The wisdom of weakness when it comes to winning hearts to Jesus.

photo - Version 2

1When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. 2For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 3I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. 4And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.  1 Corinthians 2:1-5

To be sure the Apostle Paul was not a pushover. Nor was he easily swayed from the King’s mission. Paul was trained in the rhetorical conventions of his day and he was capable of entering into the fray without paralyzing fear regarding the emotional discomfort of others. So why did Paul intentionally enter the arenas of Corinth’s intellectual and social conversation with weakness?

The Gospel of Jesus creates a counter-cultural impulse. While the best and most noble virtues of a society may bend people toward the Gospel, there are also prized postures toward life that run counter to the Gospel, create a false gospel, and might be confused with the Gospel. I think Paul choose weakness because he was responding to to the counter-cultural impulse of Jesus as he brought the Gospel to the people of Corinth.

They valued strength. They valued flowery speech. They loved their big personalities and the opportunity to take sides. Those were the trappings of their human wisdom. Paul was capable of delivering all three… and it would not have honoured Christ and the Gospel.

So Paul made himself smaller that Christ could be greater. He came with weakness — timid and trembling. He talked with them plainly. He was very conscious of relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to move the hearts of people. He was looking for the power of God to inspire trust in God. He would not use fear or a form of personalized competition with other voices or logisticians to bring people to “his side.” Instead,  Paul chose dependency on God trusting that He would show up through the grace, truth, and power of the Gospel. This choice shaped his attitude and posture toward the people of Corinth.

Would the Lord have you choose weakness as the pathway to people’s hearts in your community?

If so, what does that look like for you? What adjustments in demeanour are required?



a case study on humility and persuasion

Are you nervous when people in suits knock on your door?  Ha, I am too.  And there you know that I understand emotionally one of the objections to Christian faith that I encounter:  the missionary zeal of those who follow Jesus.  The accusation is that it is deeply arrogant to believe that every one needs faith in Jesus Christ in order to know God and enjoy Him.  While I believe that is possible and necessary for us to examine our “beliefs” as exclusive claims to understanding reality, I do not believe that the attitude of those holding to exclusive faith statements, whether christian, religious, or of material and “secular” nature means that one must be arrogant.  Some who believe are arrogant and some who believe are not arrogant.  Arrogance is that quality of heart that pervades both word and body to communicate that I am better than you, for you have failed, and I have not; I am worthy of love and you are not.  Conviction of heart and the desire to persuade is often confused as arrogance in our setting. 

I believe liberty is the common grace of God to all people in a society whereby a collective value on freedom of conscience within that setting requires the energetic debate of ideas but the utmost respect of the dignity of persons–even and perhaps most desperately–when they disagree.

A fascinating case study on humility and persuasion is contained in the apostle Paul’s writing in Romans 9-11.  It should be observed that this former Jewish persecutor of the followers of The Way, as the earliest followers of Jesus were known, was a flaming evangelist.  He wanted to convince others even at the cost of his life that Jesus was the messiah, the Christ, the destined judge of all humanity.  Notice Paul’s zeal and passion for persuading his “tribe,” the Jews, to trust Jesus as their Saviour:

“I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit–I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my own race, the people of Israel.”  Romans 9:1-4

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.  For I can tastify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based in knowledge.  Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.  Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”  Romans 10:1-4

“I am talking to you Gentiles.  Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.”  Romans 11:13-14.

Paul argued that the inclusive claim that Jesus was the only saviour for all humanity–both Jews and Gentiles– could not be accompanied by arrogance.  He says “Do not boast over these branches;” the branches of many in Israel who have been broken off.  In looking back over the discourse from Romans 9 to 11 Paul gives  seven reasons that could be said to that rule out arrogance and argue for humility.

1.  The benefits of knowing the messiah are rightly Israel’s.  Romans 9:1-5.

2.  Knowing God and living in fellowship with Him, depends not on the efforts of humans, but on the mercy of God.  Romans 9:14-18.

3.  Righteousness–or being in right relationship with God–comes about not by works, but by faith in Christ.  Romans 9:30-Romans 10:4.

4.  Our faith in Jesus–which came from hearing the Word of God–was dependent on the obedience of someone else to the call of God.  Romans 10:5-15

5.  The Gentiles who believe have been graciously grafted into the  covenant relationship with God.  Romans 10:11-24.

6.  The Gentiles who believe and enjoy the covenantal relationship with God will be a source of envy stirring up saving faith among the Jews.  Romans 11:25-32

7.  The Merciful God is greater and wiser and more inclusive than I am.  Romans 11:33-36

So, when I step into the realm of persuader I must also check into the realm of humility.  I do not argue for Christ in fear that I need you to believe in order to justify my belief; that’s the stance of a fundamentalist.  Rather I argue for faith in Christ out of the generative and humble stance of one who has been blessed and senses that it is not just for me to keep it to myself.  I’ve been blessed and must pass it on as a life-giving and enhancing option available to others.

120 Days, James Choung on video

If you are coming out to Leaders Fellowship this Wednesday night at Cityview you will join us in the launch of a new experiment.  120 Days.  I am asking those who attend to think about and share the Gospel for the next 120 days, 17 September – 17 January, from a 4 Circles approach developed by James Choung.  On Wednesday we will start to learn this conversation together and we will develop ways to share our learning.  120 DAYS is a “next step” from the series in August called “Speaking of Jesus.”  I hope you will come, learn, pray, and take the challenge.  As preparation please watch the 2 three-minute talks by James Choung, author of True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In.

The Big Story, Presentation

The Big Story, Response