Pulpit Reflections By Brent Froberg The apostle Paul emphasized before all else the message of hope and salvation through Christ, and he consistently resisted the allure of personal fame and the adulation of audiences wherever he preached.
In ancient Corinth, Paul�s audiences expected rhetorical flourish and entertainment from their public speakers. Those Corinthians, not unlike today�s audiences, valued �the sizzle more than the steak� and admired public speakers more for their style than for the content of their speeches.
Paul characterized the Corinthians� view of him thus: �? his letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive, and his speaking amounts to nothing.� (II Cor. 10:10). But in an earlier letter to the Corinthians, Paul had written, �My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit�s power, so that your faith might not rest on men�s wisdom but on God�s power.� (I Cor. 2: 1-5).
Paul clearly placed his own talents in a position subordinate to the power of his message and assumed the role of a servant of Christ: �So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.� (I. Cor. 4:1).
Paul, although he spoke humbly, found audiences more receptive than those that he met in Corinth. In the Book of Acts, Luke records evidence that Paul spoke eloquently and effectively at Lystra, where well-meaning but misguided citizens took Paul for an epiphany of the god Hermes/Mercury, and they prepared to offer him sacrifices. The Greeks and the Romans regarded Hermes/Mercury as the patron god of public speakers, and so the confusion at Lystra reflected the citizens� high regard for Paul�s speech.
With straightforward words that came from the heart, Paul won affection from the leaders of the church at Ephesus where he had taught and preached for two years. At the end of those two years, as Paul prepared to sail away, he saw, according to Luke, visible signs of that affection: �They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again (Acts 20:37-38).� Perhaps Paul may have felt a little disappointment over this seemingly excessive attachment to the messenger.
Through the strength of his message, not through popular appeal, Paul persuaded many as he spoke (and wrote) to them in Greek, for him a secondary language. Paul used Greek, eloquent in its simplicity, to argue compellingly the Christian faith in his letters that constitute a large portion of the New Testament.
That message, difficult for many to accept, proposed the kind of repentance and salvation that required his listeners to do as he had done. Discard pride and confess shortcomings:
�For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,� (Romans 3:23) and �For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.� (Romans 6:23). By demonstrating in his own style and manner that he had become God�s servant, Paul gave credibility to his plea that others, too, become God�s servants.
Paul, to an extent that he could not have envisioned during his earthly ministry, achieved what he had wanted: the message of Christ has exceeded the popularity of Paul the messenger. Ironically, even though Paul had become a humble servant of God, he also gained through his rhetoric lasting popularity and fame that eluded those �star speakers� (now nameless) whom the Corinthians had admired long ago.
Brent Froberg, a longtime member of Grace Baptist Church, Vermillion, teaches Greek, Latin, and classical mythology at Baylor University, Waco, TX.