1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e. “us”):
O.K., so here’s how I filled in the blanks. Preacher. Preacher. Preacher. (We might insert “sermon” in that last blank but you get the point). In short, the ability of the preacher has become the primary metric by which most people assess local churches. (In recent decades music has become a very close second, and if the music is of a certain quality, people will even tolerate lower quality preaching). We speak of “great” preachers and “gifted” preachers and of “amazing Bible teachers,” and such. At times it rises to the level of, “I follow Tim Keller,” or “I follow Beth Moore,” or “I follow John Piper,” or “I follow (insert your own favorite preacher here). It readily devolves into a cult of personality. When I served as a preacher in a large church years ago with multiple services and a variety of rotating preachers, people would call around the night before to try and determine which preacher would be in which service so they could plan accordingly. (I have a feeling that for me that selection process could go either way.)
What if instead of coming away from our church gatherings exclaiming to ourselves and others,”What an amazing preacher,” or “That was a great sermon,” we said things like, “What an amazing God,” or “That was a great demonstration of the Gospel in the power of the Spirit”?
So what’s a preacher to do? Should we try harder to be unimpressive or to be more average or what? No. I think Paul’s point is to become a personal point of demonstration of the gospel being proclaimed. When God became a human person in Jesus Christ, the medium and the message become so inextricably bound together they could never be separated again. It’s why Scripture says, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
1. Where the gospel is proclaimed with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, the attention of the people will be irresistibly drawn into an encounter with the living God rather than an assessment of the preacher or the message.
2. If the preacher is not himself or herself a demonstration of the “foolishness of the cross” they may be communicating the truths of the “gospel” but they are likely not proclaiming the gospel with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. It is not a preacher’s job to convince people of the truth of the gospel. The preacher’s calling is to become a living, breathing, demonstration of the “message of the cross” in the pulpit and, more importantly, out of the pulpit.
If I am even remotely similar to the majority of the preachers of this day and time, I would assess our major problem as being far more concerned with our “delivery” of the message than we are about a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. Sure, we want a demonstration of the Spirit’s power but we readily confuse this with a demonstration of our own polished skills.
(And the truth of the matter—because most of us are not capable of highly polished oratory, we allow ourselves to slip into the easy mediocrity of preparing neither the message nor the messenger; instead serving God’s people warmed over sermons salted with sentiment and peppered with humor.)
In order to proclaim the gospel, which is the message of the cross, we must learn to err on the side of emphasizing the preparation of the messenger rather than on the preparation of the message. While I do not want to set up a false dichotomy here, a distinction must be made.
Here’s some good news for the rest of us: The proclamation of the gospel is simply not the domain of the “great” communicators. It is the humble privilege of broken men and women who are themselves being daily remade by the message of the foolishness of the cross, Jesus Christ: the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Father, thank you for the gift of preaching and the gift of preachers, but thank you more for a demonstration of the Spirit’s power through the proclamation of Christ crucified. I want to pray for preachers everywhere today and especially the preacher who regularly proclaims the Word of God in my church. Bless him or her with a deepened anointing. Lead them to embrace the foolishness of the Cross and bring a demonstration of the Spirit’s power through their ministry. Help me to become a better hearer too. I pray in Jesus, name. Amen.
1. To preachers: Where do you push back on today’s entry? Why? How do you resonate with it? What will you do next?
2. To people who listen to preachers: What role do you play on the demand side of wanting to hear “awesome” preachers? What metrics do you use to assess great preachers. . . . . great messages?
3. To preachers and the people who listen to them: What would a demonstration of the Spirit’s power look like? What’s the difference between the “foolishness of a preacher” and the “foolishness of the cross?”
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