Mohler speaks of strength in weakness during his first sermon since release from hospital

Communications Staff — February 1, 2007

Drawing on lessons learned from his recent stay in intensive care following abdominal surgery, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told students and faculty at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s spring convocation that the assumption of strength can be a preacher’s greatest weakness.

“In the midst of my recent experience I was reminded in an altogether new way of just how weak we are and indeed how weak I am,” Southern Seminary’s ninth president said.

After nearly a week of intense abdominal pain, Mohler was admitted to Louisville’s Baptist Hospital East on Dec. 27. The next day, surgeons removed scar tissue from a 1980s operation, but following surgery the development of blood clots led doctors to move Mohler to the hospital’s intensive care unit. He was discharged from the hospital Jan. 10.

Mohler thanked the seminary community for its prayers and expressions of love during his illness.

“I was convicted of the fact that the last time I preached in this pulpit I thought myself strong—not in a particular way, just in the general way. I trusted that when I got up in the morning I would be able to preach, and I was excited about that prospect and I gave myself to it with seriousness. I never feared the night before that I would not be able to do it. I took that for granted,” he said.

“And yet I did not take for granted that I would be here this morning. I did not take as an assurance that I would be here to preach this message this morning. … I must confess to you that strength is an illusion.”

Preaching from 1 Corinthians 2, Mohler noted that the apostle Paul was not ashamed of weakness because God uses weak human beings to communicate His Gospel. Preachers must realize their weaknesses so that they do not falsely appear to be self-sufficient, he said.

While some health-and-wealth preachers make careers out of displaying their apparent wealth and strength, many preachers who do not promote a health-and-wealth gospel quietly slip into the trap of wanting to appear strong in the pulpit, Mohler said. But they are actually very weak, Mohler argued, because they fail to preach the cross of Christ.

“[The preaching of the cross] takes us where no marketer can possibly take us, where no rhetorician would ever want to take us—and that is to a ground of execution, where there is no display of what the world knows as power, but rather what the world would see as abject weakness, waste,” he said. “Paul said that’s the power of the cross. That’s the power that saves.”

Preachers must not allow flashy rhetoric to rob the Gospel of its power, Mohler said. He observed that Paul was a gifted speaker but never used preaching technique to impress his audiences. Instead the apostle sought to persuade people only through the power of the cross, he said.

“If we depend upon rhetoric, if we depend upon oratory for the power of our preaching, then we can be assured of this: someone more eloquent will come along,” he said. “Even if we say we are deploying and employing this rhetoric and flashy oratory and these tricks for the sake of the cross, if it’s the rhetoric and the oratory and the tricks that draw the congregation, someone else will come along and seduce them with flashier tricks.”

Mohler related the stories of David Miller, a preacher afflicted with a crippling muscle disease, yet still preaches from a wheelchair, and James Montgomery Boice, the pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church who died in 2000 six weeks after being diagnosed with liver cancer.

For both men some of the most powerful ministry came during times of greatest physical weakness because God’s power was apparent through them, Mohler said.

He challenged students to be thankful for their weaknesses, to realize their mortality and to use the strength they have to preach the message of Christ.

“I’m very, very thankful that I‘m here with you today,” Mohler said. “It’s all of the Lord’s mercy, and I am very knowledgeable of that. I also know there will come a medical crisis I will not survive, and it will come for you as well. So we better decide what we’re going to do in the meantime. And in weakness and in fear and with much trembling, we had better preach the cross.”

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