“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 2:3-5)
A dynamic personality invokes awe and interest. Whatever the topic, a speaker with charisma and charm grips and strongly influences his hearers. It is thus no surprise that there remains a high demand for impactful, charming, charismatic preachers. We can find several programs on TV that feature preachers with impactful delivery. Some of them are very popular personalities, gathering large crowds around them.
When it comes to biblical figures, the Apostle Paul often comes to mind as a dynamic figure. He had persecuted Christians, but then was called by Christ Himself to serve the Gospel, going on extensive mission journeys to preach the message of our crucified and risen Saviour. And so he was perceived by many to be a bold and charismatic man. In the book of Acts, we find detailed accounts of his devoted service to Christ, reaching many with the powerful witness of the Word of the Cross.
However, in his letters to the Corinthians, we encounter a man driven to tears upon reflection of his relationship towards the congregation (2 Corinthians 2:1-4). He was faced with a divided congregation, where many preferred other personalities – like Apollos and Peter – over and against him. Instead of a bold and charismatic preacher, we encounter Paul as a weak man, who doubted and questioned himself and his position. He even admits it fully in our text for this devotion: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.”
Yet Paul did not resign or shy away from his service to Christ. Unlike a philosopher, lawyer or politician, Paul did not have to rely on his skills as a speaker. While well-conceived arguments, eloquent speech and charismatic influence are powerful aspects in bringing the message across, Paul entirely concedes them, along with self-confidence and charisma. He does so, not because his capacities as leader, preacher and shepherd of Christ’s flock are nullified, but rather because there is a much more powerful force at play: “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.”
The Word of the Cross has a power in and of itself. Paul simply preached the
Word, because God had revealed to him that His Message demonstrates its own effectiveness. Instead of being dependant or in any way reliant on the skills of the messengers sent to deliver it, the Message itself carries a power toward salvation! This power is delivered and provided by the Holy Spirit, who demonstrates His power through the effectiveness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit takes hold of the human heart in ways that are beyond our logic and our comprehension. Yet, by binding Himself to Holy Scripture and the preaching thereof, He guards the heart and mind of every believer with “the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding”
Paul clearly differentiates the Word of the Cross from words of wisdom, because the Corinthians regarded “wisdom” as the marker by which to gauge the value of a message. In our time we tend to rather gravitate towards gauging a message by the speaker’s emotional depth and conviction. It seems fair to draw a comparison between the Corinthians’ preference for “plausible words of wisdom” and our preference for charismatic, impassioned, emotional and moving speech. Whatever the preferences of an audience may be, it is of utmost importance that Christians do not rely on the messenger, but rather on the Message itself. For no preacher has the power to bring salvation to a person – only the Gospel of Jesus Christ “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”
This truth provides assurance not only to pastors, who at times face their own weaknesses and fears, but especially to the listeners of the preached Word. Every time you are disappointed by the lack of charisma, charm and speaking skills of your pastor, you are reassured by Holy Scripture itself that God delivers the power of the Holy Spirit to you! While it may not feel like it, and you may be bored, or you even have a difficult personal relationship with your pastor, the Holy Spirit is working even then! Despite the misgivings and short-comings of the servant, God’s service – Divine Service – is taking place and working on you.
LSB 587, v.1: “I know my faith is founded On Jesus Christ, my God and Lord; And this my faith confessing, Unmoved I stand on His sure Word. Our reason cannot fathom The truth of God profound; Who trusts in human wisdom Relies on shifting ground. God’s Word is all-sufficient, It makes divinely sure; And trusting in its wisdom, My faith shall rest secure.”
Pastor Marlon Hiestermann, Uelzen