A Pattern for Preaching Christ

As children learn by watching their parents, so preachers and hearers learn much by looking at the Apostles. The principles taught in the preceding nine post risk resembling a shapeless cloud instead of a face reflected in a mirror without adding concrete examples. This post provides an example of how Paul preached Christ while the next one applies these examples to preaching other passages of Scripture.

Preachers should imitate Paul in filtering the whole counsel of God through the person and work of Christ. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians illustrates how to do this. Though this book is an epistle and not a sermon, the range of issues treated in it provides great insight into Paul's teaching and ministry. This furnishes us with a plethora of examples for connecting Christ to virtually any biblical doctrine or practice.

Paul grounded this epistle in the relationship between Christ and the saints (1 Cor. 1:1-9). The church belongs to God and it is set apart to God in Christ (v. 2). The Corinthians called upon Christ as Lord together with all believers in every place (v. 3). Grace and peace came to them from the Father and the Son (v. 4). The church received graces and gifts from Christ (v. 5-7). In his faithfulness, God would preserve the saints in Christ to the end by virtue of their fellowship with him (v. 8-9). This introduction mirrors the nature and ends of preaching through its effects in believers' lives.

Paul confronted disunity in the church in light of the church's relation to Christ (chapters 1-4). Instead of dividing over who baptized them (1:10-14), the Corinthians should rally around Christ's cross (v. 15). Believers must stop thinking like worldly people by remembering that God's wisdom in Christ saves and unites them. By contrast, the world is united in treating Christ's gospel as foolishness (1:18-29). Christ's all-sufficiency reminds believers that they must boast in God and not in men (1:30-31). In order to flee division, they must remember that Christ is the heart of the gospel message (2:1-5) and that the Spirit directs them to Christ by divine revelation (2:6-10) and illumination (2:11-16). Christians should not divide over their ministers (3:1-15), but they should look to their common foundation in Christ (3:11). The church as a whole is the temple of the Holy Spirit as well (3:16-17). Therefore, boasting in men reflects worldly wisdom rather than God's wisdom in Christ (3:18-23). Ministers are merely "stewards of the mysteries of God" (4:1) and believers must regard them as such (4:2-6). Ministers, and being baptized by them, are not proper objects of boasting, since believers have all things through Christ alone (4:7-13). While believers should be thankful for their ministers, they must repent of their worldly thinking by remembering the conduct of their ministers in Christ (4:14-21). Christ is the ground of church unity and fellowship with Christ is the remedy for its disunity.

Paul connected church discipline and lawsuits to union with Christ (5:1-6:11). The church must deliver unrepentant sinners to Satan (excommunication) in Christ name and with his power (5:1-5). Christ ratifies the act of excommunication in heaven through his personal presence when even two or three are gathered in his name for that purpose (Matt. 18:18-20). Believers must purge out the leaven of unrepentant sinners from their midst in light of their fellowship with Christ. He is their Passover and who sacrificed himself for them (5:6-8). These directions apply equally to those living in other unrepentant sins (5:9-13). As believers exclude unrepentant Christians from their fellowship, they must avoid going to law against one another before unbelievers because they were "washed," "sanctified," and "justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (6:1-11). Union with Christ shapes church discipline.

Paul drew the connection between Christ and sexual matters, which, in turn led into questions about marriage (6:12-7:40). While sexual immorality is wrong inherently, it is doubly wrong for Christians (6:12-20). Their bodies are both members of Christ (6:15) and temples of the Holy Spirit (6:19). Believers must glorify God in body and spirit because Christ "bought" them (6:20). Though Paul did not bring Christ to bear directly in his treatment of marriage, as he did in Ephesians 5:22-33, his teaching on marriage flows from the truths established by the believer's relation to Christ in 6:12-20. Communion with Christ by the Spirit is the primary reason for sexual purity.

Paul treated the question of eating food offered to idols in relation to Christ's role in forming Christian conscience (chapters 8-10). The question treated in these chapters may seem foreign to us. The issue was whether or not believers should eat food that was offered to idols. Such food might be for sale in the market place and unbelievers might invite believers to share a meal in which they served this food. Paul answered that idols are nothing because God created all things through Christ (8:6). Some Christians were slow to recognize this fact (8:7-8). Those who knew that idols were nothing may eat, but they must beware of leading those without this knowledge into eating because, in doing so, they would sin against Christ through misinformed consciences (8:9-13). In chapter nine, Paul enforced his teaching by personal example. He did not use all of his rights in Christ at all times so that he might preach the gospel of Christ more effectively. Chapter ten completes his argument by citing the Old Testament on the dangers of idolatry by relating the Old Testament saints to Christ (10:1-13). The Lord's Supper teaches that believers have communion with Christ and his church (10:14-17). Therefore, we cannot have fellowship with Christ and demonic idols (10:18-22). Even though all food is clean and lawful to eat, we must avoid leading others into idolatry by doing all things to God's glory (10:23-31). Believers should imitate Paul as he imitated Christ (12:1). Communion with Christ determines how we should treat fellow believers.

In chapters eleven through fourteen, Paul incorporated Christ into questions about public worship. Women should wear head coverings in worship in light of God's authority in Christ (11:2-16). Christians must leave aside their divisions at the Lord's Supper, since they must discern Christ's body together at the table (11:17-34). Believers should exercise spiritual gifts for the benefits of others in light of their common Spirit-inspired confession that Christ is Lord (12:1-3) and in light of the common source of their gifts through the Spirit under God in Christ (12:4-11). They must do so as members together of Christ (12:27-31). They must exercise their gifts out of love to the brethren (chapter 13). Regardless of their individual gifts, they must exercise them to edify the church (14:12), which is Christ's body. They must do all things decently and in order because of their relation to God through Christ by the Spirit established in chapter twelve. Union and communion with Christ directs our conduct in public worship.

Chapter fifteen presents Christ as the capstone of sound doctrine. His death and resurrection summarizes the gospel message. Proclaiming these truths in the goal of preaching (15:1-11). The rest of the chapter explains why denying Christ's resurrection annihilates the gospel and affirming it lies at the heart our hope.

The last chapter of 1 Corinthians brings Paul's application of Christology to its final resolution. While the section on "the collection for the saints" (16:1-3) does not mention Christ directly, 2 Corinthians 8-9 motivates believers to give generously in light of God's indescribable gift of Christ to them. After passing on greetings, Paul concluded, "If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen" (16:22-24). Christians must pursue sound doctrine and godly practices out of love for Christ and in light of his second coming.

1 Corinthians exemplifies everything treated in previous posts about preaching. Christology is the bridge between the doctrine of God and every area of theology and practice. We must aim for the glory of God in all that we believe and do, but we must remember that the incarnate Christ is the one through whom alone we do so. Paul related Christ to every Christian doctrine and practice in all his other epistles, as Peter, John, and Jude did in theirs. Paul's preaching was a public authoritative proclamation of the gospel that aimed to present every man perfect in Christ. He preached Christ exegetically, redemptive historically, theologically, and practically. Preachers must learn to imitate him. Christian doctrine and life lose their moorings when they are detached their relation to Christ. Christ makes doctrine saving and he makes Christian living possible.