How Authentic Sermons Are Born
PAUL is direct and clear sermons are born, not from within but from above. "We too believe, and so we speak" (2 Cor. 4:13). 1 Preaching is not a matter of giving all you've got within you. Such is not the work of an ambassador whose solemn task is to deliver personally a message for his king, or of a herald whose task is to make an official announcement.
The ambassador or the herald is not responsible for creating his message; he is, however, responsible for fidelity in delivering the message and for the manner in which he personally represents his king.
How does this message get from the king to the herald or the ambassador? What is this "belief" 2 event that Paul refers to that provides him with his message?
Paul knew, as every Christian preacher also knows through experience, that the God of creation had spoken to him. He was not repeating someone else's conviction when he said, "For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of Cod in the face of Christ" (verse 6). This was no secondhand gospel for Paul.
New Testament preaching originates as a witness of faith. "God has spoken to me," faith says. "I was a sinner, and out of step with the universe. I was my own lord and did things my way. But none of my deepest desires were ever satisfied. The weight of guilt, the statement of debt that I owed everyone, would have eventually crushed me. But Jesus got through to me. He called me His son in spite of my sinful arrogance; He rolled off the burden of guilt and assumed it Himself. More than that, He gave me a new way of looking at life and a new power to do what He said could be done. All men need my Saviour and I will not be satisfied until I have made Him known to others just like me."
No man could think up a scenario like that. Such statements are the result of a revelation that could come to man only from the outside, from God Himself.
"Since we have the same spirit of faith," Paul said, ". . . we speak." Authentic sermons are born when man has heard Cod speak to him and he has responded as a grateful, obedient son. Any other kind of religious communication may be informative but unless spoken out of a heart of faith and for the purpose of awakening faith it will not well up with conviction; it may inform but not convince. It will not be a New Testament sermon.
Behind Paul's words was the Word. Before he spoke he had been spoken to. Before he could bring cheer and hope he was cheered and emboldened. Be fore he could shed light on man's fears and anxieties for the future, light had to shine in his own heart. And shine it did "the glory of God in the face of Christ."
Born of an Experience With Jesus
A man who could without embarrassment refer to his incredible record of physical and mental distress because of ill-tempered, hostile men, and yet say, "We do not lose heart," has something very important to proclaim about Jesus Christ. Paul's kind of preaching, which every genuine Christian preacher must emulate, is born out of a living experience with Jesus as both the preacher and his Lord unflinchingly face up to life's difficulties together. Because of these experiences Paul knew that anyone who rep resented Jesus faithfully would be in difficulty, "afflicted in every way, but not crushed [literally, "not left without es cape"]; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (verses 8, 9). He had discovered that in Jesus there would be perpetual escapes as well as perpetual peril. That kind of knowledge is something to talk about. Out of this kind of living, Christian proclamation becomes meaningful and credible.
But Paul learned something else as he walked under the Lordship of Jesus in a way that every man should walk before too many years go by. Yet this knowledge cannot be understood or taught unless it is first experienced. Sooner or later all men become aware of age and death: "Our outer nature is wasting away." This is not special information known only by Christians. Paul, for one, perhaps had aged before his time, wearing himself down in his incomparable record of service. But then what? Of course, there is always heaven to look forward to, but what about those years when memory may slip, when the steps slow, when younger men do what once came so easy to us?
Though long years of faithful ministry had exacted its price, ("death is at work in us") Paul sang to the world a new song that only genuine Christians learn: "Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day" (verse 16). Wearing oneself out for Jesus opens the life to a renewal that more than compensates for life's afflictions. The dying-of-Jesus experience that Paul shared with his Lord opened the door to the "life of Jesus" experience, to a continued resurrection of spirit that only a Creator God could provide.
Paul's Inner Nature Stayed Alive
Although all men must say sooner or later, "Our outer nature is wasting away," not all men can say, "Our inner nature is being renewed." Paul's inner nature was not crushed when misfortunes as sailed; his inner nature did not crumble as the years passed. When his sunset years came, he marched into the lengthening shadows with a singing heart, his inner nature never more alive and healthy. Paul had learned through experience that the law of sacrifice, personified in the life of one who gives away his time and energy for the salvation of his fellow men, is the only way to explain the phenomenon whereby physical energy is continually being exchanged for higher forms of energy.
Physical energy, wherever observed throughout the universe, seems to be running down. For the non-Christian the end is a sad collapse amid self-indulgence; for him all is indeed lost. But for the Christian, when the outer nature is wasting the inner nature is being renewed; that which indeed lasts is in direct relation to how much had first been given away. "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39).
What Paul proclaimed about Jesus was more than that He would return some day in the future to vindicate and deliver His faithful disciples. He wanted all men to know that because of Jesus the spirit of man, here and now, may be stronger than the strain of life, that all men could walk into life's sunset and say in truth, "I never felt younger." This every genuine New Testament preacher should be able to confirm with ringing affirmation.
Seeing the Unseen
"We have seen the unseen" is the secret of the increasing vigor in an aging preacher. Trouble on .all sides, disappointments that rack the heart all this any man can see. What a tragedy if that is all he can see!
What had Paul seen that made the difference? He had seen Jesus of Nazareth to be the Creator of this world, the great est evidence of which was the creating power in his own life. Into Paul's life Jesus had brought light, order, purpose, and beauty, out of that which had been formerly waste and void. But Jesus was more than Creator He was also man's Judge before whom every conscience will be bared. Paul saw clearly that each man must give account to his Maker to accept His will and judgment now brings light to life; to reject Him now adds darkness to night.
True, as Paul also saw clearly, evil seems to triumph now. The darkness does, at last, overpower man's outer nature. Although now unseen to those without faith, Paul saw that which will truly last forever: The self-authenticating love and power of God; the fellowship of those who trusted His love; the un bowed, triumphant spirit of a man whose inner spirit was renewed daily. These are the elements of life that truly matter; such truths make up the substance of the authentic New Testament sermon.
The Goal of New Testament Preaching
The New Testament message that proclaims these eternal truths about Jesus as Lord is truly effective and credible only when the preacher's personal life backs up and validates his words. When a mes sage of cheer, hope, love, and great trust is unaccompanied by a winsome, trusting, loving life witness, the word of the gospel is truly unintelligible and for the nonbeliever unworthy of belief.
"By the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." For Paul the Word of God the gospel, the truth is what he has been called to manifest openly to all men. Even as Jesus made it clear that only a person can truly reveal truth and make it believable, so Paul unashamedly recommends him self and his co-workers as manifestations of the truth about what God can do for man. His greatest concern is that his own open integrity, evident in his words and life, will strike favorably the consciences of every man he meets.
But the credit and glory belong to God alone. Whatever excellence of thought or deed that sets Paul apart, all is evidence of what God can do for fragile earthen vessels. Paul's simple statement describing genuine Christian preaching breathes gratitude through out for the mercies of God that made his ministry possible. "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us." When a man makes Jesus the Lord of his life, there is no thought of seeking personal glory for what the Spirit alone has produced. Who comes first in life was settled when the preacher made Jesus the Lord of his life.
Whatever the weight of suffering, the pain of heart, the shattered dream, the New Testament preacher has learned that he is not above his Master. Whenever men seriously try to live the life of Jesus, they share in His sorrows as well as in His strength. Living triumphantly, showing that the inner nature is more than able to cope with the afflictions of the outer nature, living without fear, loving unto the uttermost this life-style is the open statement of the truth that Jesus is indeed Lord of life. Thus Paul quietly, boldly said: "For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh."
Reproducing the Life of Jesus
Here Paul touches the object of all New Testament preaching that the man of faith will reproduce the life of Jesus. His letters ring with this lofty, yet attainable, goal. Out of the life of a faithful witness "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God" will shine. What the Corinthians saw in this man, Paul of Tarsus, was indeed the life of Christ even though he was a man who was hounded by all manner of life's distresses.
If unbelievers are ever to be judged by the gospel in these latter days, it will be only after they have seen as well as heard its truth. When those who proclaim with words the gospel of love and power but fail to live a life of love and power a great contradiction occurs. More than a contradiction, it is a tragedy.
When the words are voiced without a corresponding life witness it is evident that the preacher has misunderstood the nature of faith and the function of Christian proclamation; faith has become merely a body of doctrine to be believed and the sermon has been perverted into a mere vehicle by which doctrinal in formation is conveyed. Agreement on what the Bible says becomes more important than the transcending renewal that truly represents the life of Jesus today. A disproportionate emphasis on believing doctrine rather than living a renewed life as the immediate goal of the gospel misrepresents the Lord, whom the gospel is all about.
Christ Is Waiting
Because professed Christians have not fulfilled their role as the living exponent of truth, because they have not made clear "the open statement of the truth" in word and life, the return of Jesus has been delayed. The gospel of Jesus has not been fully preached.
Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. It is the privilege of every Christian, not only to look for but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Were all who profess His name bearing fruit to His glory, how quickly the whole world would be sown with the seed of the gospel. Quickly the last great harvest would be ripened, and Christ would come to gather the precious grain. 3
New Testament preachers, therefore, "do not lose heart." Their step is brisk as the years go by, because they see and hear "things that are unseen." They know that God has spoken truth about man as a sinner and about Himself as the one able to save. They know this truth, not because they buy it secondhand, but because God has made Himself known with indisputable evidences of His presence.
But there is more and here the New Testament preacher finds his greatest certitude as well as satisfaction. When he witnesses to his faith others respond as persons who also hear and see that which the preacher is describing with words. The same Holy Spirit calls forth the same gratefulness and repentance in his hearers, that the preacher himself felt when he first met Jesus while listening to some one else's witness to the truth about Jesus. "For . . . the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith" (Rom. 1:17).
The Lord of the gospel continues to use men as channels of His grace. The long line of faith reaches back to those disciples who first fell to their knees saying, "My Lord and my God!" Today, as never before, the world teetering on the brink of self-destruction needs a clear "open statement of the truth" whereby the honest seekers may find good reason to call "Jesus Christ as Lord."
1. Bible texts throughout this article are from the Revised Standard Version.
2. The English word believe, is a translation of pisteuo, a familiar Creek word used often in the New Testament, and frequently translated "faith" in English Bibles. Faith, the personal act of decision, is simultaneously perception and obedience: (1) God in Christ is recognized as the Lord of life, and man's sense of alienation and anxiety is perceived as the result of his irresponsible rebellion as a sinner; (2) in this awareness, there is the joyful response of obedient love to the Lord God who not only defines man's state as sinner but who also declares man forgiven and reinstated as His son. The man of faith thus trusts God implicitly and is willing to do whatever God says now and forever.
3. Christ's Object Lessons, p. 69.