Thank you all for putting up with me on Sunday. For the second time this winter, a cold has descended upon me, and I tried to keep a healthy distance from everyone. But the bigger problem was a late-night Saturday computer freeze that would not allow me to get my sermon notes printed, and it affected also the Powerpoint slides and a few other service items. I was up most the night trying to remedy the problem by remembering and hand writing an orderly set of notes of what I wanted to communicate. By noon I was totally exhausted, and then I left my handwritten notes at the office before writing this devotional. The weekend was a disaster, as is my health at the moment.
All to say … sorry this is later than advertised …
There is a gift of evangelism, without doubt. Some people have a unique ability to communicate the Gospel with passion. And those of us who work in the area of “professional” ministry have some measure of advantage, I suppose, in the communication part of it all.
But as a “pro” in this area, I envy you folks who are out in the world daily and have the opportunity to know and interact with people who are yet to trust in Christ. A problem with being a “church-based pro” is that I can go weeks at a time and never have a serious or deep interaction with anyone who is not already a Christian.
Early on in ministry life I realized that this was going to drive me crazy, so I made specific steps to be involved in endeavors beyond the church. In New Jersey before moving here 20 years ago, it was with a running club called “The Mercer Street Striders.” The club meetings happened to held in a Knights of Columbus building, I actually at one time had a key to it! Think of that – a local pastor of an independent Baptist Church, and I had a key to the K.O.C. building!
As we have said before and during this weekend of study, we all have a calling to be witnesses of the Gospel. And the big idea of the weekend is to help you understand that the power to find success as such is not to be found in ministry credentials, but in the power of the message of the cross.
In 1 Corinthians 1, as Paul begins writing to the troubled church of people who had fractured themselves into constituent groups around favorite teachers or styles, we read in verse 12 …
What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
Paul shoots down this sort of thinking that measured effectiveness by visible evidences of such as who was the best and most eloquent speaker, or who put on the best worship service … concluding that the real power resided elsewhere …
(verse 17) – For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
The real power in the church was not in who spoke, not in how exciting their time together was, but rather was in the life-changing power of the message of the cross.
(1:18-25) For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
How odd to speak of the cross as powerful.
- The cross was the ultimately most shameful death imaginable – designed to humiliate both the person hung on it and any who would associate with him.
- Secular writers of the early centuries mocked the cross message that was central to the Christian faith – calling it: “a perverse and extravagant superstition” … “a pernicious superstition” … and labelling Christians as people full of “sick delusions.”
- The true thinkers were those who reveled in “the wisdom” of the age – as in Corinth at the time of Paul’s writing (wherein was a culture much like our own) would be popularly found in one of several rational Greek philosophies … of the Epicureans, Stoics, Sophists, or Platonists. These were the Ivy Leaguers of the day.
But again, the real power is in the truth of the sacrifice achieved at the cross, and in the spirit-infused message of this truth through the mouthpiece of an ordinary person who possessed an undeniably changed life as a result …
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
And finally, three summary points …
- The world will never be sufficiently impressed with the gospel from a rational and logical point of view. There is a place for apologetics to give a rational defense, but the ultimate success will never be because it is the most rational message by human standards – there is an issue of faith involved.
- The power of the Gospel as evidenced in the changed life of a simple person is not only deniable, it is attractive!
- God especially uses the power of the message of the cross through an ordinary person. This is the sort of person God has always used – simple fishermen, converted tax collectors … you know – people like you and me.
Final thought – You are the pro when you have the message of the Gospel.