By Randy Harshbarger
The title of this article suggests that there is power in the preaching of God’s word, the gospel, or as Paul says in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation.” The Apostle was duty bound to preach only the gospel, for it is the only message that can accomplish what God wants accomplished, namely, the salvation of the souls of men. When something other than the gospel is preached, men are converted to someone or something other than the Lord. Paul understood the responsibility placed upon him to preach only God’s word (1 Cor. 9:16) and, with dauntless resolve, preached only the preaching of God’s son (1 Cor. 1:21; 2:2).
This article does not purport to tell anyone how to preach. We recognize the various backgrounds, temperaments and abilities of men (as was true, at least in part, of the apostles). It is, though, without reservation the message that must be preached, the gospel, that we must focus on. Yes, preach the truth in love, but preach the truth! Preachers today must have that single-minded purpose Paul, Peter, Stephen and the Lord had! It is our business to preach the word, and preach Christ. We must exalt the name of the Lord, keeping the story of the cross always before the hearts of men. If the simple story of the cross does not stir men’s hearts, then they will not be properly moved (Lk. 8:13,14). Depending upon our own eloquence, or playing upon the sympathies of men with something other than the gospel, is to lead people away from the Lord, not to him. It is truth that makes us free from sin, and only truth (Jn. 8:32). Paul recognized that to preach something other than, or in addition to, the gospel, was to be unfaithful to the Lord, and would result in the condemnation of souls (Gal. 1:10,11).
The carnal appeals of Satan, sin and compromise are many and always attract the worldly minded (Acts 17:21). Yet, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal (2 Cor. 10:4,5). To teach and reason from Scripture will turn men from Satan to God. Funny stories or jokes that have no other purpose than to entertain are out of place in true gospel preaching. The experiences of men, while important to them, do not establish the basis of fellowship with the Lord. And, our own experiences cannot establish a right relationship with the Lord, but will lead to a completely subjective, better-felt-than-told salvation. When an appeal to something other than the gospel is made, we weaken our efforts to reach lost men.
It has been said (with validity) that the social gospel and institutionalism, represent a loss of confidence in the power of God’s word. There seem to be some trends discernible today pointing in the direction of a loss of confidence in the power of the gospel. In the beginning stages, trends are hard to discern. Sometimes the changes in thinking, preaching, writing, etc., are almost imperceptible. Yet, some signs are more easily observed. Of course, none would, openly admit to a rejection of the gospel and its power, at least not now. But, what about ten or twenty years from now? Apostasy does not happen over night, but remember the new generations to come and what happened to Israel (confer Judges 2), Some things are being said and taught that represent a drift away from the message God commands that we teach and preach.
Most will agree that the power of the gospel can be seen in the specific application of truth. The people on Pentecost got the point, were duly convicted of sin, and understood that they needed to do something. Stephen was rather pointed in his message, saying, “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your Fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51). Jesus told the Sadducees that they were wrong (Matt. 22:29). He did not try to deal with the negative in a positive way. He simply said: “You are wrong!” Did he love them? Certainly, and it was evidenced in the fact that he said what needed to be said, when it needed saying. We can all take a lesson from that! Paul dealt with Peter’s vacillation face to face (Gal. 2:11). No doubt today, Paul would be charged with having an image problem. How could Peter reach his potential with all the negative publicity? When Paul stood before Felix, he preached “righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). Paul was not concerned about Felix feeling good about himself. He did want Felix to be at peace with God, and preached the only message that would achieve that. No doubt, Paul would have flunked out of any Dale Carnegie course.
Was Jesus using slurs when he said to the scribes and Pharisees: “Woe unto you . . . hypocrites . . . blind guides . . . inwardly ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matt. 23)? Too negative? Some today would say yes! Why is it, though, that some complain and criticize in such a negative way, against anything negative (Rom. 2:1)? We cannot blindside people with the truth. To preach the truth and condemn error is not to engage in personal attacks. Yes, strive for balance. A steady diet of all negative is out of balance, just as much as all positive is. The gospel has both. Those who call for non-doctrinal sermons and shorter sermons and less Scripture need to study 2 Timothy 4:1-5. One of the problems with the Positive Mental Attitude philosophy is that, carried to its ultimate end, all preaching directed to such things as immodesty, dancing, social drinking, disregard for God’s marriage laws, etc., will eventually be eliminated.
The life of the Christian is compared to many things, one of them being a war that continues throughout life. Some opt for a peaceful co-existence with the world, but the attitude of the world is such that fellowship with the Lord and the things of the world cannot be (1 Jn. 2:15-17; Jas. 4:4). The world, evil, Satan and sin, all seek to overcome us (1 Jn. 5:19; Rom. 12:21). Error seeks to trap us, but only truth will make us free (1 Jn. 4:1,2; Jn. 8:32).
Men who are lost in darkness need the eyes of their hearts enlightened by the word of God (Eph. 1:18). Only the gospel can turn men to the Lord (Acts 26:18). To be delivered from sin and Satan’s kingdom is possible because God in his love sent his Son to die for all (Col. 1:13,14). We must be good soldiers and fight the good fight of the faith (2 Tim. 2:3,4; 4:6-8; 1 Tim. 5:12). This warfare must be the concern of all, and every child of God must be on duty. Our weapons are not carnal (2 Cor. 10:4,5); our armor the Lord provides (Eph. 6:10-20).
Our commitment must be to the Lord and to his truth. When we contend earnestly, let it be for truth (Jude 3). Loving the souls of men, we hate the sin that condemns. But let us remember the message the apostles preached: “And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when ye received from us the word of the message, even the word of God,.ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also worketh in you that believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).
Many of the old pioneers preached a sermon variously titled, but often called “The Adaptation of the Bible to Man” (confer The Gospel Preacher.- A Book of Twenty Sermons, by Benjamin Franklin). These lessons help us understand that God’s word fits perfectly and applies in every way to man as he is. No, we do not need a new gospel for a new age, nor do we need to help the Lord in trying to improve his word. It would do any Christian good to hear such sermons again today. When a gospel preacher laughs at and ridicules brother Roy Cogdi4l’s New Testament Church, charging it is out of date and would not fit modern audiences, brethren we are doing more than just drifting!
May we have great faith in the Lord and in the power of his Word. Let us “buy the truth, and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23). Let us plead for a “thus saith the Lord” and be content to speak only the things that “befit the sound doctrine.” Let us be content with and continue to tell the old, old story of Jesus, and his love (Reproduced from With A It Boldness, March 1991).
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 24, pp. 739-740
December 19, 1991