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28 Nov 2021

So You Wanna Be A Pastor? [1Corinthians 2:1-5]

Overview

On this anniversary Sunday at Gospel Light, we must be reminded about important principles for Christian Ministry: 1. Ministry Focus. Apostle Paul's singular focus was "Jesus and Him crucified". He does not mean he teaches absolutely nothing else but "Jesus and Him crucified", but he is saying that the gospel must be the central focus of all scripture and ministry. Everything must connect with Jesus and Him crucified. Everything must flow towards and flow from the gospel, for only the gospel has life-giving power. The church must not be distracted from this central message. "Get people to the cross, then they can find their way home. " 2. Ministry Feebleness. Successful ministry is usually not by great men, but weak men who are intentional in staying away from the spotlight, so that God and His gospel takes centre stage. "The pastor is so tall that I can't see Jesus!" May that never be true of us. Aim to get out of the way! 3. Ministry Foundation. The goal of ministry is faith- for, without faith, it is impossible to please God, and the just shall live by faith. But this faith must not be built on man's wisdom, but it should be a faith that is based on the gospel of God, which is the power of God unto salvation. May our church be built to last!


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Thank you again for joining us this special Sunday, and we have a message from Scripture for you. Now, it's very interesting that the Scripture that we are going to look at, I feel is a very appropriate passage also for our anniversary service.

Some 40 over years ago, a young man named John Piper, began to be the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota, USA. He went on to pastor the church for the next few decades, and has become now one of the foremost thinkers, writers, pastors, preachers in our day. And for his inaugural sermon in that church, some 40 over years ago, he chose a passage, 1st Corinthians chapter 2, verses 1 to 5, which is exactly the passage we're looking at this morning.

And he opened that sermon with these words, "I would consider my life well spent if I could preach and live and die, like the apostle Paul, who wrote these words in 1st Corinthians, chapter 2, verses 1 to 5 ..."

So I find that this is a very appropriate passage for us this morning. I've entitled the sermon, "So You Wanna Be A Pastor?" And it's a light-hearted take on a rather serious passage, and I'd like to share with you some principles of Christian ministry. What does it mean to serve God? What does it mean to pastor a church? What does it mean to serve Him as a minister of the Gospel?

[1] Ministry Focus
So without much ado, I'd like to share with you three observations from this text. First of all, I'd like us to look at the ministry focus that Paul talks about in this passage.

He says in verse 1, "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."' [1 Cor 2:2] So Paul had a very clear laser-sharp focus, it will be about Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Now, that is a way of saying the Gospel. This is this line of thinking, you see from chapter 1 verse 17, he talks about the Gospel. Then he goes on to talk about, "How this is the word of the cross," in verse 18. And then in verse 23 of chapter 1, he says, "This is Christ crucified." And then he repeats again in chapter 2, "Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

So in other words, the focus of Paul is the Gospel, is the Good News of Jesus Christ dying for us on the cross, in order to save us from our sins. This is the central focus of Paul!

Now, I do not understand Paul as saying that, he knows nothing else in an absolute sense. He doesn't just preach Jesus and Him crucified, because he also teaches about other things. Other things such as the church, such as spiritual gifts, such as end times, such as the role of women and men. He talks about a lot of other things, so he's not saying, "I neglect other teachings of the Bible to only say, Jesus and Him crucified."

But what he's saying here is that, "This is my focus, everything must come back to the focus, this is where everything connects. So everything flows into the Gospel, into Jesus and Him crucified, and everything flows out of the Gospel." So Paul is saying, "This is my priority, this is my focus, this is the lens through which I teach all things." So, Paul has a very clear mindset and understanding about his ministry — it is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, this is remarkable because to many people, this message of Jesus being crucified for us is a foolish message. Huh, it is folly, it is absurd, it is silly! Why? Because nobody would have thought that God or the Son of God would come and die such a painful and humiliating death. The crucifixion is a humiliating way to die, and Paul is saying, "This is the Son of God, and he died in order to save men from his sins."

Now, he saying, "This is the only way men should be saved and therefore to the world, this is absolutely preposterous, this is absurd, this is foolish." But Paul says, "This is my focus! This is what I gun for every time! Whatever I teach, it must lead you back to the Gospel." Why? Because Paul believes that even though people treat it as a foolish message, it is really the power of God.

Elsewhere, he says, "I'm not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes." In other words, he believes that this message is very, very important. It is paramount, because it has life-giving power. Without the Gospel, everything is devoid of life-giving power. You can teach about the law of God, but if you do not give the Gospel, it has no life-giving power. You can ... you can talk about spiritual gifts, you can talk about the church, but if you do not tell people about Jesus and Him crucified, there is no life-giving power.

So Paul understands that! He says, "I must preach the Gospel, I must center on the Gospel. I must connect all truth back to the Gospel, because this is the power of God unto salvation." He says again in chapter 1, verse 23, "This is the power of God and the wisdom of God." "I preached this message, not only because it saves men from his sins, but it destroys all human wisdom. It dispels them, and then it raises us up, it extols and exalts the wisdom of God."

So Paul says, "I have a very simple focus on ministry, I focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It has live-giving powers."

A story is told of an alcoholic, an ex-alcoholic, who came to faith in Jesus Christ. His friends then came and asked him, "Aren't you crazy? Do you really believe in that, all that Bible stuff of how Jesus turned water to wine?" The ex-alcoholic says, "I do not know much about water to wine, but I do know that in my house, all the beer has now turned into furniture and food on the table."

Huh, that's life-changing power! And that's all because of the Gospel. So here at Gospel Light, I pray that we will be a church focused on the Gospel. Now, that's not to say, we don't preach about many issues. We do talk about LGBTQ, we do talk about social issues, we do talk about the ... the challenges of our day, but they are never to be divorced from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must see its relevance in the light of the Gospel, the Gospel is the lens through which we approach all things.

We have a membership class, I just conducted one on zoom, in the past two weeks. And in our membership class, we deal with six things. I want to encourage you, even if you have been a member of this church, but you're not so clear about our DNA as yet, you like to just hear a simple presentation on the DNA of Gospel Light, I want to invite you to join us the next round, we have a membership class. Because in the membership class we touched on very briefly, but I think concisely six things.

We talked about the church leadership. We talked about our church constitution, especially our fundamental doctrines. We talked about what it means to be rooted in a local church and then we focus on the vision, the mission and the message of the church. We have a core central message.

You say, "What's the core message of Gospel Light?" Very simple — the Gospel. That's why we are called Gospel Light! The Gospel is the message we want all our people to be focused on, not that you ignore everything else in Scripture, but this is the great connecting point of all of the Bible - Jesus and what He has done on the cross.

And we believe that as people know the message, and as people receive this message into their hearts, and as people allow this message to work through their spiritual lives, we will then fulfill our mission — our mission of leading generations into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. That's what our church is about! And I pray we will have a laser-sharp focus — the Gospel.

A little girl was lost in a village. A policeman came and saw her and wanted to help her find her way home, but she didn't know where she lived. She can't quite recite her address, and so the policeman started to throw out some names of streets and malls and shops, and ... and so on, but she can't quite recognize those names.

The policeman then lifted his eyes and he saw a cross that is perched on top of a church building. And so he asked her, "Do you know that cross?" And the little girl says, "Yes, I do! Take me to the cross, and I can find my way home," she said. And that's absolutely I think what it is true for us, isn't it? "Take me to the cross, take me to Jesus and Him crucified, and I can find my way home. I'll have a wonderful life-changing relationship with Him and with God."

I pray Gospel Light will be centered on the Gospel. We want to be a Gospel-centered church, we want a clear ministry focus, like the apostle Paul.

[2] Ministry Feebleness
Secondly, I'd like us to look at something else. Now, you may imagine Paul's ministry as being influential and great and successful because Paul is a very, very unique man. He's very smart. He's highly educated in the Bible. He's super experienced. He is a very driven personality, and he can even perform miracles. And we say, "That's why Paul you succeed!"

But Paul here is going to give us an inside look into his ministry, and it's a very interesting look, because Paul did not talk about how smart he is, how educated he is, how experienced he is, how driven he is, and so on and so forth, how great miracles he can perform. But right here he talks about ministry feebleness.

He talks about his weakness, because right after that, he says, "And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling." [1 Cor 2:3] That's very interesting! Instead of talking about how great he is, he says, how weak he is.

Now, in what ways are Paul ... is Paul, weak? Well, some suggestions, he did not quite spell it out here, but we can maybe suppose that he is weak, because of some sickness or some disability or some handicap, as it were. Because elsewhere in the Bible, he ... he did talk about a bodily ailment that he had when he went to Galatia to preach there. [Gal 4:13]

"Now, of course, this is Corinth ..." you may say. It may not be the same, but it could also be the same that he was weak because of some bodily ailment." In a letter written to the Corinthians, a separate later letter, he also spoke about a weakness that is like a thorn in the flesh. [2 Cor 12:5-7] We do not know the nature of this thorn, but obviously something that
pretty much handicaps him or causes him some discomfort and pain.

So, he may be weak because of some sickness, some handicap, but he can also be weak because he has suffered a lot. For example, we read in 2nd Corinthians, chapter 12:10, that he had suffered weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities, and he calls all that, "When I am weak."

So, Paul came to the church at Corinth, with weakness and fear and trembling, probably because he was sick or handicapped, and also because he has suffered a lot. And if you check the history in the book of Acts, he probably suffered a lot of these hardships, persecutions, insults, because just before he came to Corinth, he was preaching at Athens, and we read how people mocked him for preaching at Athens. [Acts 17:32]

And then when he got to Corinth, as he preached to the Jews, "The people opposed him and reviled him." [Acts 18:6] And I think these are not small things because, "God actually appeared to Paul at night and said to him, "Do not be afraid." [Acts 18:9] So obviously he was, at least tempted, or already fearful and trembling, so God came to him in a vision and assured him.

So all that, you can understand why now, he said, "When I was with you, I was weak, I was fearful, I was trembling." [1 Cor 2:3] Now, you might think that Paul said all this because he's saying, this is a bad thing. But I suppose, I suggest to you that's not what he's saying. He's saying, "I came to you in weakness, not in a dejected or in a negative sense." But he's saying, "I'm glad, I'm really happy, I'm glad I came to you in such a state."

I say that because he's speaking this right after, what he considers as a very important principle for ministry. "I came to you focused on the Gospel, and I came to you weak. It's a good thing I came to you weak." Why? Verse 5, "So that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

So, you see what Paul is trying to say here, his weakness is not a bad thing, it's not a negative thing, it's a good thing, it works towards people focusing on the Gospel and on God Himself and the power of God and not on him. So he's saying, it's a great thing that he's weak, that he is small, so that he does not take center stage, but instead all focus is on God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

No wonder, Paul says elsewhere, "But we have this treasure, [this Gospel] in the jars of clay ..." [2 Cor 4:7] He considers his life, his body — jars of clay, so that the surpassing or not to, not so that, but "To show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." He says, "It's great that we are such frail creatures, bearing this message of the Gospel, so that if your life is changed, you know it's not because of me, I'm just a jar of clay, but because of the power of God in the Gospel."

So Paul says, "It's good that I came to you weak, fearful, trembling, so that you will not boast in me. You will not be thinking that I am the Savior, but it's all about God and about Jesus." How it links back to the whole context, isn't it? That the church at Corinth was divided because they were boasting in men and here Paul says, "There's nothing to boast in men! We're all jars of clay! All glory belongs to God."

And then he says in 2nd Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 9, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses." See! Paul does not see his weaknesses as a problem. He sees that as a propulsion of the ministry, because everybody will now realize, "It's not about Paul! It's not about how great he is — he's weak, he is fearful, he's trembling, he's small, but then God looks particularly big and great."

So, I hope you understand how we should approach verse 3 - not in a lament, but in a rejoicing, "I'm so glad, and I'm so glad that you can see God through it all."

There was a family, who goes to a particular church for Sunday service. And they like to sit in the same spot, in the church pew, in the same spot every week. When they sit there, they'll watch the preacher, preaching against a backdrop with beautiful stained glass, and with a picture of Jesus healing the leper in the stained glass.

But one day, there was a guest preacher, he was a bigger man. He stood at the pulpit, and he preached also at the same spot. But the little girl sitting at the pew, then said to Mommy, "Mommy, I can't see Jesus, the man is too tall!" And I suggest to you that is true symbolically or metaphorically for many, many ministries. When the man, the pastor, the preacher is too big, or at least he shows himself too strong, that people are more attentive towards him than to the Man or to the God Man, Jesus Christ that he is preaching.

There is ... there is a beauty when God's messengers are weak and small, so that all glory belongs to Him. Now, I'm not suggesting to you that you should deliberately make yourself sick, then you preach the Gospel. I also not saying deliberately to you, please don't study your Bible, please don't be a good communicator. I don't think God is against good health, good communication skills, in order that you can be His messenger. I don't think he's against that, but He's against someone who wants to show himself big.

If any one of you wants to be big, if any one of you wants to be famous and popular, I suggest to you, please don't want ... please don't aim to be in the ministry, please don't aim to preach the Gospel, because you will not be doing a good job. Please don't! There are other things that you can do to ... to gain attention to yourself but not in the Gospel Ministry.

Perhaps some of you here today, are lamenting that you are weak. You are weak in many areas and you say, "I can never serve God." Do you realize that actually, you may be the best person to serve God? Now, please don't get me wrong, I'm not using this excuse laziness, not to study the Bible, not to work on the communication skills, how to grow as a Christian. These are good things, but maybe God allows you to be weak in some areas to keep you small, so that He might be glorified through your life.

So, that is the ministry feebleness that we need to embrace.

[3] Ministry Foundation
So we learn about ministry focus — it's about the Gospel.

We learn about ministry feebleness, so that the messenger of God does not take center stage and overshadow the Gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ, He does not take the spotlight.

But all that is done so that there is a clear ministry foundation. There is something we want to build and it must be built on the right foundation. The apostle Paul says that, "I focus on the Gospel. I come to you in weakness and in trembling. "So that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the wisdom of God." [1 Cor 2:5] He wants their faith to be built on the right foundation.

Now, ministry is after one thing. You say, "What is that one thing?" It is summarized in the word, faith. What is all of ministry about faith? It's about helping you build that confidence in God and His Word, so that you might obey Him. That's what all ministry is about — that you may grow in faith.

"How important is faith in the Bible," you say? Well, God says, "Without faith, it is impossible to please God." What God wants in his people, is faith. He says, "The just shall live by faith." So, it's very important to have faith, but this faith must be on the right foundation. It must be built upon the power of God and not on the wisdom of man.

Now, what is faith that is built on wisdom of men? In other words, they are people, there are ministries today, where the parishioners or the people actually follow more man's ideas, man's philosophies, man's opinions, man's concept and not on God. And so such ministries, that are based upon humanistic philosophies are devoid of power. It's empty! It's vain! It cannot result in changed lives!

Paul is very careful, he does not lead people to his ... to himself, as if they are his followers. But he's very careful that the ministry that is aimed at building faith would be built upon the foundation of the power of God. So that's why, you understand now, he does not want any competition with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He is very meticulous, very careful to say, "I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom." [1 Cor 2:1] He didn't want to sound too clever. He didn't want to come with all very popular or very acceptable ways of thinking. He didn't want to sound like he has highfalutin ideas, that is divorced from scriptural teaching. He says, "I want to steer clear of that." "And I did not come to you in plausible words of wisdom." [1 Cor 2:4]

The word, plausible, means persuasive or enticing. He knows what people would like to hear — maybe some philosophy of the Greeks, Romans, whatever that may be. But he says, "I don't want to come and teach you these things that are attractive to people, I want to tell you things that people actually think is foolish. I want to tell you about Jesus and Him crucified. They think it's not high class enough, they think that it is foolish, but it doesn't matter, because I want your faith to be built on the power of God and the power of God is seen in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They may think it's foolish, but to those who are being saved, it is a power of God."

So he says, "I cut away humanistic ideas, I just give the, straight down the line, no nonsense message of Jesus." Now, when he preaches like that, people began to despise him. People say that, "This guy can't speak. He is very one-dimensional, he is always about the Gospel, probably." And that's why in 2nd Corinthians, the opponents of Paul, the Judaizers, the false teachers, they say, "His letters are weighty and strong ..." [2 Cor 10:10]

Yes, he writes very well, we acknowledge that, "... But his bodily presence is weak." He's maybe a small guy, or maybe he's a handicapped guy, his bodily presence is weak. He's not going to be a very impressive man. "... And his speech is of no account." Nothing special! Nothing very smart! Nothing very eloquent! But they don't realize that's exactly what ministry should be — no spotlight on me, no spotlight on human philosophy, but it's all about the Gospel.

So, he says, "I ... I stay clear of all these things." "So that your faith might rest in the power of God." [1 Cor 2:5] And therefore, we understand now, how it connects perhaps with a verse like Romans 10, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ." It's not human philosophies that people need. "Faith comes from hearing and hearing the Word of Christ."

What do we mean by the Word of Christ? Well, the context tells us it's about the Gospel, the Good News. So faith comes as people hear the Gospel. What is the Gospel? The word of the cross. What is the Gospel? Christ crucified. What is the Gospel? Jesus Christ and Him crucified. What is the Gospel? Christ died for our sins. This is the Gospel and when you hear the Gospel, God had worked in your heart to grant you faith.

So Paul says, "Very clear, this is my ministry, I want to tell you about Jesus and Him crucified. This is my focus. You may think that this is too simple, but this is my focus, because it has life-changing power."

"So my speech was not in enticing words of wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power." [1 Cor 2:4] "It's not a performance, but it's a demonstration. I preach straight down the line — no nonsense, no distraction message. It is all about Christ, and Him crucified."

So on this 34th anniversary, I pray Gospel Light, for all the years and generations to come, we will have a very clear focus. There will be demands in time, for us to deal with social issues, politics, injustice, abortion, LGBTQ. I'm not saying that, these things are not important because they affect lives. But I'm saying, these things should never become the focus. They should never be divorced from the ultimate narrative of Scripture, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And I pray that, we, as a people will always understand, that the only way we can be fulfilling our mission of leading generations into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ, is if we are centered on the Gospel. Let that be our focus, folks! Everything connects to the Gospel, connects to Jesus and Him crucified. Let everything flow into it, let everything flow out of this.

Number two, I pray we will be a church that can celebrate ministry feebleness. Pastor Chee Kin is sick, Pastor Kay Hong is sick, does that mean that they are lousy, does that mean that God does not use them? No! Maybe God is using these things to mould and shape His servants, that they might be better fitted to serve Him, that all glory will go to God. We do not lament these things. We believe God works all things together for good to them that love Him. We know that God is working all things for His glory.

Now, I do not wish sickness upon any one of us, but I also know that our Sovereign and Wise God has His higher ways and plans. I pray that as a church, we would not despise the weak. I pray as a church, we will also not be hiding behind our supposed weaknesses and say, "I'm not good enough to serve God." The fact is, none of us is. God does not use us because of us, but uses us in spite of us. So like Paul, let us celebrate ministry feebleness, let us aim not to be big personalities, let us not hide Jesus, but let us be small so that our Master will be great.

And then finally, let us build ministry on the right foundation. So what if you're charismatic! So what if you're super eloquent! So what if you're super smart! So what if you're able to have many people follow you! If you leave, the church crumbles, the ministry crumbles? Is that really God glorifying? Oh, no! So let us be clear, let us look for men and women who understands these principles and may God allow this church to be centered in the Gospel, that all glory will be His and many would come into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Today, if you're new with us, I like to, this morning to point you to the old rugged cross — it's an emblem of suffering and shame. But that is the way God saves, He chooses to use such a humble way, humiliating way, to save His people from their sins. He pours all that shame and humiliation on His own Son. He pours all that suffering and pain on His own Son, so that He might pay for your sins and my sins.

And the message of the Gospel is this — if you repent and believe in Jesus Christ, alone who died for you on the cross, then God transfers your sins onto Jesus, who suffered and died and He transfers Jesus' righteousness onto you, and thereby giving you peace with Him. This is the central message of the Bible, and I pray today, you will repent and believe in God's Son.

Let's bow for a word of prayer together.

Father, we thank You this morning, it is all about Jesus and Him crucified. From the beginning in the book of Genesis, right up to the end of the Bible in Revelation, we see how You are always going to fulfill this plan of Yours. Thank You that Jesus is the Lamb that was slained before the foundation of the world, and through Him, we might come into salvation, through Him Your glories may be known.

Help Gospel Light to be a Gospel-centered church. Help us not to celebrate the ingenuity or the powers of men, but help us to be a church that is willing to be small, so that Christ is great. O, I pray that people here will not have their faith built upon the wisdom of men, but we have a people rooted, anchored, built up on the power of God in the Gospel! Glorify Your Son, glorify Yourself. We thank You in Jesus' Name. Amen. God bless, have a wonderful weekend.

 

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