The Preacher And His Message
The preacher whom God has used in blessing to others is the one to teach us those principles which God approves. Not all who are outwardly successful can do this, but the apostle Paul can. In his letter to the Colossians he say, “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ; Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working which worketh in me mightily” (Col. 1:28-29). In these verses Paul states four things as to his preaching, its subject, method, purpose, and power. Let us consider these in this order.
The subject of the apostle’s preaching was Christ, “Whom we preach.” The pronoun “Whom” should be noted for it relates to “Christ in you the hope of glory,” as seen by the preceding verse. Paul did not preach things, he preached a person, Christ. To him Christ was “all in all” (Col. 3:11). In his estimate Christ excelled all others. The Colossians were apt to be drawn away from the Lord, and to entertain an undue reverence for angels and other spiritual powers, but Paul preached Christ, not angels. He calls Him “the Son of God’s love,” “the image of the invisible God.” To the apostle, Christ was Designer, Maker, Upholder, and Heir of the visible and invisible creations, as well as the “Head of the body, the Church.” What else was worth preaching in view of such a theme.
Paul did not preach himself, for he says, “We preach not ourselves.” Notable conversion as he had, that was not the chief item of his preaching, for he only used it to illustrate the power of the gospel. In many of his letters he alluded to what he was and what a difference the grace of God had made. He tells the Corinthians he was not worthy to be called an apostle seeing he had done what no other apostle had ever done; he had “persecuted the Church of God.” He tells the Galatians the same, and to the Romans he recounts his experiences and inward struggles before his spiritual deliverance. To the Philippians he speaks of his zeal for the law and shows to what it led him; it made him hostile to Christ. He tells Timothy he was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an evil intreater. All this was secondary and only with the view of magnifying the Saviour. He did not preach himself; he merely mentioned himself to enhance the glory of his Lord. “We preach Christ crucified.”
This principle should ever be borne in mind by preachers today. Beware of directing the eyes of your hearers to yourselves. Turn them to the Lord by making Him the center of every gospel message.
Some failed to do this in Paul’s day, and some fail to do it today. That is why he used the emphatic pronoun “we”, for both Paul and Timothy were one in this. The Preacher of the book of Ecclesiastes disappoints all who read his sermon. It is with great relief that we turn from such a sermon to the Canticles to learn of the Altogether Lovely One, the Chiefest of Ten Thousand, the One Whom the bride calls “My Friend.” The speaker is wholly occupied with the beauties of her Beloved, so she cries, “Look not upon me.” Why should sinners look upon us? We have no innate power, nor can we supply the soul’s need; therefore, we must preach Christ.
Note the words used by Paul in our verse, “preach”, “warning”, and “teaching.” The first has to do with the public proclamation of the gospel, but the latter two have to do with individual work. Paul tells the Ephesian elders that he preached publicly and from house to house. He knew well enough that public work had not only its uses but also its limitations. It must be followed by personal work, for the market square and also the private house should each be visited. The preacher ought to be like his Lord, Who oftentimes preached to crowds by the seaside but as frequently spoke to individuals in their need. Nicodemus and the woman of Samaria are examples of this particular ministry of Christ.
Paul varied his methods. He was not always harping on one string. He was an announcer of facts concerning Christ, and informed the public of things they did not know. He followed his preaching with admonishments and warnings. He urged that Christ should be trusted and he also warned of the consequences involved if He were rejected. He also taught the believers, and instructed those recently brought to the Lord. There is progress in these words; preaching is the first step, this is followed by warning against rejecting the message, and in turn this is supplemented by teaching the converts. Paul thus showed wisdom in the manner in which he acted; some others, it is feared, show a lack of wisdom. We should be like Jude prepared to switch from an intended message to another if we discover our theme unsuitable for our audience. In this we must be flexible and intelligent, and able to appraise people in order to assess both their needs and their capacities, and to speak as they are able to bear. Please notice the repeated use of “every”. Paul was both thorough and impartial. To him all were alike in need of Christ, no matter what other differences they might have. He knew God had looked on the heart of man and had said that all had strayed. Every man, Jew and Gentile, came within the parish of Paul. Therefore he devoted his energies, not only to the obvious derelict, but to all, without showing favour to any. God has no favourites. Let us then follow this method for it cannot be improved.
Paul’s aim was to present “every man full-grown in Christ.” The word “perfect” perhaps conveys the wrong idea in modern English. Paul knew that perfection will be attained only when we go to be with the Lord. He himself already had written to the saints concerning the conflict of the two natures within the believer. That conflict will not cease as long as we are in the body. His idea in this verse is that of full growth; he did not desire the converts to remain in perpetual infancy. If immaturity in the things of nature is very grievous how much more so in the things of the spirit. The sincere milk of the Word is God’s provided means of growth. We should encourage converts to feed on it. Carnality and babyhood are twins, for the presence of the one proves a person to be in the other. The Hebrew believers had gone back, and although they should have been able to teach, they still needed to be taught. In view of the long time they had been in Christ, they should have been able to digest strong meat, instead they still needed to be fed with milk. Their growth was retarded. We cannot stand still nor mark time, we either go backward or we go forward.
Paul’s eyes were ever on the future. The Judgment Seat lay ahead, and he wanted to present his converts there fully grown in Christ. This could only be accomplished as he diligently warned and taught them. Paul could not be content if it were otherwise. None less than “every man” must be presented to the Lord. None less would do for Paul, and none less should do for us. In this Paul was one with God. God Himself supplies the needs of the body, the Church, through Christ. He furnishes a constant flow of ministry through His appointed servants in order that “We all come to… a full, grown man.” Read Ephesians 4:7-16, and notice the contrast drawn between the babe and the full grown man.
This particular passage in Ephesians should be placed along side Colossians 1:28, for while the former shows that God has taken the proper measures to insure the ultimate good being reached, a perfect man, corporately the Church completely developed. The latter passage shows that the apostle in harmony with the mind of God takes similar measures in his ministry to attain the same end in the case of each individual. It is to be feared that in this we also fail. We are happy to get converts but what steps do we take to instruct or admonish them? Do we give them adequate and appropriate food for the development of the life so recently received? Are they rescued from death, but left on the river’s bank to the mercy of any destructive element that may arise, or the evil intention of a passing kidnapper?
Such is the sad result of an ill-balanced ministry. It is likely to hinder all the initial work. Is it not our shame if we allow these young converts to starve? Should we not desire to see them able to walk, and more, to walk in those ways which be in Christ? How can this otherwise be if we do not teach them ? The making of disciples and teaching are the two things which the Lord joined together in His farewell commission. No one should put them asunder.
This is no easy work, for it entails labour. Please notice this word, it is stronger than work. It is even more than hard work; it is an exacting effort. Enemies have to be withstood, oppositions of men have to be resisted. Who is sufficient for these things? Paul’s sufficiency, as is ours, was of God who enabled him. He laboured according to the working of Him who wrought in him in power. The secret was, “Christ in him.” Paul could do all things through Christ Who strengthened him. Through Him he became a competent minister of the new covenant, an effective worker among saints and sinners. This was not through his own power or wisdom, it was the Lord operating in him.
If God is pleased to grant us spiritual children we should care for them. They will be “our glory and crown” at the Judgment Seat of Christ. What if we, through neglect, retard their development, shall we not then be ashamed before Him because of our own failure (1 John 2:28)?
It is no easy matter to give birth to spiritual children, much less is it easy again to travail in birth till Christ be formed once more in them. It is no sinecure to tend and to train them, and to nourish them in the word of faith, for it requires more strength than we have naturally or mentally, but Paul’s God is our God, and His resources are open to us today.
The secret of a peaceful life is not submission to, but delight in the will of God.
From “Elijah” by W. Fereday.