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.
Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” How is it that we can and should count death as something precious for those who are in Christ?
When a Christian dies, shall those of us who remain weep or rejoice? It is human nature to juxtapose joy and sorrow as mutually exclusive things. But as we remember, honor, and celebrate Pastor Dave Annan’s life, we should do so with simultaneous joy and sadness.
In Philippians 2:17, the Apostle Paul, who is writing from prison and from the possibility of his own death, pens these words: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise, you should be glad and rejoice with me.” Paul poured out his life for the sake of the gospel so that others might experience redemption, forgiveness, and a new identity through faith in Jesus. His faithfulness to Jesus cost him his freedom. It also threatened to rob him of his very life. He was facing the real possibility of martyrdom.
Yet, Paul rejoices in his sufferings for Christ, knowing that as he pours out his life for the sake of Jesus, he will be one with Christ, who emptied himself to be obedient to death on a cross (2:8). Jesus does not ask of Paul what he is not willing to endure himself. In fact, Jesus laid down his life so that there would be meaning in Paul laying down his life for the sake of the Kingdom.
Paul’s joy is anchored to two realities: his union with Jesus by faith and how God was pleased to use his faithfulness to Jesus to bring others into God’s forever family. Paul is rejoicing at the prospect of his own death. In fact, he has already told us “to live is Christ, to die is gain” (1:21). Paul was ready to see Jesus face-to-face. Pastor Dave echoed a similar sentiment just a few days before his death. He said, “I can’t wait to see Jesus.”
And so, for similar reasons, we rejoice in the life and death of Pastor Dave Annan. Many people, especially children, know and love Jesus Christ because Dave faithfully helped aim their hearts at Jesus in worship, through teaching the Bible, and by laughing and having fun with them. He exuded joy and hope in Christ in the face of an agonizing, lengthy battle with cancer. He was one of the most affirming, kind, mischievous men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. Dave often told me he was praying for me, but it was not until recent months that I realized and saw first-hand how committed he was to prayer. Even in his weakest moments, he would write out and draw prayers at his prayer station in his home, praying for me and for each one of you as the Spirit brought you to mind.
I rejoice in Dave’s life and death. He poured out his life for Jesus. He loved Christ, and he desperately wanted others to know Jesus as he did. I cannot think of Dave apart from feeling joy. And he is in the presence of Christ, experiencing the eternal joy of being with Jesus. How could I not feel joy at his present reality?
Yet, at the same time, I feel deep sorrow. Again, Paul is instructive here. I can feel great joy at Dave’s departure, while also feeling deep, intense sorrow. When writing about his partner in the gospel, Epaphroditus (2:25), Paul tells about how a significant illness almost took his life. He writes, “Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God (are there any greater words in the Bible for God’s ability and purpose to intervene in our lives when we need Him most?) had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (2:27).
The prospect of potentially losing Epaphroditus as a partner is gospel ministry was too devastating a possibility to entertain. Paul could not imagine adding the grief of losing Epaphroditus to his present sufferings and circumstances. Men who devote their lives to the gospel and work of Jesus are worthy of honor (2:29). They are great warriors (2:25) and ambassadors for the kingdom of God. They help bear the burdens of this earthly life, give us perspective when we doubt, love us with the love of Christ when we need comfort, and give us a sense of stability when everything around us feels uncertain.
The sorrow upon sorrow we bear in Pastor Dave Annan’s death is the sense that one who so often pointed the way to Jesus will no longer be present in this life to remind us of the greatness and sweetness of Christ. For so many of us, Dave has been a burden bearer, a prayer warrior, a jovial sidekick, a mischievous friend bringing laughter to our day, and a gospel-sharing God-fearer. We will miss him… dearly.
It is okay for us to shed tears. It is okay for us to feel an aching sorrow and acute sadness. Jesus has not yet destroyed every rule and every authority and every power (1 Corinthians 15:24). But that day is coming. That is certain. Very soon Jesus will deliver the Kingdom to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:25). He is – even now – putting all his enemies under his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Death has not had the final word in Pastor Dave’s life. He has never been more alive than he is right now. Because we know, for followers of Jesus, to be absent from the body is to be present with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:8), we are full of joy for Dave. We cannot even imagine the beauty, wonder, and majesty he is experiencing right now. But we also feel great sorrow, for to be present with Jesus is to be away from us.
I thank God for Pastor Dave Annan. He was my brother in Christ, fellow gospel laborer, encourager and friend. I will miss him. I regret that I didn’t have more time to get to know Pastor Dave, as so many of you did. But I grieve with hope and joy. Since Jesus has been resurrected, all those who fall asleep in Christ will also one day be resurrected, and “we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Encourage one another with these words, dear redeemed sinners, “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Colossians 3:12). May God give each of you grace upon grace as you grieve. Don’t hide your tears. Take them to Jesus. He cares for you, more than you can possibly imagine.
With Affection and Prayerful Intercession,
In recent weeks, Pastor Aaron has led us through a passage in Acts describing the way that our earliest brothers and sisters lived lives devoted to God and to each other. This sounds nice, we think to ourselves. How do we live like these first century saints? Shall we copy them? Sure, we say, we can sell stuff! Sure, we can sign up with zeal and vigor for all sorts of ministry opportunities, Bible studies, mission trips, food pantry and service projects. Sure, we can share and meet the needs and host small group dinners and go to prayer meetings! Certainly, if they can do it, so can we! But we start to get a little suspicious as the wheels of our zeal begin to wobble. Before long, the burn out begins. It gets harder and harder to devote ourselves to God and one another. We scratch our heads, confused. If we act like they act, why don’t we love like they loved? Something seems amiss.
Here is a question to ask ourselves: Is something out of order? Does the love come first? (Answer: Yes, the love comes first)
Let’s look back at the beginning (the very beginning). We know from Genesis that the tragedy of our broken humankind is that while we are image bearers who are created to love God and be loved by him, instead we love everything BUT him with all our heart and soul and mind. Our inherited rebellion is so complete that without God moving toward us in love and calling us out of our sin, we would remain in that rebellious state, alienated and hostile to the God who created us. While that is the tragedy, the rescue is all the more scandalous and miraculous: God, out of his great love for us, saved us while we were still sinners and calls us his very own children. He put a new heart within us, one that pumps the blood of a child of God, oxygenated with the very love that Christ poured out for us on the cross. This new heart is the reason we are able to love the Lord with all our mind and heart and strength, and to love each other with the same love we have received. These are the hearts that we see pumping life into the very first church, fueled by the Holy Spirit who lived in them. These must be the hearts that we carry into our church community, into our neighborhoods and ministries and grocery store aisles and schools and workplaces. So to ask again, what must be in place first before we can love others like our first century fellow believers? “We love because he first loved us.” Without the love of Jesus as our motivation, our acts will run aground, grind out and stall. A heart that is not filled with the love of Christ cannot produce the love of Christ or the fruit of his Spirit in a way that sustains.
Pastor Aaron said this week, “The motivation to serve God and others comes from God Himself, who sent Jesus, not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).” Brothers and sisters, we are a few of the many for whom Christ died. Does this knowledge, stir us to love God and love others? Does it stir us to live for something (SomeOne) greater than ourselves? Or do we happily hold our saved heart close, sitting still in our new life, not flowing forth into the world as we are called and enabled to do with the Spirit of Christ living in us? The most humbling news is this: it is through us (yes, us!) that God sends the good news of his love out into the world. It is through us that the very body of Christ is strengthened, edified, built up, encouraged. It is as we proclaim, pray, worship and serve that we will begin to resemble our first century brothers and sisters more and more — not by merely replicating what they did – but by loving the One they loved.
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” — Jesus, Matthew 22:37-38