Effective Preaching

I Corinthians 1

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
September 2023

One of the things the church needs today is good preachers.  The land is full of churches but how many have Spirit-filled preachers.  How many preach God’s word, not their own ideas, with conviction, authority and power?

We have many good teachers but not as many good preachers.  Today, we come to one of the greatest passages on preaching in the Bible.  It is a great passage on apostolic preaching.  Paul was an apostle.

This passage tells us how the Apostle Paul preached.  The word “preach” or “preaching” is used four times in this section (I Corinthians 1:17, 21, 23; 2:4).  This passage gives us a theology of preaching.

Now, everyone preaches a little differently.  In fact, no two of them preach exactly the same.  Even the Apostles did not preach exactly the same.  Everyone has a different gift from God.

Learning how to preach well takes some time.  Billy Graham was the most famous evangelist of the 20th century.  He has been called the most famous evangelist since the Apostle Paul.  He was not always a great preacher.

What was his first sermon like?  He never took any classes on preaching.  He never took any classes on public speaking.  He never even went to seminary.  He never took a course on homiletics.

He just had a Bible college degree.  He did want to preach, so he taught himself.  He got a book of sermons by a Southern Baptist Pastor named Lee Scarborough.

He said that he practiced four of those sermons outside forty or fifty times.  He had them all memorized.  The first time he preached a sermon was in 1937.

He was a skinny eighteen-year-old kid from Charlotte. He was nervous.  His knees were knocking but he felt confident because he had memorized these sermons.

Each one of these sermons was supposed to last forty minutes long.  When he was done preaching only eight minutes had gone by.

Today, we see how how Paul preached.  We will see that it is the exact opposite the way people preach today.  Modern methods are very different from Paul’s methods.

You say, “That is interesting, but I do not do any preaching.”  Most people do not stand up in a pulpit and deliver a sermon.  Very few people do that.  That is not the type of preaching Paul is talking about.

He is talking about preaching the gospel and that is something all of us should do.  He is talking about preaching the gospel (εὐαγγελίζω).  We see that in I Corinthians 1:17. How do we do that effectively?

Five Principles of Preaching

1) Follow a call to preach

You have to be called to preach.  You have to be sent to preach.  “Do not go unless you are sent”[1]

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:14-15 NIV)

Paul was sent to preach.  God calls people to do some things and He calls people from some unusual backgrounds.  Paul was sent and he was a former persecutor of Christians.

For Christ did not SEND me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (I Corinthians 1:17 NIV).

That sounds a little strange.  Paul said, “For Christ did NOT send me to baptize.”  He must not have been a BaptistCan you imagine a Baptist saying this?  Why would he say this?

Some have misunderstood this verse.  Paul was not against baptism.  He believed in baptism.  He was baptized by Ananias in Acts 9.  Paul is just saying that this was not his primary mission.

Last Sunday, we had some baptisms after our church service.  Some were planned and some were spontaneous.  In fact, it was a record number.  We have never had as many people getting baptized before.

If you noticed, the one who baptized people was not the preacher.  It was not our pastor.  Someone else did the baptizing.  That is all Paul was saying.  His calling was not to baptize but to preach.

It is not that he didn’t believe in baptism or never baptized.  He says that he baptized a whole household (the household of Stephanos).  He was called to preach.

Not everyone who preaches today is called.  We have people who claim to be apostles and prophets who are not called.  They called themselves.  God did not send them.

I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied. (Jeremiah 23:21 NIV)

All of us are called to preach the gospel.  It is part of the Great Commission which is for every Christian.

Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21 NIV).  We are all sent.  We all have a special mission.

2) Preach the right message

Many today preach many other things besides the Bible.  They preach other things than the cross.

Many preach human wisdom and philosophy.  Many preach politics.  We should address moral issues in society but not partisan politics.

Many preach prosperity.  The sermons are all about getting rich.  The sermons are all about having your best life now (to use Joel Osteen’s words).

It is the gospel of success.  It is a feel-good message that feeds everyone’s egos.  It is the health and wealth gospel.  That was not what Paul preached.  What did he preach?

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach THE GOSPEL (I Corinthians 1:17 NIV)

 For the message OF THE CROSS is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1:18 NIV)

We preach Christ Crucified (I Corinthians 1:23 NIV)

I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED. (I Corinthians 2:2 NIV)

The focus of his Paul’s message was Jesus.  It is not the focus of many preachers today.  They preach on all kinds of other things, but Paul focused on Jesus.

He didn’t just focus on his miracles and His teaching but His death.  He said, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2 NIV).

Was this the only topic Paul preached?  Did he just talk about the death of Christ?  No.

Paul preached the gospel (I Corinthians 1:17) and he tells us in I Corinthians 15 that the gospel involved the death, burial AND resurrection of Jesus.  We know that he preached that from the Book of Acts.

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 17:16-18 NIV).

Paul focused on the cross.  He loved the cross.  He was not ashamed of the cross of Jesus.  He boasted in the cross.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14 NIV)

There were enemies of the cross in Paul’s day and there are enemies of the cross in our own day.

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Philippians 3:18 NIV)

Many today do not talk much about the death of Jesus.  They do not believe in substitutionary atonement.  They do not believe in penal substitution.

In fact, some even mock that doctrine that Christ died FOR us. They say God did not send His son to die.  That would be cosmic child abuse.  Paul loved the doctrine of the cross and focused on it.  Without the cross of Christ, there is no Christianity.

3) Don’t be afraid to be ridiculed

When you preach the gospel, you are often ridiculed by people.  The unsaved not only reject the Bible; they mock it.  They laugh at it.  It is a joke to some.

For the message of the cross is FOOLISHNESS to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (I Corinthians 1:18-25 NIV)

There are two different responses in the world to the gospel.  Some reject it because it is offensive.  That is what the Jews thought.  It was a stumbling block (I Corinthians 1:23).

Why were there different responses?  God does not do things the way we think he would do. In fact, he does the exact opposite of what we think He should do.

The gospel is a stumbling block today.  It is offensive.  Paul talked about “the offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11).  What is so offensive about the gospel?

Four Ways the Gospel is Offensive

1. The gospel says that everyone is a sinner

That is offensive to people who believe that people are basically good. It is offensive to admit that you have a problem.  It is a sin problem.  We are born with this problem.

Now, this offends human pride. If you live a moral life and are religious, you might be offended by this, because you don’t see yourself as a sinner.  Most people do not see themselves as God sees them.

2. The gospel says that judgment is coming

God is going to judge sinners.  People don’t like to talk about a fiery hell.  That is offensive.

3. The gospel says that we can’t save ourselves

There is nothing you can do to earn your salvation. That is offensive to people who are very self-sufficient. That offends human pride.  We think we are the master of our own destiny and we can save ourselves.

4. The gospel says that there is only one way to God

It says that all religions are not equal. That is offensive to the pluralistic world in which we live. Pluralism says that one religion is as good as another.

There are just different roads toward God.  Jesus is the only way. That is offensive to people. It is exclusive, narrow-minded and intolerant. The only way to God is through the cross.

Paul mentions two common responses to the gospel.  We see these today.  Some say that the gospel is OFFENSIVE.  Others say that it is FOOLISH.  Christians worship someone who was crucified.

They worship a crucified Savior.  The Jews could not imagine a crucified Messiah. The Messiah they were waiting for would not be crucified.  He would rule and bring peace.

NT Wright said, “No Jew of the time was expecting a Messiah who would be executed by Rome; a Messiah ought to be defeating the pagans, not being killed by them!)”[2]

That would have been an oxymoron.  It would have been contradictory to everything they thought about the Messiah, as S. Lewis Johnson noted. [3]

Others say that the message of the cross is stupid.  It is ridiculous.  It is a silly message, not a saving message.

It is foolish. In fact, we get the word “moron” from the Greek word (μωρία).  The word “foolish” or “foolishness” is used all through this section (I Corinthians 1: 18, 20, 21, 23, 25, 27)

What sounded so ridiculous about the gospel?  The NT is full of incredible miracles.  They reject the idea of these miracles (e.g., virgin birth, resurrection) as fairy tales.

Unfortunately, they don’t look at the evidence of the resurrection.  Luke said that there were many infallible proofs of the resurrection.  The unsaved are not open to any of these proofs.

They also think that it is silly that the salvation of the world would come from a poor Jewish carpenter.  They think it is absurd that it would come from a convicted felon.  It came from an executed criminal.  Jesus was executed by the state for a capital crime (treason).

He died a shameful death.  He was crucified.  He was crucified in weakness.  That was a death reserved for the worst of criminals.  He was a convicted felon, convicted by a kangaroo court.

It was a miscarriage of justice.  Jesus did not do anything wrong.  He went about doing good and was punished for it by the state.

Many today preach a watered-down gospel.  They mention the gospel but do not mention sin.  Many preachers do not talk much about sin.

They don’t talk about repentance.  They don’t talk about Hell.  That is NOT the gospel.  It is NOT the gospel that Paul preached.

Paul did not change his message.  He did not water down his message to fit his audience.  He was not a man-pleaser (Galatians 1:10).

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (II Timothy 4:2-5 NIV)

People reject the truth.  They turn to teachers who will tell them what they want to hear but Paul tells people not to change their message.  He tells them to continue to preach the Word in season and out of season.

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (I Corinthians 1:22-23 NIV).

Jews demanded one thing.  Gentiles demanded something else.  Paul didn’t give them either.  He preached Christ to both of them. Even when the message offended people, Paul did not stop preaching it

4) Preach it in the right way

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—NOT WITH WISDOM AND ELOQUENCE, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (I Corinthians 1:17 NIV).

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. (I Corinthians 2:1-5 NIV)

Paul was a preacher.  He was not an orator.  You don’t have to use big words to be an evangelist.  You don’t have to be a great public speaker.

You don’t have to use flowery language. The power is not in us.  The power is in the gospel itself.  Paul called it “the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).  He called it “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16)

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (I Corinthians 1:18 NIV)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 NIV)

D.L. Moody was the greatest evangelist of the nineteenth century and yet, he never went to college.  He never went to seminary.  He only had a fifth-grade education.

In the 1800s, he worked in a shoe store.  Someone came in and witnessed to him and he got saved.  He felt called to be an evangelist.

He did not have a great education.  All he had was the Holy Spirit and a call to serve. That was all he needed.

5) Give God all of the glory

Some preachers draw a lot of attention to themselves.  It is all about them.  Paul said, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 1:31 NIV).  This is a quotation from Jeremiah.  Let’s look at the passage in the OT.

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches,

24 but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)

Many people like to boast.  We think we are better than other people. Muhammad Ali boasted that he was the greatest.  We boast and brag about all kinds of things.  There are several things we brag about.

We boast about our POSSESSIONS.  We boast how rich we are or what kind of car we drive or what kind of house we live in.

We boast about our WEALTH.  We boast about our salary.  We boast about investments in the stock market.  We boast about our 401K.  The rich tend to look down on the poor.  We talk about them (white trash)

We boast about our GIFTS.  We may have a special gift that no one else has and are really good at it (e.g., a musical gift or athletic gift).  We boast about that gift.

We boast about our KNOWLEDGE.  They boast about how smart they are.  They boast about how educated they are.  They boast about how high their GPA is or their IQ is.

We boast about where we went to college.  Graduating from Harvard or Princeton is not the same as graduating from Alamance Community College.

We boast about how many degrees we have.  If they have a PhD, they look down on people who only have a college degree or never went to college or never learned how to read.

We boast about our STRENGTH.  We boast about how strong we are.  We boast about how much they can lift.  That is what bodybuilders do.

If we are muscular, they look down on people who do not go to the gym and work out.  Kids brag about all of the fights they have won and how no one messes with them.

We boast about our ACCOMPLISHMENTS.  If we have achieved a lot in life and have made it to the top of our profession, it is easy to do this.  You can acknowledge your strengths without bragging or boasting.

Paul says that the only thing we should boast in is God.  Notice how the chapter ends.  Paul makes an incredible statement, and it applies to us today.

A Church of Nobodies

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 1:26-31 NIV).

Most of us are nobodies.  We are normal people.  We are not anything special in the eyes of the world.  We are not rich and famous.  We are not well known.

The Corinthians church was a church of nobodies.  Paul said, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”

What was true of the Church of Corinth is true of most churches today. Most of the people that God saves are simple people.  The people that God chooses are not the type of people we would choose.

Most of the people God chooses are nobodies.  They are not movie stars.  They are not heads of state.  There are not many intellectuals.  There are not many college professors.

In fact, God delights in saving nobodies.  He chooses them.  If he chooses them, we should not ignore the poor and lower class.

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (James 2:5 NIV)

It may be strange but Jesus actually thanked God for hiding God from some people.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Matthew 11:25 NIV)

There is a famous quote from Abraham Lincoln.  He said that “God must like common people because He made so many of them.”

Most people look normal.  They look average.  Everyone on the street does not look like a supermodel.

It is also true that God must like common people because He saved so many of them.  So many of them are in the church.

You don’t have to be special to be saved.  You don’t have to be special to be saved to be used by God.  Peter and John were called “unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13 KJV).

Peter was a fisherman.  His job was to catch, clean and sell fish and Jesus made him His chief Apostle.[4]

This does not mean that God does not save any wealthy person or famous person.  It does not mean that He can’t use a smart person or a wealthy person.

He doesn’t just use the weak.  He also uses the strong.   He uses the Power Team.  He uses Faith Force.  He used Samson.

Paul did not say “not any were chosen.” He said, “not many were chosen.” One wealthy woman said that she was saved by the letter “M”.  If Paul said, “not any were called,” she would not be saved.

[1] John G. Butler, Sermon Starters, vol. 4 (Clinton, IA: LBC Publications, 2014), 150.

[2] Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone – I Corinthians, 26.

[3] https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/sljinstitute-production/new_testament/1Corinthians/05_SLJ_1Corinthians.pdf

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axoVSIKCUlU

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