By Mike Willis
In Eph. 3:8, Paul said, “To me the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christi.” That God called Paul to preach the gospel is, indeed, a manifestation of His grace. Paul’s background demonstrates that he did not earn the right to preach. When others were proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, Paul was helping stone Stephen to death; when others were leading their friends and relatives to Jesus, Paul was trying to find men and women in order to put them in prison, He tried to get them to blaspheme by persuading them to say that Jesus was not the Christ, the Son of God. Yet, God in His mercy saved Paul. Then, God used him in His service, not as some kind of servile peon, but as a gospel preacher through whom God brought many to salvation. Indeed, Paul was allowed to preach through the grace of God.
What is true of Paul is true of all of us. We are allowed to preach this message of salvation because of God’s grace. Though I neither stoned a Christian to death nor persecuted Christians prior to my conversion, I was a sinner doomed to eternal damnation. But God, in His grace, has not only saved me but allowed me to proclaim to all men the wonderful news of Jesus. One day in the nineteenth century, a man approached Joseph Parker, a famous preacher in London, and asked him, “Why did the Lord choose Judas, one of the twelve who betrayed him?” The preacher replied, “I am not able to answer, but the great mystery to me is not why he chose Judas, but why should the Lord have chosen me.” It is only a benevolent act of God’s grace which allows a sinner like me to preach the saving message of Jesus Christ.
I am God’s fellow-laborer! Paul said, “We are God’s fellow-workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). The privilege of being a fellow-laborer with God is a precious privilege which most of us treat too lightly. A fellow-laborer is one who joins us in performing a task. Every American citizen would be abundantly honored to have the President of these United States to become his fellow-laborer in some important job. How much greater honor has been conferred upon me that God and I can join hands in effecting the salvation of a lost soul. That God will use me to proclaim the gospel to a man who is doomed to Hell in order to lead him to faith in Jesus Christ resulting in his salvation is unfathomable. How gracious God has been to me that I might preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.
I did not always look upon gospel preaching in this light. Formerly, I thought of all of the things which I had to give up in order to preach the gospel and thought of my preaching as a burden which was heavy to bear. I distinctly remember one period of my life during which I was incessantly complaining (some of these complaints were legitimate) about the sacrifices I had to make to preach the gospel. I could quickly list all of the financial advantages which the secularly employed Christian had over me, mention the difficulties of moving every few years, complain about the long hours which I worked, etc. Finally, I realized that my complaining was affecting my work; I either had to accept the fact that there would be certain problems which accompanied gospel preaching or get out of it. Now, I am able to talk to others about the joys of preaching. Indeed, I consider myself fortunate to be allowed to preach the gospel.
I cannot think of another field of labor which is so satisfying as preaching is to me. To imagine spending my whole life screwing a nut on a bolt in a factory, pitching a baseball for a major league baseball team, working in the legislature of my state or nation, inventing some new-fangled gadget to make the work of the housewife easier, etc. seems quite unproductive in comparison to leading an immortal soul to salvation in Christ. When I watch a man or woman emerge from the watery grave of baptism, I have a lasting satisfaction which no secular job could offer to me. I helped God to save a man! What a privilege has been extended to me to be able to preach the gospel!
We who are preaching today have more reasons to offer thanks than things to complain about with respect to our working relationship. Compared to some who preceded us as gospel preachers, we are living in luxury. For example, while reading the Life of Elder Benjamin Franklin, I ran across the following incident. It tells of the sacrifices which one preacher named John Shortridge was called upon to make in order to preach.
“In one of our familiar conversations he related to me that after he had preached there (New Lisbon, Indiana-MW) several years one of the brethren called him around the meeting house on a certain Lord’s day morning, and said to him: `Brother Shortridge, you have preached for us a long time and never got anything for it, as I suppose, I don’t think it is fair, and I for one feel like paying you something.’ He then drew out his pocketbook, overhauled a lot of change, selected out twenty-five cents, and gave it to him” (p. 67).
This case was not all that unusual among early American evangelists. Many of them farmed all day and preached at night without ever receiving a dime for their labors. They preached because of their love and zeal for the Lord. They sacrificed for the gospel. Paul, as you no doubt recall, frequently earned his living by working night and day. He made tents by day and preached at night, or vice versa. Yet, not once did he complain about the burden which God had placed on him by demanding that he wander about all over the country as an itinerant evangelist. Instead, he called gospel preaching a gift of God’s grace to him.
In a conversation which I had with Brother H. E. Phillips, he related the early years of his life as an evangelist. He told of preaching all summer in gospel meetings, living in small apartments with his several children, and dragging his family with him to the various places at which he preached. When he totaled up his summer’s income and expenses, he had actually spent more than the amount which the congregations had given him for his services. But, he related, he did not care because he wanted to preach!
I have never sacrificed to that extent in order to preach. Although I have driven as much as 150 miles in one direction every Sunday in order to find someone who would listen to me preach, I have never had to sacrifice as these early men did. Yet, I think I have complained more than they all! I remember one occasion when another preacher and myself were complaining about what we had to sacrifice to preach. After he drove off in his late-model, Buick Electra and I went back into the large, brick, air-conditioned house in which I lived, I felt somewhat ashamed of myself. God has given me the privilege of preaching His word; how fortunate I am that I can earn as good a living as I earn in doing what I most love to do.
Gospel preaching is indeed a privilege for any man. Here are some of the things which make gospel preaching a privilege rather than a burden:
(1 ) The gospel which I preach is the greatest gift which God has to offer a man. The gospel which I deliver to sinners is the greatest gift of God’s grace. I have the privilege of going into a lost man’s house and telling him that God wants to give him eternal life. I am an evangelist-a bringer of good news. I feel privileged to be allowed to take that good news to those whom I know.
(2 ) There are more prayers offered for me than any other person in the congregation. There is rarely a prayer offered at the congregation with which I labor in which some reference is not made to me. They thank the Lord for the sermon I delivered, pray for Him to help me to deliver the next one, pray for my family in my absence, etc. Frankly, I consider it a privilege to be the object of the prayers of so many saints.
(3 ) I am privileged to work with the best people in the world. In the conversations which I have with my brethren, I am told of the awful working conditions under which they labor. Pornography, profane speech, and other forms of immorality are the rule instead of the exception of their jobs. None of these temptations confront me in relation to my job. Instead, my associates are those who are interested in learning more about God through His word. They talk to me about it constantly. When we engage in recreation together, it is always wholesome. The best people in the world are God’s children and I am privileged to work and play with them.
(4 ) My family is surrounded by a good influence. My daughter will be reared in a surrounding where Christ is the all-important part of our lives because of my opportunity to devote all of my time to preaching. My wife’s needs are always met when I must be away. The influence which my life of preaching has on my family is spiritually uplifting, although some of the sacrifices which we must make are hard.
A denominational preacher expressed my thoughts about preaching when he said, “There is no career that can compare with it for a moment in the rich and satisfying relations into which it brings a man with his fellow men, in the deep and interesting insight which it gives him into human nature, and in the chance of best culture for his own character . . . . Let us rejoice with one another that in a world where there are a great many good and happy things for men to do, God has given us the best and happiest, and made us preachers of his truth” (The Pulpit Commentary, “Ephesians,” p. 123). I thank God for the privilege of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray that I shall be conscious enough of his grace towards me that I shall keep my complaints down to a minimum. After all, we who preach today are by no means making sacrifices as great as many of our forefathers were called upon to make.
Truth Magazine XXI: 11, pp. 163-164
March 17, 1977