Posts Tagged 'Preaching'

5 P’s

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It’s good to get along with people – with as many people as you can. Nobody sets out to become the object ridicule, scorn or mockery. Most of us try to avoid confrontation and seek the approval, tacit or otherwise, of people. The idea of being singled out for special treatment – think persecution – gives us pause. It is something to be avoided. The apostle Paul believed this to be true and made it part of his teachings:

Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible. (Romans 12:18 TLB)

However, sometimes the Christian just can’t “be at peace” with some people. An unfortunate and overriding idea throughout the New Testament is that from time to time Christians may expect persecution, but that experience should be considered a blessing.

I demand that you love each other, for you get enough hate from the world! But then, it hated me before it hated you. (John 15:17, 18 TLB)

When you are reviled and persecuted and lied about because you are my followers—wonderful! Be happy about it! Be very glad! for a tremendous reward awaits you up in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted too. (Matthew 5:11, 12 TLB)

If that weren’t bad enough, later on Peter got into the persecution bandwagon and wrote that Christians ought to rejoice – be happy, mind you – when they are persecuted on account of their faith.

Dear friends, don’t be bewildered or surprised when you go through the fiery trials ahead, for this is no strange, unusual thing that is going to happen to you. Instead, be really glad—because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterwards you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory in that coming day when it will be displayed. (1 Peter 4:12, 13 TLB)

Now, lest you think that Christians should run around actively looking to be persecuted, that’s not the idea at all. Hopefully times of persecution will be few and far between. But, if you as a Christian face some kind of persecution because of your belief in Jesus Christ, then that’s actually a good thing because it means that your life, in some way, resembles that of Jesus Christ’s. If the world persecuted Him, and the world persecutes you, then you must be doing something right.

Power and preaching, Acts 3:1 – 21

But Peter said, “We don’t have any money for you! But I’ll give you something else! I command you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk! ”

Then Peter took the lame man by the hand and pulled him to his feet. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankle bones were healed and strengthened so that he came up with a leap, stood there a moment and began walking! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. (Acts 3:6 – 8 TLB)

This incident reminds of an earlier verse in Acts:

A deep sense of awe was on them all, and the apostles did many miracles. (Acts 2:43 TLB)

No wonder people in Jerusalem, and especially members of the fledgling church there, were in “awe.” Miracles of the type in Acts 3 don’t happen every day! That’s why they’re called “miracles.” The circumstances surrounding this miracle were really the intersection of two habits. One was the habit of Peter and John visiting the temple; the other was the habit of the lame man being carried to the temple to beg. It’s interesting (and fortunate for the lame beggar!) that even after the formation of the new church the disciples continued to attend services at the temple. This tells us that in spite of their faith in Jesus Christ, they continued to faithfully observe the obligations of their Jewish faith. Josephus tells us that even during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD the priests continued this religious tradition of going twice a day to the temple, in the morning and in the evening, to pray and offer their sacrifices on the altar.

This miracle was completely unexpected. God frequently does the unexpected to get the attention of people. Jim Cymbala notes:

People pay attention when they see that God actually changes persons and sets them free. When someone is healed or released from a life-controlling bondage, everyone takes notice.

He’s right about that, of course. This lame man got far more than he bargained for this day! He was gloriously healed “in the name of Jesus Christ.” That interesting phrase is used to this day and a lot of people, even those who use it when they pray, don’t know what it means. A name stands for all that the person is. So the name of Christ would include all the power and authority of Christ. When Peter, then, exercised the healing power “in the name of Christ,” he was, as it were, standing in place of Christ, representing Him and His authority and power. The man was healed, completely and instantaneously. His faith responded to Peter’s words and the grip of his hand. This is a powerful illustration of what happens to the helpless sinner, who is a spiritual cripple unable to help himself. When he responds in faith and obedience, as this lame man did, he finds new life and power to stand and walk upright in the way of righteousness.

There were three consequences of this remarkable miracle. First, the lame man was filled with joy. This is understandable; you’d be filled with joy to if all of a sudden your bones straightened out and for the first time you could stand up and walk like everybody else! Second, God received praise. The man stopped his begging and accompanied Peter and John into the temple. This suggests that he knew this miracle came from the power of God. Third, the people that witnessed this miracle were amazed and testified about what they had seen.

Not wanting to waste a golden opportunity, just like he did on the Day of Pentecost, Peter took advantage of what happened to preach a sermon. He took a current event and used it as an object lesson to exalt the name of Jesus. The people were doubtlessly impressed with these two apostles, but Peter put them in their place, rebuking them for not understanding how the healing happened. It wasn’t Peter or John who did it, it was Jesus, the one they killed.

Almost as remarkable as the healing of the lame man was the astounding spiritual transformation of Peter. Here was the cowardly man who, just weeks earlier, denied that he even knew Jesus, standing up in front of people proclaiming Him to be the Messiah.

Purity and purging, Acts 5:1 – 11

The opening verses Acts 5 record the sad story of a husband and wife, members of the church in Jerusalem. These very early days of the church were heady indeed. The church grew in leaps and bounds, propelled by the power of the Holy Spirit and the unrestrained preaching of the Word of God. This new “movement” attracted all kinds of people, including, in the case of this couple, liars.

What happened to Ananias and Sapphira reminds of what Peter himself would write later:

For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin first among God’s own children. And if even we who are Christians must be judged, what terrible fate awaits those who have never believed in the Lord? (1 Peter 4:17 TLB)

The church was growing and was influential, and Satan wouldn’t have any of that! In chapter 4 he tried by means of some outward persecution to stifle the Word of God. We are told that the authorities came and, even while Peter was still preaching, arrested him and tossed him and John into jail. It was a futile attempt; these men were guilty of nothing. Satan’s attempt to stop the Gospel by attacking the church from without failed. Now he would attack from within.

But there was a man named Ananias (with his wife Sapphira) who sold some property and brought only part of the money, claiming it was the full price. (His wife had agreed to this deception.)But Peter said, “Ananias, Satan has filled your heart. When you claimed this was the full price, you were lying to the Holy Spirit. The property was yours to sell or not, as you wished. And after selling it, it was yours to decide how much to give. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us, but to God.” (Acts 5:1 – 4 TLB)

This couple had lied and they both paid the ultimate price. Their lives were taken. God intervened in this situation to preserve the purity of the words and work of this church by purging out some of the weak members of the group. Subtraction is better than addition, sometimes. If this divine judgment seems a bit harsh, keep in mind that Ananias and Sapphira lied to the whole church. If they could do that, God knew what else they were capable of doing. Dishonesty among believers can lead to all kinds of trouble, not the least of which is a ruined testimony in the community. This God would not allow. One Bible scholar wrote:

The offense of Ananias and Sapphira showed contempt for God, vanity and ambition in the offenders, and utter disregard of the corruption which they were bringing into the church. They thought more of the display made at the Apostle’s feet than of the offense before God’s eyes.

Indeed. Still, it’s hard to understand how there could have been such hypocrites in the Early Church so soon after the coming of the Holy Spirit, and it’s is hard to comprehend why selfish, insincere people would join a church today, only to cause trouble and division.

Nothing will kill the power of a church’s testimony faster than a church filled with sinning Christians. There is no substitute for personal purity. But that kind of purity is expensive.

The Lord’s intervention apparently had the desired effect:

Terror gripped the entire church and all others who heard what had happened. (Acts 5:11 TLB)

This is an important verse because it’s the very first time the group of believers in Jerusalem was referred to as a “church.” The use of this word by the Christians implied that they, not the Jews, were the “true people of God.”

As a result of this purging three things happened. First, the purity of the church remained intact. Second, godly fear and reverence came upon all the members. They realized it was a serious thing (if not dangerous!) to be a follower of Christ. Lastly, a new power was experienced by the church. Signs and wonders filled the assembly.

Persecution, Acts 5:17-24

The High Priest and his relatives and friends among the Sadducees reacted with violent jealousy and arrested the apostles, and put them in the public jail. (Acts 5:17, 18 TLB)

The Saducess were behind this. The preaching of the resurrection, something this Jewish religious sect steadfastly denied, angered them and the apostles were unceremonially cast into jail. God, however, had other plans:

But an angel of the Lord came at night, opened the gates of the jail and brought them out. Then he told them, “Go over to the Temple and preach about this Life!” (Acts 5:19, 20 TLB)

Thomas Watson made this keen observation:

The angel fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer that fetched the angel.

An astute observation. It’s the prayers of the faithful that move the hand of God. In this case, the Lord set His preachers free and commanded them to back to doing the very thing that got them arrested in the first place!

This whole incident must have really aggravated those Saducees. They didn’t believe in the resurrection, and that’s all these Christians were talking about, and they didn’t believe in angels, and here an angel set the preachers free! God does indeed have a sense of humor.

Just like the night before, they were arrested again and imprisoned. The leaders of the nation began to accuse the apostles. Apparently all twelve of them were tried together, and had it not been for the timely intervention of Gamaliel, these Christian preachers would have been killed.

It was Peter who made the famous statement:

“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29b TLB)

God had specifically told the apostles to do exactly what the church and political leaders told them not to do. And this brings us back to what Paul wrote:

Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible. (Romans 12:18 TLB)

Peter, John, and the rest of the members of the early church had a moral obligation to obey God. Certainly God through the angel had ordered the preaching to resume, but our Lord issued His Great Commission and it is still in force two millennia later. All of Christ’s followers are to do what the apostles and members of the early church did: preach the Gospel, share their faith with the lost, and make converts.

So, yes it is good to get along with people. But it’s better to get along with God. It’s certainly safer in the long run.

That is why we can say without any doubt or fear, “The Lord is my Helper, and I am not afraid of anything that mere man can do to me.” (Hebrews 13:6 TLB)

The Message of the Cross

The essence of preaching, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Paul had spent considerable time condemning a “partisan spirit” that existed within the Corinthian church in the preceding group of verses.  This “partisan spirit” had caused some divisions in the church as members of the different parties claimed loyalty to different leaders within the church.  Some followed Peter, others Apollos , and still others were fiercely loyal to Paul.  On this, the great apostle taught that there was no place for this kind of false loyalty, that the Cross of Jesus Christ made unity the normal state in the Church.  Regardless of who what preaching, they were preaching the same message:  the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In this group of verses, Paul contrasts that which is foolishness to the world (the preaching of the Cross) to what is foolishness to God (the philosophies of man).

1.  Foolishness of Unbelievers:  Preaching, 1:18-23

These verses flow naturally from what Paul mentioned in verse 17:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Verse 18 may be summarized like this:  The preaching of the Cross, or the Gospel message, has a two-fold consequence.  To those who are lost it is foolishness.  To those who know God, it is the power of God.

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.

To the unsaved–those who are even now in the process of dying–the “message of the cross is foolishness.”  The Greek word translated “foolishness” is moria, and can refer to anything that is irrational, stupid or worthless.  For the Gentiles of Paul’s day, surely those words described the story of Christ’s crucifixion.  To be hung up on a tree or cross and left to die was the worst punishment reserved for the vilest of criminals.  So Paul’s message of the cross was absolute nonsense to the educated Greeks.

On the other hand, that precise message becomes the “power,” dynamis, of God to those who are “being saved.”  Before we discuss this “dynamis,” let’s consider the phrase “being saved.”  This phrase helps us understand the nature of salvation because there is dimensionality to our salvation that looks to the past, the present and to the future.

Past:    “For in this hope we were saved”  Romans 8:24; “By grace you have been saved”  Ephesians 2:5, 8; “By his mercy he saved us”  Titus 3:5

Present:  “Through which [the Gospel] you are being saved”  1 Corinthians 15:2; “Those who are being saved”  2 Corinthians 2:15

Future:      “How much more shall we be saved?”  Romans 5:9; “Thus all Israel shall be saved”  Romans 11:26

Believers are saved during their life on earth in principle and as they live they continually grow in this salvation with the realization that it will be consummated completely when they leave this earth and enter into the presence of God.

To people like that, Paul writes, this message of the Cross is God’s power, it is not simply a nice story or good advice, it is God’s own Word which fills them with His power.  To illustrate that God’s wisdom, the message of the Cross, is a power that operates in human affairs, Paul gives four illustrations drawn from both history and contemporary life.

(A)  The first illustration is taken from Isaiah 29:24, which Paul quotes in verse 19:

For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Understanding the context of this verse is key to understanding Paul’s point.  Isaiah is referring to a political alliance Israel had made with Egypt which was considered at the time it was entered into a masterpiece of  human wisdom and diplomacy.  However, in God’s sight, what His people had done was utterly foolish for it resulted in Judah being reduced to poverty and a state of helplessness.  Israel sought to deliverance from their enemies, not from God as they should have, but from their own wisdom.  Godet makes the point that it was God’s responsibility to deliver His people, not the responsibility of able politicians.

Gordon Fee observes:

Yet it is the folly of our human machinations that we think we can outwit God, or that lets us think that ought to be as smart as we are.

(B)  The second illustration is verse 20, and, like the first, is taken from Hebrew history, and also taken from the writings of the prophet Isaiah, where Paul lifts the prophet’s questions and makes them his own.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

The general reference in Isaiah’s questions is to the Assyrian conquerers (Isa. 36, 37) who came and besieged Jerusalem with great military power and overwhelmed the Jews, carrying off the spoils of conquest.   The “wise” was probably the Greek sophist, who could argue any topic and arrogant sincerity.  The “scholar” would refer to the stubborn and equally arrogant interpreter of Jewish law and the “philosopher of this age” comes from the Greek meaning to argue or dispute.  Paul probably has in mind both the self-confident Greek philosopher and the self-satisfied Jew, both of whom relied on human wisdom and tradition for salvation (Metz).

Paul summarizes his questions with a fourth question that serves to show that God is not indifferent to the proud pretensions of man.  As man displays his wisdom, God makes it all look foolish in two ways:  (1) by exhibiting its intrinsic worthlessness and corrupt results, and (2) by the power of the Cross set in opposition to it and triumphing over it (Lightfoot).

(C)  The third illustration of the failure of human wisdom is Paul’s sweeping indictment of all mankind in verse 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.

Paul is saying that for all his vaunted wisdom and philosophies, man has not been able to know God.  Of course, Paul does indicate that man can know about God in the world around him, Romans 1:18-20, but knowing about God is not knowing God.  Man is not incapable of knowing God personally using only his own wisdom.

Man not having recognized God…by the healthy use of his understanding, God manifests Himself to him in another revelation which has the appearance of folly (Godet).

Because man’s intelligence and wisdom cannot create a personal relationship with God, God resolved to show man how foolish he is to even attempt it by means of preaching.  In other words, how foolish is a person to spend years and years and countless dollars attempting to grasp the infinite Almighty when all he had to do was sit and listen to the Word of God being preached?

(D)  Verses 22-23 contrasts the attitude of Jews and Greeks during Paul’s time to God’s wisdom and power.  The Jews, said Paul, demanded signs and evidences in ceremonial observances according the dictates of the law.  The Greeks wanted rational explanations and sought to understand the workings of God through scientific methods of observations and deductions.  Both the Jews and the Greeks, though their methods differing, were in fact approaching God in exactly the same way; insisting that God reveal Himself to them according to their ideas.

Paul briefly mentions four qualities of God in these two verses:

  • the Power of God, which is Christ.  In this connection, Paul is referring to Christ’s work of re-creation.  Christ is God’s power in the redemption of mankind.  God’s power was revealed in His resurrection, which is the greatest miracle of all times.  This would more than satisfy the Jewish need for a sign.
  • the Wisdom of God.  Christ is God’s answer to the Greek need for wisdom, who consider the message of the Cross foolishness.
  • the Foolishness of God…is wiser than men.  In the eyes of man, some of God’s acts seem foolish, yet those so-called foolish acts are infinitely wiser than the wisdom of any man.
  • the Weakness of God…is stronger than men.  God appears to do things that are simple and foolish and weak in the opinion of man to show His wisdom and strength in the work of salvation.  The classic example of this is how God dealt with Paul’s thorn in the flesh.  In answer to Paul’s repeated request to have the thorn removed, which He believed God capable of doing, the Lord said, “My grace is adequate for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The essence of the Gospel, writes Metz, is the proclamation of a message from God, not the accommodation of God to man’s preconceived ideas.  What is the message of God?

Christ crucified

“Crucified” is written as a present participle, which is significant according to Morris:

Not only was Christ once crucified, but He continues in the character of the crucified one.  The crucifixion is permanent in its efficacy and its effects.

And that foolish notion was a stumbling block to Jews and craziness to Greeks.

2.  God’s way of saving:  Preaching, 1:26-31

Brothers, 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. 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. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 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. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Paul is now finished with contrasting God’s strength and man’s weakness and now he wants to draw attention to themselves and the circumstances under which God has called his people.  None of them were highly educated, politically powerful or wealthy.

Instead, God for His own purposes, has chosen people who seem to be foolish and weak and  helpless so that He might shame the wise and the powerful.  Why?  Because the things that impress human beings–intelligence, wealth, beauty, influence–are all fleeting and subjective.  Paul continues this thought in verse 28, where he mentions the “low born” ones and the ones who were “despised,” or frowned upon.  This would have been a powerful statement to the Corinthians since there were so many slaves in that city and so many of the “lower class” in the very large congregation there.  God has chosen people like that, says Paul, to show those who seem to be important that they are in reality incapable of accomplishing anything in regards to their salvation because their wisdom, power and influence are weak.

The very composition of the congregation at Corinth, a mixture of all classes of people, showed that nobody could glory in God’s presence; in other words, because rich and poor, smart and dull, slave and free, Jew and Greek, all worshiped together and shared a common salvation experience, nobody could say it was their standing in the community or any of their own merits that secured their salvation.  Salvation is all about Christ, not about us.  Each one of us, as we come to Christ in faith, exchange our filthy righteousness for His; we are placed in Christ and therefore we take on His likeness.

This brings us back to “the message of the Cross.”  The Object of all preaching must be Jesus Christ, not the preachers grand ideas and philosophies.  That is why no preacher has a right to “boast” in his education or accomplishments or abilities.  The problem that plagued the Corinthian church was the constant exaltation of the preacher; Peter, Paul or whomever.  The more the people looked to the man, the more divisions appeared in the church.  It’s a terrible sin to put the name of a man alongside that of his Lord.  Vine wrote:

The knowledge that we are indebted to the Lord for every good thing should keep us from glorying in self or anyone else.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, born in 1844 despised the Christian faith.  He viewed Jesus as a weakling who died a failure.  He hated Jesus and all who followed Him.  As far as Nietzsche was concerned, God was dead and Jesus was a fool.  It’s hard to imagine he was born into a family of preachers!

Modern progressives hold very similar views.  They say Christ’s teachings, the Ten Commandments, and the teachings of Scripture in general are out of date and irrelevant.  In fact, they believe the Bible and the Church are dangerous to man’s own pursuits and strip man of his freedoms.

And yet, God chooses the foolish and the weak things of the world to shame people like Nietzsche and the secularists, the humanists, and the agnostics.  In truth, God hates their arrogance and their arbitrary, man-made standards and He brings those belief systems to ruin as time goes on.  Those who reject God and His ways don’t face anything but moral bankruptcy and a host of physical and emotional ills.  All the while God chooses what they would view as the weak and lowly people to advance His kingdom on earth.  God honors the work of those who are so weak they must depend on Him totally and without reservation.   And He delights in people whose lives are wholly dedicated to Him and who set their lives in harmony with God will and His Word and who glory in Jesus Christ, their Lord.


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