Sunday February 9th 2020
Pastor Galen Zook
I Cor. 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-20
An Eventful Week
This past week was a rather eventful week in the life of our country. From the polar opposite responses to Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s half-time show at the Super Bowl last Sunday, to speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi literally ripping up a copy of President Trump’s State of the Union Address, to Senator Mitt Romney breaking with his party to vote to remove president Trump from office during the impeachment hearings, the week was not without its share of controversy!
To me, it was fascinating to see how each of these events were surrounded by discussions about morality. Conversations on TV, and on social media, and around the water cooler centered around who was in the right, and who was in the wrong? Of course in each of these situations, parties on both sides thought they were the ones acting correctly — that they were making the correct moral decisions, which just goes to show how sharply divided we are as a country.
Even the National Prayer Breakfast, an event that is intended to be a visible sign of unity in our country, demonstrated how deep that divide is.
The Church at Corinth
The people of Corinth were also deeply divided and they seemed to want to know whose side the Apostle Paul was on — who did he think was right and who did he think was wrong, to help settle the disputes that were happening in their midst.
As you’ll probably remember, the Corinthian church was sharply divided into various camps – some claiming to follow Paul (who had founded their church), some claiming to follow Apollos (who had pastored their church for a while) and still others said that they followed the apostle Peter, or Jesus Christ himself (see 1 Cor 1:12). We don’t know exactly what all was going on in their midst, since we’re only getting one side of the conversation, but it seemed to be messy.
But rather than playing into the controversy or adding more fuel to the fire, Paul reminds them that when he first preached to them, rather than coming to them with “lofty words or wisdom,” he “decided to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
In other words, Paul reminds them that their church was founded on the person of Jesus Christ, not on a particular set of political opinions or perspectives or arguments. When Paul started their church he wanted them to fall in love with the person of Jesus, not with Paul’s own views or perspectives. And so he said that he had intentionally “decided to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
Nothing Except Christ
Now obviously Paul had been well educated as a religious leader and teacher of the law. In the book of Acts we find that Paul was a student of the highly esteemed and renowned Jewish rabbi Gamaliel, and that he had received extensive education in Jewish law and practice (Acts 22:3). Paul had been well versed in the most complex philosophical, ethical, and moral arguments of the day.
But Paul didn’t want the Corinthians to be a group of people who sat around arguing all day. He wanted them to be a living, breathing manifestation of the Gospel.
And so instead of philosophical arguments and treatises, Paul had offered them first and foremost the good news about the person of Jesus — pure and simple.
Paul told them the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, as we find out later in 1 Corinthians — “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). He told them that Christ had appeared to Peter and to the 12, then to five hundred brothers and sisters, and then “last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Cor. 15:8).
Even though the Corinthians had never met Jesus in the flesh, Paul wanted them to know Christ — to fall in love with Jesus. He wanted them to look to Jesus as their moral guide and compass, not a set of dogmas or rules or principles. Paul wanted them to know and experience Jesus.
And so how did he do that? Well, Paul says that, he came to the Corinthians “with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4) because he wanted their faith to not “rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5).
Demonstration of the Spirit and of power
“With a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” One has to wonder exactly what Paul means by a “demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Most likely he doesn’t mean miracles, since we rarely hear of Paul performing miraculous signs and wonders.
Most likely he’s not even talking about how powerful his public speaking or preaching skills were, since he says that he came to the Corinthians “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). In 2 Cor. 10:10 we find that the Corinthians thought that Paul’s “bodily presence [was] weak, and his speech contemptible.” And so Paul definitely wasn’t talking about his public speaking skills!
And yet, despite all of this, Paul says that he spoke to them “with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4).
I believe that the demonstration that Paul is talking about here was love — love for God, and love for the Corinthians, and that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. I believe that Paul’s words and actions were infused with a deep sense of Christ’s love, which flowed out of him into the very words that he spoke. I believe that he prayed and cried over each and every word that he spoke to the Corinthian church — both when he was with them in person, and even now as he was writing to them. His words were not based on lofty, abstract concepts, but rather they flowed out of his deep sense of love for God, and love for the people at the church in Corinth.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells the church in Corinth, “I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Cor. 2:4).
Can you imagine if this was how Christians approached each and every conversation that we have with coworkers, and on social media about the events going on in our day? Can you imagine if religious leaders today who are called on to speak to issues of morality in our society prayed and cried over the words that they spoke? Can you imagine if our words and our lives were infused with a deep sense of love for all people – including the least and the lost and the hurting and the dying? Can you imagine if that was how we approached discussions of who or what is right and who or what is wrong?
If we were to do that, then I think we could indeed say along with Paul that our “speech and proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power”!
When words are accompanied by deeds done in love, they become powerful.
In his book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christian Debate, author Justin Lee recounts his story of growing up in a conservative Christian home, and discovering as a teenager that he experienced same-sex attaction. Believing his attractions to be wrong, Justin Lee sought counseling out of a desire to change his orientation, but this did not work. He prayed and cried out to God to change his feelings, but this too did not produce the results that he wanted. Justin eventually came to accept his sexual orientation as part of his identity. Throughout all of this he never gave up his faith in Christ, despite the fact that he received extremely harsh criticism from many other believers due to his sexual orientation.
Sadly, when Justin came out to many of the Christians in his life, they either rejected or ostracized him, or came at him armed with Bible passages to try to prove to him that he was in sin, despite the fact that he never even been in a relationship with someone of the same sex.
Toward the end of his book, Justin Lee tells the powerful story of what happened when a famous preacher came to speak on his campus. Justin was excited to meet him because even though the speaker held a conservative theological viewpoint on same-sex marriage, he was known for being compassionate towards those in the Gay community. Justin walked up to him, mentally rehearsing what he was going to say to the speaker, but all he was able to say was “I’m gay,” before the speaker reached out and embraced him with a hug, saying “I’m so glad that you’re here.” The speaker then sat down with Justin and listened to his life story, without judging him and without attempting to offer trite remarks or easy answers.
What stuck out to Justin was that when the speaker gave him that hug, he didn’t know that Justin was a Christian, that he was celibate, or that he had agonized for years over his sexual orientation. None of that mattered to the speaker. He just wanted to let Justin know that he was loved, that he was welcome, and that he was glad Justin was there.
Friends, I believe this is what it looks like for our proclamation of the Gospel to come “with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” We can have the most wonderful, well-articulated arguments, or the most seemingly air-tight conclusive evidence that our perspective is right, but do our friends, and our neighbors, and the people we interact with on social media know that we love them, and that we care about them? More importantly, do they know that Jesus loves them utterly and unconditionally?
In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, he tells his disciples to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:15). So let’s let our lights shine! This world is desperately in need of truth and moral guidance. But rather than using lofty arguments, let’s let our words be accompanied by deeds done in love. Let’s use our words and actions to point people towards Jesus, the One who loves the whole world so much that he was willing to give his life for us. Let’s love the world with God’s love, and let’s let our proclamation of the Gospel come with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power!