A quick reading of the New Testament reveals that the man known as the Apostle Paul was an influential figure and a powerful communicator. While not always adhering to the rhetorical techniques of his day, often to the detriment of his own reputation, Paul clung to that belief that he was called by God to deliver a life-changing message.
Many courses and books on preaching exist. By no means is this post intended to be a replacement or reduplication of those. My aim here is only to highlight six aspects of Paul’s preaching evident in his Corinthian correspondence.
1. Paul Preached the Implication of the Gospel
Paul consistently showed the lost and the believer the continued necessity of the gospel and its implications. A look through 1 Corinthians makes this readily evident. Is someone in moral decadence (1 Cor 5)? If so, discipline the person in your midst for the sake of the gospel. Are you taking each other before worldly arbitrators (1 Cor 6:1–11)? Stop. The gospel has delivered you for a heavenly kingdom. In this kingdom, you have divine authority where you will one day judge angels. Are you living as if this world is all you have (1 Cor 15)? Look to the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection assures us that we, through the work of Christ, will have an afterlife where death and hell are disarmed.
2. Paul Preached with Caring Courage
Paul confronted and encouraged his audience. When necessary, he called for tough love challenging the audience to maintain the integrity of the gospel community above their personal preferences (1 Cor 5). At the same time, when true repentance and humility were evident, Paul pursued restoration with gentleness and love (2 Cor 2:5–8). It grieved Paul when he had to be harsh because he cared for the people, and he intended to see their faith flourish not destroyed (2 Cor 2:4). Paul did not take pride in having to be stern, but he was stern in the hope that through the Spirit’s conviction of sin the church might repent.
3. Paul Contextualized the Message
Paul contextualized the message in at least three ways. First, Paul leveraged various rhetorical techniques depending on the setting to communicate with his audience. At times, Paul used techniques with which the audience would be familiar such as an impersonation or a diatribe (1 Cor 1:12; 6:12–20). Elsewhere, we see Paul not incorporating the anticipated technique so that it might be clear that he was coming in the power of the gospel and not in persuasive speech or through the pretense of another’s recommendation (1 Cor 1:17–25; 2 Cor 3:1–3; 10:1—11:4). Second, we see Paul utilize cultural principles, personal examples, and various images and illustrations, all depending on the specific point he was making (1 Cor 9:24–27; 2 Cor 4:7; 8:16—9:15; 11:16–33). Third, Paul addressed different groups of people differently. His approached changed based on the intended audience. We see this throughout the Corinthian correspondence as he addresses different people, but for a more explicit example, we can look at Acts. When he was around lost Gentiles, Paul contextualizes his gospel presentation within their pagan religious framework utilizing various of rhetorical techniques with which they would have been familiar (Acts 17:17–34). When dealing with Jews or God-fearers, Paul reasoned from the Scriptures that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah (Acts 17:2–4, 10–12, 16). When addressing the disciples of John, Paul took an even more direct and abbreviate approach (Acts 19:1–7).
I share this point because I find ministers of all backgrounds and ages who believe their role as a pastor is simply to “preach the Word.” By “preach the Word,” they seem to believe they can stand in the pulpit and contextually exegete a passage for an hour and close in prayer. But that is not what Paul did. Paul spoke to people where they were. Paul contextualized the message. Paul reasoned and worked at his communication. Paul leveraged cultural opportunities. Would Paul use a projector, props, or an app today? I dare not speculate on what Paul would do today or what you should do within your ministry context. I only challenge every pastor to work to preach with people in mind and not just the text in mind.
4. Paul Shared His Struggles
Paul frequently admitted his struggles, weaknesses, and shortcomings (2 Cor 1:7–11; 1:23—2:4; 12:5–10). He was honest about his feeling and position in life. He was transparent and humble while exalting the beauty of the crucified King.
5. Paul Rested in His Commission
Paul knew he was called and commissioned by God (1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1). God made him an apostle and preacher of the gospel. He did not need the affirmation of people. His identity was not connected with those to whom he was commissioned; rather, his identity was connected to the one who commissioned him.
6. Paul Let Them Choose
Paul left the choice in the people’s court throughout these letters. He asks early on, “How do you want me to come to you? Do you want me to come with a rod of discipline or in love and with a gentle spirit?” (1 Cor 4:21). Paul knew that while he could present a persuasive argument, at the end of the day, they had to choose whether or not they would submit to the Spirit of God. And, that’s what good preaching does. It rightly presents people with the Word of God so that they are left to choose whether they are going to follow God or not.