By P.J. Casebolt
This inspired statement reflects the different attitudes manifested by “the chief of the Jews” at Rome. These attitudes resulted from “the things which were spoken” by Paul, and those things pertained to Jesus and the kingdom of God (v. 23).
Why did some of the Jews believe and some not? Did Paul preach one message to some and another to the rest? Was the word spoken by Paul too difficult for some in his audience to understand? With due respect to the apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit which guided him, and even with like respect to the intelligence of those in his audience, the same word was spoken to all and all understood alike. This was simply one more example of the parable of the seed and the sower (Matt. 13:3ff), and the different kinds of soil in which the seed is sown.
In 1955 I preached in a meeting with the old First Avenue and Twenty-Sixth Street congregation in Huntington, West Virginia. I say “old” for I am not sure if the same building is at the same location, and I am sure that the membership of that congregation has undergone quite a change since that time.
Since I had scheduled the meeting, a different preacher had moved in to work with the congregation. When this new preacher found out that I was coming, he tried to get my meeting canceled. Our attitudes toward the word of God were markedly different, and could be described by the adjectives “liberal” or “conservative.” Back then, a congregation or a preacher was classified as either “loose” or “sound,” and those terms generally applied to moral as well as to doctrinal values. In other words, some condemned worldliness and doctrinal innovations in no uncertain terms, some advocated such things, and we even had our “middle- of-the-roaders” back then. The elders informed their new preacher that my meeting was scheduled before he came, that they had never heard me preach anything other than sound doctrine, and that I was going to come. The local preacher decided to make the best of a temporary, if bad situation, and we treated each other courteously. But I didn’t change my style of preaching.
One night I preached what was then called a first-principle sermon, and it just happened to be a contrast between some points of Baptist doctrine and the doctrine of Christ. I did not know if there were any Baptists in my audience or not, but I did notice that the local preacher seemed to be unusually uncomfortable on the front pew which he occupied all by himself. We didn’t have upholstered pews back then, and I thought maybe the varnish was so slick that he couldn’t sit still.
When the invitation song was sung, some came forward to be baptized for the remission of sins that they might be added to the Lord’s church (Acts 2:36-47). You should have seen that preacher stop his squirming and hit the floor in an unmistakable fashion. Even his words were unequivocal, as he extolled the power of the word of God.
It turned out that the preacher had invited some of his Baptist neighbors, that they had accepted out of courtesy, but had assured him beforehand that they had no intention of being baptized or of affiliating themselves with the church of Christ. Then I understood why he was so nervous, and I have seen other members of the church in the same situation. I’ll confess that I too have been apprehensive at times, wondering what the reaction toward the truth would be on the part of some in the audience, whether I or someone else were doing the preaching.
On the same occasion, there were some other Baptists in the audience which took exception to the preaching and let me know as they left the building that they intended to continue in that persuasion as long as they lived. People have the right to disagree with what I preach, and they also have the power to choose what religious course they are going to pursue in life, if any. (And the “any” could refer to either life or religion.) Some 1900 years later, the same thing happened in the city of Huntington that had happened in Rome — “And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.”
Others may ask me, as I have asked myself, whether or not I might have converted those who rejected the word if I had not been so plain in my handling of that subject some 40 years ago. But, while it is fair to ask such a question, it is also fair to ask a similar question. Had I been less plain, would that couple who obeyed the gospel have done so?
Faithful preachers will pray for wisdom before they preach, while they are preaching, and will pray and engage in self-examination long after they have preached a sermon. But we cannot afford to wallow in self-guilt or doubt the truth of the gospel. And the condition of the soil (hearts) will still affect the results of sowing or watering “the seed of the kingdom.”