Preaching to Be Forgotten and For God to Be Glorified (weekend repost)

What did Paul mean when he wrote of his “weakness…in fear and much trembling?” Clearly, Paul was connecting his preaching to these things (“…my speech and my message…”). I think that Paul’s words here are a much-needed correction to the celebrity culture within the Western church today.

The Apostle to the Gentiles stood before this church in Corinth as a weak man. He did not have the polish and trappings that the false teachers of Corinth had, and to many, this was a severe disadvantage. Although they might not say it this way, there are many who would imply strongly that the message is secondary to the method. If you don’t have a media empire pushing your message, then the world won’t listen and you’ll be ineffective. I wonder how Paul would have responded to that sort of thinking. Well, we don’t have to wonder because his Spirit-inspired words are given to us.

Read the full post here: Preaching to Be Forgotten and For God to Be Glorified

Preaching to Be Forgotten and For God to Be Glorified

“And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:3–5 (ESV)

What did Paul mean when he wrote of his “weakness…in fear and much trembling?” Clearly, Paul was connecting his preaching to these things (“…my speech and my message…”). I think that Paul’s words here are a much-needed correction to the celebrity culture within the Western church today.

The Apostle to the Gentiles stood before this church in Corinth as a weak man. He did not have the polish and trappings that the false teachers of Corinth had, and to many, this was a severe disadvantage. Although they might not say it this way, there are many who would imply strongly that the message is secondary to the method. If you don’t have a media empire pushing your message, then the world won’t listen and you’ll be ineffective. I wonder how Paul would have responded to that sort of thinking. Well, we don’t have to wonder because his Spirit-inspired words are given to us.

In his commentary on these verses, Alan Johnson clarifies what Paul is saying: “…[Paul’s] proclamation (wider than only preaching) of the “mystery” of God, namely, Jesus Christ as the crucified One, was in keeping with the sole focus on the cross because Paul consistently, deliberately presented himself not self-confidently but in self-effacement, not in strength as a “successful” person but in weakness and fear, with much trembling (v. 3).”  (Alan F. Johnson, 1 Corinthians, vol. 7, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 62.)

Paul isn’t working to build his brand. He isn’t seeking to launch a well-strategized media plan that incorporates all the latest channels for all the up-and-coming evangelical elites. He isn’t buddying up to those more popular false teachers in order to share the limelight while justifying this as focusing on the majors and overlooking areas of disagreement in the name of “grace.” Nope. Paul is not about Paul. He unashamedly points to himself as a weak and fearful man. His words were perceived by the Corinthians as implausible and foolish–because that was what the unvarnished gospel sounds like to unregenerate ears. Paul didn’t seek to “fix” it.

And since Paul wasn’t trying to boost his own brand, he didn’t care what others thought about him so long as they saw Jesus. Paul was weak–he didn’t feign weakness to seem more spiritual. He was scared–but God was his strength. He wasn’t practiced and polished in his delivery, intentionally–so that people wouldn’t walk away impressed with this servant’s speech, but so they would walk away worshipping his God.

Paul focused on the cross in his life, message, and methods. In our glitzy evangelical world of super conferences, social media blitzes, and multi-books deals, we are all too often a faint shadow of this servant of God. May we join with George Whitefield in saying, “Let my name die everywhere, let even my friends forget me, if by that means the cause of the blessed Jesus may be promoted.”

The Danger of Cutting Off Our Doctrinal Roots

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:1–2 (ESV)

Set in a backdrop where the church in Corinth was filled with many Christians who had a strong taste for ear-pleasing speakers, Paul addresses his intentional plan to not be seeker sensitive in his preaching. The words “lofty speech” and “wisdom” (ESV) both reference the exalted form of rhetoric that the preferred speakers used in their addresses to the church.

When Paul came, however, he did not speak in this way. Paul isn’t embracing crude speech or speech that is intentionally dumbed down in order to sound less educated. Many seeker sensitive preachers do that today, and they are in the same vein as those that Paul is speaking against.

Paul’s comments instead are meant to point out to the Corinthian church that the focus of the message that Paul preached was not primarily focused upon the listener, but rather was focused upon the message. In saying this, Paul does not dismiss the need to be clear and doctrinal. What he is saying, though, is that the particular tastes and preferences of the listeners is not of primary importance, but rather getting the right message was of the highest importance.

This attitude toward communicating the gospel wasn’t something that Paul stumbled upon when he came into the city. In verse 2, Paul clearly says that he decided what his message would focus on instead. The Greek word ekrina comes from the root word krino and this root means to judge. Paul has selected, or set out as separate the way one chooses among many choices, his methodology. What did he decide? That of all the subjects, focal points, and sidebars that he could potentially run after, he would stay firmly planted upon the subject of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion.

Of course a simple reading of the Pauline Epistles shows that Paul didn’t only write or teach about the gospel. His range was deep and broad. But in Paul’s process of thinking through what the church needed, the gospel was his home base and starting point. Whereas the false teachers in Corinth had little concern for the ABC’s of the Christian faith, Paul built his theological superstructure upon these critical truths.

When we leave the fundamentals of the faith and become enamored by other ideas or doctrines where we leave the cross behind, we can not only expect that we will soon be lost in the weeds, but we will also find that we have lost our power. The gospel is the deep root from which all our preaching, teaching, discipleship, and faith come from. To cut ourselves off from this root is a fatal flaw. Paul wouldn’t mask it with big words and ideas. He put out his message in words and ideas that were plain and simple. And that was his plan.

7 Reasons Why You Should Study and Teach Biblical Eschatology

Various views of end times events have caused division, confusion, and frustration for many Christians. It isn’t hard for a person that wants to downplay the importance of eschatology to point out extreme examples of each view in order to demonstrate that the effort is fruitless. Some have jokingly called themselves “pan-millennialists” saying that it will all pan-out in the end.

However, complexity, alternate views, and even wacky ideas among some teachers should not be enough for us to put off the study of end times. We wouldn’t follow that reasoning regarding difficulties in our understanding of the Trinity, or the doctrine of hell, or any other biblical doctrine, would we? Any pan-Trinitarians out there?

In my opening message at the IFCA Annual Convention a few weeks ago, I set out seven reason for why we need to study and teach biblical eschatology. My message will be posted soon, but until then, I thought it might be helpful to enumerate those reasons:

1. You Should Study and Teach Biblical Eschatology Because It Puts God’s Glory on Display (Rev. 1:1-2)

2. You Should Study and Teach Biblical Eschatology Because It Shows Us God’s Future Plans (Rev. 1:1-2)

3. You Should Study and Teach Biblical Eschatology Because It Comes With Blessings (Rev 1:3)

4. You Should Study and Teach Biblical Eschatology Because the Time Is Near (Rev 1:3)

5. You Should Study and Teach Biblical Eschatology Because It Encourages the Saints (1Th 4:18; 5:11)

6. You Should Study and Teach Biblical Eschatology Because the Judgment of God is Coming (2Pt 3:1-10)

7. You Should Study and Teach Biblical Eschatology Because It Promotes Holiness and Godliness in the Church (2Pt 3:11-12)

These aren’t the only reasons why we need to study and teach biblical eschatology, but these among others are rooted in the authority of Scripture itself. I pray these reasons will motivate, enourage, and inspire you to go to the Scripture and study and teach the hope of Jesus coming again.

Remembering Jesus Christ

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:8–10, ESV)

Where do we as Christians go for our strength? In 2 Timothy 2:1 Paul gave us the answer: “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…” Now, in his continuing lesson to Timothy, Paul returns to this critical truth.

In verse 8, Paul begins with the necessity to “remember Jesus Christ.” How odd that he should have to say to a pastor to “remember Jesus Christ!” The verb “to remember” points to the need for ongoing remembrance—a consistent effort—to remember and keep on remembering Jesus Christ.

How strange it might seem to us because we wonder how any blood-bought Christian could ever forget his Savior! It would be worse than a mother forgetting her own child or a lover forgetting his beloved. But God knows that the heart of man is weak and fickle. We not only can forget the Lord Jesus, we often do. Of course, we don’t forget him completely and totally, but we do push him aside and to the sides of our mind so that Jesus is no longer front and center as he should be.

This is one reason that Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper and its regular practice. Remember what it says in 1 Corinthians 11:24, where Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth of the purpose of the Lord’s supper by repeating Jesus’ words, “This is my body, which is [broken] for you, do this in remembrance of me.” He said the same for the cup as well. The bread and the cup remind us of the sacrificial body and blood of Christ, and we need that reminder regularly, because we forget! The Lord knew that. That we should forget the Lord who saved us, is a danger for every Christian.

In 2 Timothy, Paul sought to impress his son in the faith with this same truth of remembering Jesus Christ. He knows that the only way Timothy will be able to continue in ministry as a soldier (2:3-4), athlete (v. 5) and farmer (v. 6) is if he does so with his eyes upon Christ Jesus.

As John Kitchen has written in his commentary on this text, “What is abundantly clear is that Paul is concerned that Timothy keep Jesus at the forefront of all his thoughts. He was not worried that Timothy would entirely forget who Jesus was. Rather he was concerned that, under pressure, Timothy might not allow Christ the place of preeminence and supremacy in this thinking that He deserves.”

In this issue of the VOICE, we will focus upon the glory of Jesus Christ in various aspects of his life and ministry. In this article, I’d like to focus on three features that Paul sees as essential for Timothy’s success and growth in the faith, three indispensable truths that he could never allow to fade from his memory. If he kept these truths before his eyes, he would succeed both in life and ministry. Without these, Timothy was sure to falter. That makes them pretty important, and we should listen in as Paul places three critical reminders before his friend and co-worker for the Gospel.

Remember Jesus Christ Risen from the Dead (v. 8)

Paul was not telling Timothy to remember a great teacher, or to remember a historical figure. Jesus is both. But that is not what he wants Timothy to focus on, because lots of great teachers and lots of historical figures have come and gone. But their lives and teachings leave no lasting impact.

Paul is also not telling Timothy to remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, although that is implied in the idea of his resurrection. Many men died on the Roman cross. And if Timothy was to focus merely upon his death, that would not be enough.

Paul wants Timothy to remember that death could not hold Jesus. In Acts 2:24 Peter preached these words, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24, ESV). This resurrection power of Jesus Christ is what Paul wanted Timothy to remember. If Jesus had only died, never to live again, then how could Timothy continue preaching? As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:4, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1Cor. 15:14, ESV). But Christ is alive! He conquered the power of sin and death, he atoned for sin and his atoning sacrifice was accepted by God the Father. On the cross, Jesus Christ absorbed the full wrath of God. No matter what happened in his life and ministry, Timothy needed to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it, there is no hope.

It has been claimed that as a young man, D. L. Moody was called upon suddenly to preach a funeral sermon. He hunted all through the Gospels to find one of Christ’s funeral sermons but searched in vain. He found that Christ broke up every funeral He ever attended. Death could not exist where He was. When the dead heard His voice, they sprang to life. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life (Jn. 11:25).

What a great reminder for us! And how helpful for us not just to look forward to in the future, but how helpful it is for living right now! When we are tempted to sin, we need to remember that we are dead to sin. As Paul wrote in Romans 6:1-5,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom. 6:1–5, ESV emphasis mine). 

And that’s not all. Since we shall be raised from the dead to live with Christ forever, we no longer need to be fearful of death. We can live in obedience to Christ without fear of what man may do to us because we know God will glorify this mortal flesh. As it says in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1Cor. 15:50–58, ESV, emphasis mine)

Verse 58 affirms that the resurrection has an impact on our work for Christ while we are here on earth. We must be steadfast—meaning we are firmly established in our position—we will live for Christ and no threat, persecution or danger will change us. We must be immovable, meaning that we will not change our position on these matters of faith. The whole world can oppose us, and sometimes it feels like it does, but we will not move! In these things we will be stubborn. And of course, this must lead to our mission to serve the Lord by faithfully preaching the gospel and making disciples. In season and out of season. Remembering Jesus Christ risen from the dead empowers us to do that.

Remember Jesus Christ the Messiah of God (v. 8)

“The offspring of David” or “the seed of David” is a reference to Jesus’ lineage that can be traced back to King David. This means that Jesus alone is qualified to claim the throne of the Messiah.Some have said that this reference by Paul is intended to point to Jesus’ humanity, the fact that he had a human family tree. Of course, this is true. But a reference to Jesus’ birth could have done the same thing. I think there is more here.By pointing to David’s lineage, not only is Paul referring to Jesus as the Messiah, but he is also claiming the throne of David for Christ as well. Jesus is the legitimate heir of the Davidic throne.And unlike David, Jesus is still alive. Jesus, the Living One, is also the Living King. Right now, Jesus is seated upon the throne. I believe that one day he shall take the throne of David in the Millennial Kingdom as is prophesied in the Old Testament, but he is King right now as well, in a universal sense.

Putting together the resurrection and kingly line of Jesus together are powerful motivators and encouragement for Christians. That is why Paul used it when he wanted to push Timothy even further in 2 Timothy 4:1 to take his calling seriously. This verse reads, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:” (2Tim. 4:1, ESV)

The next words in verse 2, of course, are the charge—”Preach the Word!” But Paul front loads that charge with the sobering words of an oath—Paul wants Timothy to see just how serious he is by calling upon God the Father, and Jesus Christ who will judge the living and the dead. Taken together, he exalts Christ to the heights of glory while telling Timothy that this Christ is witness to his words commanding Timothy to faithfully preach the Word.

Christ is the King, and he will conquer every single one of his enemies. They will be a footstool under his feet. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father. They must kiss the Son, or he will smash them to bits with his rod of iron like clay pots.

Is that not the Kingship and Return of Christ a great motivation to take up the cross and follow Jesus? Jesus is alive and he will come again and bring justice with him. We will be raised again in glorified bodies and we will rule with him. In the eternal scheme of things, there is no downside to this!

Paul understood suffering, and pain. His life after his conversion was filled with these trials. But they were never his focus. His ministry always had a joy-filled focus on who Christ is, what he has done and what these truths meant in this life and life eternal. That is why he wrote things like Romans 8:26-39. Read this passage and be encouraged. Notice that he begins with our weakness, but he ends with our victory! All of this is possible because of the resurrection and sovereign rule of Jesus Christ. Don’t forget that!

Remember Jesus Christ’s Gospel Message (v. 8-10)

The risen King is the Jesus Christ that Paul preached. And he doesn’t want Timothy for forget this message. He calls it “my gospel” in v. 8, but he doesn’t mean that he made it up, or even that it was the gospel he preached. Paul speaks of it as his gospel because it is the very gospel he embraced himself—it is the gospel that saved Paul, and Timothy too.Even more importantly, it is the truth. That is why Paul preached it, and why he wanted Timothy to continue his ministry of declaring this same message of the same Savior.

And Paul wasn’t shy about what most likely would happen if Timothy did so. In verse 9, Paul added once again the fact that preaching this gospel is what had cost him his freedom and honor and would eventually cost him his very life. Paul wasn’t complaining, he was simply telling Timothy that this gospel message was worth dying for, and that he needed to push onward himself because the worst consequences could never outweigh the blessings of doing so.

Paul notes that they had treated him like a “criminal.” This word speaks of a person guilty of serious crimes. They are not accusing Paul of being a petty criminal, but Paul is put into the same categories as violent insurrectionists and murderers. As such, Paul could expect harsh treatment and hard judgements. The shame others would feel toward him would also be great. The only other time this Greek word is used in the New Testament is when it is applied to those who hung on the cross next to Jesus. That is how they treated Paul.

This note about Paul’s suffering is powerful, but brief. Quickly Paul turned his attention back to the gospel message. Instead of focusing on his own suffering, Paul chose to focus on the unfettered propagation of the gospel message that he preached. Timothy would need to do that too, and he would if he would keep his mind stayed upon Jesus Christ (v. 8).

The gospel messengers might be jailed, stoned, put in stocks, beaten, fed to the lions, or slaughtered, but the message of Jesus Christ can never be stopped. What a glorious truth! Nothing can stop the spread of the truth. It is not solely dependent upon us, although we must faithfully do our part. But the burden is not upon us. God will carry his wonderful, life-saving message wherever it needs to go.

But why would anyone sacrifice their whole life to carry a message that so many not only don’t want, but will kill you if you bring it to them? Paul gives us the answer in verse 10. Paul knows that God has chosen people out there in the world to be saved. He has elected them to salvation, but they need to hear the message so they can believe and be saved, which leads to eternal glory. The mission, for Paul, is thrilling! He loved to see God’s people come to Christ. He loved to be the one that gave birth to those newborn babes in Christ. What a joy it was! The Lord God could have done it other ways, by other means, but he has ordained that we, his children, are the means by which the gospel is preached, and the elect come to faith and salvation. We are the link in the chain that cannot be broken. How will they hear without a preacher?

When C. H. Spurgeon preached on “election” somebody said to him, “Why don’t you just preach to the called, to the elect?” He replied, “Well, if you’ll run around and pull up everybody’s shirttails so I can see if they have an ‘E’ stamped on their back, I will.” Only God knows who is elect and who is not.

Like Timothy, we need to remember the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not just for ourselves, but for those who need to hear it as well. This message was so important, that Paul, and countless other saints have died trying to get the gospel to as many souls as possible.

It is impossible to know the impact our evangelism will have with only one exception. If you preach the gospel, you will be surprised by how many people have reached heaven because of your ministry in their lives or the ministry of those to whom you proclaimed the gospel. But if you never preach the gospel, nobody will ever be saved because you shared with them. Nobody. You can expect that when you get to heaven, you will be spiritually barren. Paul had many spiritual children from all the places and times he preached the gospel. Some people will have no spiritual children—not even one.

Will that be you? I pray that it will not be. I pray that each one of us will one day join Paul and Timothy and the rest of the saints in giving praise to the Lamb alongside those we had the privilege of leading to Christ. We all know that as we age, our memories are affected. For some people, the memory problems are drastic, especially those who have diseases of the brain. But there are others we have seen who have sharp memories, recalling dates, events and experienced with great clarity and accuracy far into their senior years. I hope to be one of those who can remember long into my final years. But even if we are not blessed with a great memory, may we never forget these three critical truths about our Savior Jesus Christ—his Resurrection, his Kingly Reign and his Gospel message. The more we focus on them daily the greater will be our encouragement and strength for daily living and ministry.

This article first appeared in the Mar/Apr 2020 issue of the Voice magazine. Used with permission.