Summary: The Christian is called to give one, simple message to the unchurched. It is the gospel in its simplicity.
“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
In his commentary on I Corinthians, Simon J. Kistemaker documents that in earlier centuries it was common for preachers of the gospel to write the letters, “V.D.M.” after their name. The letters stand for those in the title of this sermon, “Verbi Domini Minister”, Latin for “Minister of the Word of the Lord”.
I imagine the primary purpose of doing this was to identify themselves with their calling. Men in secular vocations may have several reasons for placing the letters after their name that identify their various titles or degrees, ranging from self pride to establishing their authority to speak on a given topic. An example of that might be, a written thesis on some particular surgical procedure. The reader can see the name of the author and the title or degrees that show him to be qualified to speak on the subject matter at hand, and say, “Well, he must know what he’s talking about”.
In the case of those preachers of old who wrote ‘V.D.M.’ after their name however, I am inclined to think it was done more as a reminder to themselves that they had a very specific calling, and they were not to allow the concerns of the world or other temptations of this life to lure them away from that calling.
I am, first and foremost, by God’s calling, a minister of the Word of the Lord, and I must be about that business above and before all else.
In the Greek world of Paul’s day a great deal of emphasis was placed on clever oratory and the espousal of the latest philosophies from other regions.
We get a glimpse of this in Acts 17 when Paul comes to Athens, and when he begins preaching Christ to them he is invited to speak at the Aeropagus.
Verse 21 of that chapter is in parenthesis. It says, “Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.”
This would have been a prevalent pastime in Corinth also, and we cannot deny that in today’s society there is a very strong draw toward anything new and exciting. Any new thing gets purchased enmasse, any new thought gets attention; especially if it offers a new comfort, amusement or hedonistic appeal.
But Paul came to Corinth straight from this encounter with the Athenian Philosophers, and we can get a picture here of someone who has recently observed the fruit of man’s attempts at clever persuasiveness, and so on the way to Corinth he makes an important decision.
Christians, here is an important thing for anyone to consider, at all ages and in any walk of life, but I think it is most important for the believer in Christ. It is this, that people should take time to reflect on what is going on in their life, what happened in the recent past, even up to yesterday or this very morning, and give some thought as to whether there is something there that should give us some direction for the immediate future.
I think this is a practice largely lost in our day. People just charge through life, facing circumstances as they come to them, or dodging circumstances as they come, with very little quiet reflection on past times and incidents that may help them in their forward movement if only they would meditate and learn from them.
So I have this picture of Paul, traveling by land from Athens to Corinth. It’s approximately 60 miles, probably a two or three day trip.
He has poured his heart out to the philosophers on Mars Hill, telling them that the unknown God they worship in ignorance has become a Man in order to be known. And that Man was raised from the dead and will one day judge the world in righteousness.
He had very little fruit to show for his efforts. ‘Some believed’, it says. Just some. Most scoffed. A few said they wanted to hear more later, but they just wanted their ears tickled. He knew that.
So he left that place and hit the road for Corinth. As he is on his way I picture Paul taking time to reflect on the recent events of his life and what they can teach him about where he is going.
It’s not that Paul was not capable of clever oratory and persuasive speech. Read his epistles. Just read I Corinthians 15. This was a very intelligent and highly educated man.
But Paul reflected. He thought about the pathetic response to his own arguments. He had probably sat and listened as some of the others got up and espoused their latest pet philosophies.