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What makes for an effective sermon or for a powerful preacher?  What makes one sermon fall flat while another has tremendous impact in the lives of people?  What are the criteria we should use in evaluating preachers?  The Apostle Paul has been criticizing the Corinthians for placing too much stock in the personality of individual preachers.  He has already stripped aside all reliance upon human wisdom to get to the core of the fundamental message of the gospel – the cross of Christ.  Now he points to his own example of what constitutes powerful preaching.

Gordon Fee: Thus, not only the means (the cross) and the people (the church in Corinth), but also the preacher (Paul) declare that God is in the process of overturning the world’s systems.  At the same time, of course, the entire paragraph has a strong apologetic overtone. Paul’s own ministry has been justified before them by way of its results among them. . .

In every possible way Paul has tried to show them the folly of their present fascination with wisdom, which has inherent within it the folly of self-sufficiency and self-congratulation. Thus not only the message itself (1:18–25) and the recipients themselves — you (1:26–31) — but the preacher himself (me!) whom God used to bring them to faith had to reject self-reliance.

Robert Hughes: The important distinction was between the mode of the ministry and its content. Paul’s mode was in weakness, but his content brought the power of God. The implications were clear. The Corinthians were involved in a lifestyle that could only build faith in the wisdom of men and not in the power of God. Which would they choose, flashy style or divine power?

David Garland: He amplifies his disavowal of wise speech broached in 1:17 to argue, “The messenger is like the message” (Edwards 1895: 43). Preaching is not competitive rhetoric (Thiselton 2000: 107). God’s spiritual power overrides and invalidates strategies of manipulative power and self-assertion where the desire to win applause trumps the obligation to speak the truth. Pascuzzi (1997: 32 n. 51) suggests that Paul may have distanced himself “from the seductive rhetoric that only obfuscates, and is moreover inadequate to express, the stark reality of the cross which is God’s power forcing upon Christians a whole new order to which they must submit.” Friedrich (TDNT 3:716) comments, “Christian preaching does not persuade the hearers by beautiful or clever words — otherwise it would only be a matter of words.” Attempts to accredit the gospel in a worldly show of wisdom actually discredit the gospel. Paul did not purvey the empty, ephemeral wisdom of this world but disclosed the eternal truth of God’s wisdom encapsulated in the cross, and the Corinthians were persuaded because of God’s Spirit and power.

Mark Taylor: In 2:1–5 Paul describes the content, the manner, and the results of his preaching during the time of the establishment of the Corinthian church. Having shown that God’s wisdom upends human wisdom in the proclamation of a crucified Messiah (1:18–25), which is further illustrated in God’s choice of the foolish and insignificant things of the world (1:26–31), Paul now describes his own ministry among them as a ministry that exemplified the wisdom of God (2:1–5).  He did not come to Corinth preaching with all the embellishments of human eloquence and wisdom but rather as one bearing witness to Christ crucified (2:2; cf. 1:23). In short, Paul’s manner of preaching and way of life was consistent with the message he preached.

Paul Gardner: Though weak, fearful, and not coming to Corinth with the great rhetorical skills that many in Greek society might have expected, Paul’s gospel proclamation demonstrated both God’s Holy Spirit and the power of God in such a way that people came to faith. Thus, in himself and in the fact that people have come to faith, Paul offers further proof that God’s wisdom prevails over that of human beings.


A.  (:1) Not on Human Wisdom or Eloquence

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech

or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.”

Contrast the approach of Madison Avenue advertising via the media;

Contrast much of the approach of TV evangelists

Charles Hodge: The testimony of God may mean either the testimony which Paul bore concerning God, or God’s own testimony, i.e. what God had revealed and testified to be true.  “The testimony of God” is, in this sense, the gospel, as in 2 Tim. 1, 8.  The latter interpretation best suits the connection, as throughout these chapters Paul contrasts what reason teaches with what God teaches.  He did not appear as a teacher of human wisdom, but as announcing what God had revealed.

Gordon Fee: Those who seek wisdom may sound as if they are involved in a noble affair; in reality they are engaged in various forms of self-congratulatory, and therefore divisive, competition over “excellence” of speech, rhetoric, or profundity, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Adewuya: Paul chose a simple delivery of a powerful message. This is not to say that he was muddled or badly prepared. Rather, his message was always given greater importance than his method of delivering it. Concerning wisdom, Paul could be regarded as a scholar of the highest order, but he never sought to display his scholarship when preaching. Good preaching does not consist of words that draw attention to the preacher’s personal attainments or cleverness of voice, but words that point to the presence and activity of God. It does not express what the hearers love to hear, but inspires the hearers to turn to God. The mystery of God is the message that the Corinthians did not understand before, It is here explained by Paul and illuminated by the Holy Spirit (2:10–14). The mystery that Paul preached relates to Christ and the cross. As Paul showed earlier, both the Jews and Greeks had no clue concerning the significance of the cross.

B.  (:2) But on the Crucified Christ

For I determined to know nothing among you

except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

Craig Blomberg: In short, the Corinthians came to faith by focusing on the cross of Christ which seemed so foolish to everyone else. They must now return to that focus rather than splitting the church by magnifying human leaders.


A.  (:3-4a) Not of Human Personality or Charisma or Powerful Oratory

  1. Not Humanly Impressive in Charisma of Appearance

I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling

2 Possibilities:

– sense of human inadequacy coupled with overwhelming sense of awe in being

used by God; tremendous responsibility on his shoulders

          – inner fears, some form of human frailty referred to elsewhere as his thorn in

the flesh, etc.

In either case Paul needed divine encouragement and faith in the power of God and the enabling work of the Holy Spirit to carry out his mission to the Gentiles

Charles Hodge: here the whole context shows he refers to his state of mind.  It was not in the consciousness of strength, self-confident and self-relying, that he appeared among them, but as oppressed with a sense of his weakness and insufficiency.  He had a work to do which he felt to be entirely above his powers.

Paul Gardner: Paul knows that God has deliberately called him despite his many inadequacies, fears, failings, and weaknesses to proclaim the gospel. What Paul has come to realize is that this is actually part of his calling. God has chosen a person like him in order that Christ crucified will be the one who is seen and heard rather than the messenger.

  1. Not Humanly Impressive in Sophistication of Utterance

 “and my message and my preaching were not

in persuasive words of wisdom

Gordon Fee: He deliberately avoided the very thing that now fascinates them, “the persuasion of wisdom.” But his preaching did not thereby lack “persuasion.” What it lacked was the kind of persuasion found among the sophists and rhetoricians, where the power lay in the person and the delivery. Paul’s preaching, on the other hand, despite his personal appearance and whatever its actual form, produced the desired results, namely it brought about the faith of the Corinthians.

B.  (:4b) But of Divine Power and the Working of the Holy Spirit

  1. Spirit Energized

but in demonstration of the Spirit

  1. Power Packed

and of power

Robertson: The demonstration is that which is wrought by God’s power, especially His power to save man and give a new direction to his life.  As it is all from God, why make a party-hero of the human instrument?


The proper focus and dynamic are critical in establishing this proper foundation for faith.

A.  Not a Foundation of Human Wisdom

so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men

B.  But a Foundation of Divine Power

but on the power of God.”

Robert Gromacki: Paul was not after superficial decisions; rather, he desired genuine, God-produced experiences in the lives of his listeners.

Mark Taylor: The final clause, “so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power,” is, in substance, a recasting of the climactic statement of the previous unit, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1:31). If we take into account the summarizing statement of 1:18–25, that God is wiser and stronger than men (1:25), taken together, the three concluding statements of each unit in 1:18 – 2:5 provide a succinct summary of Paul’s main emphasis throughout.

Gordon Fee: With the concluding purpose clause (v. 5) the argument that began in 1:18 now comes full circle. The message of the cross, which is folly to the “wise,” is the saving power of God to those who believe. The goal of all the divine activity, both in the cross and in choosing them, and now in Paul’s preaching that brought the cross and them together, has been to disarm the wise and powerful so that those who believe must trust God alone and completely. Thus, as the citation from Jeremiah concludes the second paragraph (vv. 26–31), so this paragraph concludes: “so that your faith might not rest on [human] wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Paul Gardner: God’s power alone is to be the basis for faith in Christ. It is all of grace. “Faith” (πίστις) is about trust and commitment to Christ. It is the God-empowered result of the “speech and demonstration” of Christ crucified. It thus has an objective content yet also indicates the internal response that has taken place in the transformation of believers. As John Murray has put it, “Faith itself is the whole-souled movement of the person in entrustment to Christ.”

As Paul draws this example to an end, he brings everything back to God and his power. Paul was a living example of how God is involved at every stage in drawing people to himself. The best of clever argumentation may draw some to the preacher but not to Jesus Christ. Paul shows that a message that is folly to many and a stumbling block to others has been presented in a manner that seems to reflect the message: devoid of rhetorical flourishes and sophistication and of powerful signs. The messenger himself is weak and fearful. Given that the content of the message, the way in which it is communicated, and the person doing the communication will not be well regarded in the eyes of the world, then the results of his initial visit to the city (“when I came”; v. 1) can only be attributed to the power of God and the working of the Holy Spirit. It is God who has taken the word of the good news of Christ and has applied it in power through his Spirit in the lives of those who are being saved.