This is an older sermon from November 2006, but given I've just uploaded it to the server, and added an inline MP3 player to the site, I thought I'd post a link to it anyway. (more…)
Archive for February, 2008
I’ve been meditating for quite some time on 1 Cor 1:17-25, and tonight I came across another verse that cross references it beautifully and thought that I’d share it.
Let me start by stating that the premise here is evangelism. I’d also add that I’m no shining example of this, in fact this is in some respects borne of my frustration with myself and my own unwillingness to live this out. This is the lowest beggar preaching to other beggars….
In 1 Cor 1:17-25 Paul is addressing the divisions in the Corinthian church, and he does this by explaining that his approach was and is to keep the gospel simple. Specifically he says "For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power" (1 Cor 1:17). In fact he says "I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2).
Given the propensity of some (including myself at times) to fall back on an apologetic stance when dealing with unbelievers, let me say that this verse specifically addresses this propensity. The word translated "eloquent wisdom" in 1 Cor 1:17 includes approaches of a philosophical, scientific or otherwise worldly nature.
What does it say about this wisdom? It says that it empties the cross of its power. To be precise the sentence construction is that Paul did not come with this approach so that he would not empty the cross of its power.
We are to be "prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15) – what is the reason for the hope in me if it is not the saving work of Christ? How should we defend against this? By telling them of the work of Christ and how I have hope as a result of this. We are defending against the hope in us, not the reliability of scripture.
Indeed we are called to preach the word in season and out of season (and given it could only ever be in season or out of season this means at all times in all circumstances). To convolute this by talking about apologetics, philosophy, creationism, or whatever is simply emptying the cross of its power if the end goal is to evangelise the lost. Thus, using this approach is a waste of time in this regard.
To further clarify this, let us consider Gal 5:11. In Galatia certain men had come into the church and were preaching legalism, specifically that believers needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. To this Paul makes this interesting statement: "But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed." The inference is of course that the cross is offensive to Jews, and that by getting circumcised, the believers were accommodating Judaism. The interesting part is that this accommodation removes the offense of the cross, and thereby averts any persecution.
There are two startling assumptions in there. Firstly the cross is supposed to be offensive, and secondly believers are supposed to be persecuted!
So, not only is worldly wisdom in evangelism pointless and serves to convolute the gospel, but it also reduces the offense of the cross and serves (intentionally or not) to avert persecution by accommodating the worlds way of thinking.
How does it do this? We live in a modernistic world – that is one where intellect, rationality and reason are highly exalted and draw respect and acclaim. Rather than confronting sin and rebellion with the news that our debt was nailed to the cross (Col 2:14) and if we believe we will be saved (Rom 10:9), we too try to accommodate reason and rationality by tearing apart world views at an intellectual, philosophical and scientific level – which incidentally does not convert people, but generally just sets them more firmly against our views. In other words we try to fight them on their (our?) level, rather than taking the discussion to their soul and letting the word of God do its work through the spirit of God.
Not only this, but to do this, we must spend time taking in the information to be able to do this effectively (which it can never be anyway) rather than spending our time in prayer and reading the word to prepare us to share the simple gospel of Christ.
Now back to 1 Cor 1:17-25. In verse 18, Paul says bluntly that the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Now it is natural to be ashamed of speaking foolishness, but are we prepared to be seen as foolish in order to simply obey scripture? If your heart is the same as mine, the answer may well be no.
However this will just not do. Paul said that he was not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). Surely this is the example we are to follow.
Timothy seemed to have this problem of being ashamed of the gospel and Paul gave him some sound advice: "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God"(2 Ti 1:6-8).
Paul didn’t instruct Timothy to learn the latest techniques in apologetics, rather he encouraged him to fan into flame the gift of God, because God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control. Because of this Timothy (and us) should not be ashamed, but willingly share in suffering for the gospel.
How do we fan this gift into flame? Simply by spending our time reading the word, praying and then doing what we are commanded to do. This is clear from the reason Paul gave that he was not ashamed of the gospel in verse 12 "But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me." Being convinced that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me has more to do with the one I trust than support from empirical data of His existence. Thus, we should heed the sound words of scripture.
Personally I want to spend more time understanding the word of God than interpreting scientific data founded on uniformitarian and Darwinian assumptions. The word of God, not science is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness. This should be the focus of our discussions with unbelievers, not worldly data, philosophy or science.
When we get this wrong we fail to give the Holy Spirit room to move and depend instead on the intellect, which without Holy Spirit wrought transformation, will never come to the conclusion that we want them to come to. Their hearts are darkened and their thinking has become futile (Rom 1:21). The preaching of the word of God is the only hope for the unbeliever (Rom 10:14-17), and this is what we are commanded to do.
This is truly good news to simple believers such as myself because it means we don’t have to read up on all the latest apologetics theories, creation science or philosophical perspectives in order to defend the word of God. In fact we don’t have to defend the word of God at all, neither are we commanded to do so. The Lord is more than capable of defending His word, and has done so repetitively over the last several millennia through the schemes and plans of mankind bent on destroying His word and His people. Now all those people and their schemes are dead, but the word of God abides forever.