The Foolishness of Preaching :: by Grant Phillips

1 Corinthians 1:17-31 (NLT)

17 For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power. 18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.” 20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. 22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. 23 So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. 24 But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. 26 Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. 27 Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 28 God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. 29 As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. 30 God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. 31 Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”

I noticed in the newspaper this morning that one of the seminaries in a large city is holding a conference on “the art of preaching”. It is hosting a group of nationality known ministers from different denominations to teach those attending how to preach. One of the speakers has even written nearly 20 books on preaching. I hate to be so presumptuously critical, but here I go again. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think this is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he spoke on the foolishness of preaching. It is clear to me that he was referring to relationship and content, not style or delivery. Maybe at least one of them will speak on relationship and content instead of style and delivery. I don’t know. But it seems in my experience and observations that style and delivery are usually always the main emphasis.

Surely most of you have noticed that most sermons always have three points. They are delivered with voice fluctuations and body movements appropriate with their denominations style of preaching; thus, style and delivery. I have always tried to look past the style and delivery and listen for the content of the message, hoping for a sense of relationship from the speaker with Jesus. Far too many times, there has been little to no content, thereby bringing in question any worthwhile relationship with the Master.

What does it mean to “preach” anyway? I am convinced that most think it is a style of proclamation. It is not. It is not how you deliver the Good News. It is that you deliver the Good News. In many sermons that I have heard over the years, most preachers must think the congregation is deaf. Then again, some deliver in a fashion that nearly puts the congregation to sleep. What is my point? Far too much emphasis is placed on style and delivery, instead of the message delivered from a close relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is another point I must emphasize. Preaching is not just data relayed to other individuals. A preacher can deliver the most accurate message one could give, but if he does not have a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the message is as cold as a slab of meat thawing after being taken from the freezer. Content and relationship must go hand in hand.

What about content? Can one have content without absorbing God’s Word on a daily basis and spending much time in prayer? I do not mean to absorb the Word with the intent to gather information either, but with the intent of allowing God to speak to them personally on a daily basis. Let me give you an example that I have noticed over many years. Almost any time you hear the preacher say, “I’m going to speak from the heart this morning”, what he is actually saying is that he is not prepared, so he is going to ad lib (to perform without advanced preparation). You may think I’m nuts, but I can assure you that this is true. I’ll give you another example. When he says, “I had something else prepared this morning, but the Lord changed it just this minute, and I’m going to speak on this instead”. Often, not always, he is saying the same thing as the first example; i.e. “I’m going to ad lib” or “speak off the cuff” (to speak without prior preparation).

What does Paul mean by the “foolishness of preaching”? Simply that the message of God being crucified on a cross to save those who will come to Him by faith, is too simple and foolish to those who do not believe. They cannot accept it. Also, he uses sinful, but saved, men to tell others about Himself. Again, this is so foolish to the world, but it works.

I have listened to hundreds of preachers over the years, some “self-taught” and others with all the scholastic degrees after their names. From both classes have come some of the greatest sermons I have heard, and also some of the most watered down nonsensical dribble one could imagine. Professors do not make Godly preachers. The Holy Spirit makes Godly preachers. He is the greatest teacher of all.

·        You can be uneducated, but sit under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit and please God in your preaching.

·        You can be uneducated, and not listen to the Holy Spirit and not please God in your preaching.

·        You can be educated, and sit under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit and please God in your preaching.

·        You can be educated, and not listen to the Holy Spirit and not please God in your preaching.

The power of the foolishness of preaching must come from God, not man. If it comes from us or any man, it is just a bunch of words and body motions, but if it comes from God, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

All preachers claim that what they preach is from God, so how do you know if what they are saying is true? Most of the sheep in the Church today do not study God’s Word, the Bible. They depend on whatever the preacher says, and accept it as being true. The Lord says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) This is the only way. ALL Christians should be fulfilling this Scripture. If they were, there would be many preachers either converted, or revived or removed from the pulpit.

Again, Paul was speaking about the simplicity of the Word. Is your preacher walking in the “foolishness of preaching” as dictated by the Bible, or is he just a fool? It is up to you to find out, and then follow the Lord’s leadership.

Grant Phillips