June Magazine Article: Making Sure We're On Message

Below is my offering for the June church magazine.  Enjoy!

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For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2 NIV)

We increasingly hear about people needing to be “on message.” It's another of those phrases from across the Atlantic that is creeping into our language. The Collins online dictionary defines it like this: “adhering to or reflecting the official line of a political party, government, or other organization.” I suppose that's been particularly relevant as we've had elections recently.

Now, in general, I'm not sure I want to be on message. I don't like conforming to what other people want me to think or say. However, in one context I definitely want to be on message. And that's the context of the gospel. In that case I'm not working for an organisation, or a political party, or even the church. I'm serving the God of the universe and his king, Jesus. And I definitely want to be on their message!

The apostle Paul was the same. We're looking at 1 Corinthians in some of our morning services and I was particularly struck by 1 Corinthians 2:2. This verse comes in the context of the Apostle Paul defending his message against those who want a more philosophically and worldly-wise message. I think we can all be tempted to want that. I want to be respected when I get up to speak. We would like it to be the case that when people hear that we're Christians, they think we're intelligent and wise people.

The problem is that “the message of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV), or the message of “Christ crucified” (1:23 NIV) were not respectable things in Paul's day in the same way that they are not in ours. In fact Paul describes them as “a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1:23 NIV).

And yet Paul decides to take this message and preach it. Why? Well, because this is God's message and has God's power. Paul is on message with God if you like. It's interesting that Paul emphasizes the power of this message a number of times. So, in 1 Corinthians 1:24, for those who are called it is this message that is “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (NIV) and this supposed foolish and weak message of God is in fact “stronger than human strength” (1:25 NIV). Again, Paul's reason for sticking to this message in 2:5 is “so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power.” (NIV)

If we are faithful to the gospel these days, then we preach, what is to most people, a very strange message. A message of God's king who died on a cross for the sins of his people: Christ crucified. But do you see that only that message has the power of God behind it. We can be as clever as we like, or as witty, or as dramatic or any other attractive thing, but if the message isn't Christ crucified then there'll be no power to save and people's faith will rest on the wrong thing.

Churches can be tempted to substitute all sorts of things for the message of the cross. Some churches simply want to tell people that Jesus loves them, which can be a kind of self-esteem building exercise. Jesus does love us of course, but that is supremely shown in the fact that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV). That builds our self-esteem less and his love rather more! Others replace the message with experience – whether of great music, or close fellowship or spiritual ritual. If that's all we have, then our faith is probably resting on human wisdom rather than God's power.

In our vision groups, both churches are considering how we might reach out and grow as churches. As we consider all sorts of things, we need to make sure we are on message with respect to the gospel. We need to resolve, like Paul, to be single-minded about presenting the gospel of Christ-crucified. If we do that, then we can be encouraged that our message has God's power and that those who believe will have their faith resting on the right thing.

A few questions to think about this month.

1. If people were asked about what you considered most important, what would they say? Would it be the message of Christ-crucified? If not, why not?

2. Do you think our churches are “on-message”? What might we need to change to make the message of the cross central to ALL we do?


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