1 Corinthians 1:17-25

Sermon preached on May 3, 2015 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

What's the most important part of our Sunday service? In some ways that's difficult to answer because everything we do is vital and necessary. Where would we be without prayer? In John 15 Jesus said that without Him we can do nothing. We would be no where without prayer. What would our service be like without hymns? Hymn are part of our praise to God. A service without us singing praise to God would be unthinkable. Prayer and hymns are essential. Or what about Bible reading? Hearing God's Word to us in incredibly important. It is absolutely essential.

We can't leave any of those things out. We can't play favorites like that. To do so would be to a tragedy. It would be like a woman in Lisbon who told me about the favoritism in her family. She said that her mother and father favored one of their four children over all the others. They loved them all, but one was their favorite. The way she put it was like this,

"We all knew that if we were all on fire and there was only bucket of water, we knew that R. would get the bucket."

But I think the relative importance of the things in our service is an important question to consider because there's a movement about today that denigrates the preaching of the Word. In our society preaching is really looked down upon. We live in a world where many people consider some biblical preaching to be 'hate speech'. Last fall, the city of Houston issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality or gender identity. Some accused Mayor Annise Parker, the city's first openly lesbian mayor, of trying to intimidate the city's pastors. That incident may turn out to be just the first of many steps of government trying to control what churches preach. It seems likely that in a few short years we could have the government monitoring sermons to make sure that what is said from the pulpit is politically correct.

That may or may not come. But what is certain is that our society is so anti-authoritarian that biblical preaching almost universally despised. When Marg and I got married I heard a remark one of my first cousins made in response to the sermon the minister delivered during our wedding. The sermon was about the roles of the husband and wife in marriage. She said something to the effect,

"I can't believe that anyone believes that today."

She thought it was a relic of the past. She didn't appreciate biblical truth. And this is nothing new. In 1857 Anthony Trollope wrote the novel, "Barchester Towers". In it he railed against biblical preaching. He wrote,

"There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilized and free countries, than the necessity of listening to sermons. No-one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent, and be tormented."

Today some people who are not opposed to Christianity oppose sermons. They will tell you that sermons are just not the best way to learn. They will quote studies that show that human beings learn best from interactive approaches, where they can ask questions. Sermons, like lectures, they will tell you, are ineffective when it comes to teaching people.

But even worse, many professing Christians have the wrong idea about sermons. They often view themselves as 'judges' of sermons, rather than having the sermon judge them. They view themselves as having authority over the sermon, rather than the sermon having authority over them. J. I. Packer writes, (The Preacher and Preaching, ed. Logan, p. 5)

"A century ago and earlier, in Reformed circles in Britain… the common question to a person returning from a service would be, how he or she 'got on' under the momentous divine influence of the preaching of the Word; nowadays, however, on both sides of the Atlantic, the question more commonly asked is how the preacher 'got on' in what is now viewed as his stated pulpit performance."

Over the years I've heard a lot of comments about my sermons. I remember not long after I started preaching someone was visiting Lisbon and heard me preach and they said to me afterwards,

"That was a good sermon. It had a beginning, a middle and an end."

And that was all he said. I was like, "What?" What kind of comment was that? The important criteria was whether it was biblical. The important thing was whether they were convicted by the power of the Spirit during it. The important thing was whether they used God's Word to grow and become a better Christian.

But instead of looking at sermons that way, we often look at them the way that some of the apostle Paul's critics looked at his speech. They said, (2 Corinthians 10:10)

"His letters are weighty and forceful,
but in person he is unimpressive
and his speaking amounts to nothing."

They viewed themselves as judges of Paul. They weren't seeking to learn from him—but they were judging him. How they impoverished themselves.

Preaching has been, and always will be, foolishness to some unbelievers. In verse 18 Paul wrote,

"For the message of the cross
is foolishness to those
who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved
it is the power of God."

Biblical preaching has two effects on people—it either causes them to look on it as foolishness or it changes them for the better. So the question I want to ask you is:

what is preaching to you?

Is it foolishness or the power of God? What is the content of preaching to you, foolishness or the power of God? Does biblical preaching change you for the better, draw you closer to Christ? Do you use it to equip yourself to serve Christ better or do you zone out when sermon time comes?

Don't fool yourself. It's one or the other. Which camp are you in? I know some professing Christians who never go to church. What is preaching to them? Is it the power of God or is it foolishness? Their actions indicate that they consider it foolishness. They consider it something they don't need.

But you can still go to church and consider preaching foolishness. You can be like that novelist who went to church and consider preaching the lowest form of communication. You can day dream during the sermon. You can plan your week. You can do any number of things other than ask that God would change you through His Word.

Biblical preaching is the power of God.

That's what verse 18 says.

"to us who are being saved
it is the power of God."

Verse 21 says,

"God was pleased through
the foolishness of what was preached
to save those who believe."

God has ordained preaching as one of the primary ways in which people are saved. According to the Bible, preaching is essential. It is true that there are other ways that people get saved. We are to personally witness to other people. 1 Peter 3:15–16 says,

"Always be prepared to give
an answer to everyone who asks you
to give the reason for the hope
that you have.
But do this with gentleness and respect,
keeping a clear conscience…"

God saves people in many ways. But preaching is one of the essential ways. In Romans 10:14–15 the apostle Paul wrote,

"And how can they believe
in the one of whom
they have not heard?
And how can they hear
without someone preaching to them?
And how can they preach
unless they are sent?
As it is written,
'How beautiful are the feet of those
who bring good news!"

And in 2 Corinthians 4:5–6 Paul wrote about the power of God in preaching.

"For we do not preach ourselves,
but Jesus Christ as Lord,
and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.
For God, who said,
'Let light shine out of darkness,'
made his light shine in our hearts
to give us the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

Preaching is to be one of the primary activities of the church. The Bible describes both John the Baptist and Jesus as coming 'preaching'. (Matthew 3:1 & 4:7) The book of Acts shows that that apostles went forth preaching as Jesus told them after He rose from the dead. In Luke 24:45–47 Jesus met with His disciples and,

"Then he opened their minds so
they could understand the Scriptures.
He told them,
'This is what is written:
The Christ will suffer and rise
from the dead on the third day,
and repentance and forgiveness
of sins will be preached
in his name to all nations,
beginning at Jerusalem.' "

Preaching is to be one of the great activities of the church. That's what we see the church doing in the book of Acts. Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2) He preached after he and John healed the crippled beggar. (Acts 3) And it continues throughout the book of Acts. At the very end of the book it says about the apostle Paul, (Acts 28:30–31)

"For two whole years Paul stayed there
in his own rented house and
welcomed all who came to see him.
Boldly and without hindrance
he preached the kingdom of God and
taught about the Lord Jesus Christ."

Indeed, Paul summarized his work as preaching. In 1 Corinthians 1:23 he wrote,

"but we preach Christ crucified:"

Paul told Timothy, his son in the faith, (2 Timothy 4:1–2)

"In the presence of God
and of Christ Jesus,
who will judge the living and the dead,
and in view of his appearing
and his kingdom,
I give you this charge:
Preach the Word; be prepared
in season and out of season;
correct, rebuke and encourage—with
great patience and careful instruction."

There is power in biblical preaching. God has designed it to be a blessing to you. If you're not a Christian, there is power there to save you, to open your eyes to the glory of Jesus. If you're a Christian, there's power there to mold you into a better servant of Jesus.

John Stott begins his book,
Between Two Worlds this way, (p. 15)

"Preaching is indispensable to Christianity. Without preaching a necessary part of its authenticity has been lost. For Christianity is, in its very essence, a religion of the Word of God."

J. I. Packer defines preaching this way, that we have fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and, (The Preacher and Preaching, ed. Logan, p. 2)

"the preaching of God's Word in the power of God's Spirit is the activity that… brings the Father and Son down from heaven to dwell with men. I know this, for I have experienced it."

Packer continues, (p. 9)

"The purpose of preaching is to inform, persuade, and call forth an appropriate response to the God whose message and instruction are being delivered. The response will consist of repentance, faith, obedience, love, effort, hope, fear, zeal, joy, praise, prayer, or some blend of these."

Packer goes on to say that preaching doesn't do this by by-passing the minds of those who hear, nor is it's aim merely to stock people's minds with truth, but rather to have the effect that Paul spoke about to the Romans (6:17),

"you wholeheartedly obeyed
the form of teaching to which
you were entrusted."

Perhaps it is best summarized by the words of David Clarkson, who in a sermon entitled, Public Worship to be Preferred before Private,

"The most wonderful things that are now done on earth are wrought in the public ordinances. Here the dead here the voice of the Son of God, and those that hear do live… Here he cures the diseased souls with a word… Here he dispossesses Satan… Wonders these are, and would be so accounted, were they not the common work of the public ministry."

Now what does this mean for us?

First of all, make sure you profit from the Word of God that is preached.

Listen attentively. It doesn't matter if the sermon is delivered poorly. It doesn't matter if the minister is not eloquent. It doesn't matter if the content is not up to the standards of the best preachers in the land—if the Word is preached there is power there. Take advantage of it. God is here to bless you. Let the message penetrate to your mind and heart. Let God's Word change you.

Secondly, for Christians,

the fact that the message preached is foolishness to so many should not bother you.

To the world preaching is foolishness. The content of preaching is foolishness. We should expect this. With all their learning, with all their knowledge—the world considers the gospel of Jesus Christ as foolishness, as an offence. They're the ones that are wrong.

Rob Bell, the former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Michigan is now on the Orpah Winfrey network. In a recent interview with Orpah, Bell went out on a limb and argued that the Church will virtually disappear as a pillar in American society if it doesn't give in to the LGBT agenda.

"I think culture is already there and the Church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life,"

According to Bell, the church should follow worldly culture and deny Scripture in order to be relevant. Human feelings trump God's Word.

Many unbelievers are brilliant, very intelligent. But their eyes are closed to the glory of Jesus. Don't let that bother you. As Paul wrote in verses 1 Corinthians 1:19–20

"'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent
I will frustrate.'
Where is the wise man?
Where is the scholar?
Where is the philosopher of this age?
Has not God made foolish
the wisdom of the world?"

You who are young should especially take this to heart. Students are very impressionable and they want to be accepted, they want to be thought of as intelligent. They go away to college and they find that much of Christianity is distained by the academic elite. The academic elite consider the gospel message and the way it is delivered through preaching as foolishness. And what happens to so many college students? They capitulate and begin to think of the gospel as foolishness. Don't let it happen to you.

Thirdly, for Christians,

understand how important the true preaching of the Word is.

If you visit a church and they have a great worship team and the praise is great—what does that tell you? It tells you that some of the people there are very gifted musically. If you visit a church and hear eloquent prayers, what does that tell you? It tells you that they have great prayers.

But none of those things can tell you absolutely if the Spirit of God is there. But if they have the true preaching of the Word of God—what does that tell you? It tells you that God is there. John Calvin listed the true preaching of the Word as the first mark of a true church. Calvin writes, (Institutes 4:1.9)

"Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists."

But if you go to a church and they have great music, great prayers, lots of programs and activities—and yet they don't preach the Word—that's not a church of Jesus Christ.

The preached Word is indispensible.