching were “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4). Paul depended on the power of the Holy Spirit. It was not his experience, talent, or ability that gave power to his preaching; it was the working of the Spirit through Paul’s faith and faithfulness.
Paul knew that preachers are called to proclaim the truth as revealed in God’s Word (2 Tim. 4:1-2), knowing and trusting that the Holy Spirit works through His Word. As a result of faithfully proclaiming the Word, on a spiritual level, Paul’s preaching had power. And the Holy Spirit used Paul’s preaching mightily to reach people for Christ and to transform their lives and hearts. Paul did not emphasize or place confidence in the method of his preaching, but rather his confidence was in the message of the cross.
The Preaching of the Cross
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
The message that Paul made known was “the preaching of the cross.” The gospel for today is the preaching of the cross. The word “preaching” in this verse is the Greek word “logos,” which means a word, teaching, or what is declared. The preaching of the cross means all that is involved in the cross, the total, collected teaching, its message and truth.
To the Apostle Paul was committed the preaching of the cross, for through the revelation of the mystery we learn of the accomplishments and full benefits of the Cross. The message of the cross tells us that God the Father “hath made Him [Christ] to be sin for us, [Christ] Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). The preaching of the cross teaches us that Christ has done everything necessary to save us, that we are saved by faith alone and have the forgiveness of all our sins, and that we are redeemed and have eternal life as a free gift.
However, this message of the Cross “to them that perish” is “foolishness.” “Them that perish” are those who are without God or His life. The Word teaches that sin results in death (Rom. 6:23). Outside of Christ, the unbeliever is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Thus, when a person is still in their sins, they are perishing and will perish. They are heading for the second death of eternal judgment in the lake of fire.
“Them that perish” are those for whom God’s heart breaks, because He desires for all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). It refers to all who have not believed the gospel of grace and the life-giving message of the cross. And we, the church, have this treasure (2 Cor. 4:7) that needs to be faithfully preached so that the perishing might be rescued from the wrath to come (Col. 3:5-6).
Paul points out here that, for the many who have not believed, the message of the cross is “foolishness.” The term “foolishness,” in the original Greek, is moria, from which our word “moron” is derived. The Cross is moronic, absurd, and silly nonsense to those who do not believe.
The reason it’s foolishness to them is that they have exalted their own thoughts and wisdom above God’s revealed wisdom and provision. The preaching of the Cross seems too far-fetched to many in this world, and they can’t wrap their minds around it that the death of one Man, on one hill, on one piece of wood, in one moment in history is the determining factor for the eternal destiny for every person. They find it foolish to believe that a virgin gave birth to a Child Who is both fully God and fully man, and that He lived a perfect, sinless life, bore our sins on the Cross, died, and rose again the third day.
The message of the Cross also does not fit with what most think how it ought to be when it comes to determining whether one goes to heaven. Mankind doesn’t like to think they are ungodly sinners who need a Savior, and that their sins demanded the shed blood and death of God’s Son to pay their penalty. It makes no sense to them that a Savior should suffer and die for them. The Cross allows no place for man’s merit, man’s attainment, man’s wisdom, man’s perceived righteousness, or man’s ego or pride. Thus, the cross is chalked up as foolishness.
As Paul continued in this verse, he wrote, “but unto us.” The “but” shows a contrast, a division. The message of the cross creates a division within humanity. The entire world can be categorized into one of two groups: “them that perish” and them “which are saved.” This is how God views the world. He doesn’t see world religions, belief systems, or denominations. He sees those who have trusted His gospel of grace and are saved, and those who have not and are perishing and are in danger of everlasting judgment. You are either one or the other; there is no halfway, no middle ground, and no neutrality. The cross divides mankind, the saved from the lost. The dividing line is the cross.
We find two responses to the preaching of the Cross in 1 Corinthians 1:18: it is either rejected as foolishness or received as the power of God unto salvation. The message of the cross, to us who believe and rejoice in it, is not foolishness; it is profound wisdom and the very power of God. It is about God, with power and grace, providing salvation from our sins, and giving us His life and righteousness the moment we believe.
The Foolishness of Preaching
“For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Cor. 1:19-20).
In these verses, Paul proclaimed God’s wisdom as far superior to man’s. In verse 19, Paul quoted from Isaiah 29:14 to certify that man’s wisdom will be destroyed, swept away, and brought to nothing. It is temporary and will be forgotten. In contrast, God’s wisdom is permanent and will never be destroyed. It is eternal, perfect wisdom. So, the point is, which one should we trust?
Jeremiah 8:9 reads, “The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the Word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them?” When you reject the wisdom of the Word, you reject true and eternal wisdom. Trusting the fallible and ever-changing opinions of human wisdom is what is foolish.
When we preach God’s Word, we are proclaiming true wisdom, wisdom that changes hearts and lives through Christ. We advance the cause of Christ by faithfully preaching God’s wisdom as revealed in His Word.
In light of God one day destroying and sweeping away human wisdom, Paul hurls a defiant challenge: “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” Did God consult them when He created all things from nothing? Can they teach God anything? Could they have ever devised such a perfect plan of redemption? Can they ever rise to disprove or challenge God’s eternal and perfect wisdom? The answer is emphatically obvious: No!
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? These questions are in light of God’s destroying the wisdom of the wise and bringing to nothing the understanding of the prudent. In light of this taking place one day, these questions mean: Where did they go? They were here a second ago, weren’t they? What happened to them? This verse re-emphasizes the impermanent nature of man’s wisdom.
God’s wisdom is revealed through His Word, through His Son, and through the Cross. And by these things, God has made foolish the wisdom of this world.
“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21).
Paul wrote that the world with all of its so-called wisdom never knew God. It never reached the ultimate goal of knowing God. And man, by his own wisdom, actually cannot come to the knowledge of God. Rather, by man’s wisdom, man turned to graven idols of gold, silver, or stone (Acts 17:29). This impresses upon us the great need to faithfully and unapologetically preach God’s Word.
I love the second half of 1 Corinthians 1:21: “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” “The foolishness of preaching” means the foolishness of the message preached. Paul is not referring to the act of preaching, but the content of preaching,4 that is, the preaching of the Cross.
God is pleased to save anyone who believes through, as the world sees it, the “foolishness” of the message of the Cross. God has provided for and accomplished our salvation in a way that no one would have expected: by death on a cross and the resurrection of His Son. Although the Cross is contrary to and offends the vanity of human wisdom and conceit, when the simple message of the gospel is preached and the world scoffs and calls it foolishness, God saves those who believe it.