Contention Over Preaching

Paul is arguing in 1 Corinthians that God’s wisdom is viewed as foolish by those perishing in our world. He opens Chapter 1 by addressing reports he had received about division in the church. This division is marked by 1) contention in the church (1.10-17), contention at the cross (1.18-25), and contention over God’s chosen (1.26-31).

1 Corinthians 2.1-5 concludes the overall argument Paul is making, namely that God’s wisdom is viewed as foolish by those who are perishing. He strengthens the argument by considering God’s chosen method of communicating, namely preaching.

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

1 Corinthians 2.1-5

As Gordon Fee writes,

“Thus, not only the means (the cross) and the people (the church in Corinth), but also the preacher (Paul) declare that God is in the process of overturning the world’s systems.”

Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, 94.

We summarize these verses as follows:

  1. Paul reminds believers that faithful preaching is defined by the content of what is preached (vv. 1-2)
  2. It is also demonstrated in the form of the preacher (vv. 3-5).
  3. The content of preaching isn’t determined by the preacher.
  4. The form of preaching matches the form of the messenger or preacher.
  5. Both the content and the preacher are viewed as weak by the world.
  6. But God’s power is at work in the midst of this weakness. The reason why this is true is given in the final verse of Chapter 1: “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (1.31).

The Content of Preaching (1.1-2)

  1. Preaching is not a philosophical pursuit of wisdom (v. 1a).

Paul gloried in the Lord. He was weak so God’s power would be strong. Therefore, the faith of the Corinthian believers rested in God and not in Paul.

Paul’s preaching did not contain the excellence of speech or human wisdom that impressed the Corinthians. The philosophical wisdom seekers in our world seemed to be engaged in something very noble. However, they are full of themselves, contentious, and competitive. They seek the glory for themselves. So, preaching is not a philosophical pursuit of human wisdom. What is it, then?

  1. Preaching is a persuasive proclamation of the testimony of God (v. 1b).

The content of good preaching is found in the declaration of the testimony of God. A synonymous phrase for declaring the testimony of God is preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Good preaching contains God’s testimony to the world. He is saying to us: “This is my beloved Son; hear Him through faithful preaching of the Gospel. Look and live. Look, all you ends of the earth and be saved!” Who is Jesus? What has God done in Jesus to save us from our sins? All faithful preaching answers these questions.

  1. Preaching is a persuasive proclamation of Christ crucified (v. 2).

Why didn’t Paul acquiesce to the culture and shape his content with human wisdom? Why was he so narrow that he only declared the testimony of God? The answer is that he wanted content that was laser-focused on Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It’s not that Paul didn’t seek to know anything else. He is merely saying his focus and passion is on Christ crucified.

Too many so-called preachers have messages filled with error, deceit, and uncleanness. They are men-pleasers. They shape their messages with flattery and drape them with a cloak to hide their greed. These preachers seek their own glory. They make demands of their followers. Their content is not tempered by compassion or gentleness. They have no love or affection for the people of God. They do not understand sacrifice. They are ungodly, unjust, and blameworthy. So, their content is corrupt.

The Form of the Preacher (2.3-5)

Paul had been with the Corinthians in weakness, in fear and in much trembling (v. 3). All of this seems appropriate for the message he preached. Whatever weakened Paul and left him trembling accentuated the power of God in what he preached. Maybe Paul was overwhelmed with the task God gave him in reaching the Corinthians for Christ. They should see the difference between philosophy and preaching by looking at the form of both.

Power is not found in the presentation or personality of the one preaching; it is found in the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. This is true power. Paul’s form was certainly persuasive. It wasn’t persuasive in the sense of those who disputed and debated philosophy in Corinth. That power was tethered to the person and their oratorical skill. Paul’s form was not tethered to this world; it soared into an eternal realm. It connected the faith of the Corinthians to the unlimited power of God not the temporal wisdom of men.

The message of the cross, which is foolishness to the supposed wise among us, is the saving power of God among those who are believing. Faith is only as good as the object it rests upon. Our faith rests on the power of God. We need persuasive, powerful preaching that rests in Christ crucified not in the ability of the expositor or preacher.

I may even seek for understanding from the Scriptures but use that understanding in a way that does not benefit people. I might even use knowledge I gather from the Scriptures to hurt people. Someone recently sent me a clip of a preacher doing just that. He certainly gathered knowledge. He would say it came from the Scripture, but his conclusions and observations were hurtful. Phillip Brooks wrote, “Preaching is truth through personality.” I cannot be anyone other than who I am. But I cannot allow who I am to overwhelm the truth and obscure it. Back in v. 17 of 1 Corinthians 1, we read that it is possible to use the human wisdom of words and then the cross of Christ is made of no effect in the lives of people.

Remember our text this morning. Paul is forming a contrast between preaching Christ crucified and persuading with human wisdom and philosophy. There is persuasive human wisdom and Spirit-empowered proclamation. People tend to admire the philosopher and his profundity. He knows so much. Contemporary philosophers have researched and examined those who have gone before them and are standing on the shoulders of giants, so to speak. The logic and plausibility of their arguments are something to behold. Think also of those who are so able in speaking about their ideas. The turn of phrase, the apt illustration, and the forceful summaries and conclusions combine to produce powerful speeches. But Paul did not depend upon these things. They were not his starting point. His starting point was Christ crucified. As v. 2 states: “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This became the foundation of hope and the motivation for obedience in Paul’s preaching. I want to pause right here and bring out two characteristics of faithful, biblical, and powerful preaching: 1) It is pure; 2) It is sympathetic.

Powerful Preaching is Pure

He will say in 2 Corinthians 11.3 that he would not want the devil to corrupt the minds of the Corinthians, to move them away from the simplicity or purity that is in Christ. Paul didn’t want to hitch his wagon to persuasive words of human wisdom. This didn’t mean that he wasn’t persuasive. He was. We just need to read Romans and follow the powerful and persuasive close reasoning of his arguments to know this. But Paul didn’t depend upon elaborate argumentation. He was plain, simple, and powerful. Paul relied upon the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Powerful, pure preaching comes from those who are determined not to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Powerful Preaching is Sympathetic

Sympathy or empathy is built by finding what you need when you are still and alone before God. Once you are satisfied with His words to your heart, He burdens you to share it with others. It is God’s Word and God’s power at work in your life. When we are taught by God, we are burdened to testify to others, to be a channel of blessing.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God and the power of God. Our faith cannot be in the faltering wisdom of men but in the power of God (v. 5). If this is true of my faith, it can be true of your faith as well. Then God alone receives the glory in all who believe on Him.

Paul’s teaches us in another place how to conduct ourselves in the church of the living God, the pillar and the ground of truth (1 Timothy 3.15). One of the ways in which we conduct ourselves takes place behind the pulpit of a local church. When we gather as a church, there are two avenues of conduct established. Both avenues are active and not passive. 1) There is the one who preaches; 2) There are those who listen.

Active Avenues of Church Conduct

The Preacher

Those who preach in our church have the same message Paul preached. When I speak to you, my preaching is not confirmed by signs and wonders as it was in the apostolic time period. It doesn’t need to be because I am not preaching anything new. I am preaching the words we have in our Bibles. I have no power at all to bring you new revelation. We have all the revelation we are going to receive in the Bible.

However, my preaching can be a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. This is my aim. What I preach serves you best when it is endued with power from the Holy Spirit. This will bring the most conviction of sin and the most comfort of hope.

Still, my preaching comes to you through my personality (e.g., my background, intellect, vocabulary, and testimony among you). It is God’s words and God’s power that lead to your deliverance and salvation. If I have great ability, I also have greater responsibility. So, I must guard my time with God and with my study of His words. But I can’t start adorning my preaching with my own wisdom. I work up to my capacity. I have to use all God gives me. But I don’t depend upon my own abilities. I also acknowledge that those who do not have the same capacity as I have can be even more powerful in ministry. Why? It is because they are depending on the Holy Spirit and not on their own fleshly wisdom. Preaching is simply unleashing the power of God’s Word in any given auditorium on any given Sunday.

So, one active avenue of conduct in the church is found through the preacher. Another is found in…

The Hearer

This means that you have a role to play in your listening today. You don’t come to Heritage to be wowed by my syntax, turn of phrase, or eloquence. You come hopefully because you desire the sincere milk of God’s Word so that you may grow as a result of listening to it proclaimed. This is what makes factionalism over preachers today so sinful. Today, we say, I’m of John MacArthur, I’m of R.C. Sproul, I’m of Charles Stanley, or I’m of Charles Spurgeon, etc.

This is just as carnal as what was happening in Corinth. My boys learned in their Bible class the other day that we ought to receive truth as little children normally do. They tend to be dependent and trusting. In all of my years of education, small children embrace the Scripture eagerly, not as the word of man, but as the word of God. When I preach God’s words to you, I am giving you the testimony of God concerning His only beloved and begotten Son (see v. 1 in our text)!

You don’t need my help when you receive the testimony of God. You hear it and heed it. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5.11–12).

Active hearing of the testimony of God is your goal when you listen to faithful preaching. Seek deliverance from God and His word.

If you focus on the talents of a preacher, you will be disappointed, even if that preacher is Ezekiel himself:

“So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.”

Ezekiel 33:31–32

Paul plants, Apollos waters, but God alone gives the increase. This means that all of us need to be filled with the Holy Spirit as we meet together. May God make it so. Our gospel must not come in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance (1 Th 1.5)! Look to the Lord in prayer for the preaching of His Word before you assemble together as a church. If you will prepare for active listening each time we meet, you will leave with power from God leading to an eternal quality of life!

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