The reflection today is from Paul Martin. Thank you, Paul.
There is a phrase in I Corinthians 2, the passage we thought about on Sunday, which is striking and thought-provoking. I think it may be worth meditating on especially as we reflect on the challenge of outreach this year.
Paul tells the Corinthians that when he first preached in their city he did so “in weakness with great fear and trembling” (NIV). I like the translation in J.B. Phillips which says, “I was feeling far from strong; I was nervous and rather shaky”! Another version called “The Passion Translation” (anyone heard of it?) has “I stood before you feeling inadequate, filled with reverence for God, and trembling under the sense of the importance of my words.”
I think you’ll agree that it seems like a lot of thought has gone into how to translate what amounts to 13 words in the original. Perhaps you’ll also agree that the thought of speaking to others about Jesus (never mind actually doing it), creates similar sensations of shakiness in you – it does me! At the very least we can draw comfort from the thought that Paul also felt nervous.
However, the Passion paraphrase has made me think again. It was more than nerves that made Paul tremble: it was the importance of the words he spoke. Why were they so important? I can think of three reasons:
First, they were the first words the Corinthians had heard about Jesus from a Christian. He didn’t want to misrepresent his Lord and so he was justifiably anxious to get them right. People in Saffron Walden today might have heard about Jesus from all kinds of sources, a few have hardly heard of him at all. Could our words, be they few or many, be the first they have heard from a Christian? In case this puts you off speaking at all, remember it may be a long time before they get another chance to hear about him!
Secondly, Paul relied on the Holy Spirit to speak through him as the next verse tells us. While you might think this would remove the need for anxiety, in my experience feeling the urge to speak out a message from God makes the heart beat faster! This was a phenomenon that was familiar in the early days of Quakerism: in a meeting for silent worship, individuals were sometimes moved by the Spirit to speak out “a testimony” and in so doing they frequently shook. Unkindly at first, they were nicknamed “quakers” or “shakers” because of this.
Thirdly, Paul trembled because he was excited. I cannot prove this but I have a sense of his excitement as I read passages in his letters to the Romans, Ephesians and Colossians. If only we could hold on to the awe and amazement that we sometimes experience in our sung worship, and approach our outreach with the same feelings. There are some fantastic truths about God’s plan of salvation which are beautifully expressed in the words of hymns and songs, many of them taken straight out of the Bible. Why can’t these inspire the same excitement in me on a Monday morning as they do on a Sunday? If they could, wouldn’t that change the way I talk about Jesus? They might get me talking about him more for a start!
This is a genuine question: where does the excitement leak out or evaporate? Why don’t I tremble like the apostle Paul?