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.

We Will Not Be Silent and We Will Not Back Down (weekend repost)

“In a time of universal deception, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. Let us determine that we will not be shamed into silence or inaction. We will speak, and like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel, let us resolve that we will not bow.”

Erwin Lutzer, We Will Not Be Silenced, 38.

It is interesting to read about the Apostle Paul’s experience in Jerusalem in Acts 21-26. In these chapters, Paul is constantly allowed to share with different audiences his testimony in one way or another. Incredibly, in many instances, he isn’t allowed to finish his explanation of why he believes in Jesus Christ.

Read the rest of the post here: We Will Not Be Silent and We Will Not Bow Down

We Will Not Be Silent and We Will Not Bow Down

“In a time of universal deception, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. Let us determine that we will not be shamed into silence or inaction. We will speak, and like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel, let us resolve that we will not bow.”

Erwin Lutzer, We Will Not Be Silenced, 38.

It is interesting to read about the Apostle Paul’s experience in Jerusalem in Acts 21-26. In these chapters, Paul is constantly allowed to share with different audiences his testimony in one way or another. Incredibly, in many instances, he isn’t allowed to finish his explanation of why he believes in Jesus Christ.

At first, Paul is seized while worshipping in the temple and dragged outside of the temple grounds so he can be stoned to death. By the providence of God, he is rescued by Roman soldiers whom he asks for permission to speak to the angry mob because they don’t seem to agree about why they want to kill him. But before Paul finishes his explanation, the crowd erupts in rage and he is once again needing to be rescued by the Roman soldiers and carried away to safety.

Again and again, Paul speaks: to the Sanhedrin, to Felix the Governor, before Felix’s wife Drusilla. Following Felix, Paul was allowed to speak to the incoming Governor Festus, and in frustration and to seek justice, he finally appealed to Caesar himself.

In each of these interactions, Paul spoke the truth—whether about his beliefs, his experiences, the deception of his enemies, or the truth of the gospel message and Jesus Christ. And in each opportunity, he found that most of those that called him to speak the truth were not actually interested in hearing the truth. And he also found that when he spoke the truth, those who claimed to want to hear the truth did not actually want the truth spoken. Many responded with violence and murder.

Dear Christian, do you not see that this attitude is similar to the one we face in our world today, and it is growing stronger? Many people speak about wanting the truth—but they do not want it when we speak it. Some want a version of the truth that suits them and their version of reality. Some truly want to hear it but are seriously disappointed that it is not what they had hoped. Some respond with calls to silence the truth and truth-speakers.

But like Paul, we cannot be silent. And like Jeremiah before him, we must say, “If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” Jeremiah 20:9.

In today’s world, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. May we speak the truth no matter what. Don’t forget that we are a city on a hill whose light cannot be hidden.

The Rage Against Truth (weekend repost)

As Paul proclaimed the gospel in Ephesus, the effects trickled down, affecting the very livelihood of those involved in the idol-makers guild. The testimony of Paul is clear, even when spoken from the lips of the pagan silversmith Demetrius–“gods made with hands are not gods.”

As he gathered the guildsmen to refute this challenge to their trades, Demetrius could have sought to put together a powerful rebuttal against Paul’s accusation. He could have challenged Paul to a debate, or showed where Paul’s reasoning went off track. He could have pointed out inconsistencies that he saw in Paul’s arguments against the practice of Diana worship, but he did none of these things.

Read the rest of this post here: The Rage Against Truth