Accept No Other, Proclaim No Other
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 2:1–5
Accept No Other, Proclaim No Other1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Sunday, February 20, 2005
Pastor Randy Smith
Jonathan Edwards in his classic, Religious Affections, once said:
It should always be noted that the more excellent something is the more likely it will be imitated. There are many false diamonds and rubies, but who goes about making counterfeit pebbles? However, the more excellent things are the more difficult it is to imitate them in their essential character and intrinsic virtues. Yet the more variable the imitations be, the more skill and subtlety will be used in making them an exact imitation.
Edwards makes a simple, yet noteworthy observation. The greater the value of an object, the greater the attempt to produce counterfeits. We have archeological and artistic counterfeits. We have false crabmeat, fake money and fool's gold. Yet how many in Iowa have spent any energy searching for a substitute for dirt? How many in Texas have sought to counterfeit tumbleweeds? How many on the Jersey Shore have tried to reproduce salt water?
If the extent of a counterfeit is determined by the intrinsic value of an object, as Edwards said, we must ask ourselves what is the most valuable object in our possession and to what degree have cheap and worthless substitutes been created? Let's pause and think about that for a moment. What is the most valuable possession we have been given by God? Is it our home? Our finances? Our employment? Our family? May I submit to you, beloved, that arguably the most valuable object in our possession is the Gospel? Often in the Bible the Gospel is called a "treasure" (2 Cor. 4:7; 2 Tim. 1:14). The word literally means "the Good News." The Gospel as it is referred to in the book of Romans, is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16).
We have been entrusted with a message, a treasure that can save us and those with whom we share it, from the judgment of God to be consummated in hell. On the positive side, the message leads to eternal fellowship with the living God! Apart from God Himself, is there any greater possession we could desire? Apart from God Himself, is there any greater gift He could entrust to our stewardship?
Well, following Edwards's logic, if the message is that valuable we should naturally expect to come across counterfeits. And we do! Humans have forever adopted cheap substitutes for the message of salvation. Satan has delighted in nothing greater than to distort the true Gospel and convince people to accept an incorrect and impotent imposter.
We have false religious systems. Yet the true Gospel speaks of salvation exclusively in Christ alone. "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved" (Ac. 4:12). We have Christian deviations from the biblical Gospel. Yet the Bible says, "If any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed" (Gal. 1:9). In a nutshell, we have more people accepting the counterfeits than accepting the reality. And like any counterfeit, the substitute can appear very precious, but when compared to the reality it becomes utterly worthless.
As we have learned the past few weeks, the Apostle Paul was dealing with a very divisive Corinthian church. Their divisions were a result of their worldly boasting which was a result of their worldly pride. Therefore the Apostle needed to give them a dosage of humility. Last week we saw how he reminded them of their humble beginnings. They were in Christ by God's doing (1:30). They were called by God who quite often calls the foolish, the weak and the despised things of the world (1:26-28).
Now, in his continued attempt to humble this prideful church, Paul attacks their esteemed knowledge and philosophy. Paul explains that the message of salvation is not based on the wisdom of man. That a little Jew could come down from a carpenter's shop in Nazareth and be executed as a common criminal by way of crucifixion and then have His death atone for the sins of the world is sheer foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews (1:23). But this was the massage faithfully preached by the Apostle. It is one that defers all boasting to the Lord (1:29, 31). And it is the only one capable of bringing salvation. Therefore it must be accepted in humility and presented with accuracy.
In a world of counterfeits and imposters, we must examine the biblical Gospel and the biblical way to present it. That will be the topic of this morning's message.
1, THE MISUSE OF THE MESSAGE
In verse one of chapter two, Paul explains how the message can be misused. He says, "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God."
Paul begins by saying, "When I came to you." According to the book of Acts, Paul spent 18 months "teaching the Word of God among (the Corinthians)" (Ac. 18:11). In verse one, Paul recalls this extended stay in Corinth. During that time he says he did not come with superior speech. He avoided the elaborate rhetoric of the Grecian culture. No flowery words. No philosophical terminology. He abstained from worldly persuasion. He stayed clear of gimmicks. He didn't peddle the Gospel like a used car salesman. His speech was plain and unvarnished. As a matter of fact, his approach led many of his opponents in Corinth to say "his letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible" (2 Cor. 10:10). Paul refused to place his oratory techniques in the forefront whereby they might impress his audience, but overshadow the message.
According to verse 1, Paul also refused to clothe the message with the wisdom of the world. You see, worldly wisdom is contrary to God's wisdom. Worldly wisdom showcases the status of man. Worldly wisdom is forever on the change. Worldly wisdom can be rejected. Why would Paul ever stoop to such a level when the eternal, unchanging Gospel is the revelation of God's glory contrary to the wisdom of man?
What Paul's telling us is that we don't need to "spice up" the message of salvation. The "testimony of God" as it is called in verse 1 does not need a marketing strategy. It is not like the Super Bowl that needs hundreds of gimmicks to sell its product. God's product can stand on its own. Anything added does not enhance the message; on the contrary, it only detracts from the message.
Paul's purpose in all this was to avoid presenting himself as a skilled communicator or brilliant philosopher, but rather he wished to be seen as a humble witness of God's testimony. He did not want anyone to pin his or her eternal hope on a preacher's eloquence. He did not want to eclipse the message in any way. He wanted people to see the Gospel in all its glory as He hid behind the cross.
2. THE MODE OF THE MESSAGE
And that leads us to our second point, "The Mode of the Message." In verse 2 Paul said, "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified."
Paul did not seek human applause or worldly admiration. In 2 Corinthians 4 he said, "For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:5). Paul did not seek any attention for himself. On the contrary, he wanted people to clearly see the Man behind his message. Had he come with superior speech and brilliant logic, he would have minimized the message and maximized himself. Yet, in preaching Christ crucified, the simple message of the cross, God receives all the attention. Mark it beloved; a true evangelist always points people away from himself or herself to Christ. When people walk away giving more praise to the Christian speaker rather than Christ, something went drastically wrong.
As Christians we are all ambassadors for the King. We have been commissioned with His message and not our own. We must be sure that we speak accurately on His behalf. We have no right to tinker with the message. We seek not to discredit the King with our words and actions, and we dare not seek to steal His honor and glory. We are only humble messengers, simple mouthpieces, used by another who is much greater.
And when we speak on His behalf, the message we bring is not ourselves, our feelings or our insights. The message we bring is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul said, "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified."
Now preaching Christ crucified (1:18, 23; 2:2) does not mean that Paul only spoke of the physical sufferings of Jesus. As a matter fact, one of the biggest attacks against Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ, was that it did a relatively poor job of explaining the meaning or theological implications behind the death of Christ. So preaching Christ crucified first and foremost means explaining the nature and purpose of the crucifixion. That was the heartbeat of Paul's ministry yet something that is unknown and ignored in most churches today.
Could you explain to someone: Why Jesus went to the cross? Why Jesus had to be sinless? Why Jesus had to be a human? Why Jesus faced the wrath of God? Why Jesus shed His blood? Why God raised Jesus from the dead? How a person can receive forgiveness through Christ's death? What is faith and repentance?
Now obviously, Paul taught more than the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ when he spent 18 months in Corinth. We know he preached the whole counsel of God. However, Christ and Him crucified was the cornerstone, the foundation of all He presented. The cross was his ultimate focus. And from that historical act, Paul urged people to believe Christ, trust Christ, love Christ and obey Christ.
3. THE MANNER OF THE MESSAGE
Let's move on to the "Manner of the Message."
Imagine you were delegated by the President of the United States to bring top-secret information regarding nuclear warheads to the current leader of Russia. Knowing that countless lives are on the line, would you alter the message in any way? Would you refuse to deliver the message? Would you be cocky or flippant or arrogant?
All of us, like Paul, have been commissioned with an even greater message. The message is not from our President, but from our Creator. Physical lives are at stake, but so is the eternal destiny of their souls. So it is only when we understand the weight of the Gospel and our humble role as an ambassador that we will share the message and speak in the manner Paul mentioned in verse 3. He said, "I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling."
Let's unpack these three terms. To the world, weakness is a weakness, but to God, weakness is a virtue. We learned last week that God delights in using the weak so He might "shame the things that are strong" (1:27) and display His power to a greater degree. Paul understood this concept. As a matter of fact, he even boasted about (his) weaknesses in 2 Corinthians 12 "so that the power of Christ may dwell in (him)" (2 Cor. 12:9). This attitude was foolishness to the worldly Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:10) and unfortunately many Christians today, but totally in line with the wisdom of God to display the power of God. Only an attitude of weakness on our part can rightly display the power of the cross on God's part.
Paul also said that he came in fear. The book of Acts says Paul arrived at Corinth on the heels of being rejected by the Athenians (Ac. 17:32). In Corinth we read about severe persecution that came upon the Paul and the believers (Ac. 18:9, 12, 17). And though these events no doubt affected Paul, I believe the fear that he was speaking of here was a fear of God. He knew the gravity of his responsibility. He understood his inadequacy and sin. He recognized his accountability before God. Therefore he adopted godly wisdom rather than worldly wisdom, knowing that the "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Pr. 1:7; cf. Job 28:28; Psm. 111:10; Pr. 9:10; 15:33; Ecc. 12:13).
Verse 3 says he came in weakness, fear and finally, much trembling. Paul was the furthest thing from a coward. He suffered more for the Gospel than all of us combined. Therefore the "much trembling" refers to an understanding of his responsibilities in light of his insufficiencies. It was the result of a man who rightly feared the Lord. When we revere the Lord, we fear Him. And when we fear Him, we tremble in His holy presence.
The story is told of a young preacher who entered the pulpit with a cocky, self-reliant, prideful swagger. His message bombed and he departed from the pulpit in weakness and humility. The old preacher said to another, "If he would have originally come up the way he departed he would have been more successful."
If Paul came to our church to preach the Gospel, I don't think he'd spend all of his time with jokes and clever stories. I don't think he'd parade around on the platform like a buffoon. I don't even think he'd be concerned as to what we thought about him regarding his inability to entertain or faithful use of offensive doctrines. On the contrary, I think he'd come in humility. I think he'd preach God's Word. I think he'd want to see God get all the glory. And through his weakness, fear and much trembling, God would display the power of the cross.
4. THE METHOD OF THE MESSAGE
This thought is confirmed in our fourth point: "The Method of the Message." In verse 4 he says, "And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power."
Paul desired not to rely on the tactics of worldly wisdom (manipulation, gimmicks, rhetoric, emotionalism, man-pleasing) to persuade people to trust Christ. He persuaded them to trust Christ (Ac. 18:4; 28:23; 2 Cor. 5:11) through the sheer preaching of the Gospel alone. He knew that if he achieved "decisions" based on his own wisdom (verse 4) the "demonstration of the Spirit and of power" would be nonexistent (cf. Ac. 1:8; 10:38; 1 Thes. 1:5-6). He would have robbed the Gospel of its power. The conversions would be spurious since their faith would be in a compelling speaker and not from the power of the Holy Spirit who transforms hearts. The result would be unbelievers in the church with a false assurance of their salvation and humans stealing the glory due God and God alone.
Charles Spurgeon, also know as the "Prince of Preachers" put it well. "The power that is in the Gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher, otherwise men would be the converters of souls, nor does it lie in the preacher's learning, otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach until our tongues rotted, till we would exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless the Holy Spirit be with the Word of God to give it the power to convert the soul."
5. THE MOTIVATION OF THE MESSAGE
So, as we move to the fifth point, what was Paul's motivation? What did he seek to achieve in his preaching? Paul preached Christ crucified without worldly wisdom and persuasive words in weakness, fear and much trembling demonstrating the power of the Holy Spirit (verse 5) "so that (their) faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God."
May it never be that we say, "She is a disciple of lady A" or "He is a disciple of man B." May all who teach the Word in whatever format see to produce fully committed disciples of Jesus Christ. May their motivation be in line with Scripture. Colossians 1:28, "And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ."
What is the aim of every Bible teacher and evangelist? "To," as John Piper says, "beget and build faith." To see people trust Christ for their salvation and then to see them continue to trust Him in wholehearted obedience. Whether we teach 3 year olds or a class of 300 adults, whether we share the Gospel among the churchgoers or the heathen, our purpose is to bring the message of Christ crucified, the Word inspired by the Holy Spirit to bear on all people whereby He, the Holy Spirit, can use His Word to transform lives. When we teach our insights, the Holy Spirit has nothing to use. But when we accurately present His message, we then get out of the way and watch Him display His power knowing that the Word of God never returns void (Isa. 55:11).
David Hegg in his book, Appointed to Preach, wrote:
Today, the pressure to fill auditoriums and services has driven many pastors to place the felt needs, or tastes, of the people above their duty to Christ. On every hand we hear of the Gospel being molded into a non-confrontative message intended to meet felt needs and impress the sinful heart. And, by most standards, this new philosophy of church life is working, as more and more auditoriums are filled with people hungry for a message that will affirm that they are actually on fairly good terms with the Almighty. But the biblical message is the message of the cross. It cuts right across the grain of the modern age's preoccupation with pride, tearing down the façade and exposing the wretchedness of the human heart…Unfortunately, while the modern "un-gospel" may fill seats, it is the true gospel of sin and grace that is "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16) (p. 46).
God help us if we ever resort to: worldly wisdom, persuasive arguments or superior speech. May we clearly teach His Word so the faith demonstrated at the Grace Tabernacle will rest not on the wisdom of man, but solely on the power of God to transform the children of God unto the glory of God. May we accept and proclaim no cheap counterfeits in place of the pure, unadulterated Gospel of Christ crucified!