By Connie W. Adams
The imagery of battle with Christians as soldiers appears often in the New Testament. We are challenged to “put on the whole armor of God” in Ephesians 6:11. Near the end of Paul’s life he said, “I have fought a good fight” (2 Tim. 4:7). He called on Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). In that vein he wrote:
You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier…. Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory ( 2 Tim. 2:3-10).
Preaching the gospel has its own rewards. To see lives changed by the power of the gospel is fulfilling. To see congregations grow from the teaching of the word is most satisfying. But it is not always easy. The Lord never promised it would be easy. There are hardships to be borne and one who is not willing to endure these things should never start. Take a look at some things which must be endured.
We have to endure inconvenience. There are times when personal plans must be set aside in order to attend to some pressing need of the moment related to the work of preaching “in season and out of season” and trying to be “a good minister of Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 4:6). A man, or his family, with a “me first” attitude will not fill the bill.
We must learn to endure criticism. Sometimes we have it coming. But whether we have it coming to us or not, you can be sure it will come. Our Lord was not exempted from this and neither were the apostles and early preachers of the gospel. Some just won’t like plain preaching of the truth. They will not “endure sound doctrine” but prefer fables (2 Tim. 4:3-4). If a hearer does not have a love for the truth in his heart, you will never be able to say it to please him. He may lecture you on how you should have said it when all the time it was not how you said it at all but what you said. That is not to discount the importance of gracious words, seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6). Gospel preachers may have motives questioned. He and his family may seem to live in a fishbowl. The simple remedy for all of this is to faithfully teach the word the best you can and “be an example of the believer.” Preach the truth and then practice what you preach. You will have a conscience void of offense before God and those who love the truth will hold up your hands and help you in the work.
We may have to endure opposition. Those bent on following some error in doctrine or personal ungodliness will not always take kindly to reproving and rebuking. Their efforts may go beyond criticism. They may work to create an element of opposition to put pressure on elders or some of the men who sit in business meetings. Sometimes the real issue remains unstated. I know of one man who went to the elders and told them that if they did not stop the preacher from preaching against Masonry that he would see to it that the Masons in the congregation (and he claimed there were several) would withhold their contributions so they would not be able to pay the preacher or do the other work they had planned. Sometimes the opposition comes from without. Powerful community figures may rise up in arms against faithful preachers of the word because they have affected cherished beliefs or practices. I know of one preacher who awoke one morning to find his yard full of beer and whiskey bottles because he had preached on the radio against legalizing liquor in the county where he lived. Carl McMurray was recently arrested in Russia for preaching the gospel. Details are sketchy but we will have a fuller report later.
We must be willing to suffer financially. Paul said he knew how to “abound” and to “suffer need” (Phil. 4:12). Notice that Paul was not always hungry. Sometimes he said he was “full.” Sometimes he abounded. But in either case he was able to carry on his work. Whether the brethren sent enough for him to “abound” or he had to work with his hands making tents, he was willing to work night and day that the gospel might be preached. He said, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). All of us must live within our means. But if a man does not know that he can earn more money in the world of secular business, given his education and experience in dealing with people, than he can as a preacher of the gospel, then he is probably not bright enough to preach anyhow! In all this a preacher needs the loyal support of his wife and children.
All of us have to suffer discouragement. Sometimes we preach for months at a place, or in meeting after meeting and see very few, if any, obey the gospel. Ungodly attitudes and practices in the lives of some remain unchanged. It is easy to seek Elijah’s cave and have a genuine pity party. Or to be like Jeremiah who grew weary of preaching to people who paid no attention to what he said. The Lord sustained Elijah, and Jeremiah had that fire “shut up in my (his) bones” so that he could not refrain from speaking. And God will take care of us too. We look at people who have heard enough gospel to change the world and who remain in their sins. We want to take hold of them and ask, “Why? Why don’t you obey the Lord?” We reexamine the content of our preaching. We ask, “Lord is it I?” “Am I just not cut out for this work?” “Should I quit trying to preach and let someone who can do it better go on with it?” You say, “brother Adams, have you ever felt that way?” Oh yes, many times. Then my wife, or an elder, or a close personal friend jars me to reality by reminding me that we can only plant and water but that God gives the increase. So, I’ll just keep on planting and watering and leave the rest to the Lord and to the hearts of those who hear.
Is it worth it after all? Oh yes! Paul said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Paul added that these hardships are only temporary and “light afflictions” when weighed in the scales of eternity.
The world needs to hear what we have to say and so do our brethren. We will just have to toughen up and endure hardships. We can’t afford to quit and the world can’t afford for us to quit either, whether the world knows it or not.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 17 p. 3-4
September 4, 1997