The Holy Spirit and Evangelism — #5
I Corinthians 2:1-5
The Spirit’s evangelistic method: human weakness and the power of the cross
Conversations about evangelism often turns to discussion of method, approach, communication theory, and so on. The names of great evangelists are trundled out and their speaking techniques examined. Paul here argues for a very different approach to evangelism. He says he did not use “lofty words or wisdom” (vs. 1); he did not use “plausible words of wisdom” (vs. 4); he did not make use of “human wisdom” (vs. 5). Paul eschewed human techniques, human designed plans, human ingenuity.
The preacher has a choice here. The sermon could become an attack on the evangelistic techniques of various evangelists. The danger of such an approach is that hearers will have their prejudices against evangelistic proclamation reinforced. Paul does not say he did not preach, in fact he makes clear he preached (vs. 4). He came to preach “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (vs. 3), because he himself had nothing to bring to the preaching, it was not rooted in his ability or his persuasiveness. His preaching was not rooted in his self-confidence. His preaching was rooted in the teaching of the cross, which as Paul says is a stumbling block and foolishness (I Cor. 1:23). Proclaiming the cross does not make sense in human terms, it is a turn-off, an offense, a thing to be explained away. (An aside: Much contemporary theology, both academic and popular, seeks to reduce the offensive nature of the cross.) Paul in this passage is clear, evangelism involves speaking, speaking about Jesus and the cross.
Speaking about Jesus and the cross throws the speaker on to resources not their own, for speaking about the cross defies human wisdom. To speak about the cross drives the speaker back to resting on the Spirit and trusting the Spirit to take the words, the stumbling words of weakness, and use them. There is no effective evangelism without the Spirit’s work. Those who come to faith because of human words have built their faith on a shaky foundation; a secure faith rests on the power of God which is demonstrated by the Spirit’s action in the world.
While the preacher would be well served to internalize Paul’s words, the preacher also has something to say to their hearers. The message of the gospel is simple; it is rooted in the cross. The cross is the power of God, foolish as it seems. In speaking the good news all speakers, ordained or lay people, students of the Bible for many years or brand new to the faith, eloquence and persuasiveness are not the measure of one’s effectiveness. In fact, one’s effectiveness is irrelevant. The Spirit takes the words spoken and uses them. The fact that the Spirit takes the words spoken so the listener hears the power of God does not mean the speaker is not needed. In the mystery of God, God uses frail human beings to proclaim his good news of Jesus and the cross. Weak and frightened as we may be, we are strengthened by the Spirit to speak.
“An impressive apostle as such would be no apostle. A winsome testimony would as such be no Christian testimony. The impressive and the persuasive may in its own sphere be necessary and right: for the apostle and their testimony it must always be, so to speak subtracted: beyond this their greatness, there, where in their own name and by their commission they have nothing more to say; there, the Christly begins, the testimony of Christ the crucified on the side of the speaker, and the faith which is not human wisdom but God’s power on the part of the listener, the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” – Karl Barth
“Paul’s own point needs a fresh hearing. What he is rejecting is not preaching, not even persuasive preaching; rather, it is the real danger in all preaching – self-reliance. The danger always lies in letting the form and content get in the way of what should be the single concern: the gospel proclaimed through human weakness but accompanied by the powerful work of the Spirit so that lives are changed through a divine-human encounter. That is hard to teach in a course in homiletics, but it still stands as the true need in genuinely Christian preaching.”
- Gordon Fee
“Lift high the cross”
“Born in song” (Brian Hoare)
“You, Lord, are both lamb and shepherd” (Sylvia Dunstan)
we trust in Your power, even as it is often found in weakness;
in Your wisdom, even as it is expressed in seeming foolishness;
in Your wholeness, even as it comes to us amid brokenness.
We do not ask this day for dazzling displays of strength,
electric exercises of intellectual prowess,
or marvelous manifestations of miracles.
We come simply to worship You.
Touch us this day, O Lord, sinners that we are,
that we might become Your saints,
Your body, Your children, Your church.
For this Temple of Your Spirit
is built not upon our own abilities, knowledge, or restorative skill,
but upon You, in Jesus Christ. Amen.
~ posted on My Redeemer Lives website. http://www.myredeemerlives.com/prayers.html
Creator God, we listen as the heavens declare your glory,
We seek to likewise sing of your glory.
And yet sometimes our words fall short.
Our very actions cause us to fall on our face.
Lord even if we appear foolish to the world
Let us proclaim Christ crucified.
May we burn with zeal for you,
That we let nothing get in our way of telling others about Jesus
Lord let your presence be in us, around us
breathing new life into us,
so that we may do this work you have called us to
Now let the words of our mouths
and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you,
O LORD, our rock and our redeemer.
— written by Rev. Abi, and posted on Rev. Abi’s Long and Winding Road blog.