By O.C. Birdwell, Jr.
On many occasions, especially in past years, brethren have prayed for the preacher that he might preach the gospel in its purity and simplicity. We sometimes get the feeling that this kind of preaching is not as much desired today and is even less often done. There is, however, a need for it, and such preaching is the kind the Bible authorizes.
Preaching the Gospel
Paul said that Christ sent him “to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17). Furthermore, he said, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). Paul was sent to preach and felt duty bound before God to do that for which he had been sent. The apostles were told to go teach people, baptize them, and then to teach them all things the Lord had commanded (Matt. 28:18-20). The church today is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15); evangelists are to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2); and all Christians are to be “light” and “salt” (Matt. 5:13,14). All should function as faithful stewards of what God has committed unto our trust. The gospel must be preached to the extent of our ability and opportunity.
Preaching the Gospel in its Purity
Preaching the gospel in its purity goes beyond just preaching. Often a preacher is commended and praised because he is a preacher, with no consideration given to what he preaches. Paul said, “But speak thou the things which befit the sound doctrine” (Tit. 2:1). To Timothy and Titus, on at least eight occasions, Paul speaks of “sound doctrine,” “sound words,” “sound in the faith,” or “sound speech.” Yet, even brethren are heard making light of the idea of something or someone being “sound.” Being sound in the faith comes from hearing and obeying sound doctrine. The alternative to being sound is being unsound. If one does not hear and obey sound speech or sound doctrine he is unsound. The same can be said for a congregation. If sound doctrine is rejected the congregation becomes unsound.
Preaching the gospel in its purity relates to the content, or the thing preached. This was Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 1:21 where he said, “It was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” In reference to the word “preaching” a footnote says “thing preached.” God saves through the message preached. The message, however, to save, must be the pure, undefiled word of God. Paul said, “For we are not as the many corrupting the word of God” (2 Cor. 2:17). Here the meaning is “making merchandise of the word of God.” This is one way it can be corrupted (2 Pet. 2:2,3).
Other ways of corrupting the word are revealed. God said, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it” (Deut. 4:2). John wrote, “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ hath not God” (2 Jn. 9). One makes the message of the word impure when he adds to, takes from, or supplements for its teaching.
The following are some specific problem areas:
(1) One may preach an impure gospel by failing to teach the facts of the gospel. Christ died for our sins, was buried, and arose from the dead the third day (1 Cor. 15:1,2). This must be preached and believed. Surveys show that multitudes, even many who claim to be Christians, do not believe these facts and do not want them preached.
(2) The commands based upon these facts must be preached. Salvation from past sins does not come at the point of belief. The people on Pentecost believed Peter’s preaching about Christ and the resurrection but were told to repent of their sins and be baptized unto the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). Salvation comes when there is obedience from the heart to the “form of teaching” (Rom. 6:17). If the commands are not obeyed or if they are altered in any way, the word preached is corrupt and impure.
(3) An example of Christians turning to an impure gospel is related by Paul in Galatians 1:6-9. I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel: only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema.
Those who troubled the Galatians were adding to the word of Christ such things as circumcision. When the Christian is required to obey parts of the Old Law, or the traditions of men, in order to be a Christian the Word is perverted or changed. The gospel is not preached in its purity.
(4) Preaching that relates to church worship and work may be impure. From some we are hearing about a new way of interpreting Scripture. They call it a “New Hermeneutic. ” The fact is, however, this “New Hermeneutic” is about as old as false doctrine. The method denies the authority of approved apostolic examples, and in many instances, questions the inspiration and authority of the written word of God. Bible teaching, they say, is obscure and difficult to understand. They conclude by inferring, if they do not forthrightly state, that all that is necessary is for one to have a sincere heart and trust in the grace of God. Through this process instrumental music in church worship, human innovations in church work, and adultery in the life are made acceptable.
(5) Not only is there impure oral preaching, written teaching often lacks purity. Paul asked, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men?” (Gal. 1:10) There are areas wherein it may be acceptable to please men. We may dress acceptably, have a pleasing disposition and manner, speak fluently and grammatically correct, and in other ways be likeable and pleasant. Our written message may have a good style and all that goes along with an acceptable paper. There is one thing, however, that must characterize our writing. It must teach truth. Sound doctrine must be taught. A best seller, written by Max Lucado, is presently being bought by the thousands. If the book teaches anything it teaches that God worked a miracle in response to nuns who prayed for a stairway. To the author the great Christians are people such as Moody of the past and rank denominationalists of the present. Some seem to think that such writing by a brother in Christ is great, when the truth is, it contains impure and corrupt teaching.
Preaching in its Simplicity
To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “But I fear lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ” (2 Cor. 11:5). About this verse Albert Barnes said, “By the admixture of philosophy; by the opinions of the world there was danger that their minds should be turned away from their hold on the simple truths which Christ had taught” (Commentary on 2 Corinthians). Present day preachers must not turn away from the simple truths in the Lord’s New Testament. We need to remember that although God’s scheme of redemption for lost humanity is indeed profound, the facts, commands, and promises of the gospel are simple and easy to be understood. Directions pertaining to the life, work, and worship of the Christian are just as easily understood.
In Nehemiah 8:8 we find the following: “And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading.” This is preaching in its simplicity. Read distinctly and present the textual meaning so the listeners can understand in order to make proper application.
John A Broadus wrote, “We must use words and phrases that exactly express our thoughts.” This is a challenge to everyone but especially to the gospel preacher. There is so much at stake in our preaching that we must learn to present our message so it can be understood. Sermons are often preached in which the thoughts and beliefs of the preacher are, seemingly, purposely veiled. One may even fear for the listeners to know what he truly believes, so he preaches all around his subject and never explains what he believes to be the truth. We are quite often hearing the statement, “You did not understand me.” Surely one may occasionally make an inadvertent statement, or he may not say enough about a subject to make his position clear. Yet, this is not the problem with some. They preach sermon after sermon and write article after article, but still say, “You do not understand me.” Any preacher who cannot present so as to be understood what he believes on any Bible subject, including Grace-Unity, The Work and Worship of the Church, and Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, should quit preaching until he learns how to properly express himself.
It is feared by many, including this writer, that some are not preaching the pure word in its simplicity because it is not presently believed. They, therefore, do not want to be understood. Their interests and purposes are best served when they quote from multitudes of denominationalists and false brethren; then conclude by saying that much is obscure, hard to be understood, and many preachers disagree.
God, through the prophet Hosea, describes wayward Israel’s condition in the following words: “Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity, ye have eaten the fruit of life (faithlessness); for thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men” (Hos. 10:13). Problems exist among us today because too many trust in their own way and in the teaching and ways of their “mighty men.” What we all need to do is get back to preaching the gospel in its purity and simplicity.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 3, pp. 85-86
February 6, 1992