17 “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”
For Christ did not send me to baptize,
Paul’s commission was not to baptize but to preach the gospel. Paul did baptize for it was not the focus of his ministry. His purpose for coming to Corinth was not to baptize nor to put emphasis on ritual.
but to preach the gospel,
Paul draws a contrast between baptism and the gospel. There is here an obvious distinction between preaching the gospel and the act of baptism. The gospel is belief in the death, burial, and resurrection to forgive sins. The gospel is the object of preaching.
not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.
Paul transitions from explicitly dealing with divisions in the church to explaining what causes divisions—lack of focus on the central message of the cross. The symbol is one thing and the reality is another. The symbol of baptism is not equivalent to the gospel. Those who follow the baptism of Paul’s party are as wrong as those who follow other parties.
Greek culture of the first century did not care about the content of what was said as long as it was said beautifully. To Paul, content counted and not the manner of delivery. Paul did not use clever speech of human wisdom. His method was not to use human reason to convince his hearers of the gospel. He did not use rhetoric so that people would focus on the messenger’s style but on the gospel itself. It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to win people to Christ by the content of the cross.
The gospel of Christ can be “made of no effect.” Human technique can neutralize the power of the gospel. “No effect” means render void. Divisions originating in philosophy in the Corinthian church brought reproach on the name of Christ. This is why the name of Christ appears 11 times in ten verses. Verbal gymnastics of philosophy always brings schism.
Ga 6:14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Ritual is not as important as the reality of the cross it represents.
Water baptism has no place in the gospel itself. To make baptism a part of the gospel is to push the ordinance of water baptism beyond its intension. Only trust in the cross can save a soul, not baptism.
The focus of the gospel is the reality of the message of the gospel, not the style of delivering it. Divisions in the church occur when people focus on style rather than substance or content. Those who trust in the content of the cross do not rest on human device but rely on God’s use of the message in the hearts of those who hear. Loyalty rests on God rather than the messenger. We cannot confuse the message with the messenger or else we follow the messenger rather than the message.
The non-Christian cannot understand the gospel by his own faculty because he does not have the spiritual capacity to do so.
1 Co 2:14 But the natural man (a pure psychological man—non-Christian) does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, not the power of eloquence. No gimmick or human pressure is necessary to present the gospel. The biblical emphasis is always on the power of content. Otherwise, we render void its power.
Ro 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.