If the preaching of the Gospel is to have any effect in the lives of its hearers, it needs to come in power, in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. In our opening verses, the apostle lets us in on the reason the call of the Gospel is effectual in those who believe it. To these people, the Gospel comes in full conviction, as a result of the mighty work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. It does not rest on human wisdom or eloquence.
Paul wrote elsewhere in a parallel verse saying, “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” and then he explained why: “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Faithful Gospel preaching is Christ-centred and Christ-exulting. Paul writing few verses earlier in 1Cor 2 had this to say: “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,” (1 Corinthians 2:2-3).
Here we find one unique characteristic of Gospel preaching as taught in the New Testament; it does not draw attention to the preacher, but to Christ, and His resurrection. The manner of life of the apostles among those whom the Lord sent was that which sought to magnify Christ, and make less of themselves. They were “in weakness and in fear and much trembling,” — clearly desiring that nothing in them will get in the way of their making Christ exulted above all. Paul was therefore bold to remind the Corinthian Christians of the kind of life they lived whilst amongst them — one that sought to make solely Christ and His death on the cross known to all.
Nothing except Christ and Him crucified
The message of the cross is the heart of all that God has done for the salvation of men; and the one thing that must be preached at all times. If our messages don’t emphasize this, it falls short of Gospel preaching.
What does it mean for the apostle to preach Christ and Him crucified?
These two things are absolutely crucial – The person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His Work. To make Jesus Christ known is to preach His person – His incarnation, life, death and resurrection – in order to reconcile fallen man back to God. God came in the flesh in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The son of man (Christ); the second person in the Holy Trinity came to seek and to save that which was lost. He only could fulfil the righteous demands of God’s holy law by his life of perfect obedience and unlock for us the gates of heaven.
It is tragic that many preachers can teach on Salvation without mentioning the person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ! But it takes only the God-man to do this. It is His atoning work, His death on the cross and His resurrection that paid the price for our Salvation. This is why Paul sought to make Christ’s work and His death known, with fear and trembling. This was the first thing he and the other apostles preached:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1Corinthians 15:1-4).
His words in the passage above are very instructive: he delivered to them as of first importance, the Gospel! He did not put anything before it. Isn’t it a travesty that we ever so often do exactly opposite that – place other things before the Gospel? Christ died for our sins! He was buried and raised on the third day so that we might be forgiven! If you have not come to terms with and believed this, then you are lost and not saved.
You cannot believe in the gospel unless you first believe in the doctrine of the wrath of God against sin! His death on the cross was a substitution for our sins. He died for you and me! Why did he die for us? Because of what is true about you and me! The Biblical truth is that we are all fallen creatures! This is universally true of everybody, and we are under the wrath of God! (Romans 1:18).
But how can I know that Christ’s death was sufficient to atone for my sins and the wrath of God? Because God raised Him from the dead! The Bible is careful to say that God raised Him (Jesus) from the dead – to prove that His death was sufficient once and forever to satisfy God’s wrath and the requirement of the law! Romans 4:24-25 is re-assuring in this regard: “…It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
The Results of Faithful Preaching
Not founded on human efforts, the result of faithful preaching is equally divine and spiritual. Faithful Gospel preaching produces converts who are truly Christ-like.
When the apostles preached faithfully, the results were disciples who imitated The Lord Jesus Christ; full of joy in the Holy Ghost, even in much persecution. Their preaching produced saints who turned from idols to serve the living God, and lived their lives in hope of the second coming of Jesus Christ. The testimony of exemplary Christian living of the Thessalonian Christians, as recorded in our opening passage, was reported as far as to Macedonia and Archaia.
How does this compare to what pertains in our day? Do we emphasize the cross in our messages? Is Christ and His work truly at the centre of our sermons? Do we seek to present the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit or do we rely on our eloquence and charisma to ‘move’ our hearers? Do we seek God’s face in tears and humility for the salvation of souls? Could the state of Christianity as we have it today be a reflection of the dearth of faithful Gospel preaching?
My prayer is that God will grant us faithful teachers who will seek nothing except to know Christ and to make Him known. And may God grant that our generation will be filled with faithful Christians whose lives will model the Gospel wherever they find themselves — that others seeing our good works will come to the saving knowledge of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.