1 Corinthians 1:17 (ESV) … “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
This verse serves as a hinge in Paul’s discussion. It closes his preceding discussion of baptism and transitions to his next topic. The conclusion to the previous matter amounts to an explanation that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel. It would appear that Paul followed the example of Jesus in this matter. Christ preached, and delegated baptism primarily to his disciples (John 4:1–2). Paul followed the same practice; he proclaimed the gospel and left baptism primarily to his converts, who supervised the ongoing life of the church.
The expression “preach the gospel” moved Paul’s thoughts in a different but related direction. What was the nature of the gospel he preached? It was devoid of words of human wisdom. This phrase may be translated more literally, “wisdom of words.” The idea is that his preaching did not rely on cleverness or eloquence. Paul distinguished himself from the Greek orators of his day who sought to persuade with impressive rhetoric and style. Paul insisted that his own preaching was simple and straightforward. He avoided great oratory because he did not want to distract from the message itself. His style of preaching was self-effacing, pointing to the source of salvation, Christ.
Paul was concerned that the cross of Christ not be emptied of its power when presented in preaching. The gospel message contradicts human wisdom, so that it cannot be mixed with the power of human wisdom and manipulative persuasion. For this reason, those in Corinth who tried to defend their faith and practices through human wisdom actually opposed the way of the gospel. The power of the cross was the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Salvation comes only from the atonement of Christ, purchased by his suffering on the cross. The recognition and reception of that power was Paul’s chief concern as he proclaimed the gospel.