1Co 2 1-5 How 2B a Powerful Xtian Speaker
Have you ever been listening to a Christian preacher and thought to yourself, “Boy, Pastor really needs to hear this guy! If Pastor could just preach like that the community would be beating down our doors to hear! The people of the congregation would finally listen and be more loving to one another! Preaching like that could really change this church!”
If you have, you’re not the first. Preachers get tapes from congregation members all the time, and it is nice to get a few tips now and then. But you won’t often find such tapes change a Lutheran preacher’s sermon style. Why is that?
Of course, part of it is that each preacher is an individual and it is extremely difficult for one to imitate another. But, as Paul teaches this morning, there’s more to it than that—especially for Lutheran preachers. For all the preachers and teachers out there who attract big crowds, for all the secrets that they wield for holding a congregation spellbound, there is but one way to be a truly powerful Christian speaker, one way to cast the spell God wants cast over a congregation.
Want to know what the secret is? Believe me, you’ll find it helpful even if you never stand behind a pulpit in your whole life. Listen closely, and we’ll all learn something from Paul’s lesson in How to be a Powerful Christian Speaker. He’ll take us through both lessons in this very enlightening course: first a study in how our powers of speech can’t replace God’s Spirit, and then a look how God’s Spirit works only through the gospel.
You know, Paul is a good person to teach this lesson, don’t you think? He must have been a very powerful speaker! Flip through your New Testament and just look at how many of the letters in it were written by Paul to various congregations he established with his own preaching. There was one in the city of Corinth (to which the letter we’re reading from this morning was addressed), in Ephesus, in Philippi, in Colossae, in Thessalonica—and that list is just a start! From the book of Acts we learn that his preaching also started congregations in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Berea—the list goes on! I know those names may not mean a whole lot today, but think of it this way: It would be like there were just one traveling preacher who started all our sister congregations from Sturgis right on up to Muskegon and beyond! But what’s even more impressive is that he did this with congregations that were in multiple countries and cultural settings. There aren’t too many fiery preachers who can make that claim these days.
So what was his secret? What made his words so powerful? I suppose one might look into his cultural background and find some interesting things. Paul grew up in a town called Tarsus. It was a unique place with multiple sets of national cultures, including the prevailing cultures of the day, Greek and Roman. And all these different cultures enjoyed a great influence on the lives of the everyday people. Yes, even Paul’s natural-born culture, that of the Jewish people, had a good showing in this very diverse town.
By the same token you might look at his education. Tarsus was also full of learning centers representing the very best in learning from all those cultures and their various sciences, religions and philosophies. Paul shows himself in his writings to be very skilled at presenting finely crafted arguments and quoting a multitude of international authors of his day, not to mention Scripture itself.
And yet, for all his education and cultural experience, Paul says there is no value in worldly wisdom for producing and strengthening faith in God. He says, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” So, if it wasn’t the wisdom of his words, was it the fiery way in which he delivered them to the people? Sure doesn’t sound like it in this text! “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.”
So just what did make Paul such a powerful Christian speaker? And what can we learn from him that can help us to be more powerful speakers ourselves? Well, let’s put it this way: a Christian speaker’s clever choice of words isn’t anything compared to the Word he chooses to preach. Paul said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” He further explains, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Simply put, that is lesson one: Our powers of speech cannot replace the power of the Holy Spirit. Our words, no matter how cleverly crafted or skillfully argued, are powerless in carrying out our God-given mission of making disciples of all nations. Our words, even at their most attractive and persuasive, have no power like the Word of God which God describes as “living and active. Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.”
Shout fiery words until you’re blue in the face. Nothing can create the fire of saving faith in the hearts of people besides the simple news of God’s free salvation. And so, said Paul, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Ever grow tired of that message? Falling asleep or letting your mind wander even now because it sounds like something you’ve heard before? Have you now or ever forgotten the power of that message of Christ’s crucifixion, thinking we need something like more snappy music to get people’s hearts a-pounding during our worship services? Well you can be-bop until your legs go numb. You can dance around shouting until your voice goes hoarse. You can hire whatever Christian self-improvement speaker is taking the local churches by storm, but unless the center of the message is what you hear right here—that we are sinners deserving only eternal death but getting exactly what we don’t deserve, thanks to Jesus—well, then, the speaker and his words are not truly powerful. The people who hear the words may, indeed, live a more “Christian” life outwardly, but they are merely New Testament versions of the Old Testament hypocrites from today’s First Lesson that fasted outwardly but inside lacked the love for God that grows only from the good news of God’s love in Christ.
Do you want to be a truly powerful Christian speaker? Then recognize what makes a Christian’s speech powerful. Take it from the Apostle of Christ who was trained in the power of persuasion, who knew the art of rhetoric and motivational speaking, but left them all behind when it came time to be a Christian speaker of power. “My message and my preaching,” said Paul, “were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”
This demonstration of the Spirit’s power is the same thing that Paul calls the “foolishness of God” in the first chapter of First Corinthians. He calls it the foolishness of God because of the seemingly weak things that God uses to bring the Spirit’s power to mankind. We saw that foolishness in action when we simply poured over Molly Skinner’s head what appeared to be nothing more than common water. But what appeared to be ordinary water became what Paul called “the washing of rebirth and renewal” when we used it in accordance with the power of God’s promises. When we applied water in the way that Jesus commanded, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the Holy Spirit actually made a disciple of little Molly. Sounds foolish enough, but (to borrow Paul’s own inspired words), “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” That’s why our services have as their main feature not those things which appear to affect people spiritually on the outside, like snappy tunes and funny or moralizing sermons, but those things which truly affect the spirit of a man with God’s power, that is, the gospel in Word and sacrament.
So if you want to be a powerful Christian speaker, first you need to pray to God for the strength to be a powerful Christian listener. You don’t need wise and persuasive words, you need to recognize how the Spirit has demonstrated his power in you: condemning you undeniably as a sinner deserving hell, but offering you instead the free gift of heaven based on Jesus’ merits which he credits to our account. For the power of a true Christian speaker comes not from a clever choice of words, but a reliance on the Word to breath life into the dead hearts of condemned mankind.