In 1:1-5 Paul explains that although his preaching does not exhibit the kind of cleverness designed to impress an audience it does possess spiritual power, and this because the gospel is God's message of salvation. The gospel may not possess the wisdom and power of this age, may even be called foolish, but what it does possess is the power to save.
v1. Paul opens by stating that just as all human boasting is eliminated by God through the cross and the "lowly" status of the people of God, so it is also eliminated in the preaching of their founding apostle. He reminds them that his preaching was "not in such a way as to distinguish myself", Conzelmann.
v2. Paul testified to "Jesus Christ and him crucified." The "know nothing" may imply that he said nothing else, but we have many examples of Paul's preaching and we know he did cover a whole range of topics in his desire to make Christ known. Nor should we think he spoke only of "him crucified". Although Paul's teaching is extensive, his emphasis is on the "foolishness" of the cross.
v3. Paul goes on to speak of his weak preaching. His weakness is possibly some physical condition. The common argument is that it had something to do with his sight. Yet, here his "weakness" probably has more to do with the inadequacy of his preaching as against the confident self-promotion of an audience-pleasing performer. He also admits he was overwhelmed by fear. Yet this weakness, in a sense, confirms his gospel ministry.
v4. For the spiritual in the church at Corinth, "speaking in the Spirit" was done by revealing profound and secret wisdom in a dynamic and persuasive way. In contrast, Paul's presentation was foolish and weak. Yet, God's power is made manifest through weakness and so through his preaching there was a demonstration of "the Spirit and power" in the conversion of a remnant out of the darkness that infested Corinth. The Spirit's power was manifest in the transformation of people's lives.
v5. Finally, Paul states that God's use of the foolishness of the message and the weakness of the preacher, has a clear intention. Salvation rests on God's work in Christ's death and resurrection, the hearing of that work through the proclamation of the gospel, and a response of faith. In simple terms, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. A saving response of faith can only rest on the gospel. If it rests on eloquence or philosophical wisdom, it is worthless.
When Paul writes to the Corinthian church he gives them a powerful insight into the preached Word. Divine wisdom is not found in secular power, it is found in weakness and foolishness. The first instrument of Divine foolishness is the cross of Christ proclaimed, 1:18-25. The second instrument, an instrument God uses to defeat the "secular city" (the kingdom of darkness), is the church, 1:26-31 - an organization of great weakness and foolishness.
Given these facts, we should expect that the preacher will be weak and foolish. Paul therefore makes a number of further points. First, in 2:1-2 he reminds his readers of the foolish content of his preaching. Then, in v3-4, he reminds them of the weakness of the preacher. Finally, he makes the point that this weakness and foolishness should encourage the believer to see that their salvation rests wholly on the grace of God, v5.
What do we expect in a sermon? Week by week we sit through this rather strange art-form. The congregation, patient, ever-forgiving, quietly-submissive, just listens.
If we are lucky, twenty minutes every Sunday, every week, of every year, if not, half an hour, forty-five minutes, ....... ! Sometimes the regurgitation of trite platitudes, pious musings, theological trivia, Bible college lectures, summaries of books.... Sometimes complex, erudite, incomprehensible, theological machinations of a preacher struggling to get a whiff of the passage's meaning.
For many a preacher, the sermon is that one moment in the week when we have them in our power. For a whole week we have put up with the wiles and cunning of a congregation of independent intent, and now finally, we have them in our hands. For some, it is an opportunity to strut the boards of the highest stage of all. To enthuse, to inspire, to control, to manipulate, to entertain ....! What do we expect in a sermon?
"Christ and him crucified." As far as Paul the apostle is concerned, the content of good preaching is the gospel. This does not mean that we should hear evangelistic messages in the service each Sunday. The church is not the place for evangelism, assuming that most who attend are believers. Yet, God's message of grace is for his people, and so his people should hear of the cross of Christ. With the cross before us, let us respond in faith and see our lives transformed by the power of the indwelling Spirit.
Paul does not argue against persuasive preaching, rather he argues against preaching that is conformed to this world. Paul argues for a proclamation of gospel truth through human weakness, and this in the knowledge that it is truth which has the power to transform, not oratory. So, let the preacher preach in the power of God's Spirit, and let the hearer hear in faith.
1. "Eloquence or superior wisdom." What form of preaching is this?
2. How would you preach "Jesus Christ and him crucified" to an average congregation week by week?