The Fields: Already White To Harvest
"Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest" (Jn. 4:35). The sentiment of the words of Jesus are echoed in the "open door" passages in the epistles to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:9; 2 Cor. 2:12). There is also a "door of utterance" (Col. 4:3). The "open door" is that which no man can shut save the one confronted with it, for it is the door of opportunity (Rev. 3:8). God makes opportunities, but He expects us to open them. When we have a chance to embrace it, we surely should give it a big hug. Opportunity will not batter the door off its hinges when it knocks. It is man himself who creates his own lack of opportunities.
What is true for man and his opportunities is true for the church. True Christianity is not dead belief, but a vibrant way of life that deeply affects our standard of conduct. One of the essential elements of conduct in our lives is that of teaching others the gospel of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:2). The decrease of conviction regarding abilities to go teach is caused too often by limited knowledge of God's Word and simple techniques of communicating it. Our impotence thereof is a tragic substitute for obedience as laborers in the Master's vineyard. This writing concerns itself with opportunities that are ours to teach God's Word.
Open Doors And Providence
While the success of the gospel depends upon open minds and the state of opinion regarding forces that influence is spread, an "open door" suggests providence. God can and does change things. It is right to pray for opportunities. The apostle Paul prayed that the Colossians would pray for him, "that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ" (Col. 4:3). Dare we do less? Perhaps the very reason things are not more favorable for the growth of the church is our inability to see this need and pray for it. The "fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (Jas. 5:16). Is fervent prayer taken out of context when we pray for open doors of opportunity to teach God's Word? Or, is it the fear of the responsibility associated with open doors that blinds us to their existence?
Perhaps our lack of growth is due to "me-ism" (concern only with ourselves). Generally speaking, I see the lack of growth in the church as coming from two extremes: The "do-goodism" that the social gospel of the liberals degenerated into (powerless and dying because it is not the power that saves, Rom. 1:16-17) a lifeless form and our own (conservative brethren), "how can I advance my own personal enrichment?" The liberals have moved into lifeless social concerns and we have moved into emphasizing personal advancements. This is one of the greatest contributors to factionalism among us. Until the conservative churches learn to stay off the already-moving wave of narcissism (excessive interest in self) and cease trying to adjust to the tide of "me first," we will see few opportunities for growth acted upon. We criticize the liberals for their cheapening of the gospel under the foolish guise of relevancy while we fail to set proper scriptural trends in carrying out the great commission. People are tired of spiritual "fluff" and are desirous of spiritual depth. In a Friends meeting house in Cambridge, England there is a sign that reads: "don't just do something - SIT! " Sitting, in this context, is not a call for inactivity, but a call to preparation. You and I are going to have to be changed persons before going out to change others. Our lack of personal work (yes, "personal work") is cutting away our future, the present is collapsing and we are emptied of proper content. Let's look at some of the opportunities with which we are confronted.
Opportunity: The Gospel, God's Power
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). Though the mistress of the world (Rome) held the gospel in contempt and Paul faced the prospects of being humiliated as he preached it, he was ready to do so. He knew irst-hand the power of God and could speak from experience. He had seen this dynamite at work among the Jews first, and then the Greeks. "For no word of God shall be void of power" (Lk. 1:37). "The words of eternal life" are words that are "living and active" (Heb. 4:12). The gospel can transform your neighbor and mine if they will receive it with the realization that it is the revelation from God. But this means of salvation is communicated in the form of words. When, and only when we communicate (or teach) this word can it save and transform lives. The minds of men must be filled with the word of God. Paul speaks of the fact that we must mind the things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:5). "Mind" in this passage is from the Greek word phroneo, which means "I think." Psychology's true axiom is that man acts as he does because he thinks as he does. If he changes his thinking, he will change his action. It is in this that the Word of God can take hold of one's life. The mental concepts drawn from the Bible directly affect our actions and our actions affect our lives. When we "think" right, when we are guided by true concepts, we will "act" right-the power of God's word will be evidenced in our lives. We have in our possession the power of God to change lives, but failure to proclaim it results in continued ungodly living that sends people to hell. There is nothing in the whole world like it and proof of its power is seen in every case of conversion (Acts 2; 19; Eph. 2:1-3). It must be applied. If, however, we do not communicate the gospel, its tempest force will never be the experience by mankind. What an opportunity!
Opportunity: Religious Freedom
It goes without saying, but nowhere in the world is religious freedom like that which we have in America. It has not always been so and I fear that it will not always be true for the future. During the Dark Ages, there was no "open Bible." Yet our current religious freedom is a privilege that so many of our brethren do not take advantage of, and, therefore, do not enjoy to the fullest extent.
If certain bills pending before Congress right now are not reversed, our children will not experience the religious freedom we enjoy. For example: (1) One bill pending before Congress is one that would require churches and other "Christian" organizations to pay for employees' abortions (Moody Magazine, Sept. 1983). The Fair Insurance Practices Acts, intended as a safeguard against sex discrimination in insurance reimbursements, would require insurers to pay women for expenses incurred in "pregnancy, childbirth, or other related conditions. " This has been defined by previous c our decisions to include abortion. If this attempt to weave abortion into the national fabric of American life succeeds, your freedom to oppose a national tragedy will be taken away from you (it is estimated that 15 million human beings are being destroyed). (2) In 1969, Congress passed the Tax Reform Act, which for the first time allowed the IRS to tax a church's unrelated business income. They then obtained authority to audit such churches. While no one opposes the IRS's authority to expose tax protestor groups and fraudulent churches, such action is dangerously close to violating the First Amendment which prohibits hindrance to the free exercise of religion. The present policy of tax exempt status provides a non-restrictive means for dealing with religion. But the problem is this: IRS agents presume more authority than they may actually hold. And they express extraordinary zeal without appropriate constraints. Two cases in point are: (a) The 1979 unfair and unconstitutional manner in which the IRS handled the audit of Gulf Coast Covenant Church in Mobile, Alabama. They were cleared of any wrong-doing, but only after a three year battle and the spending of more than $100,000 in defense. The progress of this denomination was hindered for several years. (b) More recently, the May 24 ruling concerning the Bob Jones University and Goldsboro Christian Schools in which tax exemption was taken away causes the fears of the loss of religious freedom to mount. If this thing keeps going in the direction it is headed there will not be a church of our Lord in the land that can openly and publicly oppose such things as "Gay Preachers," women preachers in our pulpits, women in the eldership, etc. We will be forced to admit them into our assemblies, or lose our tax exemption status. (3) Recently in Los Angeles a suit was filed in district court by 16 people, including several clergymen, that charged President Reagan's proclamation of 1983 as the year of the Bible unconstitutional. What they object to is the President's statement that the Bible is "the pre-eminent text of the whole nation" (Moody Magazine, Sept., 1983). If the trends continue, how long will it be before any of us will be able to assert our belief in God's Word?
Brethren, I have said all of this to say: do not take your religious freedom for granted. Take advantage of it now and assert yourselves in teaching God's Word publicly and from house to house. You and I could possibly live to see this opportunity taken away.
Opportunity: Mass Communications
Never in the history of the church have so many means for spreading the gospel been so readily available. There is radio and television, telecommunicators (devices designed to play a recorded message over the telephone to all who might dial a certain number), Bible Call (a device to play a requested tape on 250 various subjects), mass mailing, etc. No single method of communicating the Word of God is a magic solution to our needs, but they do work. Depending upon the location of the church, the funds available and abilities of those involved, any one method will contribute to the overall success of that already being done. Just because a means of teaching is new, or we have never tried it, doesn't mean that it's unscriptural. We should be ready to try whatever expediency is available if it will get the job done, as long as the expediency does not violate Scriptures governing such practices. The problem with so many congregations is that they are not keeping up with the times in communications and are still struggling with trite methods that are proven failures. Churches need to practice great flexibility in this field. It is sad, but true, some brethren will oppose and/or discourage the use of overhead- projectors, etc. as a means of teaching. How sad! What are we doing to try to teach a more intelligent or
Opportunity: Unconverted Souls
There are great masses of unconverted souls who are hungering and thirsting for the truth. Those who are lost involve numerous people who are uncertain about their religious convictions. They know that they are at sea without a compass. There is a yearning for the "old paths" with its true sense of direction. Never have opportunities been greater for growth. Never have fields been whiter and the laborers so few. And brethren talk about "church discipline" being the most neglected command.
Success: is it by accident or by effort? I think you know the answer. But more importantly, will we begin now to prepare ourselves to do the greatest work on earth? Will we get busy and do something? Opportunity has the uncanny habit of favoring those who pay the greatest price of preparation. There are four hinges upon which the gates of opportunity swing: initiative, insight. industry, and integrity. We have the integrity. But what about the other three? Remember, procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 24, pp. 748-749, 751