A World Waiting To Be Won Duncan Heaster email the author


10. The Child In The Midst: Simplicity In Preaching

11. A World Waiting To Be Won: The Latter Day Expansion Of The Gospel

12. Christian Self-Perception

12. Christian Self-Perception || 12-1 Preaching By Door Knocking: Dialogues

10. The Child In The Midst: Simplicity In Preaching

What follows is a straight appeal for a simple approach to the Gospel. Not a simplification of God’s Truth, a watering down of doctrine, a replacing of God’s black and white with a humanised, mushy, blurred version of spirituality...but all the same, a simple and direct attitude to the Gospel. Not only in our presentation and preaching of it, but more importantly in how we personally respond to it and perceive it. For my sense is that we turn away from the right-between-the-eyes message of the Lord, we cast only a sideways glance at the horror of His cross as we break bread, shy away from the sense of the eternity that lies before us, awkwardly avoid the implications of salvation by pure grace; pass too quickly by the depths of our own failures, and the crying desperation of the world around us; and our witness to the Lord and His Truth can therefore become equally stilted and indirect. We can come to  focus on just a few aspects of it which personally fascinate us (e.g. the witness of prophecy), with the result that our witness to men and women lacks the compulsive and yet demanding character of that made by the Lord and our early brethren. We thereby fail in our witness, and that failure makes us yet more inward rather than outward looking. These tendencies are equally true for all readers; from Westerners accustomed to preaching methods that bring little response, to isolated new converts in almost every corner of the globe, discouraged by their efforts producing apparently no fruit.

The poor and the simple minded need exhortation to a simple approach to God’s Truth just as much as the phlegmatic intellectual. Constant lack of cash, endless worry about material things to the point of distraction from spiritual things, taking deep offence with other brothers and sisters over trivial matters...such are the problems that confront the poor of this world who turn to the Truth of Christ. Constant reductionism of the Truth’s doctrines, philosophising away the demands of Christ and the life of cross-carrying, rationalising away everything until one is left with pretty well nothing...these are the problems that face the ‘wise of this world’ who come to know the Man from Nazareth. The Bible uses ‘simple’ and ‘wise’ in two senses. There are the ‘simple’ who have a simple, single-minded, uncluttered faith; and there are the ‘simple’ who refuse the instruction of God’s word. There are the ‘wise’ who are wise in this world but foolish spiritually; and the truly ‘wise’ from Divine wisdom. The Lord took a child and set him in the midst of those rough fishermen and tax collectors. He said that they must become like that child; and further, they must receive that child as a representative of Himself, and thereby, of God Himself. In  probable allusion to this, Paul teaches that in malice we should be children, but in understanding: men (1 Cor. 14:20). The child in the midst of men, wide eyed, simple and sincere amidst men full of cynicism and human wisdom and self-righteousness and the gruffness of the flesh... This was a symbol of every true believer, of the Lord Himself, and of Almighty God, as they were and as they are in the midst of a world and even a brotherhood that, like the disciples, so often stares on uncomprehending. The aptness was not in the child’s humility [if indeed a child can be humble], but in the purity of the innocence and sincerity and unassuming directness.

Basic Statements

For all of us, we can miss the colossal import of basic statements. John’s writings use a very small vocabulary, but present the deepest ideas (1). The parables are simple stories, and yet they search each truly sensitive hearer to the heart. Time and again we read the same statements in the Bible, subconsciously assuming we know what they mean, skipping on and on until the end of the chapter, happy in our apparent understanding and assent to what we think we are hearing. But we can miss the most elemental teaching, totally. And the more familiar we are with the Bible text, the more years we have read from the same Bible edition or version, or even the same physical Bible, the more likely we are to do this [I’d suggest making an occasional change of Bible to help get out of this rut, or read in another language if you can]. Recently I was reading Mt. 5:23. I’d always read this, or perhaps glanced over it, as saying that I shouldn’t offer my gift on the altar if I had something against my brother, but I should reconcile with him; but seeing I have nothing against anyone, well I can just go on in serving the Lord. There may be others who have a problem with me, but then, that is for them to sort out with me. But no. The Lord is saying: ‘If your brother has something against you; if the fault is his...then you take the initiative and try to reconcile it, before doing anything else’. Reading from childhood, I’d never really read it that way. The simple words had just washed over me. But that’s clearly what He is saying. And I wonder how many of us have read it like that. Another example would be in the way the Centurion says that he is a man under authority- not in or with authority, as I had subconsciously read it. And by so saying, He was perceiving that the Lord Jesus was likewise empowered with authority from someone else- i.e. God.

Or take Abraham. God clearly and simply promised to make a great nation out of him. But there was a time when his faith in this wavered, and he lied about his wife Sarah, exposing her to great risk, because he feared losing his life more than his wife. She was his half sister (Gen. 20:12), and so he said she was his sister, not his wife...we are left to imagine the complicated thought processes and contorted reasoning that took place within him before finally doing this. He could justify it, apparently. But he would have been better holding to a simple faith in God’s clear statements.

We must give each word of God it’s weight. The Lord often taught this in the way He would use the OT. Consider how He adduced the future resurrection of Abraham from the statement that God is the God of Abraham... We need to clear our minds before we read, and pray briefly before our daily reading for a mind sensitive enough to understand and accept. And read our Bible readings slowly. And try to get in the habit of repeating Bible verses to yourself as you go about the daily grind, thinking through their real message for you. Take, for example, the clear teaching of Jesus about a man looking upon a married woman with the intention of purposefully imagining sexual fantasy with her. He says that this is adultery. But in our private and ecclesial judgments, of ourselves and of others, is this really what we hear Him saying? Or take the Bible’s clear prohibitions of homosexuality. Yet there are many bearing the name ‘Christian’, Bible readers, who will give the most detailed justifications of their doing these very things which the Bible clearly prohibits. Through lots of very detailed reasoning and faulty Bible exposition, they justify virtually anything; just as some ‘Christians’ will use the Bible to justify taking part in wars of aggression against others. We must keep simple. Live by principles. However simple we may consider ourselves, our nature is very skilful at justifying us in doing whatever we want to do. It works in a complex way. None of us are so simple minded in this sense. We all know from our own experience with temptation that we can justify anything. Every way of man can seem right in his own eyes because of this feature of our nature (Prov. 14:12; 16:25; 21:2).

The wilderness temptations show the Lord struggling deep within His own mind not to misapply Scripture; we see there the complexities of our humanity. He knew the Bible, it wasn’t so simple as Bible knowledge stopping temptation; conversely, it actually played the major part in it. To turn stones to bread or to rely on Angelic protection weren’t in themselves wrong; but to do so would have meant the Lord fulfilling the contemporary expectations of what Messiah would do in His Kingdom, and thereby He would have somehow given in to the final temptation: to establish a Kingdom without the cross. His flesh worked in such a complex way, but He responded by reciting to Himself the clear precepts of Scripture. And He was tempted just as we are (Heb. 4:15).

“The simplicity that is in Christ”

Paul considered his Corinthian converts to be a virgin, engaged to be married to the Lord Jesus. Yet he feared that as the snake tempted Eve, so their minds should be corrupted from “the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). We must be wise to that which is good, and simple concerning evil (Rom. 16:19). Paul compares the simplicity that is in Christ to being a virgin. It’s hard to be a virgin in this hard world, knowing as we do the ways of the flesh. I recently heard a young woman describe herself as a ‘born again virgin’, and so can we all be. It is shame on us if in our conversation we respond to the perverted sexual innuendoes of the world around us. Good for us if we are seen as naive by our workfellows. The Corinthians had known plenty of this kind of thing; and yet Paul considered them as innocent virgins walking in a corrupt and enticing world. It’s not that any of us are naive; we know what they are talking about. But rather we walk as in Christ, and through His wisdom we become simple to the apparent subtleties around us. It is one of Satan’s characteristics that he is apparently ‘deep’ and sophisticated (Rev. 2:24). The snake likewise used complex reasoning to deceive Eve. The world around us and our own natures will justify anything, both from the Bible and from a human sense of logic- if we allow ourselves to stray from the simple principles of the Gospel. This is why when these principles are repeated at Bible schools and ecclesial meetings, it is not for us to ‘turn off’, thinking we know it all. These things are the bedrock of our faith.

When we are seriously ill or in great calamity, we focus upon very simple ideas. God truly loves me and cares for me. My Lord Jesus will come again. He will raise me. Judgment lies ahead, but He wants me in His Kingdom. He died for me. He has a plan for me. He loves me and wishes only my eternal good. Hezekiah was driven to this when he was terminally ill. Afterwards he felt as a little child, and concluded: “by these things men live...”. Yet we are all terminally ill, if only we would know it. Paul quotes from the experience of Hezekiah at this time and says that this should be the keynote of our witness (2 Cor. 4:13 cp. Ps. 116:10). He was “delivered from death” and therefore promised to walk before the Lord “in the lands of the living”, believing in salvation and therefore speaking to those lands of it (RV). We all face the day when we shall be as water spilt on the ground, that cannot be gathered up; when the delicate, beautiful chandelier of human life will come crashing to the ground, when the rope holding the bucket snaps, and it falls into the well. In all these Biblical images of death, we face the tragic irreversibility of it all. Our bodies are already riddled with the cancer of inevitable decay. Today, while it is still today, we must focus ourselves upon the vital and essential realities of our faith, and away from all the peripheral issues upon which our flesh would far rather dwell.

The Preaching Of The Gospel

The basic message of the Gospel is so simple. The complicated parts are clearing away human philosophies. There is one God: period. But as with all human religions, an apostate Christianity has shrouded this glorious truth in the language of ‘mystery’, giving the preacher of truth a hard job to clear away all the philosophical misconceptions which many have, before they can accept the simple Biblical proposition: “there is but one God, the Father”. This is why it is so much easier to preach to an atheist [although there are precious few of them left, with the opening up of China and the ex-USSR]. And this is why simple, direct preaching of Gospel truths is always the most successful. ‘Where do we go when we die?’; ‘Jesus Christ: God or Son of God?’; ‘The devil is inside you not outside you’; ‘Jesus is coming: are you ready?’. These were the adverts that caught the eye of many readers of these words in the days when you were searching for Truth. And so let us continue. Don’t water it down, get indirect or philosophical. We must ‘rightly divide’, or cut straight, the word of truth in our preaching of it (2 Tim. 2:15). The LXX uses the same word in Prov. 3:6: “He will make straight your paths”. We are to offer people a clear, straight way to the Kingdom; to span that gulf between the word of God and the mind of man.

Ecclesial Life

Paul writes that we should be simple concerning evil, in the context of warning the new converts about the danger of brethren who would cause division (Rom. 16:17-19). Our recent history proves the point of this: until a few years ago, there was a major division  in the brotherhood, especially in the mission field. I along with others used to go through all the pros and cons for unity, and just give up. It was all so complicated. But then a group of new converts in various parts of Africa simply said: ‘We’ve had enough. We all believe the Truth. We are going to break bread together. There is only one body. So we all ought to be united, seeing we believe the same things’. Thanks to their ‘simple’ faith in basic principles- not naivety, nor simplistic thinking- the division was largely ended for many of us who lived far away from them in Europe. As new communities of converts develop, often tensions and divisions arise. There are some who would glorify these things as serving God’s truth. But be simple to such evil, Paul says. If (and only if) we all believe the same Truth of the Gospel- we all ought to be together, whatever historical or human factors there may be between us. But that’s too simple for many of us. We complicate the simple basis of unity and fellowship which there is in the Scriptures. ‘If we fellowship x, then y might happen; if we disfellowship z then we’ll get out of problem a’...and so the complexity multiplies itself, and the body is divided.

Sadly, brothers and sisters often don’t say what they really think. We all have a strong tendency to say one thing or act in one way in the presence of some, and quite differently before others. We see it in our brethren, but often fail to recognise we are also guilty. This ought not so to be. The child in the midst was wide eyed with open sincerity. And so should we be; not fools, but all the same open hearted. This way, so much of the politicking and manoeuvring that can so easily creep into the gatherings of believers will be avoided. The Lord taught that hypocrisy was like leaven- once it begins in a community of believers, it so easily spreads and engulfs all (Lk. 12:1-3). In this context He went on to say that “there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed....whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light”. It is so easy, and we have all done this, to say something about somebody, and ask our hearer not to repeat it. But even in this life, as well as at judgment day, what is spoken in the ear comes out on the housetops. In discussion about fellowship matters, divorce etc. we can so easily say one thing to one group of brethren and something quite different to another. But this, the Lord taught, is hypocrisy. Let us decide our principles and live and speak by them, in humility and sensitivity and simplicity. Because all will be revealed, both in this life and in the coming day of judgment, we ought to be without such hypocrisy. Paul dealt with a very difficult situation in Corinth by being totally open hearted, when his natural sense must have been to be very cagey with them (2 Cor. 6:11). Indeed, some of his most revealing autobiographical passages are found in 2 Corinthians, as he opens his heart to them. And he encouraged them to likewise openly show before the ecclesias their love for others (2 Cor. 8:24 s.w.). He surely had in mind the Lord’s teaching that our light should shine before others, because all things will ultimately be brought into the open (Lk. 8:16,17). This doesn’t just refer to preaching; it refers to an open shining out of whatever spirituality we have, to everyone.


The Lord in Gethsemane took a long time to pray the simple words: “Father, if ....”. It was long enough for the disciples to fight a losing battle against drowsiness and fall fast asleep (the Greek implies). But how do you pray? With simple, staccato words and phrases like His? Or do you desperately seek for words, any words, just to make it seem you prayed, trying to be like the more mature brethren you hear praying at gatherings? Or after many years of prayer, can I ask, are you just churning out the same old phrases and ideas, with little meaning put into the words...? If the Son of God Himself prayed in such simple terms, surely we ought to likewise. He was and is “harmless” (Heb. 7:26) in His priestly mediation; the same word is translated “simple” in Rom. 16:8. He was an intellectual beyond compare, morally and dialectically He defeated the most cunning cross-questioning of His day; and yet He was a working man surrounded by masses of daily problems. But He was and is “simple” in the sense of single-mindedly committed to His priestly work. We are on earth and God is in Heaven, and therefore our words should be few (Ecc. 5:2). Not few in the sense that we don’t pray for very long, but few in terms of their simplicity and directness. The Lord warned us against the complicated prayer forms of the Pharisees; and asked us to mean our words of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ rather than use more sophisticated assurances. The heart is deceitful and so wicked we cannot plumb its depths (Jer. 17:9); and yet the pure in heart are blessed. This must surely mean that the “pure” in heart are those who despite the intrinsic self-deception of the human heart, are nonetheless “pure” or single hearted in their prayer and motives and desire to serve God.

Each statement of the apparently simple model prayer needs careful reflection. He told the disciples in Gethsemane to earnestly pray the simple saying: “pray not to fail in the test” (Mt. 26:41 cp. 6:13). The prayer that they could gabble mindlessly must be prayed with intense attention to every phrase.


I’ve always sensed that the more complex a person, the harder it is for them to be generous. But we are all commanded to be generous to the Lord’s cause, knowing that nothing we have is our own. And I am not only talking to wealthy brethren. All of us have something, and all of us can give something to our brethren. Consider how the poor believers of the first century such as Corinth [amongst whom there were not many rich or mighty, Paul reminds them] collected funds for the poor brethren in Judea. There is a Greek word translated “simplicity” which occurs eight times in the NT. Five of these are in 2 Corinthians, written as it was in the context of Corinth giving funds for the Jerusalem poor. Consider how the word is translated:

- Paul had “simplicity and Godly sincerity” (2 Cor. 1:12)

- They had “liberality” (2 Cor. 8:2)

- “Bountifulness” (2 Cor. 9:11)

- Their “liberal distribution” (2 Cor. 9:13)

- He feared lest they be corrupted from “the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).

Evidently Paul saw a link between generosity and the simplicity of the faith in Christ. It doesn’t need a lexicon to tell you that this word means both ‘simplicity’ and also ‘generous’. The connection is because the basis for generosity is a simple faith. Not a dumb, blind faith, glossing over the details of God’s word. But a realistic, simple, direct conviction. This is why Paul exhorts that all giving to the Lord’s cause should be done with “simplicity” (Rom. 12:8- the AVmg. translates ‘liberally’). Give, in whatever way, and don’t complicate it with all the ifs and buts which our fleshly mind proposes. Paul warns them against false teachers who would corrupt them from their “simplicity”- and yet he usually speaks of ‘simplicity’ in the sense of generosity. Pure doctrine, wholeheartedly accepted, will lead us to be generous. False doctrine and human philosophy leads to all manner of self-complication. Paul was clever, he was smart; but he rejoiced that he lived his life “in simplicity...by the grace of God” (2 Cor. 1:12).  If our eye is single (translating a Greek word related to that translated ‘simple’), then the whole body is full of light (Mt. 6:22)- and the Lord spoke again in the context of generosity. An evil eye, a world view that is not ‘simple’ or single, is used as a figure for mean spiritedness.

Rightly or wrongly, it has been commented: “The poor can respond to the call of the Gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything” (2). The fact is, before God we are all desperately poor, if only we would know it. We came into this world with nothing and can carry nothing out. In Isaiah’s image we are as ragged prisoners in dark cells awaiting death, but set free by the light of the Gospel. .  We are all, in a sense, ‘fatherless’ and ‘widows’.  This is why Israel were given specific instruction to take care of such (Dt. 14:29) for in so doing they were to recognise their own needs.  Realising this, knowing it deep within the fibre of our beings, we ought to be able to respond with the simple abandonment and “uncomplicated totality” of the desperate.

The Child In The Midst

The simplicity of the Gospel is epitomised in the cross. There the love of God, His desperate enthusiasm for our salvation, was poured out before the eyes of men. Both then and now, they explain it all away, their theology covers it over, their philosophy takes away the pain and power of it. Their selfishness stops them responding to it. But Paul determined to know nothing, save Christ and Him crucified. Not the ecclesial politics of Corinth, not his own internal pain and desire for self-justification; but the crucified Christ alone. He had to ‘determine’ (Gk. krino) to do this; it didn’t come easily, as it doesn’t to us. Krino is usually translated ‘to judge’. Paul had to weigh it all up, and consciously decide to know nothing but the crucified Christ in his attitude to the issues in Corinth. Acts 2:46 (NKJV) records how the early brethren broke bread with “simplicity of heart”; and we likewise, in our memorial meetings and in our lives, must unswervingly focus upon Him and the colossal import of His cross.

I once heard an old brother describe how he lost his wife in an air raid. His story, told as part of an exhortation, went like this: ‘It was a Saturday evening when I returned home, to find our place in ruins. I dug through the rubble, all that night, searching for her body. The impression I have now as I look back on it is one of such great simplicity. I recall my hands were bleeding; and I thought ‘His hands bled too’. I thought of her body, and I thought of His. I had short phrases from Scripture going through my mind: Thy brother shall rise again. Sorrow not as others. I am the resurrection. And the life. Even now. At around 10 o’clock on the Sunday morning I realised I could do no more. Although I had been baptized only a short time I felt automatically that I must be at the meeting for the memorial. I walked through the quiet streets to our meeting place, there was no transport moving at all, and was pleasantly surprised that quite a few others had also walked there. I came in late, and sat at the back. I must have looked awful, but I didn’t want to say anything to the brethren at that time. I sat there and heard the words of the brother exhorting, and so, so gratefully took the bread and wine. I can remember gripping the plate and gripping the cup, and thinking nothing else apart from: It’s all true. This is the Truth. Afterwards I quietly shook hands with a few brethren and then left’. He sat there as the child in the midst, and so should we, if we likewise know our desperation and the reality of our redemption.


(1) John uses distinct 1011 words out of a total of 15416 words. Mark by contrast has a vocabulary of 1345 words out of a total of 11242 words. Hebrews has 1038 distinct words out of a total of only 4951. The letters of John compare similarly; the three letters have a vocabulary of 302 distinct words out of a total of 2601. Yet Galatians has 2229 words with a vocabulary of 526; Ephesians has a ratio of 2418 / 529; and Titus 658 / 303. Source: Martin Hengel, The Johannine Question (London: S.C.M., 1989). Not only is John’s vocabulary limited; his letters give the impression of being somewhat unarranged, perhaps rather rough in style because they omit any formal greeting or ending; and the Greek has been called “elementary and repetitive”.

(2) Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan, 2002).