The following is my notes from a sermon I preached at Edgewater Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois on March 11, 2012. Click HERE for the sermon audio.
I think it is a pretty safe assumption that you want to be happy, blessed, have a full life. Right?
Have you ever noticed that the way the Bible teaches we get this is paradoxical.The bible tells us the exact opposite of what we would expect.
True life comes when you die to yourself. True riches and blessedness come through giving, not receiving. True strength comes when finally realize your weakness.
However, this is true not just in our personal lives, but this is also true in the church.
Do you want this church to grow?
If you do, then you must understand that you need to be a giving church, a sending church, a church that is a blessing to the others.
It’s like breathing. Try to only breathe in and don’t ever breathe out. See how that works?
Some recent studies have shown that the churches that are growing vs. churches that are dying.
Do you REALLY want this church to grow?
If you do, then by implication you need to be a church that is serious about giving and sending.
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.
What is this context of this passage?
This passage is a part of a larger section about division in the Corinthian church.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
This is the issue Paul is addressing for the next 3 chapters of this letter.
In the 2nd half of chapter 1, Paul explains that it is God alone who saves sinners and not the wisdom or power of men. In fact, the way God saves people is through the preaching of a message that the world thinks is foolish.
He concludes chapter 1 by explaining that God has chosen to save people this way so…
“So that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:29)
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)
Then in chapter 2 Paul uses himself as an example. He reminds them of what he did when he planted their church.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers…” (1 Corinthians 2:1)
Therefore, I want to share with you all 4 observations about what Paul did when he planted a church in Corinth.
In other words, “How Did Paul Plant Churches?”
Observation # 1. He proclaimed the testimony about God.
“Paul says “when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 2:1)
The main point of this verse is what Paul did not do. He describes the way he didn’t preach as a contrast to the preaching that was leading to divisions in the church.
We’ll get to that next, but do not miss what he DID come to do.When Paul came to plant a church he did it by preaching, proclaiming the testimony of God.
What if I asked you, “how do I start a church?” What would you tell me?
Do you believe that the means God uses to both start and sustain the church is preaching? If you take away preaching, you can be a lot of things, but not a church.
But what does he proclaim?
The testimony of God.
He did not come to talk about his opinions, thoughts or ideas. He did not come to talk about politics…philosophy…science. He had a word from GOD ALMIGHTY!!!
“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12)
The substance of his preaching was not a message he made up. It was not something he figured out. No! He was sent from the Lord Jesus himself and he had a message that was from God and it was about God!
Tozer, What Will Awaken the Church?
In 1954, A.W. Tozer was asked “What do you think about some of the contemporary trends in the church? They asked him what he thought would awaken the church from its complacency.
“In my opinion, the great single need of the moment is that light-hearted superficial religionists be struck down with a vision of God. High and lifted up with his train filling the temple. The holy art of worship seems to have passed away like the shikinah glory from the tabernacle. As a result, we are left to our own devices and forced to make up for the lack of spontaneous worship by bringing in countless cheap and tawdry activities to hold the attention of the people in the church.”
That was over 60 years ago!!! So many churches today are bringing in countless cheap and flashy activities to entertain people. We do not need them!
Do not listen to the world. The church needs to stop taking its cues from the world. We cannot let the people of the world set the agenda. They are not even asking the biggest questions that bible is asking.
For almost all people the big question about God in their mind is what is his problem? How could he do that? How could he let that happen to me?
As John Piper said, “The man-centered world is amazed that God would withhold life and joy and blessing as if they were rightly deserving of it.Whereas, the God-centered Bible is just utterly amazed that a righteous and holy God would withhold judgment and wrath from sinners.”
Be a church that gives people God! What you win them with is what you keep them with. So, win them with God!
What if this church was known for being the place where you go if you want to hear God’s word preached. This is the place where they care about what God has said.
What if people started coming because they were hungry for God? They wanted to know him and hear what he has to say to them.
Oh, I hope you long for this church to be a witness, to be a testimony to how great our God is?
Don’t you want to hear people say, the God of Edgewater Baptist Church is high above all the nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who else is like their LORD God, who else is seated on high?
Slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and kindness.
Our God is rich in mercy.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
“The Lord gives & the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
May this church be a church that gives people God and plants churches that proclaim the testimonies of God! That is what Paul did in Corinth, but the main point he is making in verse 1 is how he went about doing it.
Observation # 2. He did not come with eloquence.
“Paul says “when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom… 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.” (1 Corinthians 2:1, 3-4)
Paul is not saying this figuratively. He means for us to understand him to have literally been a poor communicator and physically weak.
For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” (2 Corinthians 10:10)
And he was so scared that God himself had to give him a word of assurance in Acts 18:9-10.
And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
Why does Paul bring up the fact that he was not eloquent?
Remember Paul is using himself as an example so that the Corinthians will understand that… “HOW” someone preaches is less important in comparison to “WHAT” he is preaching. The content of the message is infinitely more important than the communication abilities of the messenger.
I got to ask you…Do you believe that? Do you really? Can you only enjoy a sermon if it is from an eloquent preacher? Is there great joy that rises up in your heart simply because you heard good, solid, biblical, Christ-centered, truth? Will you skip church if you know someone else is preaching that Sunday? Are you convinced that the power is truly in the preached word and not the preacher?
I love the way Spurgeon once said it,
“There will always be better preachers who are more gifted than I am, but there will never be a better gospel. I can always improve my preaching, but I can never improve this gospel.”
You see Spurgeon knew from his own experience that this was true. I can think of no better story than the story of Charles Spurgeon’s conversion to illustrate this point.
Charles Spurgeon’s Convsersion
It’s a story of divine irony. A story of how one sermon from a very inarticulate preacher led to the conversion of one of the greatest preachers the world has ever seen.
Here it is in his own words. The day was January 6, 1850. Spurgeon was not quite 16 years old.
I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. . . . The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. . . . He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth (Isaiah 45:22).”
He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus: “My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.
“But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me’. . . . Many of ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. Ye will never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the father. No, look to him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some of ye say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin’.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’”
Then the good man followed up his text in this way: “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ and great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! Look unto Me!”
When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I dare say, with so few present he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.”
Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a primitive Methodists could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said—I did not take much notice of it—I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” What a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could have almost looked my eyes away.
There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to him. . . . And now I can say—
E’er since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply, Redeeming love has been my theme, And Shall be till I die.
Oh, the irony that the prince of preachers was saved by an intellectual pauper.
What Paul is trying to communicate to the Corinthians is that…He does not his hearers to walk away saying, “What a marvelous preacher!” rather he wants them to walk away saying, “What a marvelous savior!”
This is without a doubt Paul’s main point in this section of 1 Corinthians.
We see it earlier in 1 Corinthians 1:17. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
He wants Christ’s name to become greater and his to become lesser. Which leads us to our 3rd observation
Observation # 3. He knew nothing except Christ crucified.
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
What does Paul mean that he resolved, he decided to know nothing? Does it mean he only preached evangelism sermons? Or just talked about the crucifixion and passion week?
It means that that all he does and teaches is tied to the cross. He cannot talk long about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or Christian fellowship, or the Christian doctrine of God, or anything else, without finally tying it to the cross. Everything comes from the cross, goes back to the cross, is rooted in the cross, is ultimately about the cross, etc…
The kind of preaching Paul has in mind is a kind of preaching that makes the gospel the center of our hope and faith. It does not mean just sticking the gospel on the end of the sermon.
Additionally, not all preaching that is from “the Bible” is about the gospel.
In his book Grace In Practice Paul Zahl says “there is a fundamental problem in the preaching everywhere you go. You do not hear the gospel. Instead, if you listen closely what you hear, it is always the same: Here is what you should do, you are not doing it, so get out there and try harder. This is the ‘three-point sermon’ of the churches.”
Zahl suggests to clergy that assume the gospel and just preach a bunch of rules that “they should carve over the main door to the church the following words: ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.’ If you are looking for comfort and release, you had better hold that hope until you leave church. From the pulpit, what you are likely to get is the law.”
So many people go to church because they think they need to hear practical tips about living or a motivational speech to get them through the week or maybe an uplifting message with some funny stories, but that is so far from what they really need.
That is how Paul planted churches:
He proclaimed the testimonies of God. He did not come with eloquence. He knew nothing but Christ and him crucified.
Observation # 4. He relied on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Another way we could answer the question “How did Paul plant churches?”
He didn’t. God did.
“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, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)
Paul knew that when he went to plant churches that he was going to try and convince dead people to come to life.
Look down 1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.”
Then at 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
The more we understand the sinful condition of man, the more we will see our desperate need for the Holy Spirit. By implication, what must this mean about the importance of prayer in planting churches?
I want to plant a church in such a way that it is crystal clear that I could not have done it. I want the only logical explanation to be the Holy Spirit and the power of God. I hope you too long for this church to be like that and for this city to be full of churches like that.
But how is that going to happen?
I began this sermon by saying… If you want this church to grow, then you must understand that you need to be a giving church, a sending church, a church that is a blessing to the others.
How are you going to become that kind of person and that kind of church?
Well, how did Paul become that kind of person? He had an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.
“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” (Galatians 1:13-16)
How did this persecutor of the church become one the greatest church planters? How did this church hater, become this church lover?
The exact same way that you and I did. The exact same way you will become a blessing to others is when you realize that you have been so richly blessed in Christ.
When these truths do not just sit in your head, when they are more than facts that you ascent to, but the weight of them is pressed deep down into your heart and you see just like Paul that… He set us apart before we were even born. He called us by his grace.
And as Spurgeon says, he must have loved us before we were born, or else He would not have seen anything in us to love afterwards for we would never find any reason why He should have looked upon us with his special love.
He called YOU. It pleased him to reveal his Son to YOU! It was his delight! Freely receive his blessings by faith, so that you and this church can be a blessing to others.
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was were we your guests?
“Why was were we made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”
But it was that same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Or else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.
Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.
We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.