By Jim Shaddix – Excerpted from The Passion Driven Sermon (B&H Publishing Group, 2003)
Can I be transparent for a moment? Sure I can attach some Bible verses and scriptural principles to most any subject, but when I reflect on the “practical” steps and principles being offered by many preachers and consumed by many congregants today, I simply don’t have enough experience, expertise, or even biblical material to address most of those topics! Nor do I have the time to spend shoring up in every area of life in order to address them with some semblance of authority. And I’m not about to stand in front of my church and say, “Now here’s how you raise your teenagers,” when I’m scrambling to figure out how to raise my own!
Someone has said that if you shoot at nothing, you’ll always hit it! While preachers can’t afford to aim at nothing, neither can they afford to aim at an unrealistic target. Trying to provide pragmatic solutions to all of life’s problems and attempting to offer pat answers to all of life’s questions is incredibly unrealistic! Thus, Paul was very clear about what the preacher is to be aiming at—authentic faith in the lives of listeners.
Paul was focused on that one target in his sermons, and that target reflected the purpose of God in preaching. Some Bible scholars believe that the presence of the definite article with “faith” indicates that Paul is here referring to the sub- stance of the Corinthians’ belief based on the person and work of Christ. In other words, “your faith” would be the body of Christian doctrine that they embraced, the content of the gospel in its most complete form. Such an under- standing would be equivalent to “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), for which we are to contend. As with “the testimony of God” in the first verse, this understanding of “faith” is equivalent today to the content of God’s revealed and recorded Word, the Bible.
The New Testament usage of “your faith” followed by the possessive preposition (i.e., “of you”), however, does not support such an interpretation. The “faith” to which Paul refers in this purpose clause is the simple act of belief with the predominant idea of trust. Closely akin to the New Testament word for persuade, it speaks of firm persuasion or conviction based upon hearing. And it’s always used of faith in God or Christ or some other spiritual thing. Paul was anxious to build believers’ trust in God and His power, not in people. He knew that was the only faith that would last and the only way God’s work would be accomplished in their lives.
Building the listener’s faith is a subject that gets little attention in contemporary preaching. Like so many other aspects of the spiritual side of preaching, it is so hard to measure. And if we can’t measure it, we usually don’t talk about it. But the heart response offered by those who listen to sermons is going to be lashed to something. And that something is determined by the content of the sermon. It is truly a sad day when pastors make converts to themselves because they call their congregants to a misplaced faith by virtue of the substance of their preaching. To be sure, authentic faith is birthed as a result of right content, preaching the very Word of God (cf. Rom. 10:17).
This goal of building authentic faith was also a counter to the “wisdom of men” that Paul despised. From the beginning of his ministry in Corinth, he desired to ground his converts in the right kind of faith and to make them independent of human wisdom. That’s why he refused to employ techniques of coercion, excessive rhetorical arts, and subject matter that was palatable to secular interests. Instead, he concentrated on the simple message which was so unpalatable to natural men—the message of the cross.