Spiritual Salesman?

By Ken McLemore

The story is told, possibly of brother J.D. Tant, that some years ago when he had returned home from an extended gospel meeting a brother asked the preacher’s evaluation of the meeting. Brother Tant is said to have replied that it was one of the best meetings he had conducted all year, to which the question was asked of how many baptisms and restorations had occurred. Brother Tant promptly replied, “None.” The amazed brother then inquired why the meeting was thought to be so successful. The evangelist is said to have replied, “Well, we withdrew from 12 ungodly members.”

The story appears to illustrate a common attitude of many that gospel preachers are in the business of “selling the gospel” or simply gaining numbers for the sake of having great numbers. The fruits born of the power of the gospel are not limited to the first fruits of obedience, but necessarily include the fruits of maturity as well (Gal. 5:22-23). If a gospel preacher teaches sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3), avoids foolish teaching (1 Tim. 4:6-7), gives himself to study of the word (1 Tim. 4:13), exposes error (1 Tim. 6:3-5), gives diligence to properly handle truth (2 Tim. 2:15), and defends the word of truth (2 Tim. 3:16-4:5), he will produce “results” from such preaching that maynot garner great numbers but will save souls.

What many brethren forget today is that the “honest and good heart” of Luke 8:15 which Christ said was proper soil for the seed of truth can still be affected by truth, but in many places the New Testament church no longer demands the kind of preaching which will “cut to the heart” of the alien sinner or the apostate saint. Too many brethren are busy “selling the gospel” rather than “preaching” it. There is a vast difference.

The apostle Paul would have not been a productive “salesman” by some modern standards of gospel preaching which rely purely upon, popular appeal and eloquence rather than a hard appeal to truth. The apostle declared in 2 Corinthians 11:6, “But though (I be) rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been throughly made manifest among you in all things.” And, by some estimates of certain kinds of current thinking which equates “results” in preaching with gathering great numbers, Christ should have quit teaching when in John 6:66 the record declares, “From that time many of his disciples went back and walked with Him no more”!

We wonder as well if spiritual maturity is a “result” of gospel preaching? Did Paul and Barnabas produce “results” when they were “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith,” and had taught the brethren in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch so that they had the maturity to appoint elders to the oversight in those churches (Acts 14:21-23)? Paul declares to Titus, “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Tit. 1:5). We might ask, what “result” was Titus to “produce” in preaching the gospel in Crete? To Timothy, Paul directs in 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” Again, what “result” was Timothy to “produce” in preaching the gospel? In Matthew 28:19-20, Christ himself commanded the apostles to teach and then teach again; first, teaching the sinner how to be saved from sin and, then, teaching the new disciple how to mature spiritually. If we accomplish both are we producing “results”? If we accomplish one or the other, are we producing “results”?

Some brethren seem to have forgotten that an evangelist must defend the truth and expose error while seeking the souls of the lost; and, careful study of 2 Timothy 3 and 4:1-5 will show that. Will such preaching “produce results”? Did Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 5:7 that the Corinthian brethren were to “purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump” produce a “result”?

In Acts 13:46, Paul told the Jews that they had judged themselves “unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.” Nobody was baptized, but did Paul produce “results, ” or was he a poor “salesman” who needed to move on because he showed no “results”? Should Paul have taken stock and decided that he ought to quit preaching because he was a “poor salesman”? If Paul was interested merely in attracting numbers of people, he would not have been so adamant about the fact that he baptized so few at Corinth when he rebuked the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:14-17).

The obedience of the twelve men of Ephesus inActs 19 would be a monumental “result” for a single effort today. However, those twelve conversions paled in mere number against the 3,000 of the day of Pentecost, but did that negate the power of the truth, or somehow prove that Paul was less an apostle than those who preached to the Jews?

What so often seems to be forgotten today in the rush to gain numbers for the sake of numbers is what Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 2:17, that, “we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.”

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 11, pp. 323-324
June 7, 1990