THE MESSAGE PAUL PREACHED
The message Paul preached was the Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The subject of his preaching was the cross of Christ and the crucified Christ. He did not know anything except this. If we forget the cross and do not make the cross and Christ our unique subject, how much will we and our audience miss! I believe that we are surely not those who do not preach the cross.
Our message and our subject may be good. However, do we not have the experience of having a good message yet being unable to dispense life to others? Let me point out that inasmuch as the message we preach is important, if it cannot give life to others, our work is mostly in vain. We should remember that the goal of our work is to give life to people. We preach the substitutional death of the cross in order that God can give His life to those who believe. If others are stirred up or excited or even repent and agree with what we preach, but do not have God’s life in them, what good will this do? They may show their sympathy outwardly, but they are not saved. Therefore, our goal is neither to make people repent by themselves nor to influence them in their mind, but to dispense God’s life into them so that they can have life and be saved. Even when we preach the deeper truths or try to help others to understand the truth of co-crucifixion, the same principle holds true. It is easy to make people know and understand what we preach. It is also not hard to make others accept our teachings in their mind. Any believer with a little knowledge can understand if you explain matters to him clearly enough. However, if you want him to gain life and power and to experience what you preach, there is no other way except for God to dispense through you the richer life into him. We should know that our only work is to be the channels of God’s life, conveying life into others’ spirits. Therefore, even if the subject or the message we preach is good, we still need to find out whether or not we are the suitable channels for God to convey life into others.
The message Paul preached was the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. The message he preached was not in vain because he was a living channel of life. He begat many people through the gospel of the cross. What he preached was the word of the cross. Concerning himself, he said that he was "in weakness and in fear and in much trembling." He was a crucified man! Only a crucified man can preach the crucified word. He had no confidence in himself. He did not rely on himself. Weakness, fear, trembling, being void of self-confidence, considering oneself as totally useless—these are the characteristics of a crucified man. He said, "I am crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20) and "I die daily" (1 Cor. 15:31). Only a dead Paul could preach a word on crucifixion. If he had not died in a genuine way, the life of the Lord’s death could not have flowed out from him. It is easy to preach the cross, but it is not easy to preach it as a crucified man. Unless one is a crucified person, he cannot preach the word of the cross and cannot give to others the life of the cross. Strictly speaking, unless one knows the cross experientially, he is not worthy to preach the cross.
THE WAY PAUL PREACHED HIS MESSAGE
Paul’s message was crucifixion. He himself was a crucified man, and he preached the cross by way of the cross. It was a man of the cross preaching the message of the cross with the spirit of the cross. Many times what we preach is the cross, but our attitude, our words, and our feeling do not seem like we are preaching the cross! Many preachings of the cross are not done in the spirit of the cross! Paul said, "I...came not according to excellence of speech or of wisdom, announcing to you the mystery of God." Here the mystery of God refers to the word of the cross. Paul did not preach the cross with excellence of speech or wisdom. "And my speech and my proclamation were not in persuasive words of wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." This is the spirit of the cross. The cross is wisdom to God but foolishness to man (1 Cor. 1:23-24). When we preach the word of this foolishness, we should have the form of "foolishness," the attitude of "foolishness," and the speech of "foolishness." Paul gained the victory because he was a truly crucified man. He preached the cross with the spirit of the cross and the attitude of the cross. Those who have not experienced crucifixion will not be filled with the spirit of crucifixion, and they are not worthy to preach the word of the cross.
After seeing the experience of Paul, does it not tell us the reason for our failures? The message we preach may be good, but we should examine ourselves in the light of the Lord—are we truly crucified men? With what kind of spirit, word, and attitude do we preach the cross? May we humble ourselves before these questions so that God can have mercy upon us.
We are not talking about those who preach a "different gospel." We are talking only about those who preach "the gospel of God’s grace." The word is not wrong, our message is not bad, but why do others not gain life? This must be due to the failure of the preacher! It is the person who is wrong, not the word that has lost its power. It is the man who has hindered God’s life from flowing, not the Word of God that has lost its effect. When the man who preaches the cross does not himself have the experience of the cross nor the spirit of the cross, he cannot dispense to others the life of the cross. We cannot give others what we ourselves do not have. If the cross does not become our life, we cannot give the life of the cross to others. The failure of our work comes because we love to give the cross to others before we know whether or not we have the cross in ourselves. Those who are good at preaching to others must be good at preaching to themselves first. Otherwise, the Spirit will not co-work with them.
Although the message we preach is important, we must not stress the message too much and forget ourselves. We can gain some knowledge from books about the word of the cross which we preach. We can use our mind to look for many meanings in the Bible. However, all these are borrowed; they do not belong to us. Those who have clever minds are more dangerous than others. A preacher is in more danger than others, because all the studying, reading, researching, and listening may be done for others and not for himself. He may labor for others only to find himself starved spiritually! We can hear deep words about various aspects of the cross or read from books about the meanings of substitution and co-crucifixion. If we have a clever mind, we can even add a proper order to these teachings, so that when we speak, we can develop the things we have heard and thought in a very clear and sincere way, having everything well-organized and all the points clearly presented and the arguments neatly divided up. We may cause our audience to think that they have understood everything. Yet, despite the fact that they have understood everything, there is not an urging power to make the audience pursue what they have understood. They seem to think that to understand the doctrines of the cross is enough. They stop at the things they understand and do not pursue what the cross promises to give them. Even if the speaker understands the audience’s mind, has a loud, sincere voice, and urges them not to understand the doctrine only but to pursue after the experience, his audience can only be stirred up at that moment. They still have not received life. They still have the theory only, not the experience. We must never be self-satisfied and think that our silvery tongue can maneuver the audience. They may be affected at that one moment, but have we only given them thoughts and doctrines, or do we need to give life to them? Without giving life to man, we contribute nothing to his spirituality. What use is it to give man only thoughts or doctrines? May this thought be planted deeply into our being so that we would repent of the vanity of our previous work!
The reasons why no one gains life through our preaching of the cross are: (1) we ourselves do not have the experience of the cross, and (2) we do not use the spirit of the cross to preach the word of the cross.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 02: The Word of the Cross, Chapter 3, by Watchman Nee)