Most of you by now would have realised something about me.
You've never talked to me about it
but you've always noticed it.
Every time you see me it stares you in the face.
No, it's not my ugly mug,
it's my bum bag.
In 1986 I met a bloke who wore a bum bag,
and I thought it was such a great idea that since around then I have been using one.
Yes, I have been wearing a bum bag now for about 16 years.
I think I've been through about 5 or 6 of them over that time.
But one thing is for sure
- they may be very practical, but they are not fashionable.
There was a minor bum bag craze about 5 or 6 years ago,
but most of the time you only see them on tourists these days.
So why do I do it?
Simple - it's a handy place to keep my wallet and keys
and ventolin inhaler and mobile phone
and bible and sunglasses to name just a few.
I very rarely lose any of these things because they are permanently stored in my bum bag.
But for those of you who know me,
it's pretty much a Neil thing isn't it?
It's just one of my eccentric behaviours.
I feel a little bit like Jerry Seinfeld wearing that fur coat
and carrying that men's purse
and yelling out to everyone "It's European!"
Fitting in with the rest of society is a very strong community attitude.
It prevents us from walking down the street naked
or having mullet haircuts
- you choose which is worse!
But as Christians we are required by our beliefs to be different to the rest of the world.
This doesn't mean we all use bum bags,
but it does mean that we have to dare to be different.
Unfortunately the insidious nature of the world has worked its way into the church
in so many different places
that when we eventually find out, it is too late.
As Christian men, we are called by God to do the right thing.
We are called by him to reject the teachings of the world
and to follow God's way of doing things.
Let me read to you 1 Corinthians 2.1-5
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 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 man's wisdom, but on God's power.
1. The nature of the messenger (2.1-4)
The first point I want to make today is titled "the nature of the messenger"
and looks at verses 1-4 of 1 Corinthians 2.
For those of you who don't know,
when Paul wrote this letter he was addressing some very serious problems within the church in Corinth.
It appears as though some strange teachers had begun to influence the church
- teachers that called themselves "Super Apostles".
Now these teachers were very persuasive,
not least because of their abilities as preachers.
It is also probable that such teachers were also performing miracles.
However Paul makes it plain in this letter that there were far more important things than these to worry about.
But what we notice about Paul in these verses is something interesting
- well, actually not interesting, but rather plain.
Paul, it appears, has a fairly low view of his speaking ability.
"I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom" he says in verse 1.
In verse 3 he says "I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling".
And in verse 4, he says "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words."
What do these tell us about Paul?
Well obviously it means that Paul was not the world's greatest speaker.
In Acts 20 Paul's preaching was so boring that a young man named Eutychus fell asleep
and managed to fall out of the window he was sitting in
and onto the ground three stories below.
He died, but Paul brought him back to life.
It's amazing what some people will do to avoid boring preachers!
But it also means that Paul was not caught up with the style of public speaking that was common in that age.
Philosophers and politicians at the time were especially good at public speaking,
and used all sorts of tricks and turns of phrase to keep the crowd interested.
Not only that, but what they spoke about was interesting and considered "wise" by most people.
The "Super Apostles" that Paul was having a go at here in Corinth were those sorts of speakers -
and with a powerful message.
Paul, on the other hand, was not like this.
He honestly admits that his style and his message were different.
He was not eloquent,
he was a clumsy speaker.
He did not come with superior wisdom,
but with a simple message.
He did not speak confidently,
but in weakness and in fear with much trembling.
He did not use the style and content of modern speakers.
Have you ever felt clumsy talking to people about God?
Do you ever sit there and wonder how all those great things you have learned about God somehow fail to be communicated properly to the person you're talking to?
Simple things suddenly become hard to explain
and your mouth does somersaults.
It's happened to me and I'm sure it's happened to you as well.
Welcome to world of the Apostle Paul
- a man who found it hard to speak properly.
Now this of course doesn't mean that good speaking is bad
- but it does mean that good speaking is not the most important thing.
God did, after all, work through Paul
and his preaching despite his limitations as a speaker.
What we need to avoid in our speaking
- not just on those occasions when we might actually preach to a group of people,
but just in how we speak to anyone about God
- what we need to avoid in our speaking is to become too polished,
to become too relaxed,
to become too sure of ourselves.
We are not God's salesman selling God's product line to potential customers.
When we speak to others about God we need to be natural,
we need to be ourselves,
we need to be not uptight about our limitations.
Has anyone here ever been trained to use Two Ways to Live?
A great way to learn how to communicate the gospel,
but it is not something you do mechanically like a sales pitch
- it comes naturally as you speak the way God meant you to speak.
A few years ago I attended a Christian conference.
At that conference was a speaker from America and a speaker from England
- a man by the name of Dick Lucas.
The American speaker was brilliant.
He was funny, he was engaging,
he had the audience on a rope.
The English speaker - Dick Lucas- was abrupt.
He was fidgety
and had one of those accents that grinds on people.
At the end of the conference who was my favourite speaker?
- Dick Lucas.
Despite his comparative lack of speaking ability,
he was by far the more influential speaker
because he had substance
whereas the American guy was all talk.
When you sit down at church and listen to the preacher,
don't trust him on his speaking ability alone.
You might think him a wonderful preacher,
but does his message have substance?
You might think him boring and monotonous,
but is he faithful to God?
I can tell you that there are plenty of preachers out there in the Christian church who have the most amazing skills as speakers,
but are not faithful to God
and whose message has either little substance,
or is poisonous to the faith.
Take Paul's advice here -
don't judge a preacher on face value.
2. The nature of the message (2.1-4)
So that is the nature of the messenger.
What about the nature of the message itself?
That is the subject of my second point today
- the nature of the message.
Again let's look through verses 1-4. What do we see?
In verse one we see that when Paul spoke,
he "proclaimed to them the testimony about God".
In verse two he says
"I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."
In verse four it says that Paul's message was with a
"demonstration of the Spirit's power".
So we have three things - a trinitarian preaching:
Paul testifies about God,
he preaches about Jesus and his crucifixion,
and a preaching that relies upon the Spirit.
Paul did not speak about three different things
- he spoke about the same thing.
What Paul preached, his whole message,
is bound up in these three things.
So what is that first thing in verse one?
Proclaiming the testimony about God?
What this refers to is telling people what God has done
- how he works in our world,
and how he relates to us as his creation.
In a world of many different gods and beliefs,
Paul testified to the one true and living God.
But when Paul spoke of God,
he also had to speak about Jesus.
He emphasizes this point by saying
"I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified".
It wasn't as though Paul spoke about God one day
and Jesus the next,
he spoke about both together.
But notice just how important such a message was.
The message of Christ and him crucified was not only important in Paul's message
- it was Paul's message.
Paul didn't speak about the 101 irrefutable laws of Christian leadership,
he didn't speak about the seven habits of highly effective Christians,
he didn't teach them how to pray the prayer of Jabez
- he spoke about Christ and him crucified.
This is not to say that Paul didn't speak about other things,
but it does point out that who Christ was and what Christ had done on the cross
was the centre of everything he taught.
And what was the content of this message?
When Paul says he preached Christ it means he preaches about Jesus the Messiah,
sent by God,
the Son of God,
God himself in human flesh,
come to earth.
That is why Paul can't divorce the testimony about God in verse one
from knowing nothing but Christ in verse two
- it's the same thing.
When Paul spoke to the world about God
he spoke to the world about Christ.
But there's more to this.
What did Jesus do?
Paul says he resolved to know nothing but Christ and him crucified.
The death of Jesus on the cross is central in the understanding of Jesus' mission.
Now such a message was scorned in Paul's day.
In chapter one verse 18, Paul says that
"the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing."
In 1.23 he says
"we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles".
The message of the cross, according to Paul,
is offensive to almost everyone who hears it.
The reason for the offensiveness of the cross is that in the first century the cross symbolised humiliation, defeat and slavery.
If you were crucified you were dying a painful humiliating death at the hands of a victorious Roman empire
who punished those who didn't toe the line.
Yet for Paul the crucifixion was something altogether different.
It symbolised victory, hope and freedom
- the opposite of what his society saw.
As Christians we believe that when Jesus died on the cross, he died in our place.
He was God's sin offering, a sacrifice of atonement.
He died in our place.
He took our sins, our punishment, when he died.
He took upon himself the dreadful wrath and anger of God.
So that we can be forgiven,
so that God may display his incredible grace and love,
so that those who repent and place their faith in Christ may have eternal life.
The world today laughs at this message.
How stupid they say, how out of date.
Yet Paul suffered the same critiques from the world he was in.
How can we "sell" the world God's "product line",
if the world laughs in our face?
Why even bother to even preach it?
3. The nature of God's power (2.4-5)
If it was all up to us, we'd be in big trouble.
Paul says that his message was preached "with a demonstration of the Spirit's power".
And that is the subject of my final point
- the nature of God's power.
You see despite the fact that the message of the cross is offensive and foolish,
God uses it powerfully.
Some Christians have used verse 4 to back up their claims that true evangelism can only be accompanied by miracles
- those who follow the teachings of John Wimber and the Signs and Wonders movement about 10-15 years ago would say this.
After all, Paul says that his message was with a "demonstration of the Spirit's power".
But that is not the case at all.
In chapter one verses 22-23, Paul says
"Jews look for miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified".
What's Paul saying here?
He's saying that he neither does miracles nor accept the philosophies of the day
- but instead he preaches the gospel.
So what is the power of the Spirit that is being demonstrated here?
It's the power to convince people of the truth of Jesus,
to convict them of their sins, and convert them and bring them to faith.
And who has that power?
Not Paul, not us - but God's Holy Spirit.
The most amazing thing that God has done to us,
the most amazing experience of God's Spirit that we can ever have,
is that he has brought us into God's kingdom.
The greatest miracle of all is not growing limbs back,
it's not being raised from the dead,
it's not having your Coke changed into Pepsi
or God coming down and stopping the bullets that were about to hit you
- the greatest miracle of all is becoming a Christian.
So this is why Paul spoke his message.
He testified about God,
which means he spoke about Christ,
which means he spoke about what Christ had done
- and he did this knowing that the Spirit of God would work in those who heard this message.
In the modern world today, the message of the cross is offensive.
But in the modern church today, the message of the cross is foolishness.
I read on the internet recently about a Lutheran minister in Denmark
who has admitted being an atheist.
Across the continent in Perth we have an Anglican Bishop
who has publically denounced the teaching of Christ's death for our sins.
But these guys are not the real problem.
The real problem in the church is simply a belief that everything but the message of the cross will work.
We have megachurches with thousands of people flocking to hear famous preachers
many of whom have tailored their message to gain as many followers as possible
- but with messages totally devoid of the cross of Christ.
We have Christian schools that teach anything but the cross of Christ to their students.
Paul says in verse 5 that the reason why he preaches the cross
is so that our faith may not rest on man's wisdom,
but on God's power.
About 8-9 years ago I was doing some scripture teaching in a Sydney high school.
With me in this venture was another young Christian man.
We decided from the beginning that I assume the role of "teacher and disciplinarian" in the classroom
while he assumed the role of "hip rapping-with-the-kids youthworker".
We decided to break our lesson in half,
with me leading a short Bible study from Mark's gospel,
followed by an explanation of Jesus' death on the cross
and how we can become a Christian.
The other half of the lesson was to be taken by my "hip rapping-with-the-kids youthworker" friend.
Now all was going well.
I'd done the Bible study,
I'd spoken to them about the cross and how to become a Christian,
and then it was the turn of the "hip rapping-with-the-kids youthworker".
Now some of you may remember when The Toronto Blessing was big.
Well, this guy had been in the water
when the Toronto Blessing was spraying itself around the ecclesiastical toilet bowl.
He went bananas.
He started telling the kids they could bark like dogs,
laugh their heads off,
and let God's spirit take control of their lives,
and he punctuated all this with examples from his own church,
and how the pastor's daughter was clucking like a chicken or something the other night.
I mean the kids were totally freaked out while my "hip rapping-with-the-kids youthworker" spoke to them about this stuff.
Now in the cold light of day, what did these kids leave the class with?
They left the class freaking out about people being forced by the Holy Spirit to
cack themselves silly
and moo like cows.
Amazing stuff - but not the sort of thing to get them to heaven.
You see the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.
But for us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1.18).
Those kids were impressed but they were not impressed with the cross of Christ,
they were impressed by something else.
And that something else was not going to get them into heaven.
We who call ourselves "Evangelicals" or "Reformed" or "Calvinists"
are often told that we forget the work of the Holy Spirit.
And of course such an accusation does have an element of truth to it.
But let me say this to you
- if you want the Holy Spirit to work wonders in your church,
if you want the Holy Spirit to sweep across our land and bring millions of Australians to faith,
if you want to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit
then we have to preach the cross of Christ.
The work of the Holy Spirit is to being people to God.
When we become Christians,
when we repent of our sins,
trust in Christ for forgiveness
and commit our lives to serve him,
we can only do so because the Holy Spirit acts in us first
and dwells in us from that point on.
But if the cross of Christ is not preached
then the Holy Spirit cannot work.
A person can't be saved unless they have heard the message of Christ and him crucified.
It is Christ and the cross which is the testimony of God.
Anything apart from the cross of Christ is man's wisdom.
It may seem wise, it may seem attractive,
but it is not the work of the Holy Spirit.
Well I'd better finish up before any lightning bolts hit me.
Paul was an intelligent man
- he had to be to write books like 1 Corinthians.
But he wasn't the world's greatest preacher.
More than that, he didn't have the world's most popular message either.
So here was a man who stumbled over his words,
trembled whenever he stood up to preach,
and was constantly ridiculed by those who disagreed with him.
Yet why was Paul so important in the growing of one of the world's greatest religions?
Well, I can tell you this now
- it's not Paul that was important,
it was the message that God preached through him.
It is one of the greatest ironies that the symbol which identifies Christianity
- the cross
- is exactly the thing that the church today is forgetting.
Have you ever wondered why the church is so split,
why it is so ineffective,
why it often goes off the deep end and embraces crazy fads?
It does so because it forgets the cross.
Where the cross of Christ is ignored the church grows sick and dies.
Where the cross of Christ is preached and understood the church grows in strength and number
as God's Spirit works miracles in people's hearts.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.