1 Corinthians 2:1-2 “When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Paul did not preach with notable eloquence. He doesn’t say that eloquence is a bad thing. If a person has a gift for saying things in a beautiful, clever, or profound way, and he humbly offers it to serve God in the preaching of the gospel, that is a fine thing to do. But apparently Paul lost no sleep over trying to craft the most cleverly worded message he could. It was enough to be clear and direct.
What sounds “eloquent” is largely a matter of personal taste anyway. It’s a matter of “style.” On an evangelism visit, a lady once told me she was impressed by the preaching of a pastor who peppered his sermons with quotes from great works of literature. A member of my congregation once complained that my sermons sounded like I took a thesaurus after I finished writing, and exchanged all the clear and simple words for big words nobody knows. Are these two people going to be happy with the same style?
Many people want lots of story-telling in their sermons. You know that Jesus used stories when he preached. Others want carefully arranged, step-by-step logic. Paul often writes that way. Should we listen to one and not the other? I actually heard a person say once, “That’s why I prefer Jesus over Paul.” But didn’t Jesus hand-pick Paul to speak for him?
There is a problem if we elevate style over content. Preaching becomes a form of entertainment. Ever find yourself remembering a story or something funny a pastor said in a sermon, but had no idea what point he was trying to make? What does that say about us? Style or eloquence don’t change hearts and minds. Content does.
But not just any content. Paul also said, “I did not come with…superior wisdom.” God’s word is always superior to any other wisdom, and Paul preached and taught God’s word. Remember that Paul was writing to the Corinthians, and the Corinthians lived in Greece. Greece was the home of all the great philosophers and their teachings. You had Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. Paul didn’t let that kind of “superior wisdom” taint his preaching.
Today the temptation is to turn sermons into a lecture on pop psychology to make you feel better. “Come to church, and we’ll help you heal your wounded inner child.” Or the pastor can turn his sermons into a kind of advice column. Practical tidbits drawn from Scripture, or from his own imagination, help you iron out the wrinkles in your life. It may sound wise, but something far more vital is missing.
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Papa John’s uses the slogan, “Better ingredients, better pizza.” Paul could have said, “Better contents, better preaching.” Preaching “Jesus Christ” did not mean Paul limited himself to the events from Jesus’ life in the four gospels. Jesus once told his enemies, “You diligently study the Scriptures, because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” The whole Scriptures testify about Jesus.
Central to understanding Christ is understanding “him crucified.” Look again what God promises at the cross. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the entire world (I John 2). The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1). Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3). When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son (Romans 5). By his death he destroyed him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2). I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2). Every one of those passages I just quoted is about Christ and his cross. They offer grace, forgiveness, life, and freedom. Jesus Christ and him crucified: that’s still the kind of preaching we need.