The Gospel: A Simple, Powerful Message

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, ESV)

I am so very thankful for this passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, because it helps me recognize a subtle and powerful temptation I have as a leader of Bible studies. Like many other temptations, it is rooted both in my insecurities and my pride. Instead of being content with focusing on my students’ learning and rejoicing over that, at times I find an additional desire within me. I want to be thought of as a good teacher—no, a great teacher—one who is clever, makes things memorable, is powerfully persuasive, who is seen as smart and wise. Lord, forgive me for this self-centered desire for others’ praise and admiration!

In contrast, Paul approaches his teaching ministry in Corinth in a radically different way. In a context where teachers would normally use sophisticated rhetorical devices and intricate rational arguments in attempts to persuade people to accept their truth claims, Paul comes with the simple gospel message. He comes as a herald of God, proclaiming what God has done through Christ’s death on the cross. He wants their faith to rest on God’s convicting work in their hearts, not their dependence on his own clever teaching. He wants it to grow out of a recognition of God’s power and the work of the Holy Spirit, not the power of human persuasion. Paul does not care what they think about him, but he cares deeply about how they respond to the gospel of Christ.

I am reminded of a song by Honeytree (Nancy Hennigbaum) I learned as a college student many years ago. Like this passage, it calls me to declare simply the gospel message of God, and trust in His power and grace. The first stanza of her song, “Simple Song,” goes like this:

I will sing a simple song; the meaning will be clear.
And you’ll never have to wonder when you’re far away from here
Just where I am coming from and where I take my stand
Beneath the cross of Jesus, holding to His nail-scarred hand.[1]

Paul knows that the gospel message of Jesus Christ’s life and death for our salvation, received by grace, through faith, can appear to be foolishness to those immersed in a culture and a worldview that glorifies cleverness, philosophical sophistication, and carefully crafted arguments. Paul is certainly a capable teacher, and he has the training to put forward a more sophisticated presentation, but he doesn’t want to be remembered as a clever teacher. He wants to be an instrument by which God’s glorious gospel is shared with others, allowing the Holy Spirit to use that message to stir hearts and draw people toward faith. He wants it to be God’s work within them.

Paul put his confidence in the gospel, the power of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those God was drawing to faith. He was content to proclaim a simple message of the mercy and grace of God shown in Christ’s death on the cross. As we teach, we should do our best to make this message clear and to answer questions people may have, but to remember that the power to bring about saving faith rests in the Holy Spirit, not in our clever teaching. This realization moves us to pray for those we will teach, that God would be at work in their hearts, that His power would be the persuading force in their lives, and the Holy Spirit would draw them to faith. I pray this would be true of your teaching ministry. Thank you, God, for Paul’s example and encouragement!

Father, thank you for giving me a message of hope to proclaim – Christ’s death on the cross for the salvation of those who will believe on Him. Help me to proclaim this simple message clearly, lovingly, earnestly, so that others will see Your mercy, grace, and goodness in Christ and respond in faith to You. May the results of my teaching rest on Your power and work in people’s lives, not on my attempts at cleverness or persuasion. I want the glory to go to You, for You alone are worthy! Amen.

[1] “Simple Song” appears on Honeytree’s 1974 album, The Way I Feel, Myrrh label, copyright Word Music.

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