We Believe, Therefore We Speak

2 Corinthians 4:13-15

It turns out there are a lot of preachers in my family tree.

I had no idea about that until recently when I attended our first family reunion in 20 years. All the cousins of our generation met in Oxford, Mississippi, the center point of the Pritchard-Mayfield clan. The whole day was very instructive because I didn’t know much about my family’s history. I knew that my father was from Mississippi and my mother was Iowa, and I knew they met in Nome, Alaska while serving in the Army in World War II. During the reunion a local researcher gave us a fascinating lecture on the the history Mayfield and Pritchard families during the last 200 years. The various branches intertwined at several points across the generations, in part because the families lived close together in the small rural communities that make up north Mississippi.

During the afternoon we visited the cemetery at Philadelphia Baptist Church, about 12 miles outside of Oxford. Next to the well-kept white church building is the Philadelphia cemetery where my grandparents are buried along with many other relatives. Until the reunion I knew nothing about most of them. While walking along the rows of headstones dating back to the mid-1800s, we came upon two Pritchards buried side by side. One was Henry Pritchard who pastored the Philadelphia Baptist Church in the 1840s. The inscription under his name was so eroded that we could not read it. Next to him was another Pritchard who was a circuit-riding Baptist preacher from the same era. I never knew about either of them. Someone commented that there were preachers scattered throughout the Pritchard family tree. I never knew that either.

“It’s In Your DNA”

When we talked with the historian, he mentioned that when the Gray family married into the Mayfield family, they brought along another line of preachers. “There are lots of Baptist preachers in the Gray family. Teachers, preachers and doctors. That’s what you find in the Gray line.” And there were other preachers in the Mayfield line.

It was a great revelation to me and a comfort to know that I have roots that go back five and six generations. It’s good to know that you didn’t just drop out of the sky. When we were looking at the headstones of the two Pritchard preachers from the 1800s, my cousins Barbara and Susan were teasing me about it. “It’s in your DNA to be a preacher,” they said. I suppose there is some truth to that even though I never knew about my ancestors until recently. We serve a trans-generational God who works across the centuries to establish his purposes on the earth. I like the idea of being part of a heritage that started long before I arrived on the scene.

I thought about that as I worked on this message from 2 Corinthians 4:13-15. This passage sounds a clarion call to those who would preach the Word. When you get discouraged and feel like quitting, think about your heritage and take the long view of your work. Don’t give up and quit when hard times come (as they always do). Stand in there. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Fear not and keep on preaching. These verses probe at the level of motivation for those who would serve the Lord. And so in honor of my newly-found ancestors who long before me preached the Word and blazed the trail of gospel faithfulness, here is God’s message to all of us today.

What must we do if our ministry is to stand the test of time? Paul gives us three directives in these verses.

I. Preach Your Convictions.   

“It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak” (v. 13).

When Paul says “It is written,” he is quoting from Psalm 116 where David recounts his brush with death. When his enemies surrounded him and he feared for his own life, David cried out to God and the Lord delivered him. Paul reads that and says, “David faced death and so do I. David spoke up, and I will too.” Same Lord, same faith, same deliverance.

We see in this a beautiful picture of the communion of saints stretching across the centuries. Though David lived 3000 years ago and Paul 2000 years ago, when I bear witness to my faith, when I speak up for Christ and declare his name openly, then I can say, “I have the same faith as David and Paul. What God did for them, he does also for me."

Twenty-five years ago I spoke in a chapel service at Dallas Theological Seminary. I was only a few years out from my own graduation and felt nervous about speaking to the assembled students in front of me, with the faculty seated on either side of me on the platform. After being introduced, as I walked to the pulpit, one of the professors leaned over and whispered to me, “Give them something to believe.”

Give them something to believe.

“Things like that stay with you for a long time. I don’t remember anything else anyone said before or after my message, but I do remember that admonition. “Give them something to believe.”

Pastor, when you stand to preach this Sunday, give them something to believe. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a sermon is a lecture where you cover all possible points of view. If people want that, they can read a commentary. And don’t fancy yourself as a reporter on the latest news of the day. If they want your opinion on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, they can ask you after the service. If they want sports, you can talk about that over lunch. If they want your thoughts on the global economic crisis, you can have coffee together and talk it over. If you have strong opinions about politics, that’s well and good, but political commentators are a dime a dozen. If they want advice on how to invest, they can buy the Wall Street Journal. If they want recipes, they can watch the Food Network. If they want funny stories, they can listen to a good comedian. If they want book reviews, they can watch CSPAN. But dear pastor, when Sunday morning comes, you have one sacred responsibility, a calling from God that no one can discharge on your behalf. When you stand to preach . . .

Give them something to believe.

Give your people the undiluted Word of God. Give them a message from heaven. I speak as a one who both preaches and also sits in the pew so I know both sides of the story. We can get all that other stuff–all the commentary, all the jokes, all the political insight–somewhere else, and frankly, we can get it from people who do it better than most pastors can do. If you are a pastor, give your people something they can’t get by watching Fox News or CNN or ESPN or NatGeo or any of the hundreds of other cable channels. On behalf of church members everywhere, I say to my fellow pastors . . .

Give us something to believe.

We’re dying out there. Literally, spiritually, metaphorically. We’re dying for lack of the Word of God. Please give us something to believe. Tell us the truth about what God has said. And share it with deep conviction from your heart. Tell what God’s Word says, tell us what it means, tell us why you believe it, and then challenge us to believe it too.

Note what must come first. “We . . . believe, and therefore speak." In order to speak with conviction, you must have some convictions. Please don’t preach your doubts to us. We have enough doubts of our own. If you don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God, do the right thing and get out of the pulpit. If down deep you doubt that Jesus is the Son of God, do the right thing and get another job. If you don’t believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation, maybe you’d better join a liberal denomination. If you’re not sure that heaven is real and hell is real, if you are embarrassed by the blood of Jesus,  if you think it’s wrong to say, “You must be born again,” then step down and let someone who actually believes the Bible take your place.

May God give us preachers with some backbone who won’t back down. God deliver us from politically correct sermons and preachers who preach everything but the Word of God. 

May God give us preachers with some backbone who won’t back down. God deliver us from politically correct sermons and preachers who preach everything but the Word of God.

I think the Apostle Paul would agree. 

II. Remember Your Resurrection.

“Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence" (v. 14).

Why is Paul so bold in his preaching? His answer in verse 14 may surprise us. He preaches boldly because he knows (“we know”) with certainty that one day he will be raised from the dead to stand in the very presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. But not only that. He knows (“we know”) that in that glad day, he will stand side by side with the Corinthian believers (“with you”). For Paul, salvation was a communal experience he shared with all the redeemed people of God. It’s as if he is saying, “I’m not worried about anything because some day we will all be raised from the dead, and we will stand together in the presence of the Lord forever.”

Paul here is not speaking of “heaven” in the usual vague sense that we mean the term. He’s not thinking of the “intermediate state” after we die. Now to be sure, when we die, we go to be “with Christ” (Philippians 1:23). That’s a wonderful truth that no one can take from us. But Paul’s focus is not on heaven in that sense. He looks forward to a day when he will be raised from the dead as our Lord was raised from the dead. And that gives him enormous encouragement.

“Death is all they can do to me. And if they kill me, I won’t stay dead forever.”

Somewhere I heard about soldiers who on the eve of a desperate battle said to each other, “Have you died yet?” They meant, “Have you stopped trying to save your life and do you understand that to be a good soldier means you may die in the great battle?” It’s that sort of mindset that Paul cultivates here. If this life is all there is, then we need to be cautious and careful in all that we do. But if there is another life beyond this life, and if we know that someday we will be raised from the dead, then we can risk it all for the sake of the Kingdom.

Paul is saying, “Death is all they can do to me. And if they kill me, I won’t stay dead forever.” It’s hard to stop a man like that.

Lest you imagine this is just wishful thinking, note that Paul ties his future resurrection to Jesus’ past resurrection. It all comes down to this. Did Jesus really rise from the dead on the third day? If so, then we know (with certainty!) that when we die, we will not stay dead forever. What the Father did for his Son, he will do for those who trust in his Son.

So preach on, pray on, keep believing, never give up, and speak up for Jesus. The issue isn’t death. It’s resurrection! If you know Jesus, you won’t stay dead forever. That’s our faith, and nothing can shake us from that certainty.

III. Multiply Your Thanksgiving.

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God" (v. 15).

Warren Wiersbe calls this verse another version of Romans 8:28. Paul’s suffering on behalf of the Corinthians results in the gospel being spread to more and more people who then give thanks to God, resulting in an “overflow” of praise that brings God great glory. The Greek scholars tell us that the last half of verse 15 is difficult to translate because of the way Paul piled up his words. But the general meaning is crystal-clear. It’s “more and more” all the way through.

The gospel spreads to more and more people,
So that more and more people experience God’s grace,
Which leads to more and more thanksgiving to the Lord, and
Thus God receives more and more glory.

We can make it even simpler . . .

Gospel preached.
Grace received.
Gospel believed.
Thanksgiving abounds.
God glorified.

Or simpler yet . . .

Gospel.
Grace.
Gratitude.
Glory.

Professor James Denney points out that Paul had a huge view of God’s plan and his part in it. What starts on earth with Paul preaching the gospel amid much suffering ends up with multitudes praising God before the throne. The real end of the gospel, he says, is not the benefits it brings to men. The real end of the gospel is that it brings great glory to God.

The real end of the gospel is that it brings great glory to God.

So we preach.
Many believe.
Thanksgiving erupts.
God receives great glory.

It all begins with preaching. Writing in the Biblical Illustrator over a century ago, J. G. Rogers comments on how the world judges the Christian enterprise to be an exercise in futility. From the standpoint of human wisdom, nothing seems more useless than the work of missionaries in some distant land. Here they are, far from home, just a tiny band of workers, perhaps in some remote mission station or perhaps they have been led of God to bring the Good News to one of the megacities of Asia where millions of people live packed together in massive high-rise apartment buildings. It seems simply astonishing to think that a handful of Christian workers in Mumbai or Kuala Lumpur or Harbin can punch holes in the darkness. What are so few up against so many? The numbers alone make the task seem hopeless. Perhaps the missionaries should stay home and take a job on a church staff where they can be appreciated for their labors. Thus does the human mind reason apart from God’s grace.

To such reasonings we have nothing to answer. If we are to look only to the “things which are seen,” we must confess that our enterprise is a wild extravagance” (J. G. Rogers).

But God does not count the way we count. Gideon with his 32,000 men was too many against the Midianites so God reduced his army to 10,000 and then to 300 lest anyone should think that the battle was won purely by human effort (Judges 7). God does not need vast numbers to do his work. We have heard it said that “God plus one is a majority.” It is nothing with him to win the victory by many or by a few. Often it seems that our Lord prefers to go into battle with a ragtag army of unqualified soldiers so that when the battle is over and the victory won, he alone gets the glory.

God does not count the way we count. 

This morning–I mean just before I typed these words–I was meditating on the last verses of Ephesians 1. I’ve been working my way through that great epistle and can’t seem to get out of chapter 1. There is so much rich truth that I need to ponder. As Paul prays for the Ephesians that the eyes of their heart might be enlightened (v. 18), he also prays that they might come to know the great hope they have in God and “his incomparably great power for us who believe” (v. 19), which is like the power that raised Christ from the dead and exalted him above all earthly powers, and over every title that can be given, in this age and the age to come. All things are under his feet. Jesus is now the Lord of the church, the head of the body. I freely admit that I only dimly comprehend all that those verses mean. But then I saw this phrase (not really a translation but it does catch the spirit of the passage) in The Message by Eugene Peterson. Here is his version of verse 22:

The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church.

Now that’s a sentence that makes you want to stand up and shout, “Amen!" That’s the true state of affairs from God’s point of view. And this is why we send missionaries out into very difficult circumstances, knowing that they may easily feel overwhelmed. Well, yes, it’s easy to be overwhelmed when it’s just you and a handful of people up against the paganism of the world. But God doesn’t look at it that way.

The world is dying already.
It’s passing away before our very eyes.
The rulers of this age will soon be gone.

One day soon Jesus will reign over all the earth. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Isaac Watts wrote about this in a famous hymn published in 1719. Here is the first verse:

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

Now either we believe that or we don’t. If we don’t, we won’t go or if we do, we won’t stay. If don’t believe it, we won’t speak with any conviction. But if we do believe that “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,” then we won’t be ashamed to send our best and brightest to the farthest corners of the earth, knowing that in the end Jesus will be vindicated, and a bright day is coming when our Lord will be clearly seen as King of Kings and Lord of Lords and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

If we do believe that “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,” then we won’t be ashamed to send our best and brightest to the farthest corners of the earth, knowing that in the end Jesus will be vindicated. 

If we believe those things . . .

That’s a big “if." And upon that little “if” depends the whole Christian enterprise. Two thousand years have come and gone since our Lord walked on the earth. The bones of the Apostle Paul still lie in the dust of some Mediterranean grave. Perhaps some would say he was deluded to speak of his own resurrection from the dead when twenty centuries later, it still has not happened. But away with such human reasoning. Our Lord keeps time in his own way. A thousand years are like a day to him.

If Christ be risen from the dead .  . .

Do we believe that? If we can say “Amen” to that, then we can say “Amen” to everything else we believe. And we can know that all that is done in his name is not in vain. The ancient city of Corinth is long gone. I’ve been there and seen it with my own eyes. You can walk today on the remains of the same streets Paul walked long centuries ago. How great and mighty Corinth must have seemed in the first century, but today it is an archaeological relic. The same will one day be true of Chicago, Paris, Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Islamabad, Sydney, Manila, and all the mighty cities of the modern world.

From dust they came, to dust they shall return.

But Jesus shall reign. In due time he will take his place as rightful Sovereign and Lord of the universe. And between now and then, our task is clear:

Preach our convictions.
Remember our resurrection.
Multiply our thanksgiving.

We believe, therefore we speak. Amen.

2010-06-06-We-Believe-Therefore-We-Speak

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RAY PRITCHARD

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