As for the key passage, we'll focus on I Corinthians 2:1-5. Paul writes:
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of 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, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
In these familiar verses the apostle provides us with four key principles for missions:
1. Effective missionaries spend time with lost people.
Paul resided for about 18 months in Corinth on his second missionary journey. Notice the terminology he uses in the above passage. Paul writes “when I came to you,” “among you,” and “I was with you.” It may seem obvious, but we are much more effective missionaries (either here or overseas) when we spend a great deal of time with those we are attempting to reach with the gospel. This will likely require sacrifice.
2. Effective missionaries do not depend on fancy speech or human wisdom.
Paul describes himself in detail when he arrived in Corinth. We make a mistake if we think that Paul won people to Christ through complicated arguments depending on the wisdom of this world. The apostle states clearly that he, “did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.” He continues by writing, “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.” He could not be any clearer. We must avoid the temptation to follow human reasoning and/or fancy rhetoric when we share the good news of Christ.
3. Effective missionaries depend on the power of Christ in the simple gospel message.
As opposed to rhetoric and man’s wisdom, Paul focused on the simple yet profound message of Jesus Christ and him crucified. Paul lived this and proclaimed it. Paul admits coming to them “in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” His message was one “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” This harkens back to Acts 1:8 where Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Paul relied on the power of God to penetrate the vileness of the human heart with the truth of the gospel. Paul understood, as should we, that God does the saving. Our duty is to proclaim the unadulterated gospel to the lost and wait to see what God does. The Creator of the universe needs no help in regenerating hearts.
4. Effective missionaries know that faith must not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Paul understood very well that faith comes from the power of God. We can safely assume that Paul comprehended at an intellectual level the truth claims of the gospel prior to his meeting with the living Christ on the road to Damascus. However, it was Christ penetrating his heart on the way that changed Paul forever. Thus he can say faith truly rests in God’s power. If we try to persuade people that Jesus is Lord through our own wisdom, despite our best efforts we will fail. It all depends on God’s power to save.
At a personal level, I Cor. 2:1-5 gives me great comfort and peace. Sometimes I struggle to know what to say to a lost person. This passage reminds me that it's not up to me. I just need to be faithful to share the basics of the gospel. God does the rest. That might sound somewhat cliche, but it's the truth.
Previous posts in this series:
Missions in Matthew
Missions in Mark
Missions in Luke
Missions in John
Missions in Acts
Missions in Romans