“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17)
We live in a day where instant credibility and wisdom seems to attach to a person gifted with great oratory skills. You see it all over the place; in the political arena, in business, you see it with celebrities’ and with sports figures. We can be so enamored with how someone says something. It’s almost like it doesn’t even matter what they say so long as they sound good saying it. But, do you know what? The same thing can also be said about the church. It’s not to say that being a great speaker is a bad thing, it’s not. It’s a gift, and like all good gifts, it’s from God. But it is to say that being a great speaker in and of itself, particularly as it relates to proclaiming the gospel message is not the most important thing. Unfortunately, sometimes we treat it as if it is.
“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel…” In this section of 1 Corinthians, Paul dealt with divisions within the church at Corinth. Paul, Apollos and Cephas (the apostle Peter) were all Christian preachers, yet some in the church had placed their allegiance to one or the other of these men, most likely based on which one had baptized them. Paul warned against these misplaced allegiances, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:13). Paul knew the body of Christ could not be divided. He valued baptism but knew it was subordinate to the preaching of the gospel. The gospel saved, baptism did not.
“…and not with words of eloquent wisdom…” In the Greco-Roman world, great value was placed on those with superior speaking skills. Wisdom was an assumed trait of a great orator. Paul apparently didn’t have this trait. He as much said so in a later letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:6). But ultimately, “words of eloquent wisdom” were not what mattered, the cross is what mattered.
“…lest the cross be emptied of its power” Worldly wisdom and the cross will always be in opposition. Many in Paul’s day, in their own wisdom, viewed the cross as folly, considering it incomplete for salvation. Paul knew better. Maybe the message he preached and the way he preached it didn’t meet the standard of the great orator’s of his day, but because Paul preached a message that was not of him, but of Christ and the cross, there was power.
God is always pleased to dwell in and work through those who abandon their own abilities and instead rely solely on the power He provides, the power of the cross. When the message of the gospel becomes about us is when it ceases to be of Him. It’s not to say that our lives shouldn’t reflect the gospel we proclaim, it should. It is only to say that the wisdom and power of the message ultimately rests on Christ, our perfect Savior. He is the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). He alone makes it credible. Our only responsibility is to preach it exactly the way God wrote it.
God, thank You that You have made a way for our salvation. That salvation comes only through Christ. You created everything, yet we sinned. But Christ redeemed and reconciled us to You. That is the gospel. Let it be preached in its entirety. Let it be heard with open hearts. Let it be received. Let it be displayed in our lives. But more than all, may You be glorified. Amen!