Have you ever emptied the gospel of its power? Did you know that it is possible to preach, teach, or share the gospel in a way which nullifies its power? Don’t take my word for it. Look at what the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (1 Cor 1:17)
In writing, “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power,” Paul suggests there is, in fact, a way of proclaiming the gospel that dulls or even voids its effect upon the hearer.
To understand how we might avoid falling into this gospel power-emptying trap, we must ask ourselves at least two important questions.
What does it mean for the gospel to be “emptied of its power”?
Paul asserts that “the word of the cross” (i.e., the gospel) is “the power of God” for those “who are being saved (1 Cor 1:18). He even calls Christ himself “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24). Without Christ and him crucified, the gospel has no power. Because of this, Paul insists that his message is solely to be “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). In his preaching, Paul does not depend on “lofty speech” (1 Cor 2:1) nor “plausible words of wisdom” (1 Cor 2:4), but on the cross of Christ. His reason for doing so is that one’s “faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:5). Paul preaches the cross and nothing else so that his hearers’ faith might rest in the power of God alone.
To empty the gospel of its power is to share it in such a way as to lead to dead faith which is not rooted in and resting upon God’s power.
This leads to our second question.
What is this power-emptying way of preaching the gospel?
In the first century, Corinthian believers lived in a culture dominated by professional debaters and orators who earned a reputation for their entertaining and persuasive methods of speaking. These well-trained speakers became more preoccupied with gaining a following—more concerned with their own ability to persuade—than with the actual substance of their message.
In his ministry, Paul swam against this current. Paul describes himself as preaching “not with words of eloquent wisdom” (1 Cor 1:17), “[not] with lofty speech or wisdom” (1 Cor 2:1), and “not in plausible words of wisdom” (1 Cor 2:4).
Power-emptying gospel preaching relies on our own vain, man-made methods of persuasion. It considers eloquence, lofty speech, and worldly wisdom as the most effective means of changing hearts and minds. Paul is not against persuasion in sharing the gospel; he is simply concerned with who or what is doing the persuading.
When you share Christ with others, do you rely on the peculiar glory of the gospel itself to compel and persuade? Or do you rest your confidence in clever arguments or man-inspired rhetorical strategies? Do you allow the same power of God which brought you to salvation in Christ to have its unfiltered effect upon those you share with? Or do you prefer to share a rendition of the gospel which is made to be more appealing to the world by leaving out certain truths which the world deems “foolish”?
Paul’s evangelistic methodology can be summarized as “the gospel is powerful, so preach it plainly”. To preach plainly does not mean to water down or to otherwise tame the gospel. Instead, plain gospel preaching shares the word of the cross, making its beauty and power clear, unadorned by rhetorical devices designed to compel people into accepting it.
May we strive to both rejoice in the gospel this holiday season, and to give it plainly to others so that they too might encounter the power of the cross of Christ.
- Pray that we each would share the good news of Christ with those around us this Christmas season.
- Pray for our students and faculty as they enter finals week.
- Pray for the full funding of the Serious Joy Scholarships that support our students and faculty.