By Tom M. Roberts
God did not entrust the gospel to angels, to super natural beings, to higher life forms without foibles and feet of clay. Indeed, he entrusted the gospel to men. As an objective fact, this is rather astounding. The message of salvation is in feeble human hands!
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things.”
Previous articles by this writer appearing under the broad heading of “Attitudes Toward Preaching” have identified problematic areas which hinder the spread of the gospel. When men who preach have bad attitudes, those mind-sets invariably interfere with the free dissemination of truth. The “earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7) which carry the precious message of the cross can certainly detract from its message. Whether accidental or intentional, human weaknesses mask the beauty of the story of Jesus. It should be the goal of every minister of the gospel to “hide behind the cross of Christ” and “evangel” (proclaim) Jesus and not himself.
In the rhetoric which often surrounds the work of gospel preaching, we sometimes lose sight of the significance of what we do. God did not entrust the gospel to angels, to super- natural beings, to higher life forms without foibles and feet of clay. In- deed, he entrusted the gospel to men. As an objective fact, this is rather astounding. The message of salvation is in feeble human hands! While realizing that the truth of the gospel is an inspired message and that God’s promise assures us that “my words shall by no means pass away” (Matt. 24: 35), we yet must realize that the “go” of the gospel is man’s responsibility. This knowledge is at once both hum- bling and gratifying.
The “Gift” of Preaching
Among the gifts which Jesus gave when he ascended on high (Eph. 4:7- 11) was that of “evangelists, pastors and teachers.” The companion gifts of “apostles and prophets” were singular works of the first century, restricted to those of that “office” (Acts 1:20) and their fulfilled work continues with us today in the body of revealed truth (2 Tim. 3:16-17). How- ever, the work of evangelism (whether by evangelists, pastors or teachers) continues in every age. Paul’s instruction to Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5) includes this advice: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2:2). This implies the need for “faithful men” in succeeding generations be- yond that of the apostles to evangelize.
The evangelist (Gk: euangelistes) is “lit, a messenger of good (eu, well, angelos, a messenger), denotes a preacher of the gospel, Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11 which makes clear the distinctiveness of the function in the churches, 2 Tim. 4:5” (Vine 44). Though some have attempted to make an arbitrary distinction between “preaching” and “teaching” (gospel and doctrine) as the means of “com- mitting these to faithful men,” the Bible makes no distinction between the functions of preaching and teaching. Jewish leaders threatened the apostles and “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Unmoved by these threats, the apostles continue to “preach” the doctrine of Christ and “teach” the good news to the lost.
Every generation needs men com- mitted to telling the story of the cross to those lost in sin. It is a singular honor to preach “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). No greater need exists, no greater challenge is before us, no greater fulfillment awaits than that of being a simple preacher of the gospel. Only those who fail to appreciate the honor of the work insist on adding titles of prestige and hierarchy: reverend, doctor, Ph. D. Let us never be ashamed of being simply a preacher. If one is a preacher of the gospel, the reflective honor of the Master is sufficient to the laborer.
The Work of Preaching Ordained by God
The text of this article (quoted at the start) is Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel, who publish glad tidings of good things.” It should be understood that Paul was recalling a passage from Isaiah 52:7-8 which prophesied the work of evangelism and is so applied in Romans 10. The “watchman” that publishes the good tidings, the “voice” that proclaims salvation is the evangelist of the gospel. “For ‘whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear with- out a preacher?” (vv. 13-14). The gospel of Christ is a “sent” message (v. 15), having its origin with God and commissioned to the world. To fulfill its purpose the “sent” message must reach those to whom it is sent, the lost. But “How shall they hear without a preacher?” “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (v. 17). Clearly, both Isaiah and Paul (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) taught that God expected those who preach to be “watchmen” and “evangelists” in warning that souls are in danger and how they may be saved. The criticism that some have raised about Watchman Magazine being an abuse of terminology restricted to the prophetic office is unjustified. Romans 10 and Isaiah 52 specifically include evangelists as among those who are watchmen.
“How Beautiful Are the Feet . . .”
There is little mystery in the use of “feet” as the beautiful part of those servants who preach. While feet are not considered body parts of physical beauty, feet are the instruments of travel and it is God’s intent that evangelists “go” with the message. This does not necessitate a circuit riding, non-located preacher as some have mistakenly insisted. The ancient “town crier” who “cried out” the news wanted to reach as many people as possible whether in one locality or in many. Paul traveled on three journeys which covered many miles and many cities, but he also remained in Ephesus for over three years. In each instance, whether located or on the move, he evangelized.
Please note that God chose lowly feet as the proper analogy for evangelists. He did not select the brain (human wisdom), hands (ingenuity), tongue (oratory), or physical beauty, but feet. Surely, the message is clear. The man must not obscure the message! Herein lies the difference between human and divine wisdom. The gospel elevates God through Christ; philosophy elevates the philosopher. The Holy Spirit tells us of the cross as central to salvation and the messenger is incidental. Though Paul’s life is described in bold relief as an apostle chosen out of due sea- son, Paul himself realized that he must “count all things loss” for Christ.
“Indeed, I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8). Paul was willing to be a “foot” soldier for Jesus Christ.
The Feet of the Evangelist Are Beautiful Because:
They bring light into darkness. Let us not lose sight of how desperately those in darkness need the Light. “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. . . . if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7). “Do all things without murmuring and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the word, holding fast the word of life” (Phil. 2:14-16). Jesus is the true Light, as Isaiah spoke: “The people who sat in darkness saw a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death, Light has dawned” (as quoted in Matt. 4:16). As our feet are used to spread the gospel, darkness is expelled and Light shines in dark places, illuminating hearts with its heavenly message.
They utilize the “dynamite” of the gospel. Paul said: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation . . .” (Rom. 1:16). Whether seen as dynamite or a dynamo, the gospel contains the power needed to overthrow Satan. Apart from the gospel, men are impotent and ineffective. The useless- ness of the philosophers in Athens to understand their lostness or what to do about it was brought out by Paul when he preached to them of the resurrected Savior (Acts 17). They worshiped multitudes of idols but none of them, individually or collectively, could describe sin, its cause or its cure. In Paul’s own case, he knew that he was in Corinth “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:3-5). The message he preached was “not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strong- holds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). How weak we are; how strong is the gospel. Trusting in our own power, we are doomed to failure. But when we use the gospel, Satan suffers sure defeat.
They bring unity to a divided world. The condition of mankind apart from Christ and outside the one body is division, hatred and enmity. In the first century, men were separated from God by sin and from one another by racial hatred. Segregation of Jew and Gentile was strictly en- forced and no mediation on earth could alter either sin’s separation from God or racial apartness. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body though the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And he came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:13-18). As we preach the gospel, men and women come into the unity of the “one body” (Eph. 4:4-5). No other relationship on earth can create and maintain the fellowship between God and people of all tribes, tongues and nations as can the gospel of Christ which we preach. It is in this fashion that we become “peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9).
They proclaim salvation. Paul spoke of the “law of sin and death” which could not be overcome by “the law” (of Moses). Only by the “law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” can sin and death be overthrown (Rom. 8:1ff). This “law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” is none other than the gospel. All men have “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The wages of sin is death (6:23). But the message of the cross is that of mercy, grace, atonement and reconciliation. “Spread the tidings ‘round, wherever man is found. Jesus saves! Jesus saves!” We must never forget the centrality of our work to forgiveness of sins.
It seems that in the heat of controversy, we often forget the purpose of preaching. When some try to bend the law of God to include in our fellowship the guilty fornicator who remarries, opposition breaks out (as it should). But often, lost in the shuffle is the soul that is living in adultery. That person seems to be insignificant as compared with our battle, which takes on a life of its own. Because of the error that some teach, the guilty are given false hope. Fellowship is extended by some and denied by others. In the ensuing confusion, the sinner is unable to comprehend the clear message of Jesus (Matt. 5; 19) and preaching is defeated. The salvation that might be theirs is obscured by the babel of conflicting voices. Surely, God intends truth to be spoken in a unified voice (John 17:20-21). The feet of preachers are beautiful only when they walk in the right direction, deliver a single message and encourage faithfulness to God.
There is no room for jealousy and infighting among those who preach the gospel. It is possible for us to forget that the world is still lost and to spend our time carping and criticizing the efforts of fellow preachers. We can see how wrong the apostles were when they argued among them- selves as to who should be “the greatest.” By now (nearly 2000 years later) we should have learned that “he who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven will be the servant of all” (Mark 9:34). There is room in the kingdom of God for different styles of preaching, different methods that fit different size “feet.” I am afraid that our problem is not with big feet but with big heads: egotism.
If error is being taught, this should be exposed, even (perhaps especially) among preachers. It is not a sign of jealousy to question one who teaches false doctrine. Denominational preachers are not gospel preachers and should be marked as the false teachers they are. But gospel preachers who become a minion of Satan through espousing error should not be allowed to parade under false pretenses. One is a gospel preacher because he preaches the gospel. When he begins to teach error, he ceases to be a gospel preacher. Our generation has its share of those who fly the false banner of being a gospel preacher when they preach anything but the truth. When exposed, they claim “misrepresentation,” “jealousy,” “lack of integrity,” or make a personal attack on those who expose them. But let us not be misled by such charges. It is not wrong or sinful to expose imposters, compromisers, or pseudo- preachers. Such betray the gospel message and the Master who gave it. Such men are not worthy of wearing the name of “evangelist.”
The Honor of Being An Evangelist
While issuing a disclaimer against human pride, let me speak of the honor of being a preacher. The office (work) of evangelist is a singular and esteemed place. True, his glory is reflective of the high and holy message that is preached and not inherent within the person himself. But a gospel preacher is a person of importance. His work is significant. He is God’s messenger to the lost with the words of salvation. He can affect the eternal destiny of those who hear him speak. His words can point to heaven and lead one away from the punishment of hell. As a companion to other preachers, he is in the company of those who are in the forefront of the battle against the kingdom of darkness (Col. 1:13). He is a friend and upholder to other workers in the kingdom, those who are elders, teachers and faithful Christians.
A gospel preacher has a “ministry” (2 Tim. 4:2, 5) though he is not God’s only minister. There are works peculiar to his ministry that are not true of others in the church. He should give himself wholly to his ministry (1 Tim. 4:15). God has decreed that “the laborer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7) and that those who “preach the gospel should live of it” (1 Cor. 9:14) Though some will abuse this sup- port from the church, no man has ever become wealthy by preaching. He must be willing to preach even when financial support is absent, otherwise he is a hireling (John 10:12-13) and not worthy of his calling.
The ministry of preaching, by its essence, revolves around the word of God. Paul’s instruction to Timothy (2 letters) and Titus are the “job description” of a preacher. He is to be at home in the Scriptures, read them, meditate on them, then teach them. “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). His obligation for what he preaches is to God and not to the church. “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). While some brethren think they can dictate what a preacher is to preach because they pay his salary, they need to learn that they can decide whether or not to support a man but they have no right to determine his message. This is already laid out by the Holy Spirit and the hireling can be told what to preach but not a gospel preacher. (This relationship between the supporting church and the supported preacher can be abused in both directions. A church might try to control what is preached. A preacher might take advantage of brethren’s funds. But abuses do not negate the proper role of either churches or preachers. A proper balance exists when brethren are willing to support a man to preach the gospel and he is faithful to the Lord.)
A preacher must speak the gospel with authority, not asking permission for his message. “These things command and teach” (1 Tim. 4:11). There is no conflict between an eldership and a gospel preacher. Peter was at the same time an elder, an apostle, and a preacher. Thus, an elder- ship does not dictate the preacher’s message any more than the whole church. A good relationship between an eldership and a preacher exists when those who “shepherd the flock” (Acts 20:28) have the same interests in the spiritual welfare of the members as does the evangelist. A preacher does not violate the authority of elders when he speaks authoritatively about the gospel. In fact, the work of preachers and elders complement and support the work of one another. Peter was able to be both a preacher and an elder because of the close affinity of the work of each, not in spite of it.
A preacher must be committed to his work because there are times that try one’s soul. Preachers have enemies within the church as well as without. Some people see the preacher as fair game for an outlet of their sour disposition. Others resent the truth and will try to destroy those who teach it. Some will mistreat the family of the preacher, knowing it will hurt the preacher. The ill treatment towards prophets recorded in the Scriptures is still afforded preachers. Not many have been killed (as Stephen was) but “dirty tricks” are not limited to politics in our time. Preachers have been fired without notice, hounded personally, derided even while in the pulpit and humiliated without mercy. However un- called for this kind of treatment is, a preacher must be prepared to deal with it. Thankfully, such malcontents are in the minority and good people more than make up for the bad times, but persecution is a fact of life and must be considered as one of the tests for his spirit.
During the difficult times, a preacher might question, “What am I doing here?” When money is scarce, when your family is under attack, when truth is “out of season,” and when a brother is making life torturous, a preacher might think of secular work as a welcome relief. But let me tell you what keeps a preacher in the work.
A preacher continues in his work of ministry because he has made a commitment to God that is not true only when the going is easy. A preacher continues because of his love for truth — for the satisfaction that comes when the opportunity to preach is presented — for the joy of seeing lost souls obey the gospel — for the gratification of watching a babe in Christ develop into maturity — for the association with fellow Christians in the local church and in other areas where he has opportunity to preach — for a handshake and an occasional appreciation expressed by the brethren — for the sheer joy of preaching — for the spiritual life that is required — for the time it permits to study the Scriptures — for being part of a ministry that permits me to be a fellow-worker with Paul, Peter, Timothy, Titus, Apollos, and thousands of unnamed preachers known only to God — for the opportunity to “contend” for the faith (Jude 3) against those who abuse it — for the honor of being yoked together with Christ in a fight against Satan. There are thou- sands of little reasons why one would be a preacher, daily reminders of a ministry that is a life-long calling.
How sad to remember the words of a young man at college who, unable to select a major for his education or to find an occupation that suited him, finally said, “Well, if I can’t do anything else, I guess I can always preach.” What woeful ignorance! That young man, as well as too many others, think of preaching as a cushy, three-hour a week job that brings prestige simply by being in a pulpit. One might ask Stephen what he thought about the prestige of preaching and how cushy the bed of rocks it brought to him.
“How beautiful are the feet” as it relates to preachers is an apt description. It has a singular honor attached to it, but only among those who are willing to sacrifice a life of self and become a “fool for God.” There will be little honor in this life for those willing to wear out their shoes and blister their feet as they go, preaching the word. If that is too great a sacrifice, you would not make a faithful preacher anyway.
The next time you look in a mirror and arrange your hair, etc., trying to enhance what little physical beauty you have, sit down and look at your feet. No one brags on these “less comely” parts of the body (1 Cor. 12:21-24). But God chose this exact analogy to describe gospel preaching in order to eliminate human pride and philosophy from the consideration of those who would preach (1 Cor. 28-29).
The next time you think of preachers and preaching, think of feet. It will do us all good to remember what God thinks of when he thinks about the work of preaching.