The Man and the Plan

By Ralph Joiner

The tour bus stopped in front of a huge, impressive office building, dominating everything else around it. Responses were immediate from the tour group. “Isn’t it magnificent,” whispered one man, spellbound. “Ugliest thing I ever saw,” opined another. “It’s simply beautiful,” one lady commented to her husband.

The tour guide raised his hand for silence, and began the spiel he had given hundreds of times. “This building was designed and its erection supervised by the great architect, Harold Lloyd Wright, and is representative of his work in the later years of his life.”

Every accolade was a tribute to Wright; every criticism an insult and offence to the man’s work and his memory. Those few who had no opinion of the building had no opinion of Wright. Other than his work of architectural design there was little about Wright to distinguish him from others millions who were his contemporary.

This is, if it is not already clear, intended to be analogous to Christ and his great work. A comparison that suffers through necessity, but an analogy nonetheless. When I first began preaching the gospel a third of a century ago, one of the most common criticisms I heard about the church was that we preached too much about the church and baptism. “Why don’t you just preach Jesus?” we were asked. “Preach the man, not the plan.” Little has changed. How truly did the wise man speak when he said, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Eccl 1:9). Now, however, some of our preaching “brethren” have joined the sectarians in pleading a moratorium on preaching the “plan.” Like our denominational friends, they believe that “preaching the man, not the plan” is the answer to every problem hindering unity among “believers.” “If we just preach Jesus,” they contend, “there would not be so much division in the religious world.”

Now, an analogy is just an illustrative comparison. It doesn’t necessarily prove anything. But it should be apparent to anyone with a modicum of common sense that we cannot preach “the man”  we cannot preach Jesus  without drawing attention to that which gives us the motivation to preach him: our salvation. Jesus is declared to be “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb.12:2), or the “architect and perfecter of our faith” as it might be accurately translated. How can you “preach” the “architect” without praising his work? It is impossible. The “architectural design” of Jesus did not consist in just his existence; nor even of his earthly teaching, though, even if you allowed that to be your limit, you must, of necessity “preach the plan” for that was what Jesus personal minis-try was all about. “Preaching the man” involves not only preaching about Jesus  his virgin birth, his Deity, the miracles he worked, the prophecies he gave, the sin he rebuked, his death on the cross for our salvation  it includes preaching about the church he purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28) to which the saved are added upon their obedience to the gospel (Acts 2:47), of which he is the Savior (Eph. 5:23), and which he will one day deliver up to God (1 Cor. 15:24). It includes telling lost sinners not only what Jesus has done but what they must do to have forgiveness for their sins, happiness in this life, and more in that eternal home that awaits the faithful. Did not Peter imply that the “plan” was available only through the “man” (2 Pet. 1:3)? In the same way, when “the plan” is preached, Jesus must be taught as the “author and finisher” of that plan. If Jesus is not everything the word of God declares him to be not only was he the greatest charlatan the world has ever seen, but “the plan” is useless and its teaching and application are exercises in futility. Paul aptly described such when he wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor 15:19). As a building draws attention to its designer, so the “plan” of salvation, and all it encompasses, draws attention to Christ who accomplished it.

Brethren, it is not an either/or situation. The “man” and the “plan” are not mutually exclusive; they are complements to one another. One does not obviate the other. The “plan” without the “man” would leave us with a gospel that is impotent, not “God’s power unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). The “man” without the “plan” would leave us in a spiritual maze, not knowing which way to turn to get the prize at the end.

Sunday morning, when I preached a lesson on marriage, I preached the “man” and the “plan.” Sunday evening when I extolled the all sufficiency of the Scriptures, I taught the “man” and the “plan.” May God give me the courage, the wisdom, and the strength to always preach both, for one is powerless without the other. May I always be able to say with Paul, “. . . I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). Only then may I, with all the exuberance of that faithful saint proclaim, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 17, p. 19-20
September 5, 1996