Sharing in Humility   Leave a comment

A friend of mine tells a story from when he was in high school. He was traveling with his father, a cop, on a commuter airline when a hijacker pulled a gun and demanded to be taken to Cuba (that was a thing in the 1970s.) Mark and his father were considering what they could do about this idiot when the stewardess talked him into allowing her to calm the passengers by plying them with alcohol. The hijacker agreed. Convinced that she was on his side, he turned his back on her and Mark watched as the stewardess turned from pouring wine into a passenger’s glass, kicked her shoes off, stepped up onto the edge of a seat and broke the bottle across the back of the hijacker’s head. Bleeding and dazed, he was pretty compliant as Mark and his dad disarmed and handcuffed him so he couldn’t cause anymore trouble. The news tried to paint them as the heroes, but they were clear that the stewardess who barely came up to Mark’s chin was the real hero.

Image result for image of humilitySometimes the most unlikely people use the most unusual means to protect and preserve others. I think that’s true of the preaching ministry of the local church. The ministry of preaching is conducted by unlikely people through an unusual means to protect and preserve God’s people.

Preaching Jesus Christ is one of the foundational tasks of the church. Few Christians will disagree that preaching is essential, offering up an internal “Amen,” followed immediately by a yawn will slip out, after which they tune out. Most of us don’t consider ourselves preachers, but the sobering reality is that God calls all of us to be preachers of Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:14).

In the opening chapter of 1Corinthians, Paul demonstrated that God deliberately chooses foolish and weak methods and messengers to shame those who are wise and strong. Then, Paul used himself as a prime example of foolishness and weakness.

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of powerso that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.   1Corinthians 2:1-4

Paul began by reminding the Corinthians how he did NOT preach. Paul had not dazzled his listeners with his rhetorical or philosophical prowess. He had simply proclaimed the truth about God.

This was certainly unusual in 1st-century Corinth. In Paul’s day, Greek orators followed certain well-established conventions when they entered a city. Great crowds flocked to hear them because they spoke in the style of traditional Greek rhetoric—with extensive quotations, literary allusions, and a refined style that made them seem brilliant, witty, charming, and entertaining.

Image result for image of humilityPaul utterly rejected this approach to preaching, although he could have done it himself. As a well-educated rabbi, he knew Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. Trained at the feet of Gamaliel, he could hold his own in any argument. If Paul wanted to show off his intellect, he certainly knew how to do it. But he rejected that approach, instead proclaiming “the testimony of God.” The word “testimony” is a legal word that refers to something one presents in a court of law. Paul was conscious that God is a Judge. He was speaking in the presence of the Judge, presenting His witness (2 Timothy 4:1). He knew what the truth was and announced it boldly. Paul didn’t preach his testimony about God. Instead, he preached God’s testimony about God (“the testimony”). His message came from God, not himself.

For many today “proclaiming” is a bad word. They say, “Don’t preach to me!” Many preachers, afraid of being thought arrogant, avoid talking about preaching. They prefer to think of what they do as “sharing.” They’re making suggestions, offering their opinion. That’s arrogance. My opinions are no better than yours and, frankly, neither are my pastors or even Paul’s. My pastor is not and Paul wasn’t declaring their opinions.They were declaring God’s very words (see 1 Petet 4:11a).

Preaching isn’t just for pastors. You too can preach with authority to people in your life. I was a Sunday School teacher for about 15 years, leading a weekly Bible study for the church’s teenagers. I simply taught through books of the Bible with the goal of seeing those young people grow in Christ. Here in Fairbanks, there is a women’s Bible study during the lunch hour that people from all over town flock to. Whether we believe it or not, there are people who are looking for a man or woman to preach God’s Word with authority. For a while, Brad used to lead a Bible study in his truck at a construction site. You can preach wherever God has placed you to serve Him, if you’re willing to answer His call and proclaim His testimony.

In 2:2, Paul explained why he preached as he did: For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  The word translated “I decided” means Paul made a conscious choice to do things a certain way. He didn’t fall into it by chance or by force of habit. Paul preached as he did because he chose to do it that way. That same choice confronts every Christian messenger. It’s so easy to be sidetracked by good and worthwhile things. We can preach about social issues, the political debates of our day, the crisis in the Middle East, or the decline of the family. We can tackle Bible prophecy or we can major on predestination or the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is a place for all those things, but that place is never at the center. For Paul the choice was clear: “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He started there and that became the center of his preaching, every other truth could be arranged around it. But Jesus must be in the middle of all things and all other topics must be properly related to Him.

This verse cannot be taken absolutely, as if the only doctrine Paul taught on was the crucifixion, but refers to its centrality in his preaching. It is not enough for us to say that Jesus was a great moral teacher. He was, but the world largely believes that already. And it is not enough to say that He came down from heaven. Many already believe that. It’s not even enough to say that He was born of a virgin. We must go all the way and declare that God Himself came down to earth in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We must say that when He died on the cross, He paid the ultimate penalty to deliver us from our sins.

We live in an information saturated age where we can follow thousands of channels for secular information, but if you want to know how to be right with God, how to have your sins forgiven, and how to go to heaven, you need the message Paul preached:

Jesus Christ and Him crucified

Note that Paul used the perfect tense here for “crucified” (also 1Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 3:1), which suggests that his focus was not as much on the historical event of the cross but on its ongoing effect for those who believe in Jesus. This event provided us with personal justification, redemption, and sanctification (1:30). The death of Jesus Christ covers everything. Jesus is the one person that fixes everything!

To give people what they need sometimes means you must not give them what they want. Most parents learn this early on. When your daughter is sick she may want another cookie, but what she needs is the medicine the doctor prescribed. If you love her you’ll give her what she needs, not what she wants. The same is true as we speak to others about Christ. They may want to hear other things, but we must tell them about Jesus, for He alone can save them. We have to stay on topic.

Paul used his own personal example again. “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of powerso that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.” Paul did not come to Corinth with any degree of self-confidence, but “in weakness and in fear and with much trembling.”

Corinth was a hard city for a minister. Paul’s reception there had discouraged him to the point that preaching was difficult. He responded to the local hostility in a totally human fashion, which I personally find encouraging. Like Paul, we live and serve in a difficult society. We want to serve Christ and speak up for Him but sometimes it can be downright scary. But God doesn’t give us the option to be silent. Even when we find ourselves tongue-tied or just plain forget what we were supposed to say, we must strive to proclaim the gospel.

Paul was all about the power of the Spirit. In 2:5, Paul explained that the power of God is the word of the cross (1:18). What a striking contrast—the wisdom of men versus the power of God! If you build on one, you cannot have the other. Paul’s concern throughout this passage is self-reliance. It’s not that he didn’t want us to preach to the best of our ability. He just didn’t want us to rely on our own gifts and strength.

To be foolish preachers for Christ, we 21st-century Christians need the following:

Pray for a prepared heart. Ask the Lord to supply you with opportunities to proclaim His Word. Pray for boldness to be willing to walk through an open door (Colossians 4:3). Pray that those you speak to will be receptive.

Meditate on Scripture. As you read God’s Word, ask the Lord to speak to you. Pray for insights into the text. Think about this Scripture continually. Let the Word sit, soak, and simmer in you. This will ensure that you are always prepared (1 Pet 3:15).

Listen to people. When we listen to people’s hurts we can learn a lot. Often the felt needs of people will well up sermons within us. God will actually bring a Scripture passage to mind that we can share.

Focus on the essentials. Don’t get lost in the minutia of theological details. Instead, focus on the testimony of God and Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul says that the power is in the gospel. Make sure that you keep the main thing the main thing.

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