1 Corinthians 2:1-5 is a clear example of how God uses people not based on their talent or ability but on their obedience and willingness to have the Gospel shared through them. Let’s take a look at this passage one verse at a time. In verse one, Paul says, “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.” Now Paul, being a Pharisee and rabbi, was a very educated man and could have dazzled everyone there with fancy rhetoric and philosophies. He knew Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin. He was trained by the famous rabbi Gamaliel himself. Great speeches were very common in Paul’s day as Greek orators often spoke with extensive quotations, alluring illustrations, and witty charm. But Paul rejected that approach. He simply proclaimed the “testimony about God.” He preached God’s testimony, not his own. That testimony is simply the power of the Gospel.
Verse 2 says, “For I determined to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul made a conscious decision to preach Jesus a certain way and preach certain things about Christ. There were many worthwhile topics Paul could have preached about but none were greater than Jesus death, burial, and resurrection. That was the central message of his ministry and should be ours as well. Why? This is because all other doctrines pivot on the Gospel. While he obviously did preach other doctrines, they all hinged on the fact that Jesus paid the ultimate penalty of death on the cross to deliver us from our sins.
Verse 3 says, “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.” Paul recognized and felt the weighty message of the Gospel and the humility he must possess while delivering it. I always get nervous when I preach. Not necessarily because of the crowd but because I don’t want to mess up or misrepresent the Gospel and Word of God. It’s sort of a “holy nervousness” that I hope to never lose. I’m not just speaking to people; I’m speaking on behalf of God. I’m humbled God would use me to proclaim Him. Verse 4 shows us Paul’s heart behind his sermons, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” Paul didn’t try to impress the crowd with his polished preaching style, extensive vocabulary, or impressive knowledge. According to history, he also wasn’t much to look at being short, balding, and bowlegged. So what made his preaching so effective? Verse 5 reminds us Paul’s preaching style was based on God, not him – “So that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Paul was clear the power of God was and is displayed in the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul isn’t saying we should use our gifts, abilities, personality or wisdom when preaching. We must, however, remember they all come from God and we cannot rely on them to change lives. Only God transforms people through the demonstration of the Spirit’s power in the simple yet life-changing message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We preachers must be careful not to elevate our messages beyond the comprehension of our congregations in attempts to look smart and teach “deep”. Confusion never changed anyone’s life but the cross does. Deep doesn’t mean confusing and burdensome. The message of the cross isn’t difficult. While gloriously mysterious, Jesus was not so complex as to leave people jumbled, bewildered, and disoriented. Jesus was a carpenter. The New Testament was written in the common language of the people, Koine Greek. The Word of God was never meant to be delivered in a lofty and complex manner. We should not seek to be shallow either and rob the Word of its true richness and depth. Just remember the simplicity of Gospel-centered preaching is the heart Paul had and modeled for all preachers.