Preachers and Preaching - (No. 5)
God's Concept of the Preacher's Duties - to the Gospel
J. P. Needham
In our preceding article we dealt with MAN'S CONCEPT OF THE PREACHER'S DUTY. This was a negative approach to the subject. We now want to study the matter from a positive point of view; to look at the preacher's duties as they a represented in God's word. While we should steer clear of false teaching on any Bible subject, we must make sure that we know and pre sent the truth. The scriptures portray the preacher's duties to the gospel as follows:
1. GUARD IT (I Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14). The word "guard" (Greek PHULASSO) has a military connotation. It is a very strong term, and carries with it grave responsibilities. All who have had any military training will readily recognize the significance of a guard's duty. The well-being and safety of those guarded rests upon his shoulders, and the severest penalties attach to dereliction of his duty.
The gospel preacher is charged with the responsibility of guarding the gospel. There is no graver responsibility on earth. He is t(put in trust with the gospel" (I Thess. 2:4), and he must guard it with his life. Paul said lie was "set for the defense of the gospel" (Phil. 1: 17). Jude exhorted that we "earnestly contend for the faith . . ." (Jude 3). But a guard presupposes enemies, or forces that must be guarded against. What is the gospel preacher to guard against? Let us notice:
(1) False teachers who creep in unawares (Gal. 2:4) and "by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom. 16:18). Peter warns against such men "who privily shall bring in damnable heresies" (2 Pet. 2:1), and Paul speaks of those who will speak "perverse things to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20: 30). Paul faithfully discharged his duty to guard against such men declaring, "to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you" (Gal. 2:5).
God has set gospel preachers as "watchmen upon the walls" which should "never hold their peace day nor night." They should "keep not silence" (Isa. 62:6), but "cry aloud, and spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins" (Isa. 58:1). Because of his vantage point as a "watchman on the wall," the gospel preacher often sees the approach of the enemy before others, and when he cries aloud and warns of impending danger, those he seeks to protect may label him an alarmist and a troublemaker. They may even mistreat him as did God's people the prophets of old, but a faithful guard will not be silenced by persecutions or political pressures, but will continue to "cry aloud" though he may never be heard.
(2) "Foolish and unlearned questions" (2 Tim. 2:23; Tit. 3:9). Not all questions deserve answers - not all questions can be given Bible answers. Unless they recognize this, they will waste a great deal of time and energy trying to answer questions which cannot be answered, and would not settle anything if they could. Some things God has not seen fit to reveal (Deut. 29:29). Some people delight in trying to "stump" a preacher with certain untaught questions, and philosophical inquiries which have no definite solutions, and taunt him because he cannot come up with an answer. Paul told the young preachers Timothy and Titus to "avoid" such, that is, guard the gospel against such encroachments. For a preacher to allow himself to be constantly occupied in such investigations is to do great harm to the gospel. Unstable and untaught people will be driven from the gospel, saying, "If preachers cannot answer these questions, why should I try?" or else they will get the idea that, "the gospel, like the world, is a mass of uncertainties, so why should I embrace it?"
(3) "Profane and vain babblings" (I Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:16). The word "profane" means that which is without attachment to God, unsacred. "Babblings," according to Vine, are "empty discussion(s), discussion(s) on USELESS subjects." (Emphasis mine JPN). Paul is thus warning Timothy to guard the gospel against discussions of profane or academic questions which, if settled, would have no practical value or relationship to godliness. While this may not seem very significant to some, it is very important to the person who has witnessed brethren in "business meetings" and "Bible classes" disgust just about everyone with long, drawn-out discussions of things that were purely theoretical, and unpractical. Brethren have ceased attending "business meetings" and people have been driven away from the church because certain contentious souls insisted on "profane and vain babblings." Such are uninteresting and disgusting to those who seek the truth.
Some brethren (including preachers) take great offence at such warnings. They say, "We believe in discussing everything. Let everything be open and above board. Open discussion is healthy." While this sounds good, it is not in harmony with the passages under consideration. If ALL discussion is healthy, Paul did not know it for he warned Timothy to guard against certain kinds. I am not disparaging discussions of vital points of truth upon which differences may exist. On these I too believe that discussion is healthy and profitable, but let us keep in mind that gospel preachers have the responsibility to guard against "profane and vain babblings."
(4) "Strives about words to no Profit" (2 Tim. 2:14). Paul admonished Timothy to guard the gospel against "strives about words to no profit." Many controversies in the church fit into this category, and should be stopped. Some brethren can carry on a war of words for years, if we allow them to make up their own definitions.. If a preacher happens to trample on their "sacred cow" they ease up beside him in the foyer with that gleam in their eyes like the cat that has cornered the canary as if to say, "So you are ignorant too, and now I am going to clobber you." So, with an air of intellectual superiority, they climb on with both feet!
A brother jumped me in the foyer once for saying "go to church." "That is an unscriptural expression," he said. "We do not go to church, we go to worship." Now, that is a very significant point, and any FOOL should know better than to say, "Go to church." But, as usual, a word warrior manufactures his own definitions, and refuses to accept anything that conflicts with his prefabricated notions. The word church is translated from the Greek -word EKKLESIA, and is properly rendered "assembly." It is so rendered in Acts 19:32, 39, 41. Now, to say "go to church" simply means, "go to assembly." This is what Christians are supposed to do as per Heb. 10:25. Now what is so bad about saying, "go to church?" It sounds pretty accurate and scriptural to me.
Many other such examples of "strives about words to no profit" could be cited, but this one will have to suffice for our present purpose. Gospel preachers are charged with the responsibility of guarding the gospel against such nonsense. Nothing can do the truth more harm than allowing it to be reduced to such a trivial level. The gospel is not a system of theoretical trivia and metaphysical distinctions, and a preacher of the gospel should keep people from getting such an idea of it.
II. "COMMAND AND TEACH" IT (1 Tim. 4:11). The most prominent duty of the gospel preacher is to do just what his designation says, "Preach the gospel." Paul sets forth this duty in clear terms; he is emphatic. He also discusses some qualities that are to characterize this teaching.
(1) Emphatic ness -- "These things COMMAND , . ." (I Tim. 4:11). "These things affirm CONFIDENTLY" (Tit. 3:8) (ASV). There is nothing uncertain about the way of salvation. Near the very beginning of the gospel, this was noticed. At the conclusion of the sermon on the mount "the people were astonished at his (Christ's JPN) doctrine for he taught them as one having AUTHORITY and not as the scribes" (Mt. 7:28, 29). In line with this Paul told Titus, "These things speak, and exhort and rebuke WITH ALL AUTHORITY. Let no man despise thee" (Tit. 2:15). The gospel preacher who knows his Bible and who is unafraid to preach it like it is, will frequently have people to say, "but you are so sure you are right." When this happens, we know we have succeeded. Most people are looking for something "iron-clad." They find enough uncertainty in the secular world. When a preacher gives out an uncertain sound, the gospel becomes unattractive. We have aJl heard of the preacher who gave the plan of salvation like this: "If you do not believe to some extent, and repent in some degree, you are liable to be damned somewhat." I heard a "gospel preacher" spend five minutes apologizing for Mk. 16:16, before he finally got around to quoting it. The lost, wandering sinner finds nothing desirable about such preaching. The gospel preacher is to teach the gospel with all the force of a COMMAND - not as something that is optional. This is his duty-and it is not OPTIONAL!
(2) Urgency (2 Tim. 4:2). "Preach the word; be urgent . . ." This quality is often lacking in much of the preaching today. It is manifested in the lack of enthusiasm in the delivery of many preachers. They do not seem to feel that what the are doing is very important. Their sermons are not interesting, and are without urgency. There was a time when a gospel preacher's enthusiasm during a sermon might send a cuff link flying down the isle as he preached "hell fire and brimstone." People were dangled over the licking flames of hell until they could feel the heat and get some idea about what it means to be lost. Today, however, very little of this type of preaching is done. A preacher with a professional pastor's concept of his work had rather talk about more pleasant things that will tickle the ears of his contented, self-satisfied audiences. He would not want to disturb their sleep! Such a preacher is derelict in his duty to the teaching of the gospel. Let us either put FIRE in our sermons, or put our sermons in the fire! Let us preach "with all boldness" (Phil. 1: 20).
(3) "With much contention" (I Thess. 2:2). "We were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God WITH MUCH CONTENTION." I am sure that such language shocks the delicate noncombatant senses of some modern-day professionals, but Paul said it by inspiration - it is part of revelation. Jude said, "It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should EARNESTLY CONTEND for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). Some members of the church (including preachers) have not realized that the kingdom of God is constantly at war with Satan and evil. There cannot be a truce, or any effort at peaceful co-existence. Our war is an aggressive one, not a defensive one. The philosophy which says, "Do not trouble trouble until trouble troubles you" is not for the gospel preacher or the kingdom of God. We have but one weapon, "the sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 5:17), and a sword is an AGGRESSIVE weapon. We must not be content to stand our ground and occupy our territory, but constantly probe and aggressively attack the citadels of our enemy, and infringe upon his premises.
Hence, let our preaching be aggressive. Let it declare the whole counsel of God, specifying the sin it condemns and declaring the doer's doom. Let the truths of God's word come into open conflict with the errors and inventions of men. Let it "reprove, rebuke and exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim, 4:2). Away with the spirit that says, "Accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative." Down with the philosophy that says, "preach the gospel and let the other fellow alone," or as one preacher put it, "I fight error with dignified silence." These catchy sayings are but clever ruses, and they are as good as the devil wants. He must have invented them because they are designed to take the sting out of preaching and he would be pleased if every gospel preacher would adopt them.
(4) "Gentleness" (1 Thess. 2:7). "But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children." To the unthinking, there seems to be a conflict between the previous point and this one, but there is not. We can preach the gospel boldly, and with much contention, and still be gentle. We must never lose sight of the soul of the sinner. We must handle it with the same care a nurse has for her children. All parents understand how it is possible to be firm with children, yet gentle. When we tell a person he is lost we must not act like we are glad of it! He must feel our love for him, and sense our desire for his salvation.
(5) "Love" (Eph. 4:15). "But speaking the truth in LOVE . . ." It may be difficult to separate this quality from the previous one, but perhaps it deserves some additional comment. Love is an underlying principle which should find expression in everything we say and do as gospel preachers. Whether we "reprove" "rebuke," or "exhort," it must be done in love for the truth and the sinner. Love will motivate us to do what we think is best in every situation. It may demand harsh action in some cases. Let every word of every sermon emanate from a heart full of the love of God.
III. "KEEP THE COMMANDMENT WITHOUT SPOT" (1 Tim. 6:14). Vine says the word "spot" here means alteration. We are to keep the commands of the gospel without alteration. One of our duties to the gospel, therefore, is LOYALTY. God knew what he wanted when he gave the gospel, and therefore commanded what he wanted. He did not leave preachers the option of deciding what is or is not important and essential. Preachers are messenger boys. They have no authority to unseal the telegram and alter the message. They must deliver it without alteration. It is not their business to sit in judgment upon the law (Jas. 4: 11), but to plead the law. "The prophet that hath a dream let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, LET HIM SPEAK IT FAITHFULLY" (Jer. 23:28).
IV. "BE NOT ASHAMED OF THE TESTIMONY OF OUR LORD" (2 Tim. 1; 8). Paul declared that he was not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1: 16), and here admonishes the young preacher, Timothy, that he should not be. He goes on to say, "Nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God." There are those POLICY MEN who claim to be gospel preachers who declare that they are not ashamed of the gospel, but they would not dare stand with a faithful servant of the Lord in time of controversy - they are ashamed of him, and therefore of the gospel. What is our feeling when we think of those brethren who refused to stand with Paul when he made his defense before Caesar? (2 Tim. 4:16). Do we not feel a sickening feeling of revulsion? Well, let me tell you, preacher brother, if your backbone turns to jelly when a fellow gospel preacher is making a stand for truth, and you are so ashamed of him that you will not stand with him, you are no better than those who forsook Paul in his hour of need, and you give godly brethren the same feeling you have when reading of those turncoats in Paul's day.
A preacher who is not ashamed of the gospel will not only declare it without alteration whenever ' and wherever he has opportunity, but he will stand with those who stand for it without consideration of what may be the consequences to his position, prestige, or financial situation. He will not use the problems of others as an opportunity to aggrandize himself at the expense of the truth and a fellow preacher. He will not sit on the side line and criticize a fellow soldier for the way he holds his rifle, all the while claiming to endorse the fight. Brethren, "If the Lord be God, follow Him" (2 Kings 18:21).
V. "SUFFER HARDSHIP WITH THE GOSPEL" (2 Tim. 1:8). The gospel has never been popular with the masses of men. It has always suffered hardships. This means that those who preach it must be prepared to suffer hardship WITH IT. Paul admonishes Timothy to be prepared to suffer such hardships. In 2 Tim. 4:5, he says, "But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry." In this soft, convenience-mad age, it is hard to find gospel preachers with enough love for and stamina in the gospel to fulfill this requirement. We constantly ~ear of preachers who leave the great work of fulltime preaching for some secular job because of some hardship the work of preaching imposed upon them. It seemingly never occurred to them that one of a preacher's duties to the gospel is to suffer hardship with it. A preacher must be a man of courage and faith. He must labor with the deep conviction that all accounts are not settled HERE. He must keel) in mind the hardships and deprivations the early Christians suffered in order to take the gospel to lost humanity. He should read Hebrews 11, 2 Cor. 11, and First and Second Timothy often, and hang his head in shame for his lack of the spirit of sacrifice.
Too many of today's preachers are soft, shallow, sissy, and unstable. It seems that John Mark -was of this stripe, because he went not with them to the work" (Acts 15:38), turning back at Pamphylia. Paul had very little time for an unreliable quitter. He refused to take John on the second journey because of his lazy, vacillating disposition. He was so determined not to take him that he sharpened the contention with Barnabas over the matter to the point of separation (Acts 15:39, 40). I wonder if it is wrong for us to have Paul's disposition toward the quitters of our time. Such a person is more interested in his own comfort than in the salvation of the lost.
The world is full of lost sinners and we have the only thing that will save them -- the gospel. We have our marching orders. And our duty is clear, But because the doing of our duty brings personal discomfort, and inconvenience, or deprives us of a few paltry dollars, we feel justified in tossing in the towel, and turning our talents to the trivialities of time while hell-bound sinners drown in destruction and perdition (I Tim. 6:9). Our duty to the gospel can be turned on and off like a water fountain depending upon our own personal comfort or discomfort. We are not like Paul who said, "And I will gladly spend and be spent for your souls" (2 Tim. 12:15). We are many times not willing to spend, much less be spent for the souls of men. We will do the work if it does not require any sacrifice or inconvenience on your part. "And they loved not their lives unto the death" (Rev. 12:11). "Receive him (Epaphroditus JPN) therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life" (Phil. 2:29, 30). God, give us such men in this time of great need!
CONCLUSION: In our next article we shall continue a discussion of this subject from other points of view. Be sure to read it.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 9, pp. 9-13