Julius Kim delivered a message to the Bay Area Regional Chapter of TGC titled “Weakness and Witness” as part of the series “Testify: Bearing Witness to Christ in the Present Age.” Working from 1 Corinthians 1:26–31, Kim encouraged his listeners to testify to the goodness of God even in the midst of overwhelming weakness. When we feel intimidated, overwhelmed, hopeless, powerless, paralyzed, and demoralized in the face of a culture that esteems success and shuns godliness, we are empowered by the same Spirit—the Spirit of the resurrected Christ—who enabled Paul to witness with power and confidence to the elite in Athens.
God uses the weak to shame the strong—the willing servant to shame the self-reliant—in order to demonstrate that all-surpassing power comes from God alone. “Our entire lives are based upon what God has already done, is doing, and will do,” Kim declared. “He’s given us a firm testimony—the past. He’s given us spiritual gifts—the present, and the promise of ongoing strengthening in the future. So, from beginning to end, God is on our side, and that’s why we can have confidence and not self-centered fear.”
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Julius Kim: If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn to 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, this is the last section of chapter one. Beautiful chapter, as you’ve seen thus far, has a lot to teach us in this next 55 minutes or so, or 50 minutes is my goal. So hopefully we’ll hear what God has for us during this time. So 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, listen carefully for this is the word of the Lord.
“For consider your calling, brothers. Not many of you are wise according to worldly standards. Not many were powerful. Not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not to bring to nothing things that are. So that no human being might boast in the presence of God. Because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. So that as it is written, let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Amen. Let’s pray together.
Heavenly Father, may the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all of our hearts be pleasing in your sight. Oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer, would you speak to us now? Through your spirit, we ask in Jesus’ name, amen.
I wonder what Paul might have felt as he walked into Athens that day. Acts 17:16-34, we have recorded for us Paul’s journey into this great city, the city of Athens, Athens, Greece. Records for us his ministry of witness, how he understood this ministry to testify to the reality of Jesus. Now, in this setting, it would have been not surprising if he felt a little overwhelmed and intimidated. After all Athens was not only a major cultural and political hub, but also a place where the highest levels of education and religious thought were taught.
Simply put, it was like New York City, London, Paris, Tokyo, yes, even the Seoul of its day. But there’s one major difference, right? Unlike many of our modern cities today, these higher echelons of society, there were no Christians, let alone churches when he arrived. So this is not just hostile territory that Paul is venturing into. But hostile territory with the highest levels of academia, culture, wealth, and power.
So what does Paul do? The text in Acts 17 is simple and yet highly instructive for us as we think about our ministry of witness, not only here in 1 Corinthians, but also in the 21st century in the Bay Area. Notice first of all, what we read in verse 16 in chapter 17 of Acts. He enters Athens and immediately what do we read? Very simply, his spirit is provoked because he saw the city was full of idols. Did you hear that? His spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. Now, when you cross the Bay Bridge into the City of San Francisco, is your spirit provoked because the city is full of idols? Paul isn’t overwhelmed or intimidated, which would have been entirely natural. He simply recognizes Athens for what it is, a city full of broken and idolatrous people who need Jesus. So with spiritual eyes, he sees a spiritual condition.
What else does he do? So with spiritual eyes, he sees a spiritual condition. Then verse 17 tells us poignantly that he began to do something. With spiritual eyes seeing spiritual condition, he just testifies. The text is simple. He reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews. Then daily he went to the marketplace, to witness to whoever the Lord brought his way. Isn’t this amazing? He’s not paralyzed by fear or demoralized by the sheer enormity of the task, neither paralyzed nor demoralized. He sees with spiritual eyes, spiritual condition, and he just gets on with the work.
Well, that’s the Apostle, Paul Julius. Last time I checked I’m Apostle Paul. Friends, I’m here to tell you today that you have the same spirit of God in you, coursing through your veins, the spirit of the resurrected Christ that changed Paul to see with spiritual eyes, a spiritual condition to testify, the same spirit of the resurrected Jesus courses through our veins. He simply and profoundly believes in his God, believes in the Gospel, and he goes about witnessing in seeming weakness.
Friends, as we’ve been reflecting upon what it means to testify to the reality of Jesus and his gospel in our challenging time and culture, I’m sure you, like me often feel intimidated, overwhelmed, hopeless, powerless, paralyzed and demoralized. Especially in a culture that seems to esteem worldly success, while shunning anything related to God and godliness. But the good news is twofold. Right? The good news that even in the midst of this condition, this situation, one, God is not surprised by this. He’s been through this before.
As we read, like in the first century Athens, or in first century Corinth, this doesn’t surprise God. Why? Because two, God has always been in the business of using the weak to shame the strong, of using Jars of Clay to show that the all surpassing power comes from God and not from us. Friends, that’s really liberating. When the gospel and this reality frees you, you have unfettered joy, hope and confidence, to testify to the reality of Jesus, even in apparent weakness. So whether it’s the first century Athens, Corinth or 21st century San Francisco, God wants to remind you and me today that our witness can be profoundly effective when we remember that God by His grace works through weak and foolish vessels to accomplish is perfect and pleasing will.
But before diving into our text in verses 26 through 31, I just want to quickly summarize what I’ve learned thus far, not only from this text, but from our speakers this morning about Paul’s argument leading up to this section. So just a quick background on verses 26 to 31. Remember in verses one through nine, Paul reminds us about the difference. You’re going to see this kind of dichotomy happen in every section, this twofold dichotomy, Paul tells us there’s a difference between self-centered fear and God-given confidence, right? The self-centered fear that often paralyzes us versus the God-given humble confidence, because of our identity and because of God’s faithfulness to us through the cross. As John so helpfully shared, the Lord has blessed us in the past, present, and future. Right?
Our entire lives are based upon what God has already done, is doing and will do. He’s given us a firm testimony, the past. He’s given us spiritual gifts, the present, and the promise of ongoing strengthening in the future. So from beginning to end, God is on our side, and that’s why we can have confidence and not self-centered fear. In verses 10 through 17, right, Paul tells us there’s the difference, right? Not between self-centered fear and God-given confidence, but now self-promoting and self-protective division versus Christ purchased and Christ-directed unity. Because of the cross. As Toby so ably stated, our individual and collective witness can become diminished as our divisiveness makes us look no different than the world
But thankfully, because of the unifying power of the Gospel, and because of the new identity we have through him, we who are one in Christ can actually work together, even across denominational lines, to give witness to the unifying love and power of God. Hallelujah. What about verses 18 through 25, as Sam just shared with us. Sam so ably shared the paradox of the Gospel, right? As it contrasts worldly wisdom with the apparent foolishness of the cross of Jesus. Sam also helpful in reminding us that Paul’s diagnosis, as well as Paul’s antidote, are no different today as it was in Corinth or in Rome. The crucified and risen Lord, Jesus helps shape our identity in ways that stand in stark contrast to worldly attempts at identity formation.
So as a result, we can simultaneously be courageous and bold on the one hand, but also compassionate and sympathetic and loving as we testify to the truth and beauty of Jesus and what he offers us in the Gospel. So now we come in the light of these dichotomies, right? To our text. I think he offers us yet another dichotomy, namely the difference between self-centered weakness and Christ-centered strength, Self-centered weakness, on the one hand, and Christ-centered strength. For those of us who often feel hopeless and powerless in our call to testify to the reality of Jesus, I think we need another fresh reminder that God has always worked this way.
So you’re not alone. You’re part of a long journey of what God is doing in his time, in his space, in his history. He’s always worked through the powerless, the weak, the low and despised. This is because we rely not on our own brains and brawn, on our reputations, or our resume. But in the wisdom and power of God found preeminently in Jesus. That’s why we can be bold and courageous in our witness, and have joy and hope regardless of the circumstances. So how does God do this? Let me share with you two truths from our text today.
Is that shocking to you that a Presbyterian pastor only has two instead of three points? You’re welcome. So only two points. All right? First, how does God encourage us today, in this text? First, you need to remember this. It’s not about you. All right? Your witness in weakness is not about you. Secondly, it is about you. I know that sounds a little cheeky. But hopefully that’ll make sense, right? Our witness in weakness, our witness in weakness is not about you, number one, but it is about you, number two, All right, let’s take a look at that. So first, you can be a more effective witness in this difficult culture in which we live when you remember, it’s not about you. Now, it’ll be easy for us to think it was.
But Paul knows us all too well because he knows himself too well. It’s easy to think that our calling to be faithful and fruitful witnesses is about our smarts, our strength, our reputation, our resume. Paul understood that. He articulates that in Philippians, especially as he outlines his own resume, and he calls all of that dung. That’s not a bad word. Right? Is that okay? Okay. So Paul is saying in verse 26, he starts off by contrasting the status of these Christians in Corinth, when they were first saved. He says, “Remember who you were,” is what he’s saying here. These early Christians were not among the seemingly wise philosophers and academics.
They were not part of society’s powerbrokers in government and entertainment. They were not born into wealthy and influential families. In fact what we know is that many of them happen to come from the slave class, who having earned their freedom, became part of this new family, this Corinthian church. Although many in the church were not necessarily part of the most destitute members of society, they were clearly outside the circle of what many of us would call the Bold and the Beautiful, right? So Paul calls them and yes, you and me, the foolish, the weak, the lowly, verses 27 and 28. Paul, what is he doing? Immediately he’s flipping our perspective upside down.
He reminds us that status doesn’t mean anything to God, our resources, our reputation, our relationships don’t mean a thing to God. He reminds becoming a child of God came through the power and prestige of someone else, someone outside of themselves. It was an alien righteousness, the reformers called it. This he did, how? There’s someone else, by laying down his power and prestige, right? Remember what Paul says elsewhere in Philippians chapter two. He says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Remember who you were. Jesus came down so we could be lifted up. He became weak, so we can be strong. Through his poverty, we have become rich. Paul is saying, “Remember who you were.” So believers who place their trust them in Christ Jesus received true wisdom, for they received the wisdom of the cross and all of its benefits, verse 30. Look at what we have. He lists them for us, right? Sometimes you need to just slow down a bit and listen to these again, as if we were hearing it for the first time. Christian, remember who you were. You were lowly, despised, weak, foolish, and now you have righteousness. God looks at you and says, “You’re good to go.”
I look at you like I look at my very son. You are righteous because you have his robes of righteousness covering all of you. You also have holiness. God has cleansed us from all impurities as far as the east is from the west, God has removed our sin from us. We have holiness, we have redemption. We have been rescued from our slavery to sin, from bondage to blessing. We have been freed, friends. So when we read about righteousness, holiness, redemption, all we can say is what? Hallelujah, praise Jehovah. Righteousness, holiness, redemption, we have all this by virtue of being united to the King of kings and the Lord of lords by this simple act of faith, Paul says. So now he, he changes it, right?
He’s like, “Remember who you were, and now remember who you are.” Foolish, weak, lowly, despised. Now who are you? Righteous, holy, saved, redeemed. Sons and daughters of the living God. That’s who you are. In the seemingly upside down nature of Christ’s kingdom is what brings boldness, doesn’t it? To trust in Jesus’s wisdom and strength, but also shame to those who trust in their own wisdom and strength. So that’s why it’s not about you. Paul’s saying as you think about your calling, as you think about your identity, about what you should do and who you are, he’s saying, “First of all, remember, it’s not about you. Remember who you are.” When I was a young father, like many young fathers, we watched many a Disney movie and memorized all of its lines.
I remember one of my favorite movies when I was a young father was the movie Lion King. Many of you have seen this wonderful movie, and the Circle of Life, right?
Right? In case you forgot. Remember the king, he Great King Mufasa dies due to the treachery of Uncle Scar. Young Simba, scared, fearful, Simba is visited by the ghost of his father. Mufasa says, “Simba, you have forgotten me. You have forgotten who you are. Remember who you are.” Not? That’s not. It’s like James Earl Joe. Sorry. Thank you. I will be here till 4:30. Mufasa reminds scared and fearful little Simba that he is a child of the one true king.
Friends, Paul is reminding us here. When we were saved from our sin and misery, we became children of the one true King. Nothing we did earned us this reality, nothing we do can change our identity. Remember who you are. It’s not about you, our past, our present, and our future are all tied up with what God has done, is doing and will do. This is essentially the Gospel, isn’t it? The profound news of what God has done, is doing and will do in our lives. The Gospel isn’t good advice, it isn’t good rules. It’s good news. It’s good news that proclaims what Jesus has already done for us and is doing in our lives and will do for us. This is why Paul can end this section in chapter one by saying, “This is why we can boast, Christian. This is not about us, it’s not about me.”
Because when we boast, we boast in the Lord. Here he’s quoting from Jeremiah 9, which has the same context of comparing wisdom and riches and power. So it’s an age old problem, Jeremiah faced it, Paul faces it, and we face it. As Paul reminded the Corinthians, Jeremiah reminded the Israelites, I’m here today to remind you and to me, it’s not about you. Your identity, your calling your testimony, your witness is ultimately not about you. It’s about what God has done, is doing, and will do through the person and work of Christ in your life.
That’s so liberating, isn’t it, if you think about it. When you realize in your head, your heart that it’s not about you, it provides us with peace as well as confidence, hope, and joy. There’s a story in the Old Testament that I think really helps capture this idea really well. I’m going to be turning to this passage a couple of times. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn there as well.
In 2 Kings 5, there’s a character by the name of Naaman. For those of you that might remember him, Naaman was this Syrian general. So he’s not even an Israelite, Naaman the Syrian general. Talk about a guy who had power and prestige or was ultimately weak and despised because of his leprosy and I think there’s much we can learn from him. It’s a bit long but let me read verses one through 14 so that you can get a picture of the story. Bear with me here. 2 Kings 5:1-14:
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”
So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house.
And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?”
So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored, excuse me, like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
Now think about it, as you read the story, talk about somebody who was a power broker of his day, great resume, great reputation as a victorious general. He was a wealthy citizen probably had influential power, who had actually access to the highest echelons of society. He was able to even talk directly to the king himself. But he had a problem, didn’t he? He had leprosy, which meant actually he was doubly cursed.
Not only did he have this external disease, he also had an internal disease. He was actually considered spiritually unclean because of this leprosy. You see, the Bible tells us from passages like Leviticus 13 that a leper had to be isolated not only because of his physical contagion but also because of his spiritual status. Doubly cursed, though he had all this.
So in light of this doubly cursed life, what does he do when he finally discovers that there’s a prophet who could potentially heal him? What does he do? Look what he does. He brings his resources, all the resources that he had. You know what this is? 10 talents of silver is 700 pounds of silver. He brings 120 pounds of gold, 10 sets of clothing. Why? He brings all of his resources thinking that he might buy a cure. He brings all of his relationships, right, to bear. He expects the kings of Israel and Syria to open the doors for him. He brings his reputation.
Notice when he comes in verse nine, he doesn’t go to Elisha’s door, he waits for Elisha to come out and greet him personally. After all, he’s a famous general. He brings his own race to the equation, doesn’t he? When he’s told to bathe in this seemingly insignificant river, what did he do? He compares his race to the race of Israel, his rivers to the rivers of Israel. He brings his resources, he brings his relationships, he brings his reputation, he brings his race. Lastly, he even brings a sense of rewards, right? He expected that he could do something great, verse 13, to somehow earn blessing.
What’s the point? The point of the story is this, that at the end of the day, we and our world do the exact same thing. We may call it different things, whether you’re a believer or unbeliever, but especially in the difficult circumstances of life, where we feel often paralyzed and demoralized. How often do we look to ourselves for security and control, for salvation and hope? Friends, looking to ourselves, thinking that it’s about us in this way, whether in self pity or in self pride is nothing but a symptom of a deeper problem, a symptom of unbelief. A lack of faith and trust in God no matter what the circumstances.
So what happens to Naaman when he brings all of his resources, relationships and reputation? Elisha refuses and rejects everything, doesn’t he? God’s ways are not our ways. He’s simply told to go and be washed, to be a passive recipient of God’s healing. By just believing that God can do it, he may be healed.
You see, for Naaman, the only way he can receive the blessing of God and receive God’s grace is by receiving God’s grace alone through faith alone. It’s not about him, and it’s not about you, and it’s not about me. God rejects all of our self centered, self empowered solutions for salvation and service. That’s a lot of S’s, huh? Just like Elisha rejected all that Naaman brought, God shames those of us who think by the virtue of our reputation, our resources, we can somehow earn something or do something.
Friends, it’s not about us. So to be a true and faithful witness, is to first realize it isn’t about you. God has worked in you and will work in you and will about the results he wants, and it may appear weak and powerless. But this is the wonderful irony of the Gospel of grace and serving the God of grace. Remembering who we were, remembering who we are, and trusting in what God can do. When God enters into our life, and changes us from the inside out through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we will then be used by him to be a faithful witness.
This is witness and weakness, to surrender to the work of Christ in our lives, past, present, and future. This is freeing, this is liberating. When you know that your salvation in Christ as well as your service for Christ is ultimately not based on things like your resources, relationships, or reputation, but solely on the power and wisdom of God preeminently in Christ, it frees you to be a radical counter-cultural witness. So this is how you can witness to the wisdom and power of God found in the Gospel with self-forgetful freedom and self surrendering boldness. When you believe it’s not about you, but about Jesus. So that’s the first thing. The first thing to be a faithful witness in weakness, it’s remember, it’s not about you. But secondly, it also means that you need to remember that it is about you. You see, remembering who we were and who we are, or perhaps even more poignantly, whose we are, does not mean letting go and letting God. That is being passive recipients of just grace.
But we need to still witness through weakness, through wisdom and obedience. But it flows out of the realities of the God of this grace, because of our gratitude, not out of guilt. Now, our text today, verses 26 to 31, doesn’t necessarily explicitly state how to engage in this witness, what our job is, what it is about us. But did you notice how our text is actually sandwiched? This is a good sandwich, right? Not the Poopoo sandwich that we learned about this morning. Our section is sandwiched between verse 123 and verse 22, right?
In verse 123, what does Paul say? “But we preach Christ and him crucified.” That’s not letting go and letting God, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles. Then verse 22, the section right after ours. “For I decided to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Let me read the whole passage there verses one through five in chapter two, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you, 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. I was with you in weakness, and in fear and much trembling. And my speech and my message were not implausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
What is Paul saying here? Paul’s saying here, “It is about you.” He’s simply yet profoundly stating that he proclaimed Christ and Him crucified. You see for him, both in his identity and his calling who he was, and what he’s called to do, is centered on Jesus and him crucified.
You see, to proclaim, a word here that Paul uses and elsewhere in his writings and in the New Testament, the word “keruk” is a very special word that we translate oftentimes proclaim or to Herald. You see, to proclaim is to act as a herald, declaring the authoritative news given to you by your king. It’s a very specific word for a specific job. Interestingly, in the first century, we don’t really have the analog today. But I think the closest thing we can come up with, or I can come up with, is like the secretary of state or ambassador of our country. Tremendous, power, responsibility to represent the message of the president. You see in the first century, these heralds were trained at an early age, and they literally became the voice of their king.
Though the words that he spoke came from his own mouth, the words represented another more powerful one, whose words had sole authority. So when heralds spoke, everyone listened. For oftentimes the news that he brought, “Hear ye, hear ye, the words of the king, could often dramatically change the life of those who heard it.” For example, in the first century, when heralds went to the towns to mention particular news, they tended to focus on to two types of messages. One, heralds would go from village to village when the king came back victorious at war over one of their enemies. So again, you’re a villager. Half the village is gone. Your husband, the fathers, all these men are gone because you’re at war. Then the herald comes into town, gathers everybody, and says, “Hear ye, hear ye, our king has won. He is victorious. Your husbands and your sons are coming home. We are free.”
That’s good news, huh? Another time they will do, another message these heralds would give, they would come and say, “Hear ye, hear ye. The rain and rule of this despot, this evil king is now over. He has died, a new king has come. And he is a good king.” For people, for villagers, who for years have lived under the thumb of a despot, a tyrant, this was good news that finally, a long-awaited King has come to reign and rule over our lives.
So whether it was that victory at war or coronation of a king, you see how their message could radically change the lives of people that heard it. Friends, that’s our title. We are called heralds of the king. Our king is now calling us even in hostile enemy territory, to go and pronounce a message of peace. So not only is our message to our own people, and saying, “Hear ye, hear ye, our King has overcome the greatest enemy of all, sin and death. Hear ye, hear ye, a new king has come on the throne. Let us rejoice and be glad.” That’s good news, friends. But you also are called to go into enemy territory and say, “Hear ye, hear ye, bow your knee to the king because he is a good king. He can free you from your bondage. He can rescue you from your slavery.”
That’s it. That’s what we’re called to do, to proclaim and to herald the wonderful news of the king. You see, in a sense, it’s not about you. It’s all about Jesus. That’s why we can have joy and hope and confidence. Even in apparent weakness, because that’s what we’re called to do and to be. We are called to be heralds. So whether delivering good news or bad. friends, we as heralds have the majestic privilege, don’t we? As well as the formidable responsibility to represent our King with clarity, with cogency, with conviction, but also with compassion.
This, my friends, is how Paul describes his ministry and ours, to herald the message of the king, full stop.
Are we the kind of people, friends, that use our power and privilege for selfish or selfless purposes? Are we the kind of people that use our wisdom and eloquence to exalt the crucified and risen Christ? Are we the kind of people that regardless of our circumstances, point people to Jesus? Friends, witness weakness is not about us and yet now it is about us. Paul helps us. I started earlier in Acts 17. Remember, Paul walks into Athens, he’s not intimidated, not paralyzed, not demoralized. What does he do? He just gets about the business of being a herald. Full of joy, confidence and hope.
But do you remember his message in Acts 17? I think it’s really instructive for us as we think about his challenges and our challenges. Really quickly, in Acts 17, when Paul enters into Athens, think about his place. He’s entering into a place that’s very hostile. Here is empire-wide from government-sponsored religious pluralism. The biblical God is one option of many. Secondly, notice his place, very powerful competing worldviews in Acts 17. Paul mentioned some of them specifically, stoicism, epicureanism. Now we have to remember when Paul says this, he’s not talking about some arcane subject in our university philosophy classes. These were religions, worldviews that dominated the way people lived. This is part of Athens, religious pluralism, competing worldviews.
Think about the contempt, the sneering tone of contempt, when as Paul is talking, these guys say, “What is this babbler trying to say?” That’s a very unique word, babbler. It’s literally the pictures of a little bird with a very small brain picking up little seeds of information and trying to make sense of it, basically, he’s calling Paul, these Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill are calling Paul this little bird brained moron.
Now, this is Paul’s place, Athens first century. Are we in any different place? Religious pluralism, competing for worldviews and contempt for Christianity, but yet in light of Paul’s place, what is his presentation? Paul doesn’t go straight to the cross. Did you notice that? Paul doesn’t go right to Jesus, he actually starts at creation. He wants to build in his presentation a broader storyline, where he says, “God is creator, he created everything.” Because eventually from that foundational truth, he’s going to make the case that we’re all dependent upon God because he’s our Creator, but he needs to frame the story of sin and salvation in a broader story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation. So he starts at creation. So this is very instructive for us in our 21st century.
I think our evangelism has to be more like this. Our witness has to be more like worldview evangelism, start at creation. Then he goes to his God’s sovereignty, his lordship overall, mankind’s dependence upon God, but God’s independence from us. This is the creator-creature distinction. That man’s sin is ultimately idolatry. You worship things made by hands, he says, or you put Gods into your temples. Then he says, He gives a Christian view of time that time is linear, not cyclical. What is he doing here? He’s providing this kind of overarching, we call it meta narrative, an overarching big story, so that when he gets to his proclamation, it makes sense.
He’s allowing the Gospel to be more accessible and understandable to people who are biblically illiterate like many in our culture today. Many in our culture today are biblically illiterate, cannot make heads or tails of Jesus’s solution because they don’t understand the problem. So we actually have to start way back, we have to start at creation. So remember Paul’s place, Paul’s presentation, that’s biblical, theological worldview. Then what’s Paul’s proclamation, you like that? I had to get the three P’s in there as a Presbyterian pastor. Paul’s proclamation, we don’t have the full details. But what does he do? There’s a non negotiable content of our witness. That’s Christ and his resurrection.
That’s interesting when his evangelism comes to a close. Because up to this point, these Athenian philosophers had no problem with what Paul was saying. But right when he says resurrection and proclaims the validity of this message, he says, “It’s because God raised Him from the dead.” That’s when they said, “All right, you’re done.” That’s foolishness. That’s weakness. I will never believe in a God that foolish and that weak. But Paul does not flinch from resurrection. So there’s much we can learn from Paul, as we think about our calling. Our witness in weakness is learning what it means to present Jesus, him crucified and raised from the dead. We do it with boldness, with unfettered boldness because we are heralds of the King.
Let me finish by introducing you to another character from 2 Kings chapter five. I think there’s a lot we can learn from this character. Remember we learned from Naaman? Now I want to introduce you to another character in 2 Kings chapter five, and what it teaches us about our ministry of witness and what we are called to do.
Now this particular character doesn’t have the prestige of Naaman or even the significance of Elisha. The seemingly insignificant person is described for us in verses two and three. 2 Kings 5:2-3, now the Syrians on one of their raids, had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel. She worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who was in Samaria, he would cure him of his leprosy.”
Fascinating, huh, that she’s mentioned probably no more than 11 or 12. Think about this. An 11, 12-year-old girl, we are introduced to her unnamed, kidnapped, servant, girl and slave, a girl that’s been trafficked from her home. Far from her family, she has become a slave and a servant in another land, in another country. Sometimes I think we too quickly gloss over people like her as we read the Bible, but there’s so much we can learn. Think about it in contrast to Naaman. She’s about as low as you can get on the social ladder. She had no rights. She was a foreign captive in another country, she had no reputation. As a female in the Middle East, she was probably uneducated and disregarded, and perhaps most telling of all, she has no name. We’re not told her name. Why? Because it wasn’t and isn’t important. We don’t know the name of this servant girl imprisoned in a foreign land surrounded by difficult and dark circumstances.
But we do know this, my friend, in a remarkable testimony of faithful and humble missionary service, she pointed to the one that can only provide true hope and healing. She was simply a pointer to the God of grace. She simply told him where he can get help. She was a servant pointing to God. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, having been trafficked and made a slave of this family, she looks beyond herself. She looked beyond her circumstances and sees herself as but a pilgrim. On a difficult journey, no less.
But she knows in faith that God is her God, and that her God has the power and the compassion to even bless this foreigner. Her master. Notice how she views Naaman, the man responsible for taking her away from her family, her home, making her a slave in a foreign land, verse three. She says, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria, he would cure him of his leprosy.”
Friends, what extraordinary faith. She’s able to see beyond the natural instincts, right, the natural instincts of fear, of bitterness, and revenge. Astoundingly, she sees above all, through her spiritual eyes, spiritual condition, a man in need, both physically and spiritually. All she does is point that man to her God.
Friends, in a world that emphasizes and prizes worldly success and accomplishments, in a culture that reveals the message of the cross as foolishness, and in life, often filled with difficult circumstances, I know it’s easy to become discouraged about our calling to be faithful witnesses because we seem so weak. The message seems so weak. But it is precisely when we realize that God has always worked through the powerless and the weak, the lowly and the despised, even 12-year-old kidnapped girls.
We can take heart, we can be encouraged, we can be inspired. We can testify and herald the message of the king with boldness. It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus. But it’s also about you, as you simply point others to Jesus and His good news.
Friends, our witness can be profoundly effective when we remember that God by his grace works through weak vessels to accomplish His perfect and pleasing will. Friends, as heralds of the King, as you think about the crucified and risen Jesus, and what he’s done for you, is doing for you and will do for you, no matter how difficult and dark your circumstances may be, keep pointing others to Jesus. The only one that can provide true joy and hope and freedom. Amen?
Father, thank you. Thank you for your words, for their words of life. Thank you for the challenge to be witnesses even in our weakness, For we know that even in our weakness, you are strong because this is what you’ve been doing over centuries and millennia of time. So thank you for the Apostle Paul. Thank you for Naaman. Thank you for this little servant girl and what they have to teach us about ourselves, about witnessing in our weakness. For when we are weak, you are strong. You’ve already done that in our lives. You can surely do that in the lives of those you bring to us. So help us to be bold and courageous in our witness so that ultimately Jesus would be seen. Oh Father, how we want to be heralds of the King. Would you help us to do so? We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.