The message of the cross is the resource of God’s
power to convert those who receive it and to condemn those who reject it. The preaching of the cross is the response of God’s people. In this message on 1 Corinthians 2:1–5, Pastor Jim Shaddix provides a poignant reminder for the church to preach Christ crucified.
- Let’s own the preaching event as a community of faith.
- Let’s approach the preaching event as an act of worship.
- Let’s receive the message from God, not just about God.
- Let’s resolve to magnify the message of the gospel alone.
So, you know where we’re going: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Let me ask you to open your copy of God’s Word to that place. As you do, grab the sermon notes page that is in your Worship Guide. I hope you will use that as a tool as we follow along together. If you don’t know where 1 Corinthians is and you’re new with us and you have a Bible, look in the Table of Contents there and find it in the New Testament. We’ve just begun to go through this book together.
So you follow along in 1 Corinthians 2 as I read God’s Word to us. Here’s what the Apostle Paul says under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1-5)
Reminders for the Church …
So, we come to this subject of the cross and Christian preaching. As Pastor David said, this is what this passage is about; it’s about preaching. So, I have the responsibility this morning to preach to you about preaching. Isn’t that weird? Isn’t that weird? We don’t think about that a lot. But here we are at a place in the Bible where the Apostle Paul lays out his mantra on preaching. I think we find more here about what he thinks about preaching in these five verses right here than we do any other single place in the New Testament. It makes it really important for us to think together about how we arrive at this particular place. More importantly, how Paul arrived at this particular place. Lest we think that the teaching here is for those among us who stand up here each week—or sit up here each week—and preach to us, or those that are a part of our congregation that preach in various contexts or, maybe, who are preparing to preach in various contexts. It’s really important for us to make sure that we understand that it’s not just to those guys that Paul is speaking.
So, let me show you how he comes to this place. And I need to do it by giving you a little pop quiz, all right? I am going to give a pop quiz to those of you who were here last week. Last week, Pastor David took 1 Corinthians 1, and he introduced us, not just to that chapter, but to the entire book by calling our attention to one major theme, just one word. If you had to put it in one word, what would you say that major theme is? It’s the cross. Now, see, some of you just gave me a perfect introduction to this on why we need to talk about preaching, because some of you think this is a one-way street. Some of us come to this event thinking that this is just about guys up here that go to seminary and study the Bible to put together sermons to give those sermons to us. And we come to this event, to some degree sometimes—not all of us but some of us—sometimes very passively instead of participatory.
And I think the Apostle Paul begins in the first chapter calling our attention to something that we’re all involved in, in order to set this thing up and go to this place first. And that is the cross of Christ. That’s where we started and that’s what will carry us through this entire thing. This is what makes the church distinct and unique from everyone and everything around it in its culture. We’re centered in the cross. We are formed and shaped by the cross in the way that we relate to one another.
We studied about all of those things last week in setting this whole deal up. Pastor David kind of previewed for us some of the subjects that we’ll get to in this particular study. These are subjects like leadership and discipline and sexuality and marriage and divorce and singleness and idolatry and spiritual gifts and worship and love and the Resurrection and giving. And every one of those subjects have to be viewed through the lens of the cross of Christ. Everything in the Christian life—in your Christian life, mine—everything in the church has to be looked at through that lens. And so, it’s at that point Paul comes to this first subject—this first subject that he wants the church to deal with, and that’s this issue of preaching.
Now, what I want to do is I want to just call your attention by way of reminder to a couple of things in 1 Corinthians 1 that help us understand why Paul comes to this place first. Why would he come here before some of those other incredibly important topics? Some of them somewhat controversial and uncomfortable like church discipline, like sexual immorality, like marriage even. Why would he come to this place first? Let me remind you about these particular things—two for certain.
The message of the cross is the resource of God’s power.
Number one, the message of the cross is the resource of God’s power. It’s what 1 Corinthians 1 tells us. You’ve just glanced back at it there in your copy of God’s Word. Remember, in verse 17, Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom…” Why? “…lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its…” Do you see it? “…power” (1 Corinthians 1:17). Verse 18: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Look down at verse 24: “…but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).
1 Corinthians 2 1–5 Reminds Us that the Cross of Christ is Powerful
One of the ways that we know themes, emphases, the Spirit’s point in places in the Bible is to see repeated ideas. And you can’t read 1 Corinthians 1 without coming to this place right here and understanding that the cross of Christ is the resource of God’s power. Same thing. Paul just calls it by a different term in Romans 1; he calls it the gospel. Make sure we understand this is what we’re talking about when we talk about the power of God in the cross and Christ crucified. Remember what he said in Romans 1:16, “…for it [the gospel] is the power of God for salvation… So I’m not ashamed of it.”
Now why? For what purpose? To what end is this cross the resource of the power of God? Well, he tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18: To convert those who receive it and to condemn those who reject it. Those two things, that’s what the gospel, that’s what the cross of Christ is the power of God to accomplish.
And if I could just press pause for a moment and say to those who might be among us who have yet to name the name of Christ, and you don’t have a testimony similar to Caroline’s this morning, in which you’ve come to the place where you have realized your need for a Savior, for somebody to do something for yourself that you cannot do for yourself, somebody to do something about your sin problem, and you’ve not acknowledged God’s way through Jesus Christ and His cross, I appeal to you based on those two ends of the gospel, those two manifestations of the cross of Christ in its power, and that is there to save every man, woman, boy and girl who would accept it and receive it and confess Christ as Savior and Lord, repent of sin. It is the only thing that has the power to do that in your life.
But let me say to you as well: This same power works almost in reverse for people who reject it and continue to say no to it. It has a hardening effect. It has a searing effect of the heart. It has a condemning effect, and the longer we go in rejection, the harder we have a tendency to become. And I want to appeal to you today that today would be the day that you say “Yes” to Jesus; that you repent of your sin and you acknowledge Him as your Savior and Lord and let the gospel, the cross, be the resource of God’s power to save you today, to forgive you of your sins and to put God’s life back inside of you.
The preaching of the cross is the response of God’s people.
So this gospel is the message of the resource. The message of the cross is the resource of the power of God. But that leads to a second reminder, and that is that the preaching of the cross is the response—it’s the natural response—of God’s people to that message of the cross, to that power of the cross. This is the way we respond. You remember it in 1 Corinthians 1:17 again: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,” Paul said. Look at verse 21: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we…” Do what? “…preach to save those who believe.” Verse 23: “…but we preach Christ crucified…” There’s another repeated theme.
And it’s a needed theme. It is a natural theme because the natural response to the cross is that we are compelled to announce this message to everybody that we can. When we come to this place, as we talked about last week, when we realize what Jesus did for us and He’s the only One that could do this for us—walked out of heaven and came and lived a life we can’t live, and to die a death that we should have died. And died that death as the holy Son of God to incur the wrath of God against sin; rose from the dead to put God’s life that we were created to have back inside of us.
That is good news. It is the best news. And you can’t come to that news and really grip it, really get your arms around it, without being compelled to tell as many people about it as you possibly can on as many occasions as you can. These two things go together. That’s how Paul comes to 2 Corinthians 2:1-5. That’s how he comes to start at this particular place.
This is the most natural place for us to begin, because the most natural response to the gospel is for us to announce it to as many people as we possibly can.
Challenges for Pastors and People…
So, here’s what I want us to do over the course of the next two weeks. I want to put seven challenges before us. Seven challenges for pastors who preach in maybe formal settings in public contexts, not just in buildings, but missionaries that might preach in somewhat of a gathered setting in other places. However, this is not just for those people, but also for the people who listen to preaching as well, who receive preaching as well. This morning we’re going to look at two of those challenges that relate to the preaching event in general. Then, we’re going to talk about two challenges that speak to us about the message of preaching. Then, next week, we’ll come back, and we’ll talk about three more challenges that relate, really, to the goal, the end, the motive of our preaching and the place that we have in making sure that that is accomplished—that preaching is allowed to run its course to that particular place.
Let’s own the preaching event as a community of faith.
So let’s start with these two, just related to the preaching event in general. Here’s number one—challenge number one: Let’s own the preaching event as a community of faith; let’s own the preaching event as a community of faith. The first thing that we have to do when we come to 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 is ignore the chapter divisions. We have to remember that when the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, there were no chapter divisions. There were no verse numberings here, and this is one of those places where we just need to keep reading from 1 Corinthians 1 into 1 Corinthians 2.
If you look down at your Bible, you see the first word in 1 Corinthians 2:1 in most English translations is the little word “And.” It’s a connector. It says what Paul’s talking about here goes with what he has just been talking about. He’s continuing the thought. And so everything we talked about last week–everything we just reviewed a minute ago—is connected to these first five verses. Or maybe better said, these first five verses are connected to everything that we talked about before.
There’s another thing that we need to do and that is we need to remember who’s talking to who. Paul, the preacher—and the one-time pastor, if you will in Acts 18 of the church at Corinth–is talking to the congregation. And so, the pastor-preacher is speaking to the people who listened to his preaching and were called upon to receive his preaching. So you’ve got a preacher talking to those who listen to preaching about the preaching event. He is teaching them about preaching. That’s why this is justified.
Just look back at 1 Corinthians 1 one more time, and let me remind you of this pastor’s heart speaking to the people that he nurtured for a season of time. Look at 1 Corinthians 1:2: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those [who are] sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together…” These are the people he’s talking to. In verse 10: “I appeal to you, brothers…” Verse 26, “For consider your calling, brothers…”
Church, get this. Brook Hills faith family, let’s underscore this: Paul is not preaching at a pastor’s conference here. He is not talking in a seminary classroom to those who are training to preach in formal context or formal ways. He is teaching the church of Jesus Christ—saints, called-out ones, brothers and sisters in Christ—about preaching.
Why would he do that? Well, just think about it. Do the math on this deal. If the cross that was set up for us in 1 Corinthians 1 is the resource of God’s power for saving people, and if that message, that good news about that cross compels us to preach, and if (as we talked about last week) we are all united as believers in Jesus Christ as a faith family here at Brook Hills around that cross, then this preaching event becomes something we do together. This is a communal event. This is something that we have to own together.
So, it begs the question: How do I own it? How do I own it as a preacher? How do I own it as a listener to preaching, as one who receives preaching? Well, let me challenge you to these things. Pray for it in advance. All week long, ask God to show up. Ask Him to speak clearly, and ask Him to speak loudly to us. Ask Him to anoint those who will preach to us. Ask Him to change our lives. Ask Him to save lost people that are in our midst. We know we don’t ever come in here in a room this size with this number of people that there are not those among us who are still on a journey. They are here for a reason. There may be some curiosity, but they’re still on the journey of contemplating Christ. Pray that God would use whatever is preached, whatever text we’re in, whatever place we’re at to save lost people. Pray for it in advance.
Plan for it in your schedule. Don’t let this be an afterthought. Make it a priority. V.L. Stanfield defined preaching as “giving the Bible a voice.” Now, think about it. If we believe that this Word, this book right here, is the inspired Word of God, and it is His Word to us and the preaching event makes that audible, it gives that a voice, then what could be more important than you and I prioritizing every occasion that we have, especially in our own faith family, our journey as a faith family, when it is going to be preached, when that Word of God is going to be verbalized and vocalized, to be there as a priority?
1 Corinthians 2 1–5 Calls Us to Prepare Our Hearts
Prepare for it in your heart. Think about it. Anticipate it as Pastor David was praying for us to do a while ago. Ask God to prepare you for it. Go to bed early enough on Saturday nights so you’ll awake alert and attentive and ready to engage this. That may rub against some of our routines with regard to a weekend, but could there be any more important thing, I ask you, if God is going to speak? If we’re going to hear His voice through the study of His Word, what could be more important for us to do some things, order our lives in order to be ready for that?
Participate in it every week; participate in it every week. I know I’m kind of preaching to the choir right here because you guys are here and you’re participating in it, but let’s carry it a step further. When it comes time for this, engage this event. Don’t check out. Open your Bible. Follow along in your worship notes. Don’t multi-task on your phone or your tablet during this time. And don’t check out as soon as the last blank is filled. Did I just say that? I mean seriously, now. We’re not here to fill in blanks, right? We’re here to hear the voice of God, and we can fill in all the blanks, but God may still be speaking outside of those blanks through His Word. Engage this event.
Process it when it’s over. Revisit the text in the coming week. Review the notes that you wrote down. Go back and listen to the podcast again. Talk about this with your wife or your kids or your small group or some Christian friend. Try this: Make a point to tell an unbeliever what you learned in your church gathering on Sunday and use that to prompt and start a spiritual conversation. Process this when it’s over.
Practice it in your life. We’ll come back again to this and drill down a little bit more next week, but, suffice it to say, God’s Word always demands a response. Doesn’t it? It can’t leave us neutral. We’re going to respond. This is why, again in 1 Corinthians 1, the gospel is the power of God to save those who receive it and to condemn and harden those who reject it. It’s going to have some impact. You just can’t remain neutral and passive. It demands a response. And remember, doing nothing is even a response to God’s Word. So practice it in your life. Obey what God says. Give feet to the sermon that you heard. Put it into practice. Don’t let this—watch this now—don’t let this fall by the wayside as an academic exercise. Because, you see, if we come and we hear and we go away and we do nothing, that’s all it is. That’s all it is, is an academic, cognitive exercise, even if we just learn some fact in there, but we do nothing with it. Practice it in your life. Let’s own this thing together.
And by the way, I just need to say at this point: I wrestled with this all the way through, because I know that I have the privilege right now of being a part of a church that knows so much of this and does so much of this. And I don’t want to be heard to put these challenges on the table as if this was something new. I just want you to know as one of your pastors, I celebrate the fact that so much of this you have been taught. It’s been modeled before you; you have modeled it for one another. And as we put these challenges down, know that a lot of them are just affirmations of continuing to do what you’re already doing. Let me encourage you in that.
Let’s approach the preaching event as an act of worship.
Here’s challenge number two. And this one, for some of us, might be a little bit, maybe, newer slants. But here’s the challenge: Let’s approach the preaching event as an act of worship; let’s approach the preaching event as an act of worship. Now there’s another important connection that we’ve got to go back and get in 1 Corinthians 1. You remember one of the things we talked about last week is we don’t revel in the wisdom or the ways of the world. We only revel in the grace and the glory of our God. In fact, Pastor David said this, and I quote: “There is no room for pride in the church at the foot of the cross.”
Do you remember where he got that? I want you to look back at 1 Corinthians 1. Paul goes through this whole thing—really going all the way back to verse 10—you know, about the divisions that were there and how people were aligning themselves with various preachers. And then he gives the emphasis about the word of the cross being foolishness to those who are perishing but the power of God to those of us who are being saved. And he talks about how God chose this message and it’s foolishness; it’s a stumbling block to the Jews; it’s folly to the Gentiles. And then he comes to verses 26-27, and he starts talking about how God saved us and how He didn’t save many of us out of noble backgrounds. And, you know, we’re kind of from the other side of the tracks kind of deal.
He goes through all of that and then comes to the last few verses of the chapter and tells us why he did all of that. And the first time he mentions it, it’s in a purpose clause in verse 29. Look down at your Bible. 1 Corinthians 1:29: “…so that…” he says. God’s done all of this “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” And then he says, “And because of him, you are in Christ Jesus who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Everything you have is because God gave it to you, right? Everything we have in our salvation is because God did it for us in Christ Jesus. And then Paul repeats his purpose in verse 31 by quoting from Jeremiah 9 and says, “Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in…” Who? “…the Lord.’” Right?
That’s why He’s done all of this. God has this whole deal rigged. Everything in the Christian life, including the preaching event, He’s got this whole deal rigged for the purpose that when we walk away from it, there’s only one Person who gets the credit for it and that’s God.
Let me say it this way. Back in 1 Corinthians 1:20-25, God chose a foolish message of atonement–the cross. Right? Same verses. He’s chosen a foolish method to advance that message and that’s this thing called preaching that so many think is just completely irrelevant in our day and time. And in the verses 26-28 he says, “He’s chosen foolish men and women it took to be the ones who announce it.”
Why? Why has God rigged this that way? Think about it. So when He releases His power to transform lives—to put marriages back together, to heal relationships, to lift people out of deadness into life, to bring them out of darkness into the light—when He does supernatural stuff in transforming people’s lives, we can only draw one conclusion. And that is only God could do that; only God could do that. Listen, that’s the reason we do this, and it’s the reason that we do it like we do it. It’s for the glory of God.
Now, I want you to carry that a step further. We know this. If we are doing something for the glory of God, what does that make it? It makes it an act of worship. If everything we’re doing as a faith family is to be to the end that God may be glorified, including the preaching event, what does that make the preaching event? It makes it an act of worship.
And listen to me. Watch now. Come in here real close. Be careful here, because we live in a Christian culture that has made worship to be a synonym for music. All right? And this is why we have “worship pastors”, or we use those terms. It’s not why we have them. But we use those terms like “worship pastor” and “worship songs” and “worship sets” and terms like that. And often times we have this dichotomy in our mind—do we not?—that we’re going to have some time of worship and then they will come with the sermon. Then there will be the preaching. And I hear people all the time make references to, “Well, you know, I just love the worship at my church.” And what they’re talking about is they’re talking about the music.
And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to preach a conference or an event somewhere and engage with the rest of the congregation in just incredible musical worship, and there being all kinds of expressions to that engagement on the part of the congregation. And then to get through with that and it come time for me to get up to preach and nobody’s got a Bible. And the band goes back to the hotel. I’m not sure that’s worship. And I’m not sure that’s worship leadership if there is a line that is drawn between the music and the preaching.
I have to show you this. I want you to take a journey with me. Hold your place and I want you to go back to the Old Testament. You just have to take time to do this because there’s this incredible text in Nehemiah in the Old Testament. So hold your place here and journey back there. If you don’t know where Nehemiah is, look in your Table of Contents. Find Nehemiah 8. I love this text for so many reasons—Nehemiah 8.
So the children of Israel have just come out of exile, and they’ve come back into the homeland. And in the midst of the rubble of the temple that was destroyed when they were transported out, they find the Book of the Law. And so, on this particular occasion, they gather together to hear the Book of the Law. And that’s what’s happening here in Nehemiah 8:1-4. And so it says:
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose.
And beside him were a number of teachers—of scribes—whose names we can’t pronounce so just look at verses 5 through 6:
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
Also, there were some Levites there whose names we can’t pronounce. And look at the end of verse 7 through verse 8. It says: “…[they] helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
Now listen. Watch this. I understand that this is not an event that is taking place in what you and I put in the category of Christian preaching in the Christian church. But on so many levels, it was an incredible precursor to what we come to when we come to this time.
1 Corinthians 2 1–5 Shows that Christianity has the Power to Unify
I love it because these people were unified in this event. It says they “gathered as one man” in verse 1. I love it because the people demanded to hear the Book. That’s what it says: “They told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses.” I love it because they saw the Book of the Law of Moses as God’s Word. Did you notice that? It says: “The Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.” They just didn’t want him to come and talk about a book. They knew that Book was the very Word of God.
I love it because they did it for a long time. I like that part especially. Verse 3 says, “…from early morning until midday.” I don’t know who was keeping the nursery, but they gave time to it. I love it because the people were plugged in there in verse 3. It says, “All the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” I love it because it was central. You know, they had a platform—a wooden platform that they had built—and Ezra was up on top of it. Kind of like we have. Not to exalt somebody, but to make sure that everybody was focused in on this event.
I love it because what they did is what we would consider a precursor to expository preaching. I mean, notice it at the end of verse 7, they “helped the people to understand the Law.” Verse 8, they did this “clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood.” That’s why we do what we do. That’s why we come to this Book. And we don’t just read it, but we know that there needs to be understanding so there are things that need to be explained and expounded on.
But do you know the thing that I love the most about this text, especially as it relates to this subject? It’s how the people respond. Did you notice that? Verse 5, they stood. Verse 6, “All the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” Isn’t it true that most of those expressions are expressions we would associate with other forms of worship, like music and like prayer? But yet here, they were responding in these ways to the Word of God being read and being explained where they could understand it. So, why did they respond in those ways? Listen to me very carefully at this point. You ought to maybe jot this down. It’s not one of the blanks there. I want to tell you one of the reasons is that because they did not make much of a distinction between God and His Word. And you know why they didn’t make much of a distinction between God and His Word? Because Scripture doesn’t make as much of a distinction as sometimes we do between God and His Word.
Think about these verses. Look at them here on the screen. Psalm 56:4: “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” Psalm 56:10: “In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise.”
Psalm 119:48: “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.” Psalm 130:5: “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” Psalm 138:2: “I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.” This is what the Word of God says.
Now listen. I want to be very clear. I am not championing for some type of Bibliolatry, and that is where you and I bow down to a book. But think about it. We consider this Book to be the written record of the very Word of God. And that means, when it’s proclaimed to us rightly with integrity, this is the Word of God and it is a manifestation of who He is. This is why these people responded the way that they did.
Now, how do we do that? Well, let me just charge you with these things that relate to you and I making this an act of worship: Bring your Bible so you can interact with God’s voice. Bring a hard copy. Bring an electronic copy. It doesn’t matter. Just bring one. And if you don’t have a copy of the Bible, call the church office, and we’ll make sure that we get one in your hands somehow if you can’t afford to get one on your own. And bring it here. Bring it with you and follow along and see what God’s Word says as you hear what God says. Interact with this. Listen, there’s nobody that mounts this platform to preach the Word of God to you that claims to be a good enough orator to hold your attention when you come to this event passively. Bring what needs to be brought and do what needs to be done to interact with God’s voice.
Record your insights so you can reflect on God’s voice. That’s why we put that listening guide in there to help you. Some of you—probably most of you—fill that in as you’re listening, as we go along. Others of you just want to listen and follow along in the Bible and then you go home and you get the podcast, listen to it again and fill in the blanks then. That’s okay too. The point is: Review it. Reflect on it. Go back to it after you’ve heard it. Revisit it. Meditate on it. Soak it in.
Express your emotions when prompted by God’s voice; express your emotions when prompted by God’s voice. That’s what they did in Nehemiah 8. They responded with all of their being. And let me just go ahead and say I know this goes a little bit against how we have been led and taught in the American church. And I want to be very clear to say I am not telling you to be a distraction. We don’t want this to become a circus. We believe worship ought to be decent and in order, and we’re going to study about that later in the book of 1 Corinthians. But worship God in this event. Come to it as worship and engage it. Don’t be inhibited when He stirs your heart to agree vocally.
Or maybe when He convicts you to bow before Him, sometimes even while the Word is being preached, I don’t think you would be too much of a distraction, maybe in our communion time that we consider a response to the Word of God, some of us sometimes, maybe, we just need to forgo communion on that particular Sunday and just get on our faces before God, because what He has said to us in His Word may cause us to tremble. Isaiah said, “But this is the one…” God through Isaiah: “…to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). Sometimes that’s our response to God’s Word.
Still your spirit when overwhelmed by God’s voice. And I know that’s a lot what’s manifested sometimes in the preaching event in here. Sometimes we just need to be quiet. God often overwhelms us and all we can do is just sit in awe, not of the preacher, not of the event, but of the God whose Word is being proclaimed. Let God grip you so that all you can do is be quiet.
Let’s receive the message from God, not just about God.
So those are some challenges related to the preaching event in general. Let me call your attention to two challenges related to the message of preaching. So here’s the third challenge on our list: Let’s receive the message from God, not just about God; from God, not just about God. Now, when we actually come to 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul states in verses 1 and 2 that he arrived at Corinth already having settled in his heart what he was going to preach. The language of the New Testament, verse 1: “…when I came to you.” And then in verse 2: “I decided” indicate as much. He had already settled this issue.
And then, he gives some descriptions of what that message was. The first one he gives is in verse 1. It’s in the phrase: “the testimony of God.” Some English translations use the word “mystery”, the mystery of God. And they are two different words in the language of the New Testament. But listen, I don’t want you to worry about which one is correct because they both are talking about the same thing. They’re both talking about the gospel. Plus, Paul uses both of these words—“testimony” and “mystery”—in the surrounding context. He believed it was both.
For example, 1 Corinthians 1:6. Look back in the first chapter. Paul speaks about the “testimony about Christ.” In the preceding verse, it said they came as a result of the grace of God. So, he’s talking about the message—this testimony that was about God in Christ. Back in 1 Corinthians 2, a few verses later, after our passage in verse 7, Paul will say: “But we impart a…” And in my English translation, it says, “secret and hidden wisdom of God…” This is the word in the language of the New Testament that’s the word “mystery.” The mysterious wisdom of God. But notice what he says in verse 7: “which God decreed…” Here Paul says, “This was a mystery of God which God spoke. He spoke this into being and gave it to His people.”
Now, is it important for us to make a distinction between something being about God and from God? You’d better believe it is. I mean, think about it. Somebody friends you on Facebook, you can learn a lot of interesting things about them by going to their page, looking at their posts, viewing some of their pictures. All of that information is about them. And it’s thrown out there for everybody—at least on their friends list—to be able to see. But if you pop on Facebook, and you see that someone has messaged you, that is a different story. Somebody has drafted something that they want you to see. They are writing to you. Their posts are about them and for everybody to see, but their message is to you, and it’s for your eyes—sometimes your eyes only.
Same way with Twitter. You follow somebody on Twitter, you can keep up with what they’re doing and what they’re thinking, because they put those tweets out there and they’re for everybody to see. But if you go on Twitter and somebody has direct messaged you, that catches your attention because somebody is sending you a message. Their tweets are out there for everybody to see that’s following them. That is about them. But their direct message is for you to see it is from them. Two different things.
Now, we need to understand: Something can be from God and it will always be about Him, but something can also be about God and not necessarily be from Him. And that’s the distinction that we have to make. It’s the distinction that the Apostle Paul makes. He said he was carrying a message from God to His people. God wasn’t posting a bunch of stuff on His cosmic Facebook page for people to see different things going on in His life and about Him. He was sending a specific message. The Bible isn’t a history of random terrestrial tweets by God. It’s a direct message to us. And, beloved, listen to me. That makes all the difference in how we handle this Book when it’s preached, and it makes all the difference in how we approach this Book when we preach.
1 Corinthians 2 1–5 Urges Us to think About the Purpose of the Bible
I want you to understand that this brings us to a subject that is so very important and that’s the purpose of the Bible. This is so often overlooked. We talk about the authority of the Bible and the inspiration of the Bible and the sufficiency of the Bible, but we don’t talk a lot about the purpose of the Bible. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it or not. But what you think about the purpose of the Bible will determine how you listen to the Bible and how you read the Bible. It will determine how we preachers preach it. If we think it was given as an answer book, then that’s the way our sermons will look and that’s what we’ll be looking for as listeners—the Bible to answer every question that we have. The problem is all we have to do is come up with one question the Bible doesn’t answer to know it wasn’t intended to answer every question people have.
If we think the Bible is just for salvation, just to bring people to conversion, then that’s what we’ll do. We’ll come to it to be saved and then we’ll set it aside. And that’s the only time we’ll read it and share it is when we want somebody to be saved. And all of our sermons will look like evangelistic messages. If we think the Bible is a practical manual for daily living, that’s the way we preach it. And all our messages will be “how to” sermons about how to have a happy marriage and how to build good relationships and how to balance your checkbook and how to do this. And that’s the way we’ll come to the preaching of the Bible, with those expectations.
The issue is that none of those are true. The Bible wasn’t intended to resource us with pat answers and practical instructions. It has a very clear purpose, and we see that purpose when we just look at the Bible, how it begins and how it ends and everything in between. We come on the pages of Scripture, and the Bible opens with God creating the heavens and the earth and creating mankind in His image. When the Bible closes, we see the re-creation of heaven and earth and we see His followers seeing Jesus and becoming like Him, because they see Him face to face. They are re-created into His image. The Bible closes at the same place it opens, and everything in between connects these dots about God’s redemptive purpose of re-creating His re-creation into what it was intended to be.
And do you know what that means? That means you and I can come to the Bible to just simply let it be what it is. That’s why we preach it expositorily. We want to look at every text to see, “What did God say?” Because it’s His agenda and it’s His purpose and when we come to the preaching event, we come expecting to hear what God says, not to get some pat answers or just some practical wisdom about issues that are going on in our life. So what do we do with that? How do we come to it? Well, in these ways. Number one, expect the sermon to re-create you, not merely rehabilitate you. Oh, the Bible will do some rehabilitation, no doubt. But listen, beloved. God wants to make you look like Jesus, and that’s what He does through His Word, and that’s what He does in the preaching of His Word. Expect the sermon to make you godly, not just give you guidance. Oh, the Bible’s going to give some guidance about a lot of different situations, but God is far more interested in giving you the divine Guide of the Holy Spirit and through His presence in your life, fleshing out His life. That’s what He desires. Expect the sermon to provide transformation, not just information. Oh, to be sure, the Bible has a lot of cool information about a lot of subjects in it. But listen, it’s not just intended to fill your mind with knowledge.
It’s intended to change you into a new person. And that’s why we put so much priority on this and that’s the way that we come to this.
Let’s resolve to magnify the message of the gospel alone.
Let’s resolve to magnify the message of the gospel alone. This is so huge. Key word: “alone.” Let’s agree together and resolve together to magnify the message of the gospel alone. You look at verse 2. Paul says, “For I decided to know nothing among you except…” And here it is, “…Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That’s just another way to describe the message of the cross in 1 Corinthians 1. It’s another way to describe the testimony and the mystery of God in 1 Corinthians 2. It’s another way to describe the gospel. When Paul went to Corinth, he didn’t present Jesus as a perfect teacher, the perfect example, or the perfect man alone. He proclaimed Him as the divine Savior that lay His claim to every life—your life and my life.
Does that mean he just preached evangelistic messages? No. You go back to Acts 18; he was there for 18 months. No doubt, he just didn’t get up before the people and give the plan of salvation and ask them to get saved over and over again. He didn’t do that. He preached pastorally to them. All you have to do is read the rest of the New Testament—read Paul’s Epistles—to know that he talked a lot more about the Christian life than just, “How do you be saved?”
So what was he talking about when he said, “Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2)? Well, the word “crucified” in the language of the New Testament is in a tense that indicates that Christ not only was crucified, but He continues in the character of the crucified One. In other words, the effect and nature of the crucified Christ still has bearing on every person’s life today: Unbelievers—and listen to me church—as well as believers. Did you know that? When Paul was saying, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” he was saying everything about his message to believers in Jesus Christ.
How do we know that? Because both Paul and Jesus emphasized the role of the cross in defining what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to grow in His likeness. Look at these verses on the screen. You remember Jesus saying this in Luke 9? “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross…” How often? “…daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (verses 23-24). Notice what He’s doing. He’s saying the loss of life through taking up one’s cross is the key to experiencing the life of Christ inside of you.
Paul would say it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:10: “Always carrying in the body…” In my body, in your body, “…the death of Jesus…” Why? “…so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” Do you see it? The key to the life of Jesus being manifested in your body is the death of Jesus being carried in your body. Philippians 3, you know this one. Paul said, “I count everything as loss…” (verse 8). Why? “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (verses 10-11). Paul wasn’t saying, “So I can be saved. So I can share.” No! “So that the resurrected life of Christ will be realized in my body, I’ve done what? I’m being conformed to the death of Christ.”
Beloved, this is what we preach. This is why we preach, and this is how we come to preach it. It’s why we say we will reject felt-needs preaching and this life-application preaching that just gives pragmatic “how to” stuff that may or may not have Jesus as its theme, but so often announces Jesus as a theme, but makes no demand on a person’s life with regard to dying to flesh, giving of themselves, dying every day to this flesh and our worldly desires in order for Christ’s life.
Those are two completely different things, and there are so many people that come to preaching events all over America today asking, “What can you tell me about what’s going on in my life in this situation that I’m dealing with?” And: “How to deal with this particular life?” And, in so doing, often times demand that their preachers move outside of the Bible for their content, get it from some other book in a Christian bookstore, give them large
group counseling to how to fix things in their life, but make absolutely no demand for the flesh to be crucified every day, to die to self.
That’s a harder kind of preaching. And, listen to me, I know this well. It is a harder kind of listening, but it is the listening that has the message of the gospel. Why? So that we can just have heaviness and weightiness? No. So that the life of Christ can be manifested in our lives. You can’t have both. You can’t have the life of Christ—you can’t look like Jesus—and hang on to your worldly, fleshly desires and attitudes. But when those are crucified every day—every week—then the life of Christ surfaces more and more in our lives.
So what do we need to do? Well, listen for the crucified Lord in every sermon. Hold us preachers accountable for this. Listen to see how Christ and the cross is exalted. And help us not to make sermons just some moralistic life lesson that would be equally as home in a Jewish synagogue or an Islamic mosque. Hold us accountable for this and listen to see how Christ and the cross are exalted.
Listen for the crucified Lord in every sermon, and look for the crucified life in every sermon. As you hear about the crucified Christ, see what it demands of you—His character, His nature—and ask yourself, “What in my life today needs to be crucified by this truth? What fleshly desire, characteristic or habit needs to die today because of who Christ is and what He’s done?” And ask, “What character of Christ needs to surface in its place?” Look for the crucified life.
Reminders for the church…
- The message of the cross is the resource of God’s
- power. (1 Corinthians 1:17–31; cf. Romans 1:16)
- To convert those who receive it.
- To condemn those who reject it.
- The preaching of the cross is the response of God’s people. (1 Corinthians 1:17– 18, 21, 23)
Challenges for pastors and people…
- Let’s own the preaching event as a community of faith. (1 Corinthians 2:1–5; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:1–31)
- Pray for it in advance.
- Plan for it in your schedule.
- Prepare for it in your heart.
- Participate in it every week.
- Process it when it’s over.
- Practice it in your life.
- Let’s approach the preaching event as an act of worship. (1 Corinthians 2:1–5; cf. Nehemiah 8:1–8; Psalms 56:4,10; 119:48; 130:5–7; 138:2; 1 Corinthians 1:29–31)
- God has chosen a foolish message of atonement—the cross. God has chosen a foolish method to advance it—preaching. God has chosen foolish men and women to announce it—us.
- Let’s own the preaching event as a community of faith. (1 Corinthians 2:1–5; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:1–31)
- Why? So when He releases His power to transform lives, we can draw only one conclusion: “Only God could have done that!”
- Bring your Bible so you can interact with God’s voice.
- Record your insights so you can reflect on God’s voice.
- Express your emotions when prompted by God’s voice.
- Still your spirit when overwhelmed by God’s voice.
- Let’s receive the message from God, not just about God. (1 Corinthians 1:1; cf. Genesis 1:26–27; 3:22; Psalm 17:15; Romans 8:29–30; 2 Corinthians 3:17–18; Galatians 4:19; Philippians 3:20–21; Colossians 3:9–10; 2 Peter 1:2–4; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 21:1; 22:2,4)
- Expect the sermon to re-create you, not merely
- rehabilitate you.
- Expect the sermon to make you godly, not just give
- you guidance.
- Expect the sermon to provide transformation, not just information.
- Let’s resolve to magnify the message of the gospel alone. (1 Corinthians 2:2; cf. Luke 9:23–24; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Philippians 3:8–11)
- Listen for the crucified Lord in every sermon.
Look for the crucified life in every sermon.