First Corinthians 14:1-6
1. Pastors make an attempt to unfold the scriptures during the worship service. Each week, the pastor gives the sermon and the audience listens to it. But, we are not holding secretive meetings here. It is a public service held in open society that we are holding in this sanctuary. Therefore, the worship sermon that is given is not just a message that the pastor gives to the audience, but is also a public message that the church proclaims to society and the world. It follows then that it is the whole church body and not just the pastor alone who bears the responsibility for the message that is to be proclaimed. That then means that the important thing is that not the pastor alone but the entire church has a common understanding regarding that which pertains to the preaching of the gospel. So now, what kinds of things must we take to heart in our long term memories with respect to this matter of giving out the gospel and its being heard?
Not Distorting The Word Of God
2. To begin, please look at verses one and two. "For that reason then, since we are entrusted with this task as recipients of his mercy, we will not be discouraged. Instead, we will cast off despicable hidden deeds, not walking wily, not distorting the word of God, but by practicing the truth in the open, we entrust ourselves before God to everyone's conscience," (verses one and two).
3. Paul was an apostle and an evangelist. As such he said, "we will not be discouraged." He repeats the same words in verse sixteen as well. The words that he is using to persuade himself show tellingly the condition in which he and those with him were hard pressed not to be discouraged.
4. Anything pertaining to preaching the gospel seems to always be next door neighbors with discouragement because there is no guarantee that the gospel that is proclaimed will always be accepted. [Times] will be when the gospel will be rejected or even misunderstood. There will be times when it looks as though it was accepted but it doesn't remain at all. The fruit doesn't seem to always match up with the hard work put into it. Hardly any thanks is returned for our work. Actually, that was Paul's own experience. Even Jesus, we know through the gospels, was often rejected by the people. In preaching work, we must realize that experiences of dejection come with it.
5. When preaching work seems to be an exercise in futility, can we say with Paul, "we will not be discouraged?" How could he say that? He could say that due to his singular perception. It was the perception that "he was entrusted with this task as a person who had received mercy." He was not made an apostle because he had the right qualifications in him for an apostle. He was not made an evangelist because he was highly talented as an evangelist. Paul says that he was just entrusted with the task because of the mercy of God. For precisely that reason that he knew that such a thing was impossible, he could say, "I am not discouraged." A pastor is not a pastor because he is endowed with the talents of a pastor. The task of preaching which the church is given is not given to them because the right kind of people come together there. Actually, it is hard not to cry out, "Who is right for this task?," (2:16). Therefore, it all comes through God's mercy.
6. If we don't understand that, we'll resort to puny little tricks to avoid experiences of discouragement. We'll process up the message we're supposed to tell to make it easily accepted, readily welcomed, so that we don't experience the resistance we're supposed to have. We'll gaudily attach decorations to it and make it so impressive. To top it all off, we'll twist God's word and will even deform it [to avoid rejection].
7. However, Paul calls doing that "a despicable hidden deed." The word translated "wily (sly)" was originally the word "clever, skillful," and it in and of itself does not have a negative nuance. But, cleverness often becomes an issue because it works to twist God's word. By doing that, what Jesus didn't teach or the Bible never said will be given in a credible way. Worse yet, it will be given in words so pleasing to the ears!
8. A few days ago, in the British magazine Guardian I heard that an opinion of an expert in advertising was published in an article saying that we should quit the traditional image with Christ on the cross if we want to address the unchurched. Instead, the article said we ought to change the image of Christianity to singing beautiful praises and heart felt conversations. But [you know], the opinions of the wise like him are not so strange. It's already going on in the Christian world. We're stripping off the crosses. We're quitting our talking about sin because it makes a bad impression on people. Let's quit talking about repentance too. Rather than that, we've decided the main thing to talk about when it comes to the gospel is "positive happy living," or "loving yourself the way you are, affirming the self, and increasing one's self image." If we do that, our listeners will never get mad or rejecting. -- This must be a great temptation for both evangelists and the entire church.
9. But, Paul flat out rejected being like that. [He did that] because it is imperative to keep the truth up front, and because the important thing with people is not flattering and deceptive words, and because words like that have no meaning no matter how cleverly spoken or even if accepted. The church isn't commissioned with the task of simply making people feel good. We are at service so that true salvation is delivered. That's why the truth must be told and heard. This is one point on which the church must truly take great care.
10. Paul goes on to say the following in verses three and four, "If a veil is over our gospel, it is being covered for those who follow the way of destruction. The god of this world deceives the eyes of the hearts of those who will not believe and he has acted so that the light of the gospel pertaining to the glory of Christ the image of God would be invisible," (verses three and four).
11. The truth is told and it is heard. That happens in preaching work. But, when the truth is given, as I mentioned earlier, there is no guarantee that it will always be accepted. It may be important to present the gospel in easy to understand and simple terms. Or, it may be important to give it out in a logical, persuasive, and powerful manner. Efforts like those must be made. But, even with all that, it will come to pass that the message of the gospel will not be believed and accepted. [That's] because in preaching work, there is an entirely different factor from another dimension than how we give out [the message of the gospel]. It is the spiritual dimension; for, there is a spiritual power at work trying to deceive the people's eyes. Spreading the gospel and proclaiming it is but a spiritual battle.
12. The one called "the god of this world" in this passage is the devil. The devil is seemingly in control of this world for a time, and the world is actually bowing down and following him. We shouldn't regard the devil like some character out of a fairy tale or on a game. In this world and in each of our lives, the power of darkness is at work which goes beyond human will and wisdom -- it is a most universal and phenomenal experience, which humanity has unavoidably had to recognize from of old. That devil deceives the eyes of the heart and goes about putting people at a distance from the glory of Christ the image of God.
13. Gospel preaching is a spiritual battle with the powers of darkness. Thus, we should not think that we win by human wisdom and strength. We shouldn't forget it's a spiritual battle, twist the word of God, and throw in our puny little human tricks of making it so easy to be accepted by people. So, what are we supposed to do? We are to do battle according to God's tactics. It goes just as we've already seen in The First Epistle To The Corinthian Disciples. Paul wrote, "The world could never know God in its own wisdom. That goes with God's wisdom. So, God's take is to save believers by the foolish method of preaching," (First Corinthians 1:21). It has to proceed according to God's take on this.
14. Therefore, Paul says here in the text, "We do not proclaim ourselves but Jesus Christ the Lord," (verse five). We proclaim Jesus Christ through and through. Where Paul is saying this, it is clearly "the crucified Christ." Proclaiming the crucified Christ, as seen from the world, must certainly be a foolish method. To keep at the proclamation of the crucified Christ, whether the message is accepted or not accepted one way or the other, we have to be servants in a certain sense. We're not only servants of Jesus, but we must be able to be servants to others. "We ourselves are servants at your service for Jesus' sake," (verse five), he says. In that sense, preaching work means service. A pastor serves the audience while he proclaims Christ. The church serves the world while proclaiming Christ. We serve the world. We have to do this.
By God's Wondrous Work
15. So then, as in the above, we earnestly seek the creative work of God. A person may believe in Jesus and come to confess him as Lord; but only because of what comes from the working of the Holy Spirit alone. "If not coming from the Holy Spirit, no one can say that 'Jesus is Lord,'" (First Corinthians 12:3).
16. As a matter of fact, that was Paul's experience too. He used to be a persecutor of Christians. He thought he was serving God by killing those who were proclaiming Christ. Paul said, "If a veil is over our gospel, it is being covered for those who follow the way of destruction," (verse three). But it was none other than Paul himself who used to be the one following the way of destruction. He himself was deceived in the eyes of his heart by the devil. The light of the gospel as pertaining to the glory of Christ the image of God was completely invisible to him.
17. But, in the darkness of his veiled heart, the light shone in. It was God's light. By the God who created the light by saying, "Let there be light," a new creation had begun. With thoughts of overflowing thanksgiving for the work of God on him, Paul said this: "God, who commanded that light shine from the darkness shone in our hearts and gave us the light to perceive the glory of God shinning in the face of Jesus Christ," (verse six).
18. That we are here as believers in Jesus and we are worshipping Christ together is also nothing but the wonderful work of God. God has shined in our hearts too and he has given us the light to perceive the glory of God shinning in the face of Jesus Christ. For us then, the proclamation work of the gospel is ultimately a participation in the workings of God. Light is stronger than darkness. Though the devil puts a cover over things and makes it dark, when the light comes the darkness flees. Therefore, we will not be discouraged, but we will peacefully proclaim the Christ of the cross.