1 Corinthians 2 - Paul’s Message of Wisdom
2 When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan.2 For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5 I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.
Again the context of the book of Corinthians is that the city of Corinth was a city of philosophers, who waxed eloquently in the marketplace. They were known for using lofty words and speaking for long periods of time. But Paul says that when he unveiled the "mystery" of God that was kept hidden from the beginning, he did not use this kind of clever rhetoric. In fact, his main point was to reveal God's plan and how it was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Rather than trying to be clever, he instead relied on the Holy Spirit to speak through him. Therefore, it was not his slick preaching or presentation that made any difference, but the Holy Spirit using his words with conviction and power.
Sometimes I think we need to add all kind of things to the gospel to make it more appealing. We can if we are not careful rely more on our own personality than the power of God. The problem with focusing too much on ourselves is that our words can't change anyone. It is only God's Word that changes human hearts! And specifically, the word about the sending of His Son into our world not to condemn it, but to save it.
Now this doesn't mean we can't use stories or personal testimonies as a means of communicating the gospel. But our message should always point people back to Christ. One of the things I appreciate about the Lutheran tradition is we were taught that a sermon always should be preaching Christ. This is why every Sunday there is always a Gospel reading for the day. While we don't have to be legalistic about cramming the weekly gospel reading into a sermon, the idea is that every week we need to hear the gospel. We need to hear it again and again and again.
The greek word for "preaching", "kerygma" has at its core meaning "proclamation". So you might say, preaching is proclamation. A proclamation about what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. This is what Paul is saying, "I don't want to use clever stories or big words, but preach the simple gospel". The Good News of what God did in sending His only Son to save us from our sin and give us the gift of eternal life.
One of the reasons Billy Graham was such a great preacher is that he always focused on the gospel of Jesus and expected people to respond to it by coming to faith in Christ. And thousands did. Billy Graham relied on the Holy Spirit and His power, and that is why he was so effective. There might have been more "slick preachers" than Billy, but he never compromised the gospel and even the stories he told always came back to what God has done for us through His Son.
This is the simple gospel. The gospel we need to hear every Sunday and in fact every day. And the sacraments are just the visible words of the Gospel. The water of baptism is the gospel of cleansing and rebirth through the Holy Spirit. The bread and the wine are the Gospel of Jesus giving His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. When we participate in the sacraments we are literally touching, tasting and eating the gospel.
When we preach the simple gospel, all we have to do is get out of the way and let God and the Holy Spirit do their work. Aren't you glad it is simple and not complicated?