Friday, December 13, 2013

What is the foolishness of preaching?

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
1 Cor. 1:21

How is it that the immortal God should clothe his revelation in mortality? Essentially that is the one question behind the “foolishness of preaching”, for it pleases God to save his frail beings through mere words spouting from the mouths of men. His wisdom chose the unlikely vehicle of preaching to save them that believe. And yet, the question draws us irretrievably back to another realization, that the coming of Christ is indeed God clothing himself in mortality, for in the biggest wonder of the ages, and all of creation, God has fully intended to reveal his wisdom through the tragic figure of his Son impaled upon the cross. God also has fully intended that the message of the Son’s victory over death should be proclaimed by mere mortal men. And, if you are like me, that is a precarious situation in which to find oneself. I find myself apprehensive of my own words, realizing that those words are words which people may or not find the gospel. What is this “foolishness of preaching”?

It was through the witnessing of the gospel that two friends were powered to challenge my world view, make me look at myself through God’s eyes, and come to him through the foolishness of preaching. I daresay you, if you have encountered God, have a similar story to tell and that would prove the foolishness of preaching is not at all what it would seem, because the very power of God is behind the weak words men would offer. From the Day of Pentecost onward, God has blessed his church through the outpouring of his Spirit when the gospel is preached.

It is at this point of “foolishness” that I would like to tarry for a bit, and explore what it may mean, but also what it does not mean. First, it does mean that the gospel, simply and plainly should be expressed, to the fullest bit of the preacher’s ability. Even while the preacher is preparing his message, he is to muster every bit of his creativity and persuasion, but all the while he is to know that results come from the quickening of the Holy Spirit, and no words themselves, apart from the Holy Spirit, would ever be adequate to move sinful man to confessing his dire need for a savior. I think the warning of Lewis to be applicable here: “He has room for people with very little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have. The proper motto is not ‘Be good, sweet maid and let who can be clever,’ but ‘Be good, sweet maid, and don’t forget that this involves being as clever as you can.’”1 The worker of evangelism is required to lay all the cleverness he might muster at the Master’s feet, but all the while he is to know that it is God who must empower the presentation of the gospel.

Which leads me to explain what it does not mean. It does not mean that we check our brain at the door when presenting the gospel. Sometimes I see the gospel presented in such a light that it looks ridiculous and seems to draw no one. What is wrong with telling the gospel that way? I rejoice in the gospel being presented, but the apt and wise student of the gospel should look at his audience and tailor his message to them. Does that sound far-fetched? Look at the sermon that Paul preached to Mars Hill in Acts 17. Paul identifies an “unknown” god that the people of Athens were careful to worship, lest his anger be stirred, and it is to that unknown god that Paul identifies as being the Lord God. It was a simple platform for gospel presentation; Paul found something, the unknown god, by which he could start communication of the gospel and move his audience to the place where they were more apt to hear. Chafer reminds us, “No human power or argument is sufficient to enlighten a darkened soul concerning the necessary steps into the way of life. This is a part of the work assigned alone to the all-sufficient Spirit.”2 Even the mighty Paul, or perhaps I should say, especially the mighty Paul, depended on God to enlighten men.

Look at the example of Paul. He had been a Pharisee, meaning he had most likely memorized vast portions of the Old Testament. When he became newly born, or born again, he then had to retrench all of his learning, putting all things in scripture under the headship of his Lord, and he spent many years doing just that. No one could ask for a more highly trained evangelist. He was trained well in the “wisdom of the world” and we find him quite able to use that wisdom, that his words might bring the glorious gospel to hearts that might be unwilling to listen to him otherwise.

So the principle of using every bit of our “wisdom” to gain a chance to express the gospel to an unwilling audience is established, and there is a place for the wise to speak, and, I think, be heard. But there is also a place for the timid soul to speak, and by the evident nature of his very timidness be heard. I fall much more into this category, and I am able to tell you that my very reluctance to speak shows through with my stuttering and general ineptness of speaking, which sometimes will draw attention as people discern that I speak of something that is so meaningful to me that I cannot keep it bottled up; it spills all out, and, I am afraid, makes an intolerable mess. But whether we speak from the well trained avenue, or what I call the compelled manner, the Spirit of the Lord is able to take our feeble words, endue them with his Spirit, and bring the very Word of life to a lost soul. But it is never our words, as words, flowery or compelled stuttering, are what God makes of them. “No human power or argument is sufficient to enlighten a darkened soul concerning the necessary steps into the way of life. This is a part of the work assigned alone to the all-sufficient Spirit.”3

We know the Word will cause offense; it is a stumbling block to those who refuse belief. “There is probably nothing that offends the modern sensibility more than the affirmation that the Bible is true in a unique, exclusive, universal sense.”4 What a wonder it is that our weak vessels, with our sinful natures, and our frail testimonies, should be used by the Holy God to proclaim the words of life! And God uses us successfully to a hostile audience, which by its very nature, hates our message. Is it not utterly amazing? I wonder if this is not one of the highest places for the sovereignty of God to show forth. If God can use us, frail, timid, proud, and arrogant, to bring forth his light to a darkened and hostile world, can he not do anything?

What motivation that should be to us—those of us who carry on with this “foolishness of preaching”. God means to take us, as we are, but fill us with his Spirit, use us for his purposes, and sometimes, some of those purposes include the awakening of dead souls. We who were dead in trespass, who now can realize how utterly broken we are, bring the very Word of life to those who are still dead. Not to us, Lord, but unto thy name be all the glory! And so it is, wonder upon wonder, miracle upon miracle, unto God be all the glory and majesty forever. The foolishness of preaching.

1. Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (pp. 77-78). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 572-573). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
3. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 572-573). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
4. Pearcey, Nancy (2010-09-01). Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (p. 32). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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