“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1–2 ESV).
In my earlier post, we were confronted with the idea that the gospel leaks – it often fades from our minds and, like the believers in Corinth, we neglect to appreciate its meaning and significance. Before we get to Paul’s review of the content of the gospel, I want to point out how Paul originally communicated the gospel. Two items immediately come to mind.
1. The gospel needs to be preached and delivered.
“…the gospel I preached to you…the word I preached to you… I delivered to you” (1 Corinthians 15:1–3 ESV).
Perhaps you have heard the famous saying along these lines, “Preach the gospel and when necessary use words.”* This is usually employed with good intentions in evangelical churches to encourage Christians to live in such a way that others will see Christ reflected in them. However, this is not an accurate understanding of how the gospel was communicated in the New Testament world. There are a couple of key verbs used in reference to the gospel and they all involve the act of speaking and hearing. The activity of the gospel is…
- “to preach” (kerysso, 61 times in the NT; e.g. Matt 4:23; 9:35; Mark 1:14–15; Gal 2:1–2; Phil 1:15–17; Col 1:21–23; 1 Thess 2:9),
- “to proclaim good news” (euangelizo, 54 times in the NT; e.g. Acts 5:42),
- “to testify” (diamartyromai, e.g. Acts 20:24),
- “to announce” (kataggellousin, e.g. 1 Cor 9:14),
- and “make known” (gnorizo, e.g. Gal 1:11; Eph 6:19).
Likewise, the response of those to whom the gospel was proclaimed was “to hear” (akouo, e.g. Acts 15:7; Eph 1:13; Phil 1:27; Col 1:23).
Of course, it is important for our lives to reflect the change the gospel brings (cf. 1 Peter 2:12; cf. 3:16). I am not suggesting that evidence of the good news of Christ in our lives is unimportant. However, it is never enough to limit the communication of the gospel merely to what people can observe. The gospel, by definition, is a body of information that needs to be verbally proclaimed. We must never be lulled into believing that the gospel “goes without saying.” The gospel must be preached.
2. The gospel needs to be believed and received.
Some today are confusing the gospel with a lifestyle. The “good news,” as some understand it, is merely a set of principles for how to have my best life now. Others, perhaps slightly more altruistically, embrace the gospel as a set of values that bring about the social betterment of others. It is true that the gospel calls for a response and may even demand a change in one’s conduct. But the initial response of the gospel as portrayed in the New Testament is one of faith. The gospel without question demands a change in one’s ethics. But the gospel is not a lifestyle to be lived as much as it is information to be accepted and believed. Paul used two key terms to describe the Corinthian response to the gospel: “received,” and “believed.”
One of Jesus’s disciples, John, makes the same connection in the introduction to his gospel. Referring to Jesus, he says: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV).
There are many ways in the scriptures that speak of the interdependence of the gospel and belief:
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14–15 ESV).
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV).
So the gospel is to be preached and believed, delivered and received. This is how Paul communicated the gospel to the Corinthians. In the next post we will look at the content of what he proclaimed.
*This quote is usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (1181/82?–1226), though this is uncertain. He is usually depicted in artwork and in statues with birds because he was widely known to preach the gospel to them. I have often wondered why St. Francis would preach the gospel to birds who couldn’t understand them, yet feel words were superfluous in communicating the gospel to humans.