Ortlund: Proclaim the Gospel in the power of God and in the weakness of man

Communications Staff — October 9, 2008

The Gospel of Christ can be preached with power only through preachers who have themselves been crucified, noted author and minister Ray Ortlund, Jr., said during the annual E.Y. Mullins Lectures at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Ortlund challenged students and faculty members to preach in the manner of the apostle Paul in 1 Cor.2:1-5: as one who proclaims the Gospel in the power of God.

“The kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in power,” he said. “We must realize that we are preaching the Gospel from a power far beyond ourselves. Every preacher may preach in such a way that empties the Gospel of its power even as he preaches the cross, but the cross itself must discipline our communication.”

Ortlund delivered three sermons as the keynote speaker of the annual lecture series, held Sept. 30-Oct. 2. The author of several books, including, “Isaiah: When God Saves Sinners,” and “When God Comes to Church: A Biblical Model for Revival Today,” Ortlund serves as pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tenn.

The minister must preach in the power of the Holy Spirit, Ortlund said, because God uses His power as demonstrated in the cross of Christ to undermine the pride and folly of man through the weakness of preachers and their imperfect preaching.

“Truth is not the passion of the rhetorician,” he said. “But for the proclaimer, the message is ultimate. One approach sees the audience as primary; the other sees the message as primary. Paul saw the message, and not his ability to communicate, as being primary.

“God’s whole strategy for human history is to expose man’s inadequacy and to replace it with the cross of Christ.”

The power in a minister’s preaching also lies in the kind of man he is toward other people, Ortlund said. Pastors must adorn the Gospel well and serve as living illustrations of the love of Christ toward their congregations. In 1 Thess. 1:2-5, Paul demonstrated such love, Ortlund said, through boldness in response to opposition, gentleness in response to immaturity, hard work in response to need and a deep yearning for the people in response to separation.

A faithful pastor must demonstrate this same form of selfless love toward his congregation, Ortlund said.

“Paul’s crowning glory was the people at Thessalonica,” he said. “The love between a pastor and the people is permanent and eternal. We are not sent as a pastor to a congregation as a critic, but as a friend. We are to know them and love them forever. We are not just to preach to them, but we are to love them, enjoy them, delight in them and honor them.”

The minister’s greatest breakthrough to spiritual power will come when he suffers profoundly, Ortlund said. Paul also models this truth well in 2 Cor. 12:1-10, Ortlund pointed out, when the apostle speaks of ministering in weakness exposed by a divinely-imbedded thorn in the flesh.

Paul’s deepest spiritual experience did not come when he ascended into the third heaven, Ortlund noted; instead, it arrived on the wings of suffering. Modern ministers will experience greater intimacy with God in the same fashion, he said.

“In this life, weakness is the fundamental human experience,” Ortlund said. “Weakness is the platform upon which we have all our other experiences. It is the source of Paul’s power and it will be the source of our power because God’s grace will match our suffering as it did for Paul.

“Weakness is the way for us all. The ‘super apostles’ of Paul’s day did not know anything about this. Authentic Christianity does not produce a race of men who rise above need…Weakness actually gives us a huge advantage. Paul rightly accepts, and does not conceal his weakness, because he is not threatened by it. Through it, God’s power and presence rest upon him.

“Paul feels privileged with this experience of weakness. How can the world defeat one who feels delight in setbacks? It will come into every minister’s life and God will prove to us His power and how it rests on us. The world needs to see through us not the weakness of power, but the power of weakness. God is making us into living proof of Gospel power.”

Audio of all three sermons is available for free download at http://www.sbts.edu/Resources/Audio_Resources/Mullins_Lectures.aspx

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