Another year, another opportunity, God willing, to spread the good news of the love of God demonstrated in  Jesus Christ His Son. This good news is the foundation, the hope and the joy of our lives. But surely there  are others who are being called to God’s glory. Are we motivated for this the greatest work we can do?  In this feature series we hope to stimulate some personal thought about our responsibilities as bearers  of the pearl of great price, and develop a few practical ideas about preaching to help us move forward.  “How shall they hear without a preacher?”

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that the  ultimate preacher is God and any others who  preach are merely ambassadors on his behalf:  “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though  God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s  stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). This  is not a concept we commonly consider. We think  of God and Christ as the source of the message  rather than as preachers of it. However, when we  consider preaching as a Divine function and take  ideas from God we tap into a source of information  and motivation that we may not previously have  explored.8  When we explore for a moment the references to  God preaching they are quite significant. Who made  the proclamation that we like to call the promise  in Eden? Scripture says it was “the Lord God”.  When the apostle Paul recorded that the gospel  had been earlier preached unto Abraham saying,  “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed”,  who was the preacher? We know the answer but  in case we may have forgotten Stephen supplies it  for us in Acts 7:2, “The God of glory appeared unto  our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia,  before he dwelt in Charran.” When the promise was  made to David, from whom did it come? “The Lord  telleth thee that he will make thee an house.” So  then the three great promises which constitute the  backbone of the gospel have come from none other  than Yahweh Himself. This simple but compelling  evidence makes God the principal preacher.

Extending this thought a little, in a sense all of  the Word of God is preaching. All we are doing  when we speak is repeating the Word of God.  We think of the great passage on preaching from  Romans 10 and this bears out the truth of this  statement: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and  hearing by the word of God.” The word of God has  of itself achieved considerable wonders which bear  testimony to the truth of God. The reproof of the  apostle Paul of the godless Romans makes this quite  clear: “Because that which may be known of God is  manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.  For the invisible things of him from the creation of  the world are clearly seen, being understood by the  things that are made, even his eternal power and  Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom  1:19,20). Paul says that when the Word of God went  forth to create, this was preaching, and those who  fail to heed can have no excuse.

The goal of preaching

Now preaching has never been highly regarded by  man. The human race generally think preaching a  foolish thing and mock at God’s methods, yet still  “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to  save them that believe” (1 Cor 1:21). Preaching  would not have been our way, but it is God’s. The  great strength of preaching is that only those who  believe are saved. Preaching guarantees that faith,  the essential quality required for God, is present  in all who respond, and yet at the same time limits  the response to only those who have it. When the  stated desire is that none should perish (2 Pet 3:9),  preaching seems to us to be a strange way to achieve  it. However, when we remember that faith is a  response to hearing the Word, it all becomes clear.  Preaching the Word achieves these two objectives  simultaneously: all who respond in faith are saved,  and all who do not are condemned. Since faith, the  critical ingredient for salvation, is dependent on  our response, preaching is a magnificent method to select every one who responds. God cannot be  accountable for our lack of response. Even though  God has made it clear that He desires us to be saved,  He will not compromise His principles to achieve it.  Salvation must not be at the expense of faith. The  goal then of preaching is faith.

Divine preaching methods

This being the case preaching must be done God’s  way. But what is God’s way? What means has the  Almighty used?

  1. The Word of God (eg Psa 19:7–8)
  2. The effect or product of the Word of God (eg the heavens, Psa 19:1–4)
  3. The Word of God announced by a messenger (eg Jer 7: 2)
  4. The Word of God lived by an example (eg Israel, Isa 55: 5).

There are several unmistakable themes here.  Preaching is not restricted to any one method but  it must be based on the Word of God and have  God central to any endeavour. We might ask, if the  Word of God alone, or its effect, can preach, why  is there a need for living examples and preachers?  The answer is simply that the Word of God alone  and the evident effect of its working are not very  effective preachers. Let us be quite clear on this  point though: the failure is entirely ours and not  God’s. The power and majesty of God have been  displayed in creation since the beginning of our  times but men choose not to notice it. The Word of  God has been available for thousands of years but  men elect to ignore it. Preachers are necessary as  the apostle Paul suggested, “How shall they hear  without a preacher?” The preacher then brings the  message of God (which has always been there) to  ears and eyes which would otherwise have missed  it. This raises the importance of the preacher to great  heights and caused the prophet to exclaim: “How  beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him  that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace;  that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth  salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!”  We must remember though, that the preacher exists  only for the glory of God and for the promotion of  His name and character.

This is the task of the preacher, to highlight the  readily available and accessible information about  God and His wonderful purpose and to present it in  a format that is compelling and interesting for the  potential convert. Once that has been successfully  achieved, the person who has been brought to God  may access the word of God for themselves and  they in turn become a messenger to others.

Measuring success

Preaching is never going to be very successful in  the terms of what we would normally consider to  be success. As our Lord said, “strait is the gate,  and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and  few there be that find it.” We need for a moment to  examine our definition of “few”. Is it likely that we  may have hidden behind our Lord’s words and used  them as an excuse for the poor results of lack-lustre  preaching? “Ah”, you say “few is defined as eight  out of many in the days of Noah! Surely you don’t  accuse Noah of mediocrity in preaching?” Let us  remember that from the first when God came to  Noah, the ark was only ever intended to be for a  finite number. God told him in advance how many  it would be: “and thou shalt come into the ark, thou,  and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives  with thee” (Gen 6:18). So Noah achieved all God  expected him to. In Noah’s case the number saved  does not represent the reasonable expectations of  our preaching. The efforts of the Apostles in their  early preaching must also qualify as “few”, yet  people responded in hundreds and thousands in  just a few weeks.

I attended a series of studies by Bro Matthew  Blewett on the prophecy of Haggai a couple of  years ago and he challenged the audience with some  points about preaching which I have borrowed in the  next couple of paragraphs. We need to think about  how large the community of believers might be.  Expressed as a percentage of the whole, currently  we are something like 0.00001% of the world’s  population (60,000 in 6 billion). This could be  considered miniscule rather than few. When Israel,  the people of God, were described as few they  represented about 0.1% of estimates of the known  world’s population (Deut 7:7). If we were to take  a similar percentage of today’s population there  would be about six million believers worldwide;  still comparatively few but many, many more than  at present! We may not hide behind our Lord’s words  and use them as an excuse for inactivity. It is possible  that we might with increased endeavour achieve  much more than we have to date. Perhaps we limit  ourselves by thinking that more is not possible?

Exposing excuses

This brings us to other excuses that might be used.  Here is a sample of the more common ones with a  brief rebuttal in parenthesis after each:

“Cast not your pearls before swine” (so let’s  not preach at all??)

“The message is unpopular” (it has never, ever  been anything else!)

“We must work with our own first” (but not at  the expense of others!)

“There is not enough money” (look at our  houses, cars, halls etc!)

They are all excuses and none of them are reasons  with any merit at all. There is a final one that deserves  further mention: “God gives the increase.” Dare  we suggest that it is God’s fault that our preaching  is not successful? Let us look at the context of the  misquote (1 Cor 3:6), and see what the apostle Paul  was saying. The glory of the preaching was God’s.  Paul may have laboured to sow the seed and Apollos  laboured to water it, but they did not take the credit  for the wonderful yield. That belonged to God  alone. The analogy of farming was used by Paul to  explain the result of preaching. Despite all the hard  work put in by the farmer, the germination, growth  and fruiting are all quite miraculous and out of his  hands. However if he didn’t sow enough or water  enough it is evident what the result must be. It is a  monstrous twist of Scripture to suggest that we can  sow sparingly and water miserly and believe that  the poor crop is God’s fault. Do we thereby suggest  then that God doesn’t want converts? The lack of  enthusiasm and any blame must rest with us and  not God. It is quite incredible the lengths to which  we can go, even contorting Scripture to justify our  inactivity in preaching. If we applied that same level  of creative enterprise to our gospel proclamation  what might the response be?8  While we are thinking about farming, let us for  a moment ponder the lessons from the parables of  the sower and the tares.

  1. The sower would have done soil preparation before commencing, but do we?
  2. The sower broadcast the seed not knowing where it would fall but obviously would have endeavoured to land most of it where  he had ploughed previously.
  3. The sower sowed only good seed. He did not plant seedlings, or sow weeds.
  4. There is an expectation that not all would bring forth fruit for 75% of soil types are unfruitful.
  5. There was a real expectation of a crop, but do we believe a bountiful harvest is possible?

Our primary duty

Preaching must not be considered optional. Jesus  commanded it. He did not say, “Go ye into all  the world and”… build Ecclesial Halls, Heritage  Colleges, Hebron campsites or Bethsalem homes  or any other things that might so adequately suit  our needs. Let us not be mistaken here; all those  things are not bad things and may serve a wonderful  purpose, but Jesus said go and preach! Why is it  then that we find time and money for so many  other projects and the preaching languishes? Let  us take great care that our Lord does not see our  performance as matching that of the one talent  servant. One further point on Jesus’ command. He  did not say, “get them to come to you”, he said, “Go  ye…”. It might seem a little change of emphasis but  it can make a big difference.

Let us now consider the subject from a rather  more positive angle. Preaching was always intended  to be a joy. If Jesus was right when he said “out of  the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh”,  then it must be that if we love God and His Word  that it will come out, naturally and freely to all who  would hear. Our bountiful response to the salvation  of God is to naturally proclaim it to others. The  Apostle Paul continues that theme and simply says,  “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it  is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken;  we also believe, and therefore speak” (2 Cor 4:13).  Preaching is a natural and free expression of the  gospel of God within us. Ignoring for a moment our  fears which impede us, it is reasonable to conclude  that preaching is somewhat proportional to faith.

A variety of baits

Yet even when our preaching is vigorous, it may not  be as successful as we would wish. The Lord sent  Peter out with a message to fish for men. Now Peter  was a fisherman and he is recorded in Scripture as  using at least three different means to catch fish  (Mark 1:16; Luke 5:5; Matt 17:27). Peter would  have known that no one method was appropriate  for every type of fish. Even on one spectacular  occasion the method was suitable and the activity vigorous but they were fishing from the wrong side  of the boat! Overlooking the miraculous nature  of this event for a moment, it highlights the point  that we can sometimes struggle all night (Gentile  darkness?), getting nowhere and something as  simple as using the other side of the boat, which  might not otherwise have occurred to us, could  make a difference. It is reasonable to assume that  Jesus intended Peter to put a variety of methods in  place to catch men and it is the same for us.

Are we principally using one method? When we  gather ourselves to preach, have we become stuck  in a rut, a routine that isn’t working that well? Do  we restrict our preaching to fewer methods than  we might? The apostle Paul did not; he said, “I am  made all things to all men, that I might by all means  save some.” I think it likely that we are intended  to take the examples and principles of the diversity  of preaching in Bible times and adapt them for 21st  century use.

There are many lessons to ponder which will be  developed in subsequent articles but let us conclude  with a quote from Brother Alfred Norris written  during WW2 when being a Christadelphian was unpopular, let alone preaching: “God has committed  to us the ministry of reconciliation. That ministry is  restricted to no group among us, to no prescribed  method. It is restricted to no time of day nor day of  the week. Its message is restricted, certainly, to that  which is revealed: ‘I have received of the Lord that  which I delivered unto you,’ said Paul, and unless  the preacher fulfils that condition he does not truly  preach. Its object is restricted, too, to glorifying God  in bringing men and women by His power to His  salvation. But these are restrictions which impose  no limit to our learning and set no bounds to our  enterprise” (Preaching the Word 1944).