And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
How often do we come face-to-face with an opportunity to minister to others by sharing the transformational truth of the gospel, yet stop shy of doing so because we’re afraid of not having the right things to say?
Maybe it’s an unmarried coworker that regularly provides updates about their dating life and the cycle of excitement when meeting someone new and the disappointment of heartbreak after hooking up and getting ditched. Maybe it’s a family member who you see work diligently for their employer, only to get passed by for numerous promotions and compensation increases. Or maybe it’s a friend that makes references about spirituality but seems unwilling to concede to the exclusivity of Christianity because they don’t believe any religion can be the only way to peace or eternal life.
You’ve heard people make claims like this and, as a Jesus-bought believer, you feel compelled to make a defense for Christianity because of how you’ve personally come to experience the love of God through Jesus. You see these loved ones hurting and you want to minister to their broken hearts. But you play out the hypothetical conversation in your mind and you anticipate an objection from the other person about two sentences into your internal monologue and you quickly abandon the notion of verbalizing any of what you were just thinking about. And you feel crummy the rest of the day like you’ve just let down yourself and your Savior.
We’ve all been there. But Paul’s words provide encouragement for the believer.
This passage provides encouragement for all of us who have experienced this scenario. Here Paul is writing to the church in Corinth and he says that it is actually good sometimes to speak without lofty speech, and without having all the answers, resting in the power of God.
Consider the source here. Paul is one of the most recognizable voices of the early church who wrote about half of the New Testament using theological language that has given generations of scholars plenty to chew on. And this man is telling us here that he actually made the conscious decision to not rest in his linguistic prowess or theological acumen when proclaiming the gospel, but he kept it basic and rested in the Spirit of God.
I think this is instructive for us. There is an underlying theological conviction here that is important for us to understand. That is, only the Spirit of God can change the heart of man. We are called to do the work of proclamation – to make the gospel known among all people – but it is God that causes that gospel message to penetrate the heart of the hearer, that it may take root and provide fruit.
In the next chapter of this letter to the Corinthians, Paul unpacks this for us. After using the gardening theme that Jesus shared in his parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15), Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So, neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7). We should be faithful to plant and water, but ultimately it is God who provides the real change offered through the gospel.
After reading that we can skirt away from our responsibility to be gospel sowers and claim that it doesn’t matter what we do because God is going to provide growth where He deems appropriate in His sovereignty. But that’s to ignore the fact that God has called us to be sowers (Luke 8). And being unfaithful sowers is to the detriment of the coworker, family member, or friend that I mentioned earlier. If we are going to love well in the name of Jesus, we need to be willing to sow.
This takes us back to the top of this post. If we realize that it’s not so much about having all the answers to all their objections, and more about being faithful to engage in a loving conversation about the gospel, we are more likely to begin the conversation with them.
Here are a few practical tips to consider when stepping into one of these conversations:
- Pray. If we really believe that God is the one providing the increase, will we not want to petition God himself to move in the heart of the hearer? We can also pray that God would give us the necessary boldness, sensitivity, and grace to proclaim.
- Testify. Share how you have personally come to grow in the gospel and how that has affected the way that you approach life (proactively and reactively). Personal testimony is always a strong apologetic… especially if you’ve got a gospel-centered life to verify your words.
- Explain. Unpack the gospel for them. Take the message out of churchy insider speak and explain how we all need a savior, and that Jesus is the only person qualified to be that savior.
- Pray. Again, who is providing the increase? Petition the growth Giver!
- Love. Follow up with the person to help them process gospel truth. Also make yourself available to research and respond to questions they have. Love them in a way that shows them that you value them for who they are… not who you want them to be.
Keep in mind that you will likely never lose the feeling of being intimidated to make gospel proclamations. Paul said himself that he was trembling with fear in weakness when he proclaimed Jesus to the Corinthians (v. 3). But as we have been redeemed and empowered by the One who overcame our greatest enemy, raising Christ from the dead, we can overcome our fear, weakness, and limited ability to communicate as we minister to the world.
Brother and sister, proclaim and rest in God. Trust not in your wisdom or ability, but rest in the power of God as you advance the mission.