Massaging the Message: Believing the Gospel Needs Our Help

Have you ever been to a tent revival? When I was a child our church joined with other city churches to hold a tent revival for a week. Maybe it surprises you, but some churches were still holding tent meetings in the late ‘70s. They actually set up a tent in the parking lot of Lambeau Field where the Packers played, which for residents of Green Bay was about the best location ever. Since it was a tent, we got to use the bathrooms inside the stadium which I thought was really cool. An elderly evangelist and his college team came in to conduct the nightly services, and he led come-forward invitations at the end of each service. This means that when he finished preaching the gospel, the audience would sing several verses of a Christian song (a favorite was Just As I Am) and people were invited to come to the front and get saved. Lots of people have trusted Christ that way.

I found out later that the evangelist had some directions for the churches to make the invitations more effective. Each church was supposed to assign certain people to come forward on each line of the first few verses of the invitation song. So as the audience starts singing, a few adults were supposed to leave their chairs and come forward. Then some more on the second line, and more on the third, and so on. They weren’t coming forward to talk to those that might be genuinely repentant and need some help understanding the gospel. No, they were essentially pretending that they were genuinely convicted by the Spirit. It was supposed to make it easier for an unbeliever to make the decision to come forward and talk to the evangelist and be directed to someone that could help them walk through the gospel.

I don’t know what you think about that. The deceit bothers me—pretending to be moved by the Spirit when you are not. I think it’s a gimmick. I think it’s manipulative. And I don’t think it’s how Paul presented the gospel.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor 2:1-5, ESV)

Paul didn’t shape his message to appeal to the Corinthian culture. He didn’t try to manipulate his audience into trusting Christ. In fact, he was doing it all wrong. He didn’t come to Corinth and share the Gospel in any ways that took away the shame of the message, the unimpressiveness of the called, or the foolishness of his own presentation.

This should be encouraging. Paul didn’t do anything “right” and yet the Gospel took root in people’s lives, and a church was planted in Corinth. The success of the Gospel doesn’t depend upon you and your cleverness.

Sometimes we think that if we only had the exact right word at the right time, our neighbor, friend, or family member would trust Christ. Not so. Everything was against the Gospel in Corinth and God still planted His church. Paul didn’t have a great delivery—nobody was coming to hear his amazing oratory—and people still trusted Christ. Paul didn’t have a powerful personality—nobody was impressed by his charisma—and people still trusted Christ.

We share the Gospel and trust God for the results. We do have to share the Gospel, but the success of it doesn’t depend upon your words or your personality. Both Paul’s delivery and his message weren’t persuasive by the world’s standards. That’s encouraging. Frankly, if the success of my witness depends upon me, I will feel a lot of pressure. I know I’m an inadequate witness, and I will get discouraged from even sharing the gospel. But I just need to be faithful in sharing. God will do the work.

From the world’s perspective they had a terrible message, embarrassing converts, and a poor salesman in Paul. Yet, the gospel changed lives. The Spirit’s power is the only explanation.

If God can use Paul’s feeble presentation to save some in Corinth, he can use your awkward presentation with your neighbor. So trust God and take courage. You and I can do this. By God’s grace we can share the crucified Christ, and by the Spirit’s power we can see some trust Christ.