And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” (Acts 2:40, NKJV)
When the gospel of Christ was preached by His apostles on Pentecost, they invited and implored sinners to be saved from their sins and the impeding judgment upon that present, perverse generation (Acts 2:16-21). Those who believed were told to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:37-38). There awaits a great day of judgment when we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and our lives judged by His word (2 Cor. 5:10; Jno. 12:48-50). Knowing this, salvation and eternal life are offered to all through the truth of the gospel (1 Tim. 2:3-4). This being true, why don’t we regularly hear gospel invitations from a growing number of pulpits in the churches of Christ? Why aren’t gospel preachers punctuating their sermons with calls to come to Jesus for salvation, to escape the punishment of hell? The apostolic tradition is to exhort sinners to be saved. “And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). Why is it we fail to hear the gospel invitation to “come” and be saved? We hear, “If you have a need, come…” But, without telling sinners what they need, how will they know they need anything, or what to do about it (read Rom. 10:13-17)? Preaching the word demands we preach the gospel call to be saved (Matt. 11:28-30).
“preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2, ESV)
Preaching the gospel ought to include personal applications. After all, its purpose is to convict hearts of sin and convert souls to the Savior. That’s hard to do without getting personal. Nathan got personal when he exposed David’s adultery with, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7). Peter certainly got personal when he preached, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Yet, there is a lot of “no application” preaching these days. A well-known preacher (Joel Osteen) will not use the word “sin” when he preaches. (He is not preaching the gospel of Christ.) Others refuse to make personal applications that identify sinners with their sins like Paul did when he named Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Philetus and their error (1 Tim. 1:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). Some think a good sermon is one that flies over their heads and hits their neighbor between the eyes! No, a good sermon will cut us to the heart (Acts 2:37). We must preach the applications of God’s word or our preaching does not profit the listeners (Acts 20:20). Application-less preaching fails to declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). When gospel preachers preach there will be personal applications that “reprove, rebuke, and exhort” (2 Tim. 4:2). Listen for the personal application of truth in your life. Oh yes, gospel preaching gets personal!
8 “Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. 9 And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ 12 But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city.” (Luke 10:8–12, NKJV)
Jesus sent out seventy disciples to places He was about to go (Lk. 10:1). They were to heal the sick and preach the kingdom of God (Lk. 9:60; 10:9). Some would receive them and their message, while others would not (Lk. 10:5-7). By explaining what to do and what to expect, Jesus also gave them a reason not to be discouraged when a city rejected the gospel of the kingdom. He taught them there is a point at which the messenger is relieved of responsibility and the hearer is held accountable. Shaking off the dust of the city was a symbolic gesture that testified against the city for rejecting the gospel. They, not the messengers, would be held accountable (Lk. 9:5; Acts 18:6). The gospel teacher is not innocent when the truth is not faithfully preached (Acts 20:26). Such a failure does not excuse the sinner (Ezek. 3:16-21). But, when truth is taught and it is refused, the full weight of accountability on Judgment Day will fall on those who refused to hear and obey God (Lk. 10:12).
But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:5, NKJV)
What is the work of an evangelist? Many, including some evangelists, either do not know or fail to appreciate what is his work. As a result, unscriptural, unrealistic expectations and demands are put upon him. This ought not be so. There is a work he must do, and for which he is accountable. An evangelist is a herald, a “bringer of good tidings” (Thayer, 257). He is a gospel preacher. Paul explained this in 2 Timothy 4:1-2: “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word!” The evangelist’s work is not to entertain an audience with comedy and storytelling. His work is not measured by his eloquence (1 Cor. 1:17; 2:1, 4, 13). The work of the evangelist is not to be the church’s social coordinator. Preaching the gospel is about feeding souls, not feeding stomachs (Jno. 6:26-27). To do his work he must devote himself to “reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). He cannot preach what he does not know. Do not expect that of him. The evangelist must go into the pulpit and Bible studies prepared to proclaim the word of God. The work of preaching the gospel is not about filling time, it is about filling the time you have with the word of God. That is how the seed, God’s word, is planted into hearts (Lk. 8:11-15). That is your work, evangelist. Be sure you do that work. Do not be deterred and distracted by false definitions and expectations of your work.
2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Timothy 4:2–4, NKJV)
A Christian friend shared the following sign with me: “Too much sugar preaching leads to truth decay.” I like that. Just as we are drawn to the sugary high of candy (that leaves us without nutrition, and eventually with cavities), we can be lured away from sound doctrine by feel-good preaching (that fails to nourish our souls with truth, as it leaves spiritual decay of error in its wake). Do you “endure” (allow, bear with) sound doctrine, or have you replaced it with the soothing scratch of your itching ears? We must not become intolerant of Bible preaching that convinces, rebukes and exhorts. Preach me the word, because its truth convinces me of Christ, of my sin, and of His way of salvation. Preach me the word, because its truth rebukes my error, and does not comfort me in sin. Preach me the word, because its truth exhorts me to bear the image of Christ, to live by faith in holiness and righteousness of truth. The word is not always easy to accept, but it is exactly what we must hear, receive, and hold fast to be fruitful and blessed in the Lord (Lk. 8:15).
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. (Colossians 1:28, NKJV)
What kind of preaching do you expect to hear from a preacher? Do you want preaching designed to entertain an audience of spectators? Do you want preaching that is filled with pleas for money? Do you want preaching that is political in nature? Gospel preaching is none of these things (2 Timothy 4:2). Preaching Jesus includes warnings and wise instruction that establishes souls in the faith (Colossians 2:6-7). The purpose of preaching Jesus is to present every person perfect (whole, mature, complete) in Christ. Insist on preaching that proclaims the word of God and not the will of men (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:1-5; Galatians 1:11-12). Then, take God’s word into your heart and grow to maturity in Christ.
15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:15–18, NKJV)
Motives matter. While Paul does not endorse sinful motives for preaching the gospel, he does draw attention to the message that is preached. The spiritual condition of the preacher or teacher does not determine the truth of his gospel message. We must not accept or reject what a person is teaching based on their motives for teaching us. We must listen to their message. Does it agree with the Scriptures (Romans 4:3)? Truth is truth, and it continues to be true even when the person teaching it is prompted by sinful motivation. Paul rejoiced that Christ was preached even though some did so “from envy and strife” to “add affliction” to him while he was imprisoned (v. 15). When you hear the gospel and it convicts our heart, receive it as the word of God. Do not reject God’s truth because you see a character flaw (sin) in the messenger.