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Devotionals

How the Gospel is to be Preached

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

1 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: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

We know that as Christians we must evangelize the world (Matt 28:19-20). The problem is not that we do not know it but that most of us fail to do it. Why? While there may be lots of reasons, what we will deal with tonight is the fear of inadequacy. We say to ourselves: “I am not an eloquent speaker,” “Though I know what the gospel is, I feel so inadequate to articulate it to people,” or “What if people ask me a question I cannot answer?” If you’ve ever felt this way, don’t worry about it because you are not alone. Even Paul, the great apostle, felt inadequate to do the work of evangelism. In today’s text, he says to the Corinthians, “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (v. 3). How could Paul overcome feelings of inadequacy and succeed in evangelizing Corinth and establishing churches in that city? Let’s look at the secret of the apostle’s way of evangelism.

The Work of Evangelism Does Not Depend on Our Eloquence but on Christ Crucified

Greeks were enamored with all sorts of philosophical wisdom and rhetorical traditions. Thus, said Herodotus, ancient Greek historian (b. 485 B.C.), “All Greeks were zealous of every kind of learning.” The city of Corinth was not an exception. It is evident, even after their conversion, some of the Corinthian Christians pursued human wisdom and rhetorical eloquence, and this tendency even divided the church (cf. 1:5, 12; 3:4). To correct such mistake, Paul elaborates on the manner and attitude he had when he first came to the city to preach the gospel among the Corinthians.

Paul knew well that to the Jews, the message of the gospel was “a stumbling block” (1:23) because for them Messiah meant power, splendor, triumph while crucifixion meant weakness, humiliation, defeat. He also knew that to the Gentiles, the message of the gospel was a foolish superstition (1:23). In 112 A.D., in his letter to the emperor Trajan, Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, describes the message of the cross as “a perverse, extravagant superstition.”

Nevertheless, the apostle came to the city “to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words” (1:17a). If he had tried to preach the gospel with human wisdom and eloquence, the cross of Christ would have been “made of none effect” (1:17b). The apostle and his colleagues preached “Christ crucified” although the crucifixion of the Messiah was a scandalous message to the ears of both Jews and Greeks (1:23). It was because the message of the cross is not like human wisdom. It is the message about Christ who is “the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1:24). The message of the cross could not be invented by human wisdom, but only by divine wisdom. Therefore, Paul did not come to Corinth “with excellency of speech or of wisdom” (2:1a). He simply proclaimed the message of the cross, which was executed and revealed by God (“testimony of God” 2:1b). Though Paul considered himself as a weakling1 who was overwhelmed by the task of evangelism in fear and trembling (2:3), he determined to know nothing but “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2). He could do it because he knew that it is not human wisdom or eloquence that saves souls but Christ who was crucified for sinners.

The Result of Evangelism Does Not Depend on Our Ability but on the Spirit’s Power

What is the result of human wisdom and eloquence? Nothing except for a short-lived applause! A preacher’s knowledge and eloquence may impress people, yet it bears no permanent fruit.

Little more than a century ago, a group of American pastors decided to travel to London to hear and learn from some of the great English pastors of the day. One the first Sunday, they went to hear one of the most famous preachers whose church had about 3,000-4,000 members. As they were leaving the church they marveled and spoke to each other, “What a great preacher! What a great preacher!” Then, the next Sunday the group attended the Metropolitan Tabernacle where the famous Charles Spurgeon was pastoring. They listened to him, and as they were leaving the church they marveled again, but this time they shouted, “What a great Savior! Hallelujah! What a great Savior!”

How could Paul accomplish what he accomplished in the city of Corinth? It was because he simply and plainly proclaimed the Savior who died on a cross for sinners. The apostle says, “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom…” (2:4a). It is not Paul’s fake humility. He really did not try to impress people with an eloquent speech. That is the reason some of the Corinthians ridiculed him by saying, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Cor 10:10). Such contempt on his simple preaching of the cross, however, could not alter the apostle’s manner of preaching. The beloved apostle understood that it was not his ability but the Spirit that powerfully applies the message of the gospel into the heart of the hearers. So, Paul says that his preaching was “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (2:4b). Hence, our faith “should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (2:5). To have your faith rest on God’s power is “to believe the cross to be the way of salvation, being convinced by the work of the Spirit in your own and other believers’ lives, and to shun any trust in self and human wisdom as a way to God…. To receive God’s wisdom and experience His power it is necessary to relinquish your own wisdom and power.”2

Therefore, in actuality, it is not wrong for us to feel that we are inadequate for evangelizing the world. Besides Paul, Moses claimed lack of eloquence (Ex 4:10), Isaiah had unclean lips (Isa 6:5), and Jeremiah did “not know how to speak well enough” because he was “too young” (NET Jer 1:6). These men’s speaking generated no applause. Their goal was not persuasion by skillful arguments and eloquent speech but the manifestation of God’s power in people’s lives. Especially for Paul, it was through the simple presentation of Christ crucified. That is all the apostle needed, and that is all we need as well. When we do not focus on ourselves and present Christ and Him alone to the world, the Holy Spirit will transform some people’s hearts (remember not all but certainly some) by the message of the cross.

Let’s remember, dear brothers and sisters, that evangelism is not about how eloquent and able we are but how great and powerful our Savior is through the power of the Holy Spirit!

Discipleship Questions:

  1. What is the gospel?
  2. What is the greatest fear you have when you share the gospel? Other fears?
  3. Explain how the preacher/person who led you to Christ. How eloquent was he or she?
  4. Read 1 Corinthians 2:3 and Acts 18:1, 5-11. Why do you think the Lord appeared to Paul for encouragement in Corinth? What did Paul need to keep on doing? (v. 9). How did the Lord encourage him? (v. 10).
  5. Read Zechariah 4:6 where an angel speaks of the way God’s work is done. How is the gospel to be preached?

1 There are implicit evidences that the apostle was physically weak and ill (e.g., Gal 4:13-14; 2 Cor 4:10; 12:7).

2 Roy E. Ciamp and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, PNTC, 119

What the Gospel Reveals

Luther realized that “the righteousness of God” is a gift from God that renders sinners acceptable in God’s sight. The phrase does not refer to God’s distributive justice by which He judges people according to their works. Nor does it mean that the divine righteousness is infused into sinners so that they are internally transformed as righteous people. Rather, by faith in the gospel, God declares sinners righteous in His sight. This declaration is not a legal fiction but a real verdict.

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The Universal Gospel

James Montgomery Boice pastored Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for about 32 years. During that time he preached through Paul’s epistle Romans and later reported that it was this sermon series that had the greatest and most dramatic impact on his ministry. He later published an edited version of the sermons in a multivolume set. The first volume covers Romans 1-4 and is about 500 pages long. In that book, he has a sermon on this particular passage that he titles The Whole Gospel for the Whole World. Before consulting Boice’s book I labeled this section myself “The Universal Gospel.” What I mean by that is this. The gospel is for everyone. There is no class of people to whom the gospel means more or offers more than it does to anyone and everyone. The gospel is for all people for all time. Like Boice wrote, it is the whole gospel for the whole world. It is a universal gospel.

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How the Gospel is Offered

Man has an inherent sin problem that separates him from God. Isaiah 59:2 states that man’s sin is a barrier between God and man. What we have is a gospel on one side with all of its potential for salvation from sin and death and sinful man on the other side separated from God. There is a natural gulf between the two. Just because there is a gospel does not mean that sinners will automatically be saved. Some will and some will not.

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The Cost of the Gospel

The apostle Peter has argued that, because of the inheritance and salvation we have (vv. 1-12), we ought to set our hope on Christ’s coming (v. 13) and live a holy life as obedient children of God (vv. 14-16). Then he begins to admonish us to live in the fear of the Lord: “in fear conduct your lives during the time of your temporary stay on earth” [my translation] (v. 17b). Why should we fear God as we go about our days? Of course, it is because our heavenly Father is the one who sees and judges everything in justice (v. 17a). Yet, there is another important reason we must live in the fear of God. What did the Father pay for adopting us His children? What was the cost He paid to execute the plan of the gospel through which we are redeemed?

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