Monday, March 21, 2011

What Preaching Is & Is Not

Our house, built in 1863
Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5: When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

The new Jesus-followers in Corinth were enamored with brilliant, eloquent speakers. Paul didn't bring that to the table when he preached. Some said of Paul: “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” (2 Cor. 10:10)

Paul was a lousy speaker. He preached, and his purpose was not to be on TV. We had a pastor in our community many years ago who thought he was a great preacher. Call him Pastor John Doe. (Not his real name...) His church actually put this advertisement in our newspaper: "Come to our church and hear Pastor John Doe preach!" The ad included a photo of Pastor Doe in a powerful preaching pose. (Let your imagination wander here...)

Once Paul was teaching in an upper room in Troas. Paul had to leave the next day, so he talked on and on until midnight. (Acts 20:7) But Paul was boring. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. (Acts 20:9) Imagine living in Troas in the first century. Someone asks, "Who did you hear preach last night?" Answer: "Paul." Boring! And dangerous.

What did Paul bring to the table? A message. Paul was the bearer of a message. Nothing more, nothing less. If the message is significant and important and even life-changing, the package the message comes in means nothing.

Our house was built in 1863. I think that's when our shingles were put on, too. Our roof was leaking. There was no way we could afford a new roof on our house. I just prayed we would make it another year. Our old farm house had only one gutter on it which was installed, I think, by General George Custer himself (Custer's home is a few hundred yards away from ours). I called a local roofer to give me an estimate on the ancient gutter. He came over and looked at it. He then said, "I'm a follower of Jesus, and God told me to give you a new roof." When he said this he didn't shout, he didn't pull out a handkerchief and prowl back and forth on our front lawn grunting the "hoop," he didn't speak in Shakespearean English, he didn't pause dramatically, he wasn't especially eloquent and didn't strike me as exceptionally brilliant. But he had a message from God, and delivered it to me. I called Linda outside and told her. We both had tears in our eyes. A month later the roofers came. I look at this roof nearly every day and thank God for that man.

It's all about the message, not the medium. The message of "Christ crucified" was what Paul brought to the table. With it came a demonstration, not of human ability, but of the power of God.

Preachers are only the bearers of the message. That message, from God, is earth-shattering. Real preaching delivers a word from God. That's all that's needed. And that's all Paul resolved to know.