Summary: What the cross means.
We return to our letter this morning. Paul has been addressing the matter of divisions in the church (v. 10). It was bad enough that they were identifying themselves under the names of church leaders, but even worse was that Christ was being treated as just another leader with these men. Paul is shocked at the suggestion that they should be placed on the same level as Christ: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (v. 13). He closes his reprimand with verse 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.
Our text develops the latter half of his statement: to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. Paul presents his job description – preach the gospel. He also indicates the content of the gospel and the rationale for his methodology. That content is the work and message of the cross, which he not merely acknowledges, but even boasts, is a foolish message to the world. Indeed, he seems to revel in the folly that encompasses the gospel. Verses 18-25 present the folly of the cross; verses 26-31 the folly of the church; and 2:1-5 the folly of preaching. This morning we will consider the cross.
Paul says in verse 17 that his job is to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. According to him, the gospel is about the cross, i.e. the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He indicates, furthermore, that the message of the cross contradicts human wisdom, so much so that to cloak it with what passes for eloquent wisdom is to empty it of its power.
In verse 18 he explains he means: 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. Here is Paul’s thesis. The effect of the message of the cross ultimately resides not in the ability of the preacher (in this case, Paul) to present it well, nor in the intellectual level of the hearer, but in the hearer’s status with God. We will consider more fully the preacher and the hearer in the next two sermons. Our text would have us focus now on the message itself and the status of those who hear.
That phrase in verse 17 – eloquent wisdom¬ – is literally “wisdom of logos, i.e. word.” The “word of the cross” in verse 18 is the “logos of the cross.” Do you see what Paul is doing? Against the word of man’s wisdom stands the word of the cross which represents God’s wisdom. To those who are perishing, who are enmeshed in the thinking of the world, yes, the cross is folly; but to those who are being saved, who are given the mind of God, the cross is the epitome of God’s power. For in the message of the cross is the power to save.
He quotes from Isaiah 19:12 to emphasize this power of the cross over natural wisdom.