The Preaching of the Cross – I Corinthians 1:17-24


There have been two periods in my life when I was regularly involved in a radio ministry. The most recent was in Deming, NM, where I had a 15 minute live broadcast on the small local station. It was early each Sunday morning, and I brought a brief devotional or gospel message. It was nothing but me, my Bible and a huge microphone. Prior to that, my first exposure to the radio was in Calgary. Once a week Ken Johnson and I would sit in front of a big reel-to-reel tape recorder. We began with some recorded music sung by members of our church, and then one of us would preach. That 30 minute tape was then sent to a Christian radio station out of Three Hills, AB. Following the hymn and before the message, the man who wasn’t to preach that day would say in his most authoritative voice, “For the preaching the cross is to them that perish foolishness.”

Why did Bro. Johnson choose to begin our broadcast with I Corinthians 1:18? Because that is at the core of the Christian ministry. Paul, the Apostle, tells us here that Christ sent him “to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” For it “pleased God by the foolishness of (gospel) preaching to save them that believe.” God’s servants “preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.”

I have several purposes in addressing these verses today. The first is somewhat selfish – to remind me of my responsibility as a servant of Christ. Second “unto (us) which are (saved), the preaching of the cross of Christ is the power and wisdom of God.” It should excite the child of God every time the gospel is preached. We should be reminded of the great blessing which the Lord has given to such unworthy creatures. And this could be the day we see one of our loved ones delivered from death into eternal life. There could be a new spiritual baby born into the family of God – new babies are always a joy. There is then a third purpose for this message – It is hoped that there are people in need of this gospel among us today – people in need of Christ. It “pleased God by the foolishness of (gospel) preaching to save them that believe.” So it is important for God’s churches to preach Christ crucified over and over again. It is also important that we, as church members, do our best to bring the lost in to hear that message

It is my prayer this morning that God’s saints might be thrilled – and the lost might be chilled. My hope is that God’s people be stirred and the spiritually dead might be cured. I can’t guarantee those results, but it is my prayer – and it should be yours as well.

In that light let’s consider Paul’s calling – “Christ sent me … to preach the gospel.”

As children of God our primary responsibility is to bring glory to our Saviour and to the Heavenly Father. That should be our general hope, but we should also specifically strive work – to reach that goal. If a man is plumber or an electrician, he should let the world know that he is a “Christian” craftsman. If a Christian woman is a homemaker and mother, she should make her home a temple of the Lord. And it is these craftsmen and homemakers who come together as members of the Lord’s body – His church. Among those members are usually people whom God calls to a very special service. They can say with Paul, “Christ sent ME … to preach the gospel.” The Lord has never sent women to preach Christ in same way He sent Paul, Timothy, Titus and Peter. And most of the male members of His church don’t have that specific calling either. But together, all of the various members of church, have a united commission – “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Do you see the word “sent” “Christ sent me … to preach the gospel?” In this verse it is the Greek “apostello” (ap-os-tel’-lo) a relative of “apostellos.” Paul was an “apostle” sent to preach the gospel. And we, as a church, have been sent to do the same work, even though none of us hold that original Biblical office of “apostle.” There is a sense in which we are an “apostolic” church sent out to preach the gospel of Christ.

Developing out of the context –including one of the problems in Corinth – Paul introduced a negative. “Christ sent me NOT to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” That unhealthy church had become divided into various parties or cliques. Some looked to the leadership of Apollos, others to Paul, and other members identified with neither. One of the factors which fueled those allegiances, was the one who administered that person’s baptism, or who immersed the person who immersed that church member. In the midst of that messy controversy Paul was able to say that he had personally baptized very few in Corinth, leaving that important ordinance to others. Even though baptism is a part of the commission which God has given to His churches, there is one thing which is far more important – preaching the gospel of Christ. “Christ sent me NOT to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”

Taking Paul’s THOUGHTS a bit beyond his words, there are other important things which were NOT at the pinnacle of his calling. “Christ sent me not to counsel and coddle you through your neuroses; I am sent to preach the gospel.” “Christ sent me not to turn you into Calvinsts, but to preach Christ.” “Christ sent me not to make you disciples of Landmarkism and J. R. Graves, but to preach the gospel.” “Christ sent me not to entertain you with cute stories about the Christian lives of others, but to preach the gospel.” While the ministry of a church involves a great many facets, the first and foremost must be – “Christ sent me … to preach the gospel.”

Later on in this letter, Paul will define or explain that “gospel.” “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you… how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” This is the “good news” – the “gospel” – in fact it is the great news – the greatest news any sinner can hear.

And we are ALL sinners. We come into this world with the sin nature of Adam imputed to us and flowing through our veins. We then nurture that sin throughout our lives into its ultimate rotten fruit which kills us – eternally. But as Paul told those Corinthian saints, Christ died for their sins according to the promise of God, and according to prophecy. Christ Jesus, literally dead, was buried, BUT He arose from death and the grave. He arose because He completed the work He was sent to do – “to give His life a ransom for many.” The Son of God died in order to pay the death penalty for the sins of the people He intended to save. That, in a nutshell is the Christian gospel.

In English we hear Paul use four words in saying “Christ sent me … to preach the gospel.” But what Paul originally wrote was only one word – a verb “euaggelizo” (yoo-ang-ghel-id’-zo). There is a noun form of that word which is translated simply “the gospel.” But here is the verb form of the word – “to preach the gospel.” Twenty-two times that single word is translated“preach the gospel,” but twenty-three times it is rendered simply “preach.” In I Corinthians 15:1 Paul uses both the noun form of this word and the verb. “Moreover, brethren, I gospelize you with the gospel… how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” Listening to that word again, I hope that your ear can automatically transliterate the word. To “euaggelizo” (yoo-ang-ghel-id’-zo) is to “evangelize.” Mark 16:15 – “Go ye into all the world and evangelize every creature.”

Here Paul says, “Christ sent me … to PREACH the gospel.” Notice that the gospel is meant to be preached – to be declared with God-given authority. Of course, in our modern world, the gospel has been produced in tracts and printed versions. It has also been converted to other forms. But It takes work – hard work – to turn the message of salvation into an allegory like “Pilgrim’s Progress.” And the gospel is curbed and hindered when it is made into rhyme and set to music. I am not saying that it is wrong to make the gospel into a tract, a story or a song. But was designed by God to be “preached.” Preaching is incorporated into the very word “euaggelizo” (yoo-ang-ghel-id’-zo). Preaching is not secondary; it is the primary method of evangelization

Paul preached the gospel of Christ, and HOW did he preach it?

“For Christ sent me … to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words.” I find it interesting that Paul’s ministry in Corinth came after the time he spent in Athens. Athens was the cultural capital of the world in Paul’s day, and it appears that he tried to meet the unbelievers there on their own intellectual turf. But it was basically a failure – with only a few miraculous conversions and no church. From Athens he traveled west to the commercial city of Corinth, and there he returned to his commission to clearly preach the gospel. He says in chapter 2 – “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.” Christ had not sent Paul, or anyone else, to preach the gospel with an affectation of wisdom. “With the wisdom of words” means “with ingenuous speech” – and with “mannerisms designed to impress.” After Athens, Paul returned to being Paul, speaking naturally.

Bro. Ken Johnson was sent by Christ to Alberta, Canada to preach the gospel, where I first met him. When he arrived, he did so as Ken Johnson – a man from the other side of the world – West Texas. If he had tried to speak with an imitation English accent, trying to impress or deceive, he would have been laughed out of the country. He was a Texan, it was a part of who he was, and he was obligated to minister as a foreign missionary. Sure it caused some cultural problems, but it avoided ten times as many others. And he was a SMART West Texan; he had an above average intellect – a gift from God. The Lord expected him to use his mind, as well as his heart in the presentation of the gospel. And I believer that is what he did.

While there is nothing wrong with trying to improve our minds for the ministry, to be most effective for the Lord we must use the gifts which Lord has already given us. The average listener can discern fake or affected eloquence. On the other hand, tactfulness is usually a good thing, while insincere flattery will stifle a person’s presentation of the gospel. “Sophistry” is a word which came to my mind in this regard. “Sophistry” is the use of deceptive words with the intention of misleading or misdirecting. It is a negative word – it is an evil practice. But it comes to us straight from one of the Greek words in Paul’s statement. The word “wisdom” is “sophia” in Greek, and “sophia” is the root behind “sophistry.” Paul says, “I have been called to preach the gospel without resorting to worldly wisdom, an evil, or misleading form of logic.”

There are corrupt evangelists who urge people to come to their Christ by promising unbiblical things. There are some who preach that Christians can expect to become rich with worldly wealth. But the true gospel makes no such promises – it is sophistry to preach that kind of gospel. There are evangelists who leave the impression that Christ will rid their lives of all their problems – family problems, health problems. Those are lies – that is sophistry – the use of worldly wisdom. There are people who portray Christ as our potential buddy, and who picture the Holy Spirit as our servant. Employing the wisdom of misdirection may make the gospel more appealing. But it is condemned by the Lord – and those who use it should be condemned. The gospel, of course, is wonderful; it is glorious; it is awesome, but not in any worldly way. To an unregenerated man, the gospel will NEVER appear to be wise or smart. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him.” The things of the Spirit of God are “moronic” in Greek – “foolishness” to the natural man.

So how did Paul preach the gospel? With the realization that to the unsaved it is absolute foolishness. Why paint the cross with the colors of earthly beauty or worldly wisdom, when it is not true. The cross was a horrible instrument of death. Yes, the unbeliever may be deceived, but a conversion through deception isn’t conversion at all.

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness.” Those that perish – those who die without Christ – consider the gospel to be foolish. Perhaps the evangelist should look at his message from the perspective of that lost person. “The preaching of the cross … unto us which are saved … is the power of God,” but “to them that perish it is foolishness.”

I have met a number of people who called themselves “evangelists” professional soul-savers. Some were humble, prayerful, self-sacrificing people, who truly wanted the best for the people they evangelized. But in contrast to those “sons of consolation” other were “sons of thunder” and lightning. They blasted their audiences with the gospel facts like they were firing a fully-automatic machine pistol, letting the bullets fly everywhere and perhaps hitting no one.\ They say, “I just let the Holy Spirit bring the targets into range.”

But that unsaved “natural man” believes the gospel to be foolishness. He denies that his sin is as terrible as the evangelist says it is. He looks at himself and declares that he is not dead – even in trespasses and sin. Or he thinks that the faithful maintenance of the sacraments makes more sense toward salvation. He may believe that his good deeds, when in a sufficient quantity, can outweigh his evil deeds. He may depend on the prayers of priests, saints and the mother of God to meet his spiritual needs. He may have a dozen ideas which he deems logical, while the death of some Jew two thousand years ago to save him is foolishness. The evangelist needs to lift the foolishness of God’s gospel up through the sewage of man’s wisdom.

Why must the gospel be preached without man’s wisdom?

“Lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” The gospelizing of the gospel – when received by faith, is the power of God. “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” And verse 24 adds, it is “the wisdom of God” – “the sophia of God.”

Corrupt human logic tells the concerned religious man that he must DO something about his sinfulness. So in his wisdom he DOES those things which he thinks will contribute to his salvation. He gives food to the poor; he sends money to the lepers in Africa; he attends church six times a week. He prays, he reads his Bible; he musters up faith to believe God might save him. Maybe he glories in how sad he is about his sinfulness. His list of saving ingredients may start small, but over time it gets larger and larger. But every one of those human ingredients must be cast aside in order to receive the Christ of the Biblical gospel – otherwise “the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” As foolish as it may appear to the human intellect, the death of Christ alone is the means to salvation. And if anything is added to God’s salvation it becomes of “none effect” useless, void.

Let me illustrate it this way. Here are three glasses of water – let’s assume that they contain pure water. They represent the gospel of Christ “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Into one glass I drop some human idea which is to deliver me from sin – just one drop. Is the water still pure? Is the gospel pure? Would you drink this water? The Holy God would not. This could be something green, blue or red – in every case, the gospel is no longer God’s gospel. Here is another into which I add one drop of yellow. What is the most disgusting yellow substance you can think of? This is it. Can you still see it? Perhaps not. But you know it’s there; you saw me add it. The Lord knows it as well. Is the water still pure? The wisdom of man believes that he must add to God’s perfect gospel. But the smallest drop corrupts and destroys the salvation of Christ – makes it of none effect.

If you are seeking the salvation of your soul, I implore you to put your trust in Christ alone. And if you are NOT concerned about your soul, you should be. That is something about which to pray. ” He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” In fact, “The wrath of God abideth on him.” It is that simple. Are you a child of God by faith in Christ Jesus? If you are not, please talk to someone about it – do it today.