The "why" of Paul's preaching!

Getting at the heart of what makes Christian preaching live

R. Leslie Holmes, DMin, PhD, is senior pastor of Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church in Lexington, South Carolina.

I am captivated by the "why" of the apostle Paul's preaching. His motivation to preach was so compelling in him that twice he refers to his appointment as "a herald and an apostle," placing his call to preach or be a herald, ahead of his call to apostleship (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). Paul has a lot to say about preaching. He mentions it at least 45 times in his epistles. To understand his motivation to preach, we need to consider two related matters.

Paul's mandate

First is Paul's mandate to proclaim the gospel: "Necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16, NKJV). The apostle has a divine directive. Every authentic preacher must begin there. Someone went up to the Iron Duke of Wellington and asked, "Sir, should we preach the gospel to every creature?" The Iron Duke replied, "Sir, what are your orders?"

We preach under orders, "as a dying man to dying men." We have a message to proclaim, a story to tell: 2,000 years of it is scripted on the pages of history and opened for all to see. There was a time when the center of this faith we preach was Jerusalem. The next great center of Christian faith was Antioch. For a while, the church at Antioch sent out missionaries such as Paul, Silas, Barnabas, and John Mark. Then formalism and indifference polluted their zeal and the light went out.

After this, the hub was at Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire for 300 years. Preachers such as John Chrysostym made the eastern Roman Empire glow in God's glory, but the light went out, and the center moved to Rome. Out of Rome came those great missionary movements that evangelized the Picts, Scots, Irish, Anglos, Saxons, Gauls, Germans, Titans, and Belgians, and all of Northern Europe came to faith in Christ. But as with the others, Rome fell with a multitude of aberrations and errors, and the great centers of faith became Germany and Geneva and Edinburgh.

Under the Reformers, there was a new welling up of faith in Jesus. Then the Reformation bogged down in theological minutiae and the great heart of things moved to England. But England became staid and indifferent and the flame went out.

After England, God raised up America. Throughout the twentieth century America was the mission center for the Christian faith. It influenced every continent for Christ and His kingdom. But today it seems that America is rapidly becoming a theological melting pot, where the principle theological tenet may be expressed in the plaintive cry of Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?" than to any thing like the message Paul preached and wrote about.

Again, the church has softened in its missionary zeal, and we are miscarrying our mandate. Once more, the lamp is growing dim. Many of our seminaries have become more like schools of psychology. Paul knew what his orders were: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:18, 21; cf. Matt. 28:19, 20). Do we still know our orders, our authority and the content of the message we are to herald?

Paul's message

Second, Paul knew his message. "We pro claim Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23, NRSV). Paul was a brilliant academician who had sat at the feet of Gamaliel, a recognized scholar and philosopher of the time. To be a student under Gamaliel was an honor reserved only for the brightest and most promising.Yet, having met Christ, Paul knew that he was not called to philosophize or moralize but to deliver the message of the Cross, a word from God that carried the authority and power of heaven itself.

Paul's motivation

Then, of course, there was Paul's motivation for preaching, the focal point of this article. The apostle told the Corinthians, "Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died" (2 Cor. 5:14, NIV).

To more fully understand that compelling love, we must turn to Paul's letter to the Galatians, where he writes, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20, NKJV).

Before we look directly at what this verse says about God's love, see how many first person pronouns are employed in these few phrases. Five times he uses "I." Three times he speaks of "me."

For Paul, Christian faith is nothing if not personal, inward, individual, particularized, and exclusive. Just as no one can sleep or eat for another, so no one else can become a Christian for another. Nor can someone else be called to preach by proxy!

Now, there are two parts to Paul's motivation to preach. The first is gratitude for past love: "The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me." Paul uses the Greek aorist sense to denote a fully accomplished act. The aorist, like a photo in a picture album, is completed history, a moment passed.

The sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary was a once-for-all-time action. For Paul, the fully accomplished sacrifice of Christ on Calvary was, among other things, a separating, historical moment for all of us. Our sins were taken away in one action that stands still as the centerpiece of history. God's Son died. When He died, our sins were paid for, lock, stock, and barrel! Nothing else we, or any other, can do can make that action more effective or more complete. Paul's realization of the meaning of that act of love created in him a compelling gratitude.

At the same time, Christ's death brought death to Paul. He uses the Greek tauromai, which literally means "co-crucified." "When Jesus was crucified, I was too," he says. "The death I deserved for me took place on that cross." "When He died, I died." Part of the wonder of Paul's epistles is that he frequently writes them to dead people: "We died with Christ" (Rom. 6:8, NKJV). "You died with Christ." "You died, and your life is now hid den with Christ in God" (Col. 2:20; 3:3, NKJV).

The second part of Paul's motivation is framed in the words, "Christ lives in me." This is grace for present living. When we die with or in Christ, we come alive in ways we never experienced before. It is a life so different that the Greeks used a new word to describe it: zoe. That is, eternal, vibrant, abundant life. This kind of life, rather than mere bios; that is, organic, measurable; terminal life!

The benefits of the "in-Christ" relationship

The "in-Christ" relationship permeates Paul's letters. Paul says believers are intricately joined to Jesus as though they (we) share a kind of spiritual DNA.

At least six benefits come to us from this relationship:

First, salvation. We are saved to newness! "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV).

Second, advocacy. We have a great spiritual cheerleader: "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" (Rom. 8:26, NIV). Third, strength in trial. We have supernatural assurance in our helplessness! "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'. .. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses.. .. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:9, 10, NIV). Fourth, hope. We are lifted above all our circumstances! "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you" (Eph. 1:18, NIV). Fifth, life. We are drawn to a new level of living. " [This] life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20, NIV).

These five benefits by themselves are more than sufficient to embrace Christ and preach Him with gusto.

The ultimate motivator

Yet, there is one more benefit that becomes Paul's primary motivator, the epicenter of what we focus upon here: Love.

In Christ we encounter love at a level not found in any other person or any other place. "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19, NIV).

Paul employs the Greek verb that stretches far deeper than mere head knowledge. He speaks of a quality of love that is found nowhere else but in Jesus Christ.

This love is more vast than infinity. Thus this love has no limits, no horizons, no stopping places. It is a love we can never lose . . . ever, for it is always about us and ever unwaveringly focused upon us! Amazing as it may seem, this God who sent His Son to the cross for us loves us still—even now at this moment, with a love that never wanes—that no evil word or action can discourage or reduce.

That's the way we are loved and that's the "why" of Paul's preaching!


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R. Leslie Holmes, DMin, PhD, is senior pastor of Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church in Lexington, South Carolina.

May 2003

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