In my line of work, there are times when we request inspections and reports on the condition of underground conduits or pipes to ensure that they remain able to function without blockages, leaks, or collapses. The ideal conduit remains in original, or near-original shape, in-tact, and free of obstructions to allow water (storm, sewage, etc.) to travel easily without having the flow impeded or diverted. Typically, this flow is regulated by some sort of mechanical device, i.e. valve, gate, weir, or other. By way of analogy, those who teach, preach, or otherwise communicate God’s Word are to likewise be conduits such that the Word may flow through with power apart from hindrances. If the human being is God’s conduit, then the Word is the material flowing through the conduit and the power is the rate or force at which the Word flows through the conduit all of which is regulated by the Holy Spirit.
Writing under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the believers at Thessalonica, Paul encourages them in the faith by reminding them that the Gospel he spoke to them came not only in word, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with conviction.
“4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
In the passage above, we see that Paul has assurance in the election of the saints he ministered the gospel to in Thessalonica because the effectiveness of God working through the message preached and the evidence wrought in the production of fruit in their lives (vs. 4). He indicates that the gospel came, not only in word, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. That the gospel came with words in significant. Paul, Silas, and Timothy spent 4-6 months ministering the word in Thessalonica. In Acts 17, we are specifically told that Paul reasoned with them in the synagogue for three straight Sabbaths on the necessity of Christ’s death and resurrection in which he said, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” Acts 17:3 It was necessary for them to use words in their communication of the truth of who Christ is, His life, death, and resurrection. However, our passage states this in the negative, “not only in word.” This lets us know that words were necessary, but not sufficient in and of themselves. Instead, the word must be accompanied by power.
Preaching or teaching, here we will simply combine them to mean communication of God’s Word, must be accompanied with power. Absent of power, the communication, which may be true, orthodox, and accurate, is simply a lecture. It’s nothing more than reading a facts sheet. There’s nothing to distinguish the powerless preaching of God’s Word from a university seminar lecture. It’s weak and unplugged from the source of power. No one walks into a room, turns on an unplugged lamp in order to read a book in darkness! Yet this dimness clouds the man who preaches God’s Word apart from power. This power, according to Vincent, is the “power of spiritual persuasion and conviction: not power as displayed in miracles, at least not principally, although miraculous demonstrations may be included.” This power is what has been called by some unction, though there is a contingent opposed to such language. (NOTE: This is in NO WAY related to the Roman Catholic sacrament of extreme unction.)
In trying to wrap our minds around this difficult concept, Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes
“What is this [unction]? It is the Holy Spirit falling upon the preacher in a special manner. It is an access of power. It is God giving power, and enabling, through the Spirit, to the preacher in order that he may do this work in a manner that lifts it up beyond the efforts and endeavors of man to a position in which the preacher is being used by the Spirit and becomes the channel through whom the Spirit works.”
This concept of power in preaching the Word is further illuminated in some of Paul’s letters, particularly to Corinth:
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
“And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:3-5
“For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” 1 Corinthians 4:20
We might also consider: Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; Acts 4:33; Acts 13:9
The conduit doesn’t have the power in and of itself. God is the source of the power, the conduit’s responsibility is simply to allow the power to flow through, apart from hindrances. What are these hindrances? It could be eloquence or the desire for great oration and wisdom apart from the simplicity of God’s Word. It could be pride of knowledge, a desire to let everyone know that you have a depth of knowledge which is self-validating. It could be sin: laziness, lustfulness, selfishness, anger, envy, jealousy, etc. which can completely stop the power or cause it to leak sufficiently out of the conduit. Obstructions, leaks, and other defects could be enumerable, therefore it is all the more critical for God’s conduit of the Word to seek the face of God and actively work, by the indwelling power of God’s Holy Spirit, to stay in the presence of God, evidenced much like the glowing face of Moses who shone in the presence of God and veiled his face when he knew the shine had left.
This brings us to observe that the gospel did not come in words only, but in power AND the Holy Spirit. From our analogy earlier, which breaks down as all analogies do, we concluded that the Holy Spirit was the Regulator of the Word and the power, controlling both the content that flows through the conduit and the force at which it flows. This is all the more true when we consider the nature of preaching itself as the communication of divine truths in divine power to produce divine results. It has been said that as Charles Spurgeon would climb the stairs to his pulpit, he used to say with each step, “Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit.” The minister of the gospel’s reliance on the Holy Spirit is of critical importance, indeed it’s mandatory. Reliance on God the Holy Spirit is inversely proportional to reliance on self, the more of the former, the less of the latter…and unfortunately, vice versa. I have often said, if the Holy Spirit is not accompanying you into the pulpit (or in whatever manner God may have you speak), then sit back down and be quiet.
The word that was preached to the Thessalonians came with power and the Holy Spirit and produced, “full conviction”. Preaching the Word with power by the Holy Spirit, necessarily makes demands and brings the results of that which it demands. Here, it is summarized as, “with full conviction.” Others have translated it as “with full assurance.” Those debates aside, it’s clear that this is the result of the power-filled, Holy Spirit regulated preaching. It may bring conviction of sin, as in the case of the Thessalonians who heard the Gospel and were brought to repentance of sin and faith in Christ. Though we must hold in tension the reality that it may also bring hardness of heart, as it did with many of the Jews in Thessalonica who heard the exact same message, yet it led them to riot and assault Jason. Similarly, this preaching may bring assurance of faith, in other words edification, to genuine believers. Genuine preaching always demands and brings a response.
Our passage does not stop there, however. Some translations, such as the ESV above, end the sentence after “full conviction”. However, the construction of the Greek sentence joins full conviction and the subsequent phrase that is not seen above. It perhaps should read, “and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” The difference is that the ESV translation above makes the character of the “conduit”, keeping with our analogy, a loosely related add-on statement whereas it appears the original sentence construction that their character is integral with the message they preached with power and the Holy Spirit. The Thessalonians knew what kind of men Paul, Silas, and Timothy were by observation! They knew that the conduits who brought them the word in power and with the Holy Spirit, while not perfect, were nevertheless sound, without obstructions or deflections that would hinder the Word. In other words, the character of the messenger helped to validate the quality of the message.
Preaching the word with power and the Holy Spirit has become glaringly absent in today’s churches. It seems this can only be due to either obstructed or leaky conduits or a failure to preach with power and the Holy Spirit. Whatever the cause, it is evident when the power and Spirit are present, yet it is also evident when it is lacking. Let us conclude by giving the last word to Lloyd-Jones
“Do you always look for and seek this unction, this anointing before preaching? Has this been your greatest concern? There is no more thorough and revealing test to apply to a preacher.”