"Peddling The Word Of God"

Edward O. Bragwell, Jr.
Anniston, Alabama

For we are not, as many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak In the sight of God in Christ (2 Cor. 2:17 [NKJV]).

When Paul was defending himself before the Corinthian brethren, one of the claims that he made was that he and his co-workers were not mere peddlers of the word of God but ministers of righteousness. The King James Version says that they did not "corrupt" the word of God. I think it will help us to understand what Paul was saying here if we examine what is meant by the word that is here translated "peddling" or "corrupt." The Greek word that is used here is kapeleuontes. Concerning this word, Vine says that it "primarily signifies to be a retailer, to peddle, to hucksterize (from kopelos, an inn-keeper, a petty retailer, especially of wine, a huckster, pedlar, in contrast to emporos, a merchant); hence, to get base gain by dealing in anything, and so, more generally, to do anything for sordid personal advantage. It is found in 2 Cor. 2:17, with reference to the ministry of the Gospel" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 234). So what Paul is telling the Corinthians here is that He and his co-workers were not corrupting or watering down the gospel as a peddler or inn keeper might water down the wine that he sold them. He is saying that they were not bringing the gospel to them out of some self-seeking motivation but out of a sincere heart and a sincere desire for their well being. Paul was sincere when he preached the gospel. He recognized it as "the power of God to salvation" (Rom. 1:16). Therefore, he was always careful to preach the pure unadulterated word and to declare "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). His only motivation for preaching the gospel was to save the souls of men. To corrupt the gospel would weaken the saving power of it. There was no way he could be just a mere peddler of the word of God.

We need to be careful today that we also do not become peddlers of the word of truth. We must always preach the pure word of God out of a pure motive. Our preaching must come out of a sincere desire to bring about the salvation of men's souls. Otherwise, our preaching will be in vain.

Many, however, do become mere peddlers of the gospel, corrupting God's word in order to gain some type of personal advantage. Financial pressures, may sometimes cause a man to corrupt God's word. If a man knows that preaching certain Bible teachings could cause him to loose the financial support of a congregation, he may decide not to teach those things. After all, some one might get mad, and he could get "fired." Certainly, a preacher who fails to preach all of God's word because he fears financial loss is one who is a mere peddler of the word.

Others corrupt God's teachings because they might be looking for other types of personal gain. It may be that a person will teach a corrupted gospel in order to bring praise and prestige to himself. If one desires to be popular among the brethren and appeal to a large group of people, then he must teach things that will tend to please everyone. He will not teach those things found in the Scriptures which may not be popular to some. He will be sure not to teach those things which might be viewed negatively by some. He has to try to please as broad a group of people as possible in order to remain popular. He has to be sure to preach only "positive" Christianity. However, when he leaves out those things that tend to turn people off, he is guilty of watering down and corrupting the gospel. If he taught "the whole counsel of God," he might not be so popular. Unfortunately, preaching the pure word of God sometimes makes one unpopular. Paul was not always popular, but he always taught sincerely and completely what God would have him to teach.

The gospel is also corrupted by many, because they don't really trust in its power to save. I think many have the idea that presenting the gospel to people is not enough. Sowing the seed is not enough. Some have then come up with the idea that what we need to do is "sell" the gospel to the lost. It is no longer "a sower went out to sow," but "a salesman went out to sell." I cringe every time I hear someone equate the preaching of the gospel to the selling of a product. I hear people say, "Well, the reason we can't get more people to accept the gospel is that we are not selling it to them in the proper way." I hear others say, "If we would use the same good sales practices in teaching the gospel that we use in selling other products, we would be much more successful." Would we really? The basic problem that I have with that kind of thinking is that the gospel is not a product to be sold and Christians are not gospel salesmen. There are many things that go into selling a product that should not enter into the teaching of the gospel. First of all, if I am trying to sell a product I am only going to talk to the customer about positive aspects of my product. I will try to avoid talking about any problems that might be encountered with the product after one buys it. That's not good salesmanship. However, when presenting the gospel to people, we must make them aware of the cost of discipleship and what it is going to take to be a Christian. Too often, people are made to think that getting wet is all there is to being a Christian. No wonder, getting wet is all they do. If we want to do a complete job of making disciples out of sinners, simply baptizing them is not enough. We have to be sure that we teach them "to observe all things" that Christ has commanded, regardless of what it might be and regardless of the cost (Matt. 28:18-20).

Also, in selling a product the emphasis is on results, not on effort. If a salesman calls on a hundred people in a month and only makes one sale, he is judged a poor salesman. It doesn't matter that he has been out working hard every day calling on people and presenting his product; if he doesn't sell, he is a failure. I know. I got a job one summer selling encyclopedias. What I did was show encyclopedias to hundreds of customers. Unfortunately, no one bought any. The company didn't care how hard I worked at it or how many people had the opportunity to see their product, the fact that no one bought their product upset them and it was suggested that I find something else to do.

However, with God it is the effort that we put forth, not the results that we are judged by. He wants us to sow the seed, the uncorrupted word and He will take care of the results. Men, unfortunately, do judge by results. If there have been no "visible" results in a while, brethren begin to get impatient. They conclude t t the problem is not with those who are being taught, but with what is being taught. They then try to find ways to make what is being taught, the gospel, more appealing. There are several ways this can be done. Just don't teach those things found in the gospel which tend to be offensive to the ones being taught. Offer some sort of incentives to bring people in to listen to the gospel. How many churches have traveled down the path of the social gospel because of such reasoning? If you want to sell cars that aren't selling, offer low interest rates and prizes. If you want to get people to accept a teaching that they don't want to, then offer them carnal rewards. However, we need to realize, as I have heard my dad say many times, that people who are converted on fried chicken, ice tea and ice cream are as cold as the ice cream, as weak as the tea and as dead as the chicken.

Also, when we place our emphasis on "visible" results we encourage each other to do whatever is necessary to produce those results. Many times we judge preachers by how many people they have baptized. So if a preacher can baptize a large number of people, we consider him a great preacher, regardless of what he might have had to do in order to get that many people under the water. We judge our own effectiveness as a local church sometimes merely on the basis of numerical growth. So in order to produce that growth, we do whatever is necessary. If a couple is living in an adulterous marriage, we soften our teaching on that so as not to have to exclude them from the congregation. That would deplete our numbers. If a man is teaching false doctrine, we don't want to run him off, so we avoid any kind of confrontation with him. By watering down what we teach and staying away from "controversial" matters, we can preserve the number of people that we have in the congregation and possibly add more. But when we do that, we are guilty of being mere peddlers and corrupters of God's will.

Why do so many become guilty of just peddling off a corrupted version of God's word? Because most people are going to reject the pure, unadulterated word of God. "Few" are going to accept it (cf. Matt. 7:13,14). But if we change the word, we change the seed and, therefore, change what the seed produces. If we want to produce truly converted, dedicated Christians we must plant the uncorrupted seed, the pure word of God (1 Pet. 1:22-23). We, then, must not be, as many, peddling the word of God, but as of sincerity, as from God, we must speak in the sight of God in Christ.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 22, pp. 673, 697
November 20, 1986