1 Corinthians 1:17


Friday, 21 March 2014

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. 1 Corinthians 1:17

In Matthew 28:19, 20 we read what is known as the Great Commission – “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”

However, this doesn’t mean that Paul is being disobedient in his words to the Corinthians. Rather, he has already indicated that he baptized some at Corinth and surely others elsewhere. In addition to this, there are those who are evangelists, there are those who disciple, there are those who serve in other ways, etc. Even Jesus is noted as not being the one to baptize others during His ministry. This is seen in John 4:1, 2 – “Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples).”

Paul’s primary mission then wasn’t to baptize. He probably had others do this. It was time consuming, especially because full immersion baptism is what the Bible implies. Also, it is intended to follow acceptance of Christ. Paul, as an evangelist, would move often whereas those in the church would be available to baptize new converts at a convenient time and location, even if Paul moved on. And also, as he already noted in his previous comments, baptizing people can lead to divisions and strife. This would be especially so if a competent visitor came to town. If he was gaining converts and baptizing them also, then there would be a division in allegiances; something that actually occurred at Corinth even without baptisms being added in.

Rather than being one who baptized, Paul said his commission was “to preach the gospel.” And this is what he tirelessly did. The record of Acts especially shows that Paul preached to kings, jailers, nobles, and common folk. He preached at an open-air stadium and in synagogues. He preached with words and he preached with actions. He preached to Jew and he preached to Gentile. He met each person on their level and he never missed the chance to tell the wondrous news of salvation through Jesus Christ. This was his main calling and the motivation behind his very life.

And as he preached, he did so “not with wisdom of words.” In other words, he used the common language and experiences of those around him. It is noted that the Greeks were a society of deep philosophy and mental contemplation. They were often practiced in smooth oral deliveries and were able to tie in high emotional peaks in order to capture the attention and hearts of their listeners. This is very common in modern churches once again. There is an appeal to emotion and there is a high value placed on flashy deliveries and impressive effects to pull the audience in.

But Paul dismissed these tactics. The message of Christ isn’t one of philosophical depth or emotional manipulation. It is a message of the consequences of sin and the mercy of God in dealing with those consequences through the cross of His own Son. For this reason, Paul dismissed the dramatic “lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” In other words, if people can be satisfied in their lives without the cross, then that satisfaction would seemingly negate the need for it. But the cross demonstrates that there are real consequences for sin and that a real penalty is therefore demanded.

Paul’s only desire was that his message would be clearly and competently stated so that those who heard it wouldn’t be misdirected by a false gospel and a belief that the cross was somehow unnecessary for them. In fact, Paul’s desire to stick to the very basics when transmitting his message made him appear extraordinarily boring. In his second letter to the Corinthians, we read this from his hand –

“For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” 2 Corinthians 10:10

This almost sounds like a theologian who is locked away in a library and only comes out once in a while to share his new discoveries – “weighty and powerful” letters, but “contemptible” speech because he never bothered with training in flashy oration. But this is exactly what is needed in our Christian world today, not ostentatious sermons with showy backdrops, but sound theology and words directed to Jesus and His work.

Life application: There is one Lord and one gospel. The good news is that Jesus Christ went to the cross to pay our sin debt and that there is no other way to heaven than through His work. Sin has real consequences that must be considered in light of His cross. Let us not get so caught up in the hype of a gaudy church presentation that we miss the wonder of God’s word.

Lord, I’d rather hear a monotone discourse explaining Your word, than hear the finest speaker on earth who would tickle my ears and give me no instruction from the pages of the Bible. Thank You for preachers who lack flash, but profess Your glory. Bless them and prosper them in their souls. Amen.


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