For many years, the light of the gospel was veiled beneath Rome’s liturgy that was led by the Latin tongue even when people didn’t understand what was being communicated. The worship of the Roman Catholic Church was filled with obscure phraseology and polished sentences that served as word salads at best while never providing true nourishment of the soul. In short, the Roman Catholic Church withheld the gospel from the people and it was the Reformation that released God’s Word from the dark dungeon of man-centered religion.
We look back beyond what was taking place in the days of the sixteenth century in Europe to the ministry of the apostle Paul. His resume speaks about his high education and training as a pharisee. Paul was no dummy to say the least. With a high pedigree regarding education and a very advanced vocabulary and command over human language—this brilliant pastor-theologian refused to speak over the heads of the people. Instead, he spoke to the people. Listen to the words of Paul as he wrote to the church at Corinth.
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).
Paul was full of wisdom and had the unique capability of using lofty speech if necessary, but he chose to set aside his capabilities in order to accomplish something of far greater importance. Rather than inviting people to praise his vocabulary and knowledge as a theologian, he wanted to use human speech to direct people to the wisdom, beauty, and majesty of God. Paul’s motive was not to have the people become impressed with him, instead, he desired for the church to be impressed with the Christ who died on the cross. It must likewise be noted that it’s often the mark of a skilled preacher who can articulate grand truths in a simple and yet accurate manner.
Far too many preachers seek to unleash their theologically robust and esoteric vocabulary upon the church without considering the common man and woman among the church who may not get it. In other words, it’s best for the preacher to put the cookies on the bottom shelf as often as possible in order to deliver the truth and unleash God’s gospel.
According to Paul, his words were in “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” and the overall purpose was that the faith of the church would rest in the power of God rather than the wisdom of men. Preachers are not poets. Pastors are not philosophers. It is our duty to make sure the message of Christ is clearly articulated and powerfully communicated so that men, women, boys, and girls might have their faith rooted and grounded in Christ alone.
We must remember, it’s not the eloquence of the preacher, the clever cliches in his sermon, or enticing words of man’s wisdom that brings people to faith—it’s the power of the gospel. Remember, Charles Spurgeon learned that lesson as he walked into the Crystal Palace test the acoustics. Listen to Spurgeon tell the story of what happened that day:
In 1857, a day or two before preaching at the Crystal Palace, I went to decide where the platform should be fixed; and, in order to test the acoustic properties of the building, cried in a loud voice, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In one of the galleries, a workman, who knew nothing of what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul. He was smitten with conviction on account of sin, put down his tools, went home, and there, after a season of spiritual struggling, found peace and life by beholding the Lamb of God.
Just a few days after that event, 23,654 would gather in that same venue to hear Spurgeon preach. However, just days prior, only one verse was thundered from the pulpit and God used it to convert a lost man. The converted man would tell that story upon his deathbed. The next time you’re preparing a sermon or a lesson to teach in the context of the local church—think about how you can simplify the message and make sure that it’s clearly understood by everyone who will be in attendance. That includes both the carpenter and the surgeon—the little boy and the elderly woman. When you prepare to preach or teach, think about your goal of causing people to be impressed with God rather than you and your gifts.
Today when you walk into St. Pierre in Geneva where John Calvin served as pastor, written on the walls of the cathedral are these words, “post tenebras lux” which means, “After darkness, light.” Our ministries need to be known as ministries of light that point people to the beauty, wonder, and majesty of the God who saves sinners.