by Spiros Zodhiates
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (1 Cor. 1:17).
Years ago, at a certain theological college, it was customary for the student who had preached a sermon in class to go into the president’s office next morning for a quiet talk about his message. On one such occasion, the revered and saintly old president said to the young man before him, “It was a good sermon you gave us yesterday. The truth you dealt with was well-arranged and well-presented. But your sermon had a serious omission. There was no word in it for a poor sinner like me.”
The Apostle Paul’s interest was in reaching the “poor sinners,” of whom he acknowledged himself to be chief. The term “to preach the gospel,” which Paul indicated was God’s special call to him, is the Greek word euangelízestha, “evangelizing.” Euangélion is “the gospel,” or “the good news,” and euangelízesthai is “to spread the good news.” Paul said that God had called him to tell people that the Lord Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost.
Paul used the word “evangelizing” to describe his whole activity as an apostle. Like the prophets, he felt under a divine constraint to preach (Jer. 1; 20:9, Amos 3:8; Ezek. 3:17). This was his mission, as he says in 1 Corinthians 9:16: “For though I preach the gospel (euangelízomai), I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel (euangelízomai).”
Euangelízomai, then, is a missionary term (Acts 14:15; Rom. 1:15, cf. v. 11; 1 Cor. 9:12–18; Gal. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:5, cf. v. 2). The same gospel is proclaimed in both missionary and congregational preaching. Paul makes no distinction. God Himself speaks through preaching—not to Christians or to heathen, but to man as such—revealing Himself to him in grace and judgment through the Word. (See Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 2, pp. 719, 720.)
Indeed, every Christian is called to proclaim the gospel. The word euangelízesthai (evangelizing) embraces more than preaching from a church pulpit. It involves the proclamation of the gospel by any means—private conversation, teaching, announcing, or even signs and wonders and deeds of charity. Evangelizing is offering salvation, by every possible means.
Do not think you have to preach from a pulpit to evangelize, or be paid by a church or missionary treasurer to be an evangelist. Evangelizing is gearing your whole life to introducing Christ to people and people to Christ, as Paul did. “Did you ever hear me preach, Charles?” asked someone of a friend. “Never heard you do anything else!” was the unexpected reply. Evidently, this man’s whole life was a sermon.
If evangelizing were a way of life for all who bear the name of Christ, we would have the greatest evangelistic movement of the ages. I am afraid too many of us belong to the “silent majority” of Christians. Evangelizing means letting others know what Christ has done for you and what He can do for them.
You may feel you need special wisdom to evangelize but this is not so. Telling the good news of salvation does not require elaborate rhetoric. Actually, the use of words can be a very tempting exercise for man. He will use words to show how wise and well educated he is, instead of to help others.
Man, deep in his soul, is not an altruistic creature but a very selfish one. Certainly the Lord knew what He was doing when He commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He knew how deep self-love is. Using words to show off is both an enslavement for the unbeliever and a temptation for the Christian who witnesses. Observe what Paul says: “Not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.”
One problem Paul faced in Corinth was the shadow cast on the love Corinthian believers had for the Lord Jesus Christ. This shadow resulted from the Corinthian’s undue attachment to Paul and other apostles. Paul gave these Corinthian believers two reasons for not becoming attached to him. First, he did not baptize most of them. Second, he did not evangelize with words of wisdom, not bending the gospel to fit their intellectualism or materialism. He did not believe in a special gospel for a special people. We can never over-emphasize the futility of trying to win people to Christ by “wise words,” nor the effectiveness of personal pleas to win people to Christ.
Paul was a wise man. He could use words effectively. He used all the innate wisdom and oratorical power God had given him, but his motive was never to attract people to himself. In speaking to the Corinthians he was deep but clear.
“Isn’t Pastor So-and-So a deep preacher?” asked a friend. “Eh!” replied the other smiling. “I’ll tell you a story. When I was a boy I was playing with some other boys in a swimming hole. Some of them were going farther out than I was comfortable with, and I was frightened. A man was passing by, and I called out, ‘Is the pool deep?’ ‘No, young man,’ he replied, ‘it’s only muddy.’ ”
Some sermons are deep in the estimation of the preachers, but muddy to those who listen to them. Let us give our testimony for Christ with simplicity and sincerity, “not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.”
From A Richer Life for You in Christ (an Exegetical Commentary on First Corinthians One), published by AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN