Day 340: Who Giveth This Woman? (2 Corinthians 11:1-2)

I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! 2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. (2 Cor. 11:1-2 NIV)

Through the Bible: 2 Corinthians 10-13

One of my favorite parts of a wedding ceremony is the “giving of the bride.” We’ve all seen it many times. The father walks his daughter down the aisle, with the eyes of everyone in attendance on her. The groom stands ready at the end of the aisle. The minister says, “Who presents this woman to be married to this man?” And the father, sometimes with tears in his eyes, responds, “Her mother and I.” He lifts the veil on his daughter, kisses her on the cheek, places her hands in the hands of her groom, and steps back. And in that moment, he prays that he has done everything he can to prepare his princess for this moment, not to mention for the lifetime that follows.

It is a beautiful part of the wedding ceremony, It’s also a beautiful metaphor for the work of a pastor.

Paul planted the church in Corinth some time around AD 50-51 (you can read about it in Acts 18 ). He watched it grow and flourish. 2 Corinthians was written about five years later. Paul had heard reports that the church was being torn apart by false teachers (2 Corinthians 11:13) who were assaulting Paul’s character, sowing discord among the believers, and teaching false doctrine. They were questioning  his integrity (2 Corinthians 1:15-17), his speaking ability (2 Corinthians 10:1011:6), and his unwillingness to accept support from the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:7-912:13). There were also some people who had not repented of their sinful behavior (2 Corinthians 12:20-21). (Thanks to for this summary)

So in chapters 10-12, Paul gets about as personal as he ever gets as he pours out his heart for this “problem child” church. He writes to this beloved congregation like a father who wants to present his daughter to her groom as a pure, spotless bride. Verse 2 is key: Paul is jealous with a ‘godly jealousy’ because he, the father of the bride, has promised the church to one husband–Christ.

This is the heart a pastor ought to have for the church he leads. Think about all the cliches of a protective father with a teenage daughter. Ask yourself, do you love your church in the same way? Here’s my gut check for how well I am loving my church. Understand, I’ve always been a little squeamish about pastors who talk possessively about “their” church. But then I go back to the “my daughter” analogy, and it makes sense. So bear with me as I talk about “my” church:

  • Am I aware of my responsibility in preparing my church to meet her groom? Am I teaching her to discern right doctrine from false doctrine? In the same way a father helps his daughter learn how a man should treat a lady, a pastor needs to help his church discern truth from error.
  • Am I as concerned for her reputation in the community as a father is concerned for his daughter’s reputation in the high school?
  • Do I pay attention to the books people in my church are reading? Even (maybe even especially) the “Christian” or “inspirational” ones?
  • Am I diligent about the quality of small group teaching in my church? Do I know what’s being studied in small groups the way the father of a teenaged daughter knows where she is on Friday night?
  • Am I concerned for their physical safety? This relates to the church’s policies and procedures regarding background checks, supervision, transportation, and so forth.

Lord Jesus, help me love my church, which is truly your church, with a godly jealousy. I pray for the day I can present her to you, her Groom, a spotless, pure, and perfect. 

Day 339: What We Gain, We Give (2 Corinthians 5:21, 8:9)

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5‬:‭21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭8‬:‭9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Through the Bible: 2 Corinthians 5-9

I noticed today how similar these two verses are. In both, Christ became something so we could become something. He lost something so we could gain something. And we gain something so we can give something.

In 5:21, the “something” is spiritual. Christ became sin so that we might become righteousness. He temporarily gave up unbroken fellowship with God so we could permanently gain unbroken fellowship with God.

And what we gain, we give. Go back to verse 20:

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

In 8:9, the “something” is material. Christ became poor. The King of Kings was born to earthly parents who could only afford the poverty offering when they presented Jesus in the temple (see Luke 2:24, Leviticus 12:8). He grew up in the obscure, backwater town of Nazareth. When He died, His body was placed in a borrowed tomb because the Lord of glory couldn’t afford a hole in the ground.

All this so we could become rich. Paul told the Philippians that “my God shall supply every need of yours according to His riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). And when we leave this world, we “have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Corinthians‬ ‭5‬:‭1‬)

Again, what we gain, we give. This teaching about becoming rich in His poverty is part of a larger teaching about contributing to the famine relief offering (Acts 11:27-30). Paul was never about guilting someone into giving. He always wanted to “grace” them into giving.

This Christmas season, we are all thinking about gifts and giving. Remember that this has been the focus of Christ all along. What we have gained, both spiritually and materially, we give to others. We are blessed to be a blessing.

Day 338: Is this the Same Guy? (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

Through the Bible: 2 Corinthians 1-4

Some biblical commentators have speculated that the person being offered forgiveness in 2 Corinthians 2 is the same person whom Paul ordered to be “delivered over to Satan” in 1 Corinthians 5. While it’s possible, it’s not likely. The Reformation Study Bible points out that verses 5 and 10 seem to suggest that whatever this person did was against Paul himself. Otherwise, Paul wouldn’t have talked about forgiving the man personally.  But the man Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 5 was guilty of sexual immorality that had nothing to do with Paul. Instead, his behavior—and the church’s toleration of it—was damaging the witness of the Corinthian church in the community.

So, probably not the same guy, but definitely the same principle. The principle is this: the world is watching us to see how we deal with matters of sin and forgiveness. Do we tolerate the one who is unrepentant? Do we reject the one who is repentant? Both have an impact on our witness in the community. The impact of tolerating sin is obvious: the church loses its moral authority. We lose the ability to call out sin in the world when we tolerate sin in the church.

The impact of rejecting repentance is more subtle. While the church may pat itself on the back for “taking a stand on moral issues,” they have failed to forgive as Christ has forgiven them (see Ephesians 4:32). They may claim the moral high ground, but they distance themselves from Christ in the process. And as the parable of the unmerciful servant teaches us (see Day 295: Forgive or Forget It ), the consequences of withholding forgiveness are severe.

This, I think, is what Paul means in verse 11, when he says “We are not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs.” The devil doesn’t care how he discredits the church, as long as it works. So whether the world sees the church as “a bunch of hypocrites who do all the same things they are judging us for” or as “a bunch of mean-spirited prudes who won’t give someone a second chance,” Satan doesn’t really care. Either way, we give the world an opportunity to discount the gospel.

So keep these two situations in tension, and always ask yourself if you are tolerating sin on one hand or rejecting the repentant sinner on the other. Either way, the devil gets a victory.  

Day 337: Taking Care of Business (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2

Through the Bible: 1 Corinthians 15-16

As he often does at the conclusion of his letters, the Apostle Paul deals with some housekeeping issues at the end of 1 Corinthians. He reminds the Corinthians church of their commitment to collect an offering to benefit the believers in Jerusalem, possibly because of the famine that is mentioned in Acts 11:28. On a side note, this verse offers support for the argument that the early church moved quickly from worshiping on the Jewish Sabbath to gathering on Sunday, “the first day of the week.”

Verse 2 ends with a curious instruction: “that there be no gatherings when I come.” Why would Paul want to make sure that the offerings were collected in advance of his coming?

Scripture does not explicitly give an answer, but I think we can make some educated guesses. We know that Paul was laser-focused on proclaiming the gospel. He had already told the Corinthians at the beginning of this letter that he “determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). I think that he wanted to make sure that when he returned to Corinth he could be focused on the gospel message and not fundraising.  He was ready to get down to business, without letting “business” get in the way!

We deal with similar tensions in the church today. I am often asked by the stewardship committee at our church to plan a sermon on giving once or twice a year, especially around budget planning time. On the other hand, I have heard from people who are frustrated when they feel like “all preachers ever talk about is money.” While I suspect this is mostly unfair, its hard to argue the point if you watch the televangelists on TV.

Paul had a singular focus. Proclaim Christ. He had a secondary focus: Contribute to the needs of the saints. Neither can be ignored, but only one should be elevated. What is your singular focus? Can you make it a priority to take care of other tasks throughout the week so that when you come to worship, you can focus on worship?

Father, help me give You the focused attention You expect, and the praise You deserve.

Day 336: Sounding a Clear Call (1 Corinthians 14:8)

“If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” 1 Corinthians 14:8 NIV

Through the Bible: 1 Corinthians 12-14

On my most recent trip to Israel, our tour guide was a trumpet player from Haifa named Yair. I love Yair. He’s brilliant and funny and full of energy. Wherever we went, Yair took his trumpet with him. When it was time to get back on the bus, he blew his trumpet. If we were spread out over an area and he wanted to call our attention to something, he blew his trumpet. Or if we were just exhausted and taking a rest break, Yair would lift our spirits with songs we knew from back home.

In Paul’s day, the trumpeter played a vital role in the army. The trumpet rallied the troops, sounded a warning, and encouraged the hearts of the soldiers.

As a pastor, that’s kind of my job description. I’m a watchman. I blow the trumpet. I warn the people. And if I sound a clear call, the people can prepare for battle. They can repent, or shelter, or fight.

But if I don’t blow the trumpet at all, that’s on me. If I’m afraid they won’t like the music, so I play a tune different from the one God gave me, that’s on me.

This image isn’t original with Paul. We can trace it all the way back to Ezekiel 33, where the prophet wrote,

“But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand. “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.” Ezekiel 33:6-7 ESV

So,  three things:

  1. The trumpet must be sounded when the warning is given. No delays, no second guessing. God tells Ezekiel, “whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them a warning from Me” (v 7).
  2. The message must be what God wants to say, and not what the watchman wants to communicate, or what the people want to hear.  Tara-Leigh pointed out that many scholars believed Ezekiel was mute except when he was prophesying. He literally couldn’t say anything except what God gave him (see Ezekiel 33:22).
  3. The message must be clear. The ESV translates 1 Cor 14:8 as “If the bugle makes an indistinct sound;” the KJV is “uncertain.” This means I’ve got to practice. I’ve got to study. A preacher doesn’t have to be eloquent or impressive, but he does have to be prepared. There’s a skill involved in bringing the message.

All of this to say, if you are a pastor, take your calling seriously, because we are accountable to God if we don’t. And if you are in a church as a member, please don’t stop praying for your pastors. This is hard.

Day 335: All Things to All People (1 Cor. 9:22)

 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Cor. 9:22)

Through the Bible: 1 Corinthians 9-11

What does it take to build a bridge? This verse about becoming all things to all people in order to save some has been used to justify all sorts of sketchy behavior. College kids have used it to justify rushing a fraternity. Teetotalers have quoted it to explain why they were seen at a local bar with a beer in their hand. I even considered using it when I tried to talk my parents into letting me get a tattoo when I was younger. It’s been used to justify cursing, dancing, skipping church to go fishing on Sundays, and going to the casino (although, in my part of the world, the excuse I hear more often for going to the casino is, “But the buffet is REALLY good.”

But a closer look at the context of 1 Corinthians 9 is that Paul was explaining why he limited his freedom, not indulged it. In the ESV, you need only look at the chapter heading for 1 Corinthians 9: “Paul surrenders his rights.” Though he is free in Christ to eat and drink whatever he wishes, he has limited that freedom in order to win those whose consciences would be seared if he ate meat that was sacrificed to idols (see 1 Cor. 8). He is free to marry or to have a wife travel with him, but he doesn’t want to hinder the gospel (see 1 Cor. 7). He is free to earn a living from preaching, but he doesn’t want anyone to accuse him of profiteering from the gospel (see 1 Cor. 9:12-15).

In every case, for Paul, “all things to all people” meant limiting the freedom he had in Christ. More important than standing up for what he was entitled to, Paul sought to lift up the gospel, even if it meant giving up his rights.

At the height of the Covid pandemic, the debate over to observe a mask mandate or be vaccinated reached a fever pitch (no pun intended). Many people saw a mandate as a threat to their freedom or liberty. And they had a point. No matter how you spun it, putting a mask on limited lots of things, including breathing and getting through the day without lint on your tongue. And For many people, it came down to whether one was willing to limit his or her freedom or endure a certain level of discomfort for the sake of the people around them. Godly Christians, whom I respect and love, made different decisions on these issues. Many saw And I know it’s a very personal issue. But what I learn from the context of 1 Corinthians 9:22 is that freedom in Christ often means that we are free to restrict that freedom for the sake of others.

How about you? Do you see becoming “all things to all people” as an opportunity to push the boundaries of what is morally acceptable? If so, you are reading it wrong. For Paul, it was about saying no, not about going wild.

Day 334: Would I Really Rather Be Wronged? (1 Cor 6:7)

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? (1 Cor. 6:7)

Through the Bible: 1 Corinthians 5-8

Paul asks, “Wouldn’t you rather be wronged and cheated” than to have the name of Christ discredited in the eyes of the world?

This is a hard question for us to answer in the world today. Not long ago, I talked with a church member about this very issue. She and her husband had contracted with another church member to have some work done in their house. Unfortunately, the upgrade they wanted actually caused a lot of damage because of poor workmanship. They are now having to pay money they don’t have in order to repair what this church member can’t fix. The husband wants to just forget about it and eat the costs of getting the job done right. The wife wants the other church member to make it right. For his part, the other church member says he doesn’t have the money or the time to come back and do the job right.

So, yeah. Paul’s question isn’t rhetorical. Honestly, no: I WOULDN’T rather be wronged and cheated. This goes against every part of my human nature not to stand up for myself. Not to demand my rights. Not to plead my case.

Here, I think what Paul says in chapter 5 about sexual integrity can rightly be transferred to dealing with integrity in business. If you are not to associate with a sexually immoral person who bears the name “brother” (1 Cor 5:9-11), then a brother with sketchy business should be just as subject to church discipline as the man sleeping with his stepmother.

There are two questions we need to ask: “What does love require?” and “What protects the gospel?”

Love may require confronting the other church member. Love asks the question: “Do I care about this person enough to call him out on an integrity issue?” Or is it more loving to keep quiet and pay someone else to make the repairs, especially as this person is trying to get his business off the ground? I can’t say definitively that one or the other is the right thing to do in this situation, but at least I’m asking the right question. And asking the right question helps eliminate wrong responses. For example, love requires that I don’t torch the guy with a negative review online if I haven’t confronted him one on one. Love requires that I tell him why I couldn’t recommend him to someone else.

You also have to evaluate which does greater damage to the gospel: asking for a handyman to make it right, even if that means pursuing legal action, or allowing someone who is known in the community as a member of our church to continue to do shoddy work and not take responsibility for his actions?

There’s not an easy answer, and maybe this is a good place to remember that the epistles were written to specific people at specific times to address specific issues. There are universal principles in the epistles, to be sure, but there are also specific circumstances. The trick with the epistles is to rightly discern which is which. Depending on your circumstances, the best two questions to ask may not be, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”

Instead, maybe the best two questions to ask are:

What does love require?

What protects the gospel?

Day 332: Tentmakers and Tailgaters (Acts 18:1-3)

“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.” Acts‬ ‭18‬:‭1‬-‭3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Through the Bible, Acts 18-19

This morning I came across a fascinating article called “Going for the Gold: The Apostle Paul and the Isthmian Games” on the website The Isthmian Games, were a big deal, second only in prestige to the Olympics in Athens, and they were held every two years. Corinth was a sports crazy town all the time (think Boston), but during the Isthmian Games, the frenzy hit the next level. People came from all over the world to watch the Games, which consisted of boxing, wrestling, running, the discus and javelin throw, and even singing. In AD 66, Emperor Nero himself competed in the singing competition. His concert lasted several hours, and he had his soldiers block the exits from the theatre so no one could leave. He won (shocker)!

This paragraph in particular caught my attention:

Since there were no permanent accommodations at the site, the people stayed in tents in the surrounding fields. Fixing or selling tents would have given Paul and his new found colleagues, Aquila and Priscilla, ample employment as well as opportunities to share the gospel with those attending the Games.

This is where we see the genius and the practical strategy of Paul. Paul looked for three things when he sought to establish a new church. First, he tended to begin new work along important trade routes so the gospel could spread in every direction from that strategic point. There was no more strategic city than Corinth, which was situated on a narrow isthmus (hence, the Isthmian Games) between the Mediterranean and the Aegean Seas. Today, a canal connects the two bodies of water, but in Paul’s day the streets were lined with shops, taverns, and brothels catering to the sailors taking good overland from one port to the other.

Second, Paul always looked for a synagogue and a strong community of Jews. Corinth had this (see Acts 18:4-5). He consistently sought to present the gospel to Jews first, and then would turn to the Gentiles when the Jews rejected it (Acts 18:5-7).

Third, Paul always looked for a way he could support himself. Yesterday, when we read 1 and 2 Thessalonians, you might have noticed how Paul emphasized not wanting to be a burden to the people he was preaching to (1 Thessalonians 2:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9), working with his hands (1 Thess. 4:10-12); and that if someone wasn’t willing to work, they shouldn’t be allowed to eat. For Paul, this was central to his ministry.

So the Isthmian games gave Paul a perfect opportunity to advance the gospel according to his standards of ministerial ethics. These first century tailgaters needed tents, and Paul and Aquila and Priscilla were happy to provide them. They heard the gospel. And when the Games were over, they took the gospel back home with them. No wonder Paul stayed there a year and a half (Acts 18:11)!

There are so many lessons for us today. As we think about beginning new work, we don’t just throw a dart at a map and pray that God will bless wherever it lands. We can be strategic. We can go where the people are. We can use the gifts we’ve been given, even the ones that aren’t obviously related to ministry. We can develop a reputation for hard, honest work in the community. And we can call other believers alongside us to both encourage us and partner with us. I am thankful for these models of bivocational ministry.

Day 331: The Ministers’ Job Description (1 Thessalonians 5:14-23)

14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thess 5:14-23)

Through the Bible: 1 Thessalonians 1-5; 2 Thessalonians 1-3

It strikes me that there probably is not a better job description for pastoral ministry–or really any kind of church leadership, than what you see in this text.

From this passage, consider these twelve points for a job description for pastors:

  1. ADMONISH the idle and disruptive (v. 14): I need to speak warning to those who lack initiative.
  2. ENCOURAGE the fainthearted (v. 14): I need to speak courage to those who lack courage.
  3. HELP the weak (v. 14): I need to not just speak, but providerelief to those who lack strength.
  4. BE PATIENT with all (v. 14): I need to not get irritated or exasperated with those who lack maturity.
  5. REFEREE the arguments (v. 15): Verse 15 says, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” I need to speak peace to those who lack perspective.
  6. REJOICE always (v. 16): I need to speak joy to those who lack vision.
  7. PRAY without ceasing (v. 17): I need to speak to God in those times I lack faith.
  8. GIVE THANKS in all circumstances (v. 18): I need to speak thankfulness to those who lack gratitude.
  9. RELEASE the Spirit (v. 19): Verse 19 says “Do not quench the Spirit.” I need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s work and movement in those times I lack flexibility.
  10. DISCERN the Word (v. 20-21): Verse 20 says “Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all, hold to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” I need to speak truth to those who lack wisdom.
  11. REJECT evil (v. 22): I need to speak against anything that lacks goodness.
  12. YIELD to the Lord (v. 23): Verse 23 promises that “the God of peace himself [will] sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I need to be surrendered in those areas I lack holiness.

And the amazing promise from God’s Word for everyone in Christian service?

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

Day 330 (Again): Did Paul “Fail” at Mars Hill? (Acts 17:18-34)

Mars Hill, Athens, Greece

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”
‭‭Acts‬ ‭17‬:‭32‬-‭34‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Through the Bible: Acts 17

I don’t know what to make of Paul’s sermon at Mars Hill. On one hand, it is held up as a model for presenting the gospel in a culturally relevant way to skeptics and unchurched people. On the other hand, the description of the results in verses 32-34–“some men joined him and believed”—seem pretty tepid compared to those in Thessalonica (v. 4) and Berea (v. 14).

Notably, Paul didn’t plant a church in Athens. There’s not an epistle to the Athenians. And apparently, Paul didn’t stay long. The very next verse (18:1) just says “after this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.” And at that point, the most prominent city in the Greek world drops out of the history of the New Testament.

Understandably, some will look at the title of this blog post and have a strong negative reaction: “How can you suggest it was a failure? God’s word went forth, and it never returns void—it always accomplishes its purposes!” (see Isaiah 55:11). That is true. Others will say, “Some people believed. And if even one person responds to the gospel, you can’t call it a failure.” That is also true.

Paul does indeed model some great practices for speaking to unchurched people. He gives a shout out to the local culture in verse 23, when he comments on the Athenians’ altar to an unknown God. He skillfully pivots to a gospel proclamation: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” He even drops a couple of pop culture references by quoting some Greek poets (v. 28).

But notice what’s missing. There’s no cross in the sermon. There’s no Jesus in the sermon. Now, you can give Paul the benefit of the doubt and say that he had been preaching Jesus and the resurrection earlier in the marketplace (see verse 17-18). But it almost seems like, when he got to the big stage of the Areopagus, he lost his nerve. He forgot the message that got him there in the first place.

Remember that Paul went to Corinth from Athens. Notice, then, what Paul says to the Corinthians years later, as he reflected on the experience: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimonyof 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 menbut in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:1-4).

Beloved, we can learn a lot from Paul’s approach as we are interacting with unbelievers. But take a moment to consider that God’s Word may be teaching us as much about what not to do as it is what to do. Effectiveness is never about our cleverness or relevance. It’s about the spirit’s power. A sermon without Christ and Him crucified is no sermon at all. And no matter how much we seek to be culturally relevant, we are not likely to see a demonstration of the Spirit’s power just because we quote the lyrics from a Taylor Swift song. 

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