God’s church is a unique organism. It is not a committee, but it engages people together. It is not a club, but its members draw encouragement and strength from one another. It is not an organization, though it has rules and commitments. It is the living body of Christ – His hands and feet – to touch a lost world with a message of hope. The way it is to do this is unique as well.
Last time we saw four reasons that church bodies divide that were NOT good reasons:
1. They had confused the STANDARD of truth – the Eternal Word of God properly and carefully interpreted. No one gets to overrule God on what is important – and He has spoken. The church must stand for systematic, careful instruction of God’s Holy Word. If we do nothing else well, we must do this well. If we do everything else well and not this – our work is near meaningless in eternal value.
2.They confused the CENTRAL TRUTH of the church – the work and Word of Jesus our Lord. We aren’t a social agency or a social justice agency – our work eclipses those needs. The church must emphasize at every turn the importance of surrender to Jesus Christ, because He alone can save a man or woman, and He alone can change what is broken within them.
3. They confused the importance of the WORKER with the importance of the transforming work of God’s Spirit. It isn’t primarily the MEN that make it successful life changing – they play a minor role. Men and women of God are important, but not more important than the open and free flow of the transforming power of God through His Word.
4. They confused POPULAR thinking for RIGHT thinking. There are many ways to get people to respond emotionally that are not spiritually sound approaches. The church cannot be simple pragmatists – it works so it must be good. We must test every method and approach with the Word to be sure it is real and lasting in its quality.
As Paul continued his letter, he went back in time to the way he approached the beginnings of ministry at Corinth. He offered several important insights based on his experience:
Key Principle: There is nothing like the church of Jesus Christ. The rules of how to do what we do are set in fences that are unique to this work. Things that work in the world to attract and engage people are not necessarily allowed in the church.
FLASHY METHOD PROBLEM:
First, the basis of the conversion of lost people and foundation of that ministry was NOT simply or even primarily based on TECHNIQUE. There is much written today about the way the church should appeal to people. I don’t want to overstate the case – there certainly IS a point to having a clean and neat environment to our church home and a creative presentation of God’s truths. There is a reason we want the environment to reflect order and personal care – just as our homes should. At the same time, message should drive method in the church – not the other way around. Paul says it this way:
1 Corinthians 2:1 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 wasn’t arguing that he came unprepared or in mediocrity of presentation – simply that it wasn’t his impressive pyrotechnic display that drew people to Christ. The CENTER of the ministry is the MESSAGE, not the METHOD. Creativity is not only FINE, it is even REQUIRED in thinking through our public deportment and presentation of the Gospel – but this is much more than a local talent show.
Philip Kruis wrote: 7% of the impact of a speaker’s message comes through his words, 38% springs from the speaker’s tone of voice, and 55% from non-verbals. If this is true, that only 7% of what we say is communicated through the actual words we use, then there is a lot of room for miscommunication!
We have to balance creativity against distraction from the message and persuasive presentation of the simple truth of man’s lost-ness and need for a Savior. We also need to be open to using methods that DO enhance the message – and not codify old as sacred. Even experts can’t see forward well:
- “This ’telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” –Western Union internal memo, 1876.
- “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” –Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.
- “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” –David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
- “Who the heck wants to hear actors talk?” –H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
- “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” –Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949
- “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” –Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
- “I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.” –Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind.”
- “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” –The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957
- “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” –Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
- “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” –Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977
- “So we went to Atari and said, ’Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ’No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ’Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.’” –Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in he and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer. (sermon central illustrations).
We live in times when substance keeps being reduced and replaced with creative presentation. In entertainment that makes sense – in education it doesn’t. Math, science, reading – all of these skills require commitment to learning basic facts and a steadiness of logic – along with a lot of drills to ensure methods are sound. The church is primarily and education and information organization that houses a Divine transformation service offered by God’s empowering work. Our education must be sound – and drilled. Catchy sayings don’t replace solid truth – and people need the clear and concise teaching of the principles of God’s Word put in a way that will help them apply the right principles at the right time to the right problem.
It is perfectly acceptable in the world to consider the packaging of a product more than the product itself –but not in the church. The church must move TECHNIQUE back behind the message – or it could easily be caught up in just another show.
POWERFUL PERSONALITY PROBLEM:
Second, Paul purposed to put his PERSONALITY in the background, and tried with all that he was to put the person and work of Jesus out in front. The stronger the personality, the more tempted we become as leaders to drive what is happening around us. Someone said to me one time: “That man is too talented for his own good!” I knew what they meant. They LOVED the man, but his talents and natural abilities left you knowing HIM and not Jesus. “No man can preach Christ and himself at the same time!” Paul said it this way:
1 Corinthians 2:2 … For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
Look at the two things Paul emphasized in his own life – Paul wanted to really KNOW Christ while he was in their midst, and Paul wanted to really know the work that Christ did on the Cross. On first glance, Paul’s words seem wrong. After all, didn’t Paul already KNOW Jesus when he arrived on that second mission journey? Surely he was aware of all that Jesus had done – he already planted numerous churches across Asia Minor and Macedonia. So what was he saying?
Andrew Murray wrote these words, and I believe they will help set up exactly what Paul was communicating to the Corinthians: “God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him.” When Paul arrived in Corinth, he had recently been physically beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, had his family attacked in Thessaloniki, been singled out in Berea as the problem member of the team, and lost his footing on the presentation he made in Athens – basing it on relevant poems without Biblical text. He was dragged out, and he was alone. He didn’t feel strong – and he didn’t know feel like he could put much into the “flash” of his speaking. He simply fell into the arms of Jesus, who met him in a dream and promised him that if he stayed and followed, Jesus would protect him. Let’s look back at the events:
Acts 18:1 After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, 3 and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. 4 And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” 11 And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
It was because of this history that Paul went on to remind the Corinthians of the early days of the ministry by saying: 1 Corinthians 2:3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
It is perfectly acceptable to build celebrities in the world and let them mark brands with their identity – but not in the church. We are a BODY, and the trend toward Christian celebrity is a dangerous one that will yield “prima donnas for Christ” and allow us to elevate men beyond the truth – we are ALL SINNERS. I am not arguing to demean men and women of God – just not sacrifice truth to keep them happy.
LAZY HEARER PROBLEM:
Third, Paul knew it would always be TEMPTING to put every truth in the simplest terms for the least mature believers – trying to require very little of the hearers of the Word. The message of real surrender to Jesus and committed study of God’s Word would not be as easily accepted. Many ministries are deliberately cutting content so that they can be more appealing – as are our school systems. Over time, the slow “dumbing down” of the nation and its believers are leaving an anemic church in an immoral generation. Paul said it this way:
1 Corinthians 2:6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9 but just as it is written, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” 10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
Look very carefully at the way Paul described his ministry.
First, you will see that it was spoken in a godly and discerned WISDOM (Gk: “sophia”), in a way that required a level of spiritual discernment and growth to grasp (2:6a). The message of God’s Word isn’t supposed to be dressed in excessively hard words, but it truly requires people to THINK.
The point of ministry isn’t simply the number that come to church, but the number that become like Christ in the daily practices of their life. Trying to always make it simpler isn’t always the right thing.
Preachers and Bible teachers need to be scrutinized – even if it doesn’t seem kind – because people are gullible, and can be tricked. Let me illustrate with this Paul Harvey story:
In 1899 four newspaper reporters from Denver, CO, set out to tear down the Great Wall of China. They almost succeeded. Literally. The four met by chance one Saturday night, in a Denver railway depot. Al Stevens, Jack Tournay, John Lewis, Hal Wilshire. They represented the four Denver papers: the Times, the Post, the Republican, the Rocky Mountain News. Each had been sent by his respective newspaper to dig up a story—any story—for the Sunday editions; so the reporters were in the railroad station, hoping to snag a visiting celebrity should one happen to arrive that evening by train. None arrived that evening, by train or otherwise. The reporters started commiserating. For them, no news was bad news; all were facing empty-handed return trips to their city desks. Al declared he was going to make up a story and hand it in. The other three laughed. Someone suggested they all walk over to the Oxford Hotel and have a beer. They did. Jack said he liked Al’s idea about faking a story. Why didn’t each of them fake a story and get off the hook? John said Jack was thinking too small. Four half-baked fakes didn’t cut it. What they needed was one real whopper they could all use. Another round of beers. A phony domestic story would be too easy to check on, so they began discussing foreign angles that would be difficult to verify. And that is THE REST OF THE STORY. China was distant enough, it was agreed. They would write about China. John leaned forward, gesturing dramatically in the dim light of the barroom. Try this one on, he said: Group of American engineers, stopping over in Denver en route to China. The Chinese government is making plans to demolish the Great Wall; our engineers are bidding on the job. Harold was skeptical. Why would the Chinese want to destroy the Great Wall of China? John thought for a moment. They’re tearing down the ancient boundary to symbolize international good will, to welcome foreign trade! Another round of beers. By 11:00 p.m. the four reporters had worked out the details of their preposterous story. After leaving the Oxford Bar, they would go over to the Windsor Hotel. They would sign four fictitious names to the hotel register. They would instruct the desk clerk to tell anyone why asked that four New Yorkers had arrived that evening, had been interviewed by reporters, had left early the next morning for California. The Denver newspapers carried the story. All four of them. Front page. In fact, the Times headline that Sunday read: GREAT CHINESE WALL DOOMED! PEKING SEEKS WORLD TRADE! Of course, the story was a phony, a ludicrous fabrication concocted by four capricious newsmen in a hotel bar. But their story was taken seriously, was picked up and expanded by newspapers in the Eastern U.S. and then by newspapers abroad. When the Chinese themselves learned that the Americans were sending a demolition crew to tear down their national monument, most were indignant; some were enraged! Particularly incensed were the members of a secret society, a volatile group of Chinese patriots who were already wary of foreign intervention. They, inspired by the story, exploded, rampaged against the foreign embassies in Peking, slaughtered hundreds of missionaries. In two months, 12,000 troops from six countries joined forces, invaded China with the purpose of protecting their own countrymen. The bloodshed which followed, sparked by a journalistic hoax invented in a barroom in Denver, became the white-hot international conflagration known to every high school history student . . . as the Boxer Rebellion. —– –from Paul Harvey
Second, the grasping and discernment was not simply based on education in this world, but real engagement with the things of the SPIRIT – “not of this age” (2:6b). People who don’t have the Spirit at work in them will be bored to tears with what a good church is doing. Som movments in the church therefore conclude that the church is not as RELEVANT as it should be – and force it to change what it is doing. That may be justified in some cases when the presentation has become sterile or stale, but often it is a reflection of a culture that is increasingly led to do what is popular in the short run over what will solve problems in the long run.
Third, the words were spoken “in a mystery” – that is, in conjunction with revealed truths of God that He alone could truly direct and explain through His Spirit within (2:7-8). The study of the Bible and its truths cannot simply be an academic exercise based on intelligence and human reasoning. It must be consistent in the hermeneutic (the method of study) and not contradictory – but it requires a spiritual component to a man or woman’s thinking. God must energize them – and that happens through their surrender to His will. Smart people who do not possess the Spirit of God, or perhaps are resisting Him will fail to grasp the counsel of God. That doesn’t mean the message is too hard – it means the surrender is too soft.
Fourth, the message goes well beyond the experience of the lost man (2:9-12). People can’t conceive in the natural the powerful, optimistic, uplifting, exciting truths revealed by God’s Word concerning those who surrender their heart to Jesus. God has some incredible things He wants to show man – but they must first yield themselves to Christ for salvation and to the Spirit for dominance and depth.
LOST HEARER PROBLEM:
Fourth, Paul knew that many would clamor to have the teaching of God’s Word to ever adjust to the language and desires of a lost world. We must recognize that ministry is not about the world most people desire to live in or become successful in. People hunger for success in THIS world, happiness in THIS world, fulfillment in the things of THIS world – but we preach a Crucified Savior, and selfless Christian and a servant’s heart. Those are not the STUFF of popular worldly thinkers. Paul said it this way:
1 Corinthians 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.
There is nothing like the church of Jesus Christ. The rules of how to do what we do are set in fences that are unique to this work.