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The Message and
the Messenger

The Message and the Messenger

by Jeff Thompson

Published in
The Christian Informer
September, 2000


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Last updated:
August 28, 2000.
 

God has entrusted the message of eternal life to mortals here on earth (2 Corinthians 4:7). He has also charged those mortals with the responsibility of preaching that message to the world so that others might be saved (Mark 16:15-16). We would do well to understand that if anyone is ever saved, it will be the direct result of the plain unadulterated preaching of the word of God, and the sincere obedience to it. People are not saved by angelic intervention, the indwelling of the holy spirit, heavenly visions, or miraculous or mysterious occurrences. Neither are people saved by anecdotes, yarns, fables, nor heart-wrenching stories, from some magazine. The Scriptures teach that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). While this may not make for exciting or emotional testimony, it is the infallible promise of God concerning salvation.

From the beginning, God saw a need for capable men to teach His will to others. God said to Moses: "I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you shall say" (Exodus 4:12). To Ezekiel God said: "I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me"(Ezekiel 33:7). Jonah was sent to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh (Jonah l:l-2). John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way of the Lord by preaching (Matthew 3:3). Jesus sent his disciples to preach the Gospel to all people (Matthew 28:20). Phillip was sent to preach the gospel to a single individual (Acts 8:26-35). There are many other scriptural examples of the importance God places on preaching His word.

With the tremendous importance God places on the preaching of the gospel, certainly He would not entrust this task to just anyone. Surely, if the gospel is God's treasure, He would be very particular about where He places it. We find upon searching the Scriptures that God was indeed very selective about whom He entrusted with the awesome responsibility of telling the world what He has said.

The Bible says that the word of God is to be taught by men who are first and foremost faithful to it themselves (2 Timothy 2:2). It is not enough to know the word, quote it, or eloquently expound upon it, but it is imperative that the preacher live it. His life should show evidence that the will of God is written on the "fleshly tables of his heart" (2 Corinthians 3:3). He is not only a conveyer of the message, but a believer of it as well. His primary goal must be to please God, part of which includes teaching the gospel to others. Jesus told Peter: "...when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:32). Certainly, there would not be much credibility in his words until he was converted. Nothing convicts like conviction! If the hearer sees sin and error in the life of the messenger, he is not very likely to be converted by the message. Furthermore, because of such carelessness on the part of the messenger, the chances of that hearer ever being saved decrease tremendously. Because of sin in the life of the messenger, the hearer will logically assume that there is very little substance to the messenger, the message, and consequently, the organization that promotes it. When trying to convert someone to Christ, what we are carries more weight than what we say.

I once knew a person who was struggling with a home business to supplement the family income. She carried a line of health food supplements that claimed to offer dramatic weight loss benefits. She ran advertisements in the local paper, printed and distributed flyers, and even had a magnetic sign made and attached to her car, which read: "Lose Weight Now, Ask Me How!" with her phone number. In spite of all her efforts, she never had much success selling her products. I remember thinking that it probably had something to do with the fact that she was herself very obese.

If we can understand this concept in business or other worldly pursuits, why do we not see, or at least, not act on, such things when they occur in the church. We can preach the gospel until we lose our voice, we can utilize radio, television, print media; we can evangelize the whole world; but all these efforts will be a grand exercise in futility unless we live the gospel! If people are taught the truth and understand it, they will quickly see through pretenders. This was what the apostle Paul was emphasizing when he wrote, "We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed" (2 Corinthians 8:3). The point is, that if the world we seek to convert finds in us the same evil from which we seek to deliver them, they will never be converted. After all, what is the point?

1 Samuel 2:17 gives an account of the sons of Eli who caused the people to abhor the worship of God because of their hypocrisy. The same thing can happen today. The first thing a prospective Christian looks for is some inconsistency in the message and the messenger. They easily see the things that we may choose not to see. Good salesmen are trained to overcome possible objections to the presentation of their product. We overcome objections by practicing what we preach.

Jesus Christ commissioned his disciples, not sinners, to preach his gospel (Mark 16:15). Paul admonished Timothy to "continue in the things which you have learned...." (2 Timothy 3:14). Paul wrote to Titus: "In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed having nothing evil to say of you" (Titus 2:7-8 NKJV).

Furthermore, the rigid qualifications outlined in the Scripture for elders and deacons, demand that they be above all else, blameless in character. It is inconsistent with the will of God to find men who are, for one reason or another, scripturally excluded from being elders or deacons approved both locally and by the brotherhood to be "church leaders." An obvious question arises: If one is not suitable in the sight of God to be a "church leader" should he be acceptable to us? I think not! If we lower the standards for church leadership, and also for preachers of the gospel, can we really suppose that we are pleasing in the sight of God? Again, the answer is a resounding, "NO!"

Titus was ordered to ordain elders in every city. What does it say about a congregation of the Lord's church that has been around for many years and still has no one qualified to be elders and deacons among them? For one thing, it says that the congregation has not been what it should be in the development of church leaders over past years. If developing church leaders had been a priority in the past, we would have elders and deacons today. If developing leadership is not a priority today, we will not have elders and deacons in the future either. The problem, and it is indeed a problem, will not just fix itself. Since it is the Lord's will, it should be a priority to develop qualified leaders even if some members neither want them, nor believe we need them.

The responsibility of promoting Christianity by living a blameless life does not rest solely at the feet of preachers and church leaders. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus told all of the multitude to be perfect even as their Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Too often this passage has been dismissed by the reasoning that we are all human and therefore can never be perfect. But the fact is that Jesus told us to be, and furthermore, gave us the means to be (1 John 1:5-7; Ephesians 5:1; Colossians l:28; 4:12). The doctrine of perfection does not mean that we are expected to make no mistakes or errors in judgment, after all, we have the second law of pardon. Instead, it forbids willful sinning. To sin willfully, even with the intention of making a confession for it after the fact, is a mockery of God, his mercy, and the second law of pardon. Hebrews 10:26-27 means exactly what it says.

The scriptural exhortations to live a pure, godly, Christian life apply to all believers, and all believers serve as representatives of Christianity and the church to a degree. The Scriptures place more emphasis on the lives of church leaders and preachers because they are under so much more scrutiny.

Christians should also understand that sins have consequences and repercussions that will be felt by future generations. The church that we read of in the New Testament went into apostasy. Why? Why are there no congregations today in the cities where they existed in the first century? We do not know the exact details of the things that happened to these congregations, but whatever happened, it did not happen overnight. When the strict form of the Scriptures is relaxed and unscriptural things are tolerated, spiritual decline begins. The end result is the total loss of a congregation. Let us never think it cannot happen to us (1 Corinthians 10:12). Revelation chapters two and three relate how the Lord feels when we let our guard down spiritually and allow unscriptural practices to creep in.

When we lose our first love, or the zeal with which we once served the Lord, when we allow unscriptural things, or fellowship those who do them, when we are weak in our Christian responsibilities, the Lord is not satisfied. When we stop demanding separation from the world (1 John 2:15), we give silent consent to worldliness. When we enjoy and thereby encourage involvement in worldly things, pleasures, appetites, even fashions and hairstyles, it cannot surprise us when our younger generations turn to worldly pursuits and choose them over their duty to the church. It cannot be a surprise when young people raised in the church grow up and leave it or when they never obey the gospel at all. After all, what is the point if we are just like the world? When we praise the things that are the world's goals - money, power, prestige - how can it surprise us when a church member takes a job, working or traveling on the Lord's Day instead of assembling with the saints to worship as commanded in the Scriptures?

When the importance and seriousness of the sacred institution of marriage is not taught, there can be little wonder why too many Christian couples divorce. Furthermore, it can be no surprise when younger generations view marriage so frivolously and sometimes enter into it almost whimsically instead of looking long and hard for the right mate. Nor can it be a surprise when young people marry out of the Lord. Certainly there is more to finding the right marriage partner than just finding a member of the church, but it should still be a top priority. No wonder there are so many broken hearts and broken homes among the Lord's people.

Sexuality and morality need to be taught from the pulpits and in the homes. We dare not bury our heads in the sand on this issue for fear of embarrassment, but we must teach what is right in order to avoid what is wrong. Silence on such issues results in "Christians" committing fornication and adultery, having babies out of marriage, and contracting deadly diseases. Such terrible and painful things as these are not surprising. The surprise is that we don't seem to know where they came from or what to do about them. We should never assume that people know the things that we do not teach. The Bible is not silent on these issues, how can our pulpits afford to be?

Too many preachers today do not address the tough issues. Too many gospel meetings are conducted in which no sin is ever mentioned for fear of offending someone. Maybe there is someone in the crowd who is guilty of that sin. How ambiguous would our religion be if Christ and his apostles were as vague as we sometimes are? Too many sermons today do not address the real issues that confront the church. There will probably be few church members lost for failing to believe baptism is essential for salvation, we preach that every sermon. But many could be lost for worldliness and sin which we fail to address. There have been instances when brethren did not appreciate the preaching of a certain issue. They argue that such preaching will "run off" the guilty brother rather than draw him in. But I have never known even one case of a person repenting, and correcting his error without the truth being taught. It is strange that some believe the preaching of the gospel will cause souls to be lost, when the Bible says it will save them (1 Corinthians 1:21).

The sad fact is that we live in a world of sin. Many times it seems that dishonesty, immorality, and just plain meanness rule the day. But even more sad is the fact that just about any sin the world can invent can be found in the church, from the light weights like lying, cheating on taxes, or general dishonesty, to the heavy-hitters like adultery, drug abuse, spouse and child abuse, homosexuality, and just about any other. Certainly such deviant behaviors are not the norm, but such things should never be numbered among the saints, not even once. God punished David because his sin gave great occasion for the enemies of God to blaspheme. Can we suppose He views sin more favorably today than He did then? It is not just the soul of the sinner that is at stake here, but the future of the church and the souls of all who depend on her for salvation.

It may well be that since the Lord has his treasure in earthen vessels it cannot help but be tainted by the dust of the vessel, but if we are ever to succeed in our endeavors to save ourselves and the world, we had better take that responsibility seriously. We must live the gospel, all of us, and draw a line of demarcation between ourselves and those who don't. We must preach sound doctrine and the things that become it (Titus 2:1). That is, we must promote and support the things that, when practiced by Christians, cause unbelievers to take us seriously. Until we preach and practice these things, our spiritual survival, and much more, our efforts to save others are in grave jeopardy.

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