Powerful Preaching, Powerless Labor

Today’s selected reading continues in the second epistle of the apostle Paul in the New Testament which was written unto the saints of Corinth. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses eleven through fourteen of the thirteenth and final chapter. With these four verses the apostle Paul brings the second epistle he wrote unto the saints of Corinth to a close. With the words contained within these final four verses the apostle Paul concludes everything he sought to write unto the saints which were at Corinth. What is truly unique about that which we read in this passage of scripture is that when we begin reading the thirteenth chapter of this epistle we find the apostle Paul speaking of his desire to visit this congregation a third time. I happen to find these words truly unique and incredibly powerful, for the apostle Paul wasn’t willing to neglect, forsake or even abandon this congregation. If you spend time in the eighteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find that when the apostle Paul came to the city of Corinth he reached the point in his stewardship of the ministry where he would no longer go to the Jews but to the Gentiles. It was in the city of Corinth where the apostle Paul—along with Silas and Timothy—experienced tremendous opposition from the Jews who were present within that city. Though scripture doesn’t explicitly state that Paul sought to leave the city of Corinth and move on from the city we discover that it was while the apostle Paul was at Corinth the Lord appeared to him in a vision by night. It’s actually quite incredible to read the words which the Lord spoke to the apostle that night by a vision, for not only did the Lord instruct the apostle to continue preaching, but the Lord also declared unto the apostle that He has many people within the city.

There is not a doubt in my mind that it was the vision Paul received and the words our Lord spoke unto the apostle that solidified his tenure in the city of Corinth. Luke records for us in his second treatise unto the most excellent Theophilus that the apostle Paul spent a full eighteen months in the city of Corinth as he labored among the people of that city. Scripture is not clear, and Luke does not record what the ministry or the apostle was like within the city during those eighteen months, but we do not that it was as a result of the labor of the apostle that a church was established among the inhabitants of that city. This brings us face to face with the question of how long we are willing to spend investing in the lives of those we encounter and come in contact with. How long are we willing to spend investing into the lives of others and pouring ourselves out on their behalf? Are we willing to give of ourselves in order that those we encounter can experience the demonstration of the Spirit and the power of the kingdom of God. While it is true that Luke doesn’t record for us exactly what the ministry of the apostle Paul looked like as he labored among the saints of Corinth, we find certain hints as to the scope of that ministry while the apostle was there. If you turn and direct your attention to the second chapter of the first epistle the apostle Paul wrote unto this particular congregation you will find the apostle Paul himself declaring that he did not come with wise or persuasive words or eloquence of speech, but rather with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. When writing unto the saints within this city he sought to remind them that when he came to them he came with much fear and trembling, as well as with weakness. Though the apostle Paul came unto this city and the people therein with weakness, he nonetheless came unto them with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

It is absolutely imperative that we recognize and understand that during those eighteen months among the inhabitants of the city of Corinth—although the apostle Paul was among them with much fear and trembling—he labored among them according to the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. There is not a doubt in my mind that during that time the Lord wrought many miracles, signs and wonders through and by the hands and ministry of the apostle Paul. I am convinced that the words which the apostle Paul wrote and declared unto the saints which were present at Corinth reveal the tremendous reality that it is possible that we can be present among those we have been called to in weakness and in much fear and trembling, and yet the demonstration of the Spirit and of power can be fully present and manifested. The apostle Paul wrote concerning his weaknesses that it was in his weakness the strength of Christ can be made perfect. It was in the midst of his weakness and infirmities and distressed and necessities the grace of God could be sufficient for him. Not only in his personal life did the apostle Paul prove the strength of Christ in and through his weakness, but within the ministry entrusted unto him, the apostle Paul also proved and demonstrated that though he comes not with wise and persuasive speech and with eloquent words, he comes with the demonstration of the Spirit and with power. Luke may not record much of what the ministry of the apostle Paul looked like during those eighteen months, but we do discover through the words of the apostle Paul himself that there was a mighty and powerful demonstration of the Spirit and of power while he, Timothy and Silas were present within the city. LABORING IN WEAKNESS! LABORING THROUGH FEAR! LABORING THROUGH TREMBLING! LABORING THROUGH THE DEMONSTRATION OF THE SPIRIT. The question I can’t help but consider when reading the words of the apostle Paul is how much of our labor touches the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. How much of our labor among those we have been called to is done according to the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

There is a deep and underlying question I can’t help but ask and be confronted with when I read the words of the apostle Paul in his first epistle unto the saints of Corinth. Before even getting into that question it is necessary to first present you with the words the apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of the first epistle sent unto the saints of Corinth. Beginning with the first verse of the second chapter we find the following words: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, not of the princes of this world, that come to nought: but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:1-8). Please pay close attention to the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular section of Scripture, for what he writes is completely contrary and goes against everything we believe and have been taught concerning ministry. The apostle Paul makes it very clear that when he was with the people of Corinth he was with them in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling, and moreover, that his speech and preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. I feel a great and tremendous need to pause right here and declare that we would expect the preaching of the word of God to be eloquent and fiery and charismatic. We would expect the preaching of the word to feel and sound like it it has the anointing, the power and the presence of the Spirit all over it. We fully expect the preaching of the word of God to be completely clothed and saturated with the power of the Spirit, yet when it comes to the labor and work of the kingdom, we seem to forget the words of the apostle Paul which were written in this particular passage of Scripture. We fully expect the preaching of the word of God to sound as though it were completely and utterly set on fire from the altar of heaven, yet we don’t think along the same lines concerning the labor of ministry.

PREACHING IS A FORM OF MINISTRY! I would dare say that there are those among us who would think that preaching is in fact the ultimate expression and manifestation of ministry among those to whom we have been called. There would be those among us in the house of the Lord who fully expect the preaching of the word of God to accomplish everything the Lord desires to do among a people and within a city, a town, a college, a place of employment, a community, and the like. We read the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning the word of God and we immediately think that the preaching of the word of God is the ultimate tool used in the hand of God to accomplish that which He desires to do within communities, neighborhoods, towns, cities, families, homes, churches and the like. Consider if you will the words which the prophet Isaiah writes in the prophetic book which bears his name: “seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are yours ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:6-11). The words we find and read in the prophetic book of Isaiah are directly in line with the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the tenth chapter of the epistle he wrote unto the church which was at Rome. Beginning with the twelfth verse of the tenth chapter of this epistle we find the following words: “For there is no different between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 8:12-17).

For some reason there has been a growing belief among us within the house of God that preaching is the ultimate and final expression and authority of the kingdom of God. We read the gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ, and we discover that after He returned from the wilderness with the power and authority of the Spirit He began preaching and declaring unto those of Judaea and Samaria, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We find that after returning from the wilderness full of the same Spirit who had descended upon Him in the bodily form of a dove at the waters of the Jordan River, and the same Spirit which led Him into the wilderness, Jesus began preaching repentance for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. With all of that being said, I am convinced that the greatest demonstration of the ministry of Jesus was not in His preaching, nor even His teaching. It would be very easy to look at and examine the life and ministry of Jesus and immediately conclude that His preaching and His teaching were the greatest demonstrations and manifestations of the ministry He was entrusted with while upon the earth, yet I am convinced that this simply isn’t the case. In fact, if you read and study the four gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ you will find that while Jesus taught in parables, while Jesus taught in synagogues, while Jesus preached the good news concerning the kingdom of heaven upon the earth, the greatest demonstration and manifestation of His ministry was not in preaching, nor was it even in teaching. It is true that His teaching and His preaching was unlike anything those of that generation had every heard or experienced, for He taught and preached with such authority, yet even His teaching and His preaching was not the ultimate and final expression of His ministry upon the earth. I am convinced that while His teaching and preaching was fully and completely clothed with the divine authority of heaven, it was His labor which lasted three and a half years that was the ultimate expression of ministry upon the earth. I do agree that His teaching and preaching was a form, was an expression, was a manifestation of the ministry He had been entrusted by His Father in heaven, yet I do not believe that His teaching and preaching was the ultimate expression and demonstration of His ministry within and upon the earth. It would be very easy to conclude this to be the case, yet I am firmly convinced that preaching, and even teaching—regardless of how anointed and on fire it might be—are not the ultimate expression and demonstration of the ministry we have been called to.

The apostle Paul—when writing unto the saints which were at Corinth—declared that while he was with them, he was with them in much fear, in weakness, and in trembling. The apostle Paul declared unto the Corinthian saints that while he was with them his preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. In fact, when you continue reading within the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Corinthian congregation you will find the following words written in the fourth chapter: “Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you. But I will come to your shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:18-20). NOT THE SPEECH OF THEM WHICH ARE PUFFED UP, BUT THE POWER! NOT SPEECH, BUT POWER! It is absolutely unmistakable and undeniable when reading these words that our speech is not the truest expression and demonstration of that which we have been called to and entrusted with upon the earth. The apostle Paul declared that when he came unto the city of Corinth and once more laboured and walked among them he would know—not the speech of those which were puffed up among them, but the power. Furthermore, the apostle Paul would go on to write and declare that the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. I am convinced that it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this reality and concept, for there would be those who would think that the kingdom of God is in word and speech, yet the truth of the matter is that the kingdom of God is not in word, nor is it in speech, but in power. The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not the power of the Spirit is present within and upon our lives. Remember the words which the Lord spoke unto Zerubbabel through the prophet Zechariah—words which are recorded in the fourth chapter of the prophetic book which bear’s Zechariah’s name? “Then He answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it” (Zechariah 4:6-7). It was through the prophet when speaking directly unto Zerubbabel the Lord emphatically declared that it was not by might, nor by power, but by His Spirit alone.

We would fully expect the preaching of the word of God to be clothed and saturated with and by the power of the Spirit, yet I have to ask whether or not we expect the same reality to be true of our labor among those to whom we have been called and sent. Do we expect our labor to be clothed and saturated with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power? I would dare say that there are a number of men and women in Christendom who gauge the spiritual health and vitality of a church based on the “anointing” that appears to be upon the preacher, and upon the preaching of the word of God. There are a number of men and women among us who select and choose the churches we attend based on the charisma and personality of the preacher that stands behind the pulpit. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—when was the last time you selected a church based on the labor of the preacher and minister rather than the preaching of the minister? When was the last time you felt compelled to cast yourself within and upon a specific body of believers—not because of the preaching of the word, or even because of the style of worship that is present upon the platform, but because of the labor that is performed among the individual members of that body? I would dare say that there are many of us who have “felt called” to a specific body of believers—not because of the individual members of the body themselves, but because of the preacher, and/or even the worship team who leads the body into worship of the Father. Oh how misguided such a reality and notion truly is, and how incredibly dangerous and tragic this is among us within this generation. I know that I myself am guilty of entering a specific church for the first time and seeking to make my decision based on the charisma and personality of the preacher, and even the style of the worship team that leads the body into worship before the Father. Having grown up in the church—and specifically in a pastor’s home—I have encountered countless preachers, ministers, teachers, evangelists, and the like who have come through the doors of various churches. If I am being honest, I have to declare that there are those among us who are drawn to strong personalities and strong displays of charisma from the minister, preacher and pastor who stands behind the pulpit. What’s more, we are even drawn to the style of worship that is performed on stage—not only the specific songs which are sung, but also the sound and style of those who lead worship in the house of God. Oh how misguided and deceived we are when we allow ourselves to get caught up in such a wrong mentality when entering into the house of the Lord. How deceived and misguided we are when we equate the preaching of the word of God as the ultimate demonstration and expression of ministry in the house of the Lord. I feel the need to emphatically declare that while the preaching of the word of God is absolutely necessary, and while it is true that signs and wonders shall follow the preaching of the word of God, the preaching of the word of God is not the ultimate labor of ministry we have been called to as saints of the living God and disciples of Jesus Christ.

In the final four verses of the thirteenth chapter of the second epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Corinth we find the following words which serve as the conclusion to the epistle: “Finally, brethren farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace: and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” (2 Corinthians 13:11-14). BE PERFECT! BE OF GOOD COMFORT! BE OF ONE MIND! I find it absolutely necessary to examine these words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Corinth, for these three realities are three of the most difficult realities to give ourselves to when we consider the life of the body of Christ. I am reminded of the words of Jesus when He declared unto His hearers during the Sermon on the Mount, saying, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This reality and concept of being perfect did not originate with the apostle Paul, but actually originated with our Lord Jesus when He delivered the Sermon on the Mount. It was our Lord who first instructed us to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect, and here we find the apostle Paul instructing us to be perfect before the God of love and peace. Not only did the apostle Paul instruct the Corinthian saints to be perfect, but he also instructed them to be of good comfort, and to be of one mind. I would dare say that two of the greatest troubles and difficulties we have within the house of the Lord as the saints of God and disciples of Christ are what we find and read in this passage of Scripture. It is not easy by any stretch of the imagination to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect, to be of good comfort [toward one another], and to be of one mind. It is especially difficult to be of one mind, and yet even with that statement I must also declare that it is absolutely possible for the saints of God to be of one mind. Despite the fact that we might not have experienced this reality being present and manifested among us in the house of the Lord, I am firmly convinced that it is possible for the saints of God to be of one mind. If you read both the second and fourth chapters of the New Testament book of Acts you will quickly discover two powerful examples of the early church, and how they were completely, totally, and utterly of one mind. Consider if you will the following accounts of the early church as expressed through the writing of the beloved physician, Luke:

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:32-37).

Both of these examples and accounts found within the New Testament book of Acts perfectly describe what it looks like when the body of Christ is of one heart and of one mind. Each of these examples powerfully and wonderfully demonstrate the tremendous reality that it is absolutely possible for the body of Christ to be of one mind and of one heart. I am convinced that there are many of us who have experienced a poor sampling of what it truly means to be a part and member of the body of Christ. There are a number of us who have yet to truly see what it looks like when the body of Christ is of one mind and of one heart. We read accounts such as what Luke wrote and records in the book of Acts, and we find ourselves not only disappointed that this doesn’t seem to be the expression that is found within our churches and houses of worship, but also eagerly and earnestly desiring this expression to be fully and completely manifested. With that being said, I feel it is absolutely necessary to write and express that this is not something that can be manufactured and produced by the will and desire of man. If you as a pastor, or if you as a leadership team, or if you as a body, or if you as an individual member seek to produce and manufacture such a reality within the house in which you worship, I feel compelled to declare unto you that you will fail. What we read and what we find in the New Testament book of Acts was not the product of man’s will, or man’s desire, or man’s ingenuity, or even man’s intellect. We dare not read the words which Luke wrote in the New Testament book of Acts and consider that such a reality and such an expression was manufactured by the early church itself—or even the apostles who walked with Jesus for three and a half years. We must recognize and realize the series of events that had taken place over the past fifty days, for during the span of fifty days—not only had Jesus been crucified, not only had Jesus been buried in a borrowed tomb, but Jesus was raised from death to life, revealed Himself over a period of forty days, and ultimately was ascended to the right hand of the Father. What’s more, is that ten days after His ascension to the right hand of the Father in heaven, the day of Pentecost came, and the promise of the Father—the divine person and third person of the Trinity was released within and upon the earth. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand these core events and core realities, for it was only because these events took place we are able to read the language and text we find in the second and fourth chapters of the New Testament book of Acts.

It is absolutely necessary that we pay close attention to what we read in the second and fourth chapters of the New Testament book of Acts, for what we read and what we find in these two chapters is not the demonstration and manifestation of the apostles, or even of the early church itself, but a demonstration and manifestation of the Spirit of Christ within and upon the early church. With that being said, it is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand that the truest expression of the body of Christ is not the preaching of the word, or even the worship that is present within the house of the Lord, but the labor of the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ spent three and a half years laboring with the disciples and among the regions of Judaea and Samaria; the apostle Paul spent three years laboring among the inhabitants of Ephesus; the apostle Paul spent eighteen months laboring among the inhabitants of the city of Corinth. It is this concept of labor I feel is absolutely necessary when we read and consider the final words of the apostle Paul unto the Corinthians. We think, we consider, and we expect the demonstration of the Spirit and the power of the Spirit to be upon the preaching of the word, yet I am convinced that there is a great need for the demonstration of the Spirit, as well as the power of the Spirit to be upon our labor as the saints of God and disciples of Christ. Tell me—does your labor of love display the same manifestation of the Spirit of Christ as does the preaching and teaching you engage in on a weekly basis? If your labor among the saints, and if your labor among those outside the four walls of the church does not match—and I would even dare say exceed your preaching and teaching—your ministry is incredibly shallow. There are men and women among us who can preach the word of God as though it’s going out of style, and who can drop the mic after they have finished preaching because they have preached with such intensity, such charisma, such zeal, and such passion, and yet those same realities and characteristics aren’t even present within and upon their labour. I would emphatically and boldly declare that if you are unwilling and perhaps even unable to match your preaching with labor, you should strongly consider putting an end to preaching. What good is it if your preaching is perceived as being anointed among the brethren, yet your labor is perceived as being incredibly shallow and powerless. POWERFUL PREACHING, YET POWERLESS LABOR!

I feel compelled to leave you with the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Philippi to help illustrate this reality even more. If you begin reading with and from the first verse of the second chapter of the epistle of Philippians you will read and find the following words: “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves, Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my present only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputing: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. Yea, and if I be offered upon he sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:1-18).

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