Pastoral Reflections on 1 Corinthians 1-2
I recently began preaching through Paul’s first canonical letter to the Corinthians. Thus far I have preached through 2:5 and I have found these opening passages to be very instructive concerning the daily task of shepherding a church. To say the least, the church at Corinth was a mess due to their lapse back into their pagan ways. Paul, certain of their salvation, seeks to bring a spirit of repentance back to the wayward congregation by exhorting them to consider the circumstances in which they were called to salvation. Paul reminded they came from no stock that was desirable in their own culture, much less in the measure of God’s righteousness. They had sought to enhance their spirituality by seeking the world’s wisdom, and in doing so, were denigrating the Christ and his gospel, the very gospel they had heard and believed (Acts 18:8). It was because of God that they were in Christ (1:30); therefore, they no grounds on which to boast.
Paul continues his corrective in chapter two (specifically I have 2:1-5 in mind) by addressing his own person and preaching, and the truths found in these verses gave me pause. The gist of these verses is that the proclamation of the gospel and any resultant success (salvation) is not predicated on the proclaimer’s oratory or homiletical know-how; rather, it’s entirely dependent on the Spirit of God. The reason these verses gave me pause is because I have been guilty of self-dependence in preparation and delivery of God’s word. I think that any honest pastor/preacher would confess this. When I first surrendered to preach God’s word, I was as ignorant of exegesis and hermeneutics as anything. I never considered the various strata that affected the meaning of a verse/passage, i.e. historical setting, cultural norms, grammar and syntax, religious climate, etc. I would just grab my bible, sit down with a pen and pad and try to come up with a decent outline. Thankfully, this only lasted a little more than a year (and I pray the Spirit protected me from disseminating any error) before my wife and I moved to attend seminary.
To say that seminary changed my outlook on studying and proclaiming/teaching Scripture is an understatement at best. After my introductory hermeneutics class and several exegesis classes in Greek and Hebrew, my entire method of study and delivery was overhauled. By seminary’s end, I felt I had a firm grasp of what I needed to be a solid biblical expositor. I began pastoring my last semester of school and I am currently serving in the same position. Over 5 years I have studied a lot of texts and have preached a lot of sermons and rarely had I been more contemplative concerning the preparation of a sermon than I was this week. Preaching through the first chapter of 1 Corinthians is a challenging yet rewarding exercise. Who doesn’t want to thunder from the pulpit Paul’s words on the “message of the cross?” As preachers around here say, “That’ll preach!”
However, when I finished my exegesis of 1 Cor. 2:1-5, I yielded to introspection and asked myself, “Am I guilty of self-reliance in preparing a text to preach?” “Do I depend completely upon the Holy Spirit for illumination of the truths of a text?” These questions were answered with a resounding “Yes,” at least some of the time. I certainly believe that God intends for us to prepare and preach/teach a text/passage in such a way that our style in infused, but certainly we should not yield to our wisdom as the sole means of interpretation. As a student trained in biblical exegesis and with numerous volumes at my disposal, the temptation is certainly great to depend upon the instruments of study rather than the one who gives understanding. We must always be mindful of this: we are merely the messengers and communicators of truth, not its originators.
Spurgeon aptly said, “The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise men would be the converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach until our tongues rotted, till we would exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless the Holy Spirit be with the Word of God to give it power to convert the soul.”