Most of us probably tend to take a subjective or personal view of the gospel: how it came to me, what it means to me, or what it has done for me. But in the first chapter of his First Epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul offers a unique perspective from the angle of the pastor, evangelist, or missionary who delivers the gospel. “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you” (v. 5). And although the focus of this verse remains on those who preach the gospel, the five critical elements that Paul mentions apply to all of us who would give faithful witness to the gospel.
1. The gospel must be witnessed “in word.” We should not be confused by Paul’s use of the qualifying word “only.” Rather than minimizing the value of concrete words that express the truth of the gospel, the word only suggests that verbal communication of concrete facts is a given. In other words, though in some sense we may and must “live” the gospel (see #5), it is impossible by mere action—however saintly—to bring someone to a saving knowledge of Christ. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Genuine, God-given faith acts only in response to a concrete word from God. Though example is both good and powerful, it will never engender saving faith: we must deliver the facts of the gospel verbally.
2. The gospel must be witnessed “in power.” In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul testified that “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18). Millions of people have read the Bible or have heard faithful gospel messages and have rejected the message. In the verse just cited, Paul explains that the “perishing” hear just the words of the gospel but those “who are being saved” hear the same words (perhaps from the same person) empowered by God. Neither the most eloquent nor most earnest words will save. God Himself must be actively engaged in the delivery of the testimony for lives to be delivered and transformed.
3. The gospel must be witnessed “in the Holy Spirit.” Paul is not speaking here of the “sign-gifts,’ of speaking in tongues or of any other overt display. Rather, he is expanding on the previous element. The Holy Spirit is the Divine Agent through Whom the power of God works. When the gospel message goes forth, the Holy Spirit opens ears, eyes, hearts, and minds, convicts of sin, imparts life, and engenders faith. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63a). Good intentions and earnest endeavor are not sufficient to win someone to Christ. We must witness at the direction and under the power of the Holy Spirit, not according to our own whim, for He alone can breathe life into the words we speak.
4. The gospel must be witnessed “with full conviction.” The Greek word translated “full conviction,” means “complete carrying.” Paul is not referring to how the message was received by the hearers but the manner in which it was conveyed by the messengers. No half-hearted or “Well-I-told-them-what-I-needed-to-say” approach will convey the gospel effectively. Those who witness effectively for the Lord do so under the direction and power of the Spirit and with a burden for the soul of the one being addressed. They believe unequivocally in the essential nature of the gospel for salvation. But such people also have a God-endowed sense, not that they are discharging some generic, God-ordained duty to be a witness but that they are doing the specific will of God in testifying to this particular person. Though not as dramatic, like Philip’s leading to the Ethiopian eunuch, they are convinced that their testimony is specific and purposeful for the soul of the one or ones before them.
5. The gospel must be witnessed by “men . . . proved . . . among you.” As noted earlier, actions do not adequately convey the message of the gospel. But our character either supports or undermines the sincerity and veracity of the message. Words that say one thing and lives that say another brand us as hypocrites whose testimony may be discounted. May our words and actions rise to the standard demanded by God that we may be used effectively by His Spirit as witnesses to the glorious saving grace of God.
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