A World Waiting To Be Won Duncan Heaster email the author


4. Humility And Preaching

4-1 Humility And Preaching || 4-2 Bent Knees, Wet Eyes, Broken Hearts: Emotion In Preaching || 4-3 The More Real, The More Credible || 4-4 Preaching In The Workplace: Sample Dialogues || 4-5 Guilt And Grace || 4-5-1The Extent Of Grace || 4-5-2 Grace And Guilt || 4-5-3 True And False Guilt || 4-5-4 Barriers Against Grace

4.2 Bent Knees, Wet Eyes, Broken Hearts: Emotion In Preaching

Imagine, if you can, the judgment seat of Jesus which is to come. Think carefully about the implications of the parable of the sheep and goats. Before Him are gathered men and women in two groups, His right hand and His left. He will say to those on His right hand, enter the Kingdom. And He will condemn those on His left hand. Think about it. Those who come before Jesus and place themselves on the right hand [i.e. acceptance] are placing themselves on his   left hand [i.e. condemnation]. And those who condemn themselves, putting themselves to His left hand, are placing themselves on His right hand. Those who " are first" in their own eyes, those who think for sure they will be in the Kingdom, will seek to enter the Kingdom at the day of judgment, but be unable. Those who strive to enter the Kingdom now are " last" in their own spiritual assessment; and the first will be made last in the sense that they won't be in the Kingdom.  Thus when those who will enter the Kingdom are described as thinking of themselves as " last" , this must mean that they think of themselves now as being unworthy of the Kingdom, but as " striving" to be there now, in their minds (Lk. 13:23,24). The likes of Samson died with a confession of unworthiness on their lips- in his case, that he deserved to die the death of a Philistine (Jud. 16:30)- but he will actually be in the Kingdom (Heb. 11:32).

Response To The Cross

Before the cross, we have elicited within us this paradox at its keenest. We are convicted there of our sinfulness. And yet we are assured there of our ultimate salvation. Isaiah 53 predicted that there, “He was oppressed”- Heb. ‘exaction was made’ (s.w. Is. 58:3). He bore our punishment / condemnation on the cross (1). We each ought to be crucified to death- this is the exaction for sin. And yet, Jesus died for us. The exaction was made from Him. The rejected will have to bear their own sin, and therefore their feelings will be akin to His in the time of crucifixion. Yet we are to bear the cross with Him. We must either crucify ourselves now, or go through it in rejection. This is a gripping logic. The rejected will be as a woman who seeks to pluck off her own breasts in desperation (Ez. 23:34). We must condemn ourselves in self-examination, living out the essence of the cross in that the cross is   the condemnation of sin. And yet knowing that because we share that cross, because we do condemn ourselves, thereby we will not be condemned. And in this we have such reason to be glad, to rejoice, to share this good news of certain salvation with others. This isn’t merely ‘learn to read the Bible effectively’, or passing on our latest theories about prophecy. It is the good news of certain salvation in Christ.

The Breaking Of Bread

This is why such paradoxical emotions are generated within us by the experience of breaking bread. If we break bread unworthily, they “come together unto condemnation” (11:34). Yet we must judge ourselves at these meetings, to the extent of truly realising we deserve condemnation (1 Cor. 11:31). If we feel we are worthy, then, we are unworthy. If we feel unworthy, then, we are worthy. We must examine ourselves and conclude that at the end of the day we are “unprofitable servants” (Lk. 18:10), i.e. worthy of condemnation (the same phrase is used about the rejected, Mt. 25:30). This is after the pattern of the brethren at the first breaking of bread asking “Is it I?” in response to the Lord’s statement that one of them would betray Him (Mt. 26:22). They didn’t immediately assume they wouldn’t do. And so we have a telling paradox: those who condemn themselves at the memorial meeting will not be condemned. Those who are sure they won’t be condemned, taking the emblems with self-assurance, come together unto condemnation. Job knew this when he said that if he justifies himself, he will be condemned out of his own mouth (Job 9:20- he understood the idea of self-condemnation and judgment now). Isaiah also foresaw this, when he besought men (in the present tense): “Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty”, and then goes on to say that in the day of God’s final judgment, “[the rejected] shall go into the holes of the rock...for fear of the Lord and for the glory of His majesty when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth” (Is. 2:10,11,19-21). We must find a true, self-condemning humility now, unless it will be forced upon us at the judgment. And thus Paul can say that “we be as reprobates” (2 Cor. 13:7), using a Greek word elsewhere translated “castaway”, “rejected”, in the context of being rejected at the judgment seat (1 Cor. 9:27; Heb. 6:8). Yet he says in the preceding verse that he is most definitely not reprobate (2 Cor. 13:6). Here we have the paradox: knowing that we are not and by grace will not be rejected, and yet feeling and reasoning as if we are.

The Paradox Of The Parables

There is a highly repeated theme in the Lord's parables. It is that he saw his people as falling into one of two categories: the sinners / spiritually weak, and the self-righteous. This isn't just the possible implication of one or two parables:

The sinners / weak

The self-righteous

The prodigal son (each of us) who genuinely thought he had lost his relationship with his father (cp. God) for ever (Lk.  15:11-32).

The elder son who said he'd never disobeyed his father (cp. God),  and who in the end walks away from his father.

The sinner who hasn't got the faith to lift up his eyes to God, weighed down with the weight of his seemingly irreversible sins (Lk. 18:1-8).

The man who looks up to God with what he thinks is a good conscience and thanks Him that he is better than others, feeling that the sinful brother praying next to him is somehow too far gone.

The weak labourer (no employer wanted to hire him) who works one hour but is given a day's pay for it. We are left to imagine him walking away in disbelief clutching his penny (cp. the faithful with salvation at the judgment) (Mt. 20:1-16).

The strong labourer who works all day and complains at the end that the weak labourer has been given a penny. " Go thy way..." (Mt. 20:14) could imply he is fired from the Master's service because of this attitude. This would fit in with the way the other parables describe the second man as the rejected one.

The builder whose progress appeared slow, building on a rock, symbolising the difficulty he has in really hearing the word of the Lord Jesus.

The builder who appeared to make fast progress (Mt. 7:24-27), who apparently finds response to the word very easy.

The (spiritually) sick who need a doctor, represented by the stray animal who falls down a well and desperately bleats for pity (Lk. 14:5 RSV).

Those who don't think they need a doctor aren't helped by Christ (Mt. 9:12)

Those with a splinter in their eye, from God's viewpoint, who are seen as in need of spiritual correction by other believers (Mt. 7:3-5).

Those with a plank of wood in their eye, from God's perspective, but who think they have unimpaired vision to see the faults in their brethren.

Those who guard the house and give food to the other servants (Mt. 24:45-51).

Those who are materialistic and beat their fellow servants.

The man who owed 100 pence to his brother (Mt. 18:23-35), but nothing to his Lord (because the Lord counts him as justified).

The man who owed 10,000 talents to his Lord, but would not be patient with his brother who owed him 100 pence. He had the opportunity to show much love in return for his Lord's forgiveness, on the principle that he who is forgiven much loves much (Lk. 7:41-43).

The man who takes the lowest, most obscure seat at a feast is (at the judgment) told to go up to the best seat. We are left to imagine that the kind of humble man who takes the lowest seat would be embarrassed to go up to the highest seat, and would probably need encouragement to do so. This will be exactly the position of all those who enter the Kingdom. Those who are moved out of the highest seats are characterised by " shame" , which is the hallmark of the rejected. Therefore all the righteous are symbolised by the humble man who has to be encouraged (at the judgment) to go up higher.

The man who assumes he should have a respectable seat at the feast (Lk. 14:8-11). Remember that the taking of places at the feast represents the attitude we adopt within the ecclesia now. It is directly proportionate to Christ’s judgment of us.

The spiritually despised Samaritan who helped the (spiritually) wounded man.

The apparently righteous Levite and Priest who did nothing to help (Lk. 10:25-37).

The men who traded and developed what they had (Lk. 19:15-27).

The man who did nothing with what he had, not even lending his talent to Gentiles on usury; and then thought Christ's rejection of him unreasonable.

The son who rudely refuses to do the father's work, but then does it with his tail between his legs (Mt. 21:28-32).

The son who immediately and publicly agrees to do his father's work but actually does nothing. The Father's work is saving men. Note how in this and the above two cases, the self-righteous are rejected for their lack of interest in saving others (both in and out of the ecclesia).

The king who realises he cannot defeat the approaching army (cp. Christ and his Angels coming in judgment) because he is too weak, and surrenders.

The king who refuses to realize his own weakness and is therefore, by implication, destroyed by the oncoming army (Lk. 14:31,32).

Those who think their oil (cp. our spirituality) will probably run out before the second coming (Mt. 25:1-10).

Those who think their oil (spirituality) will never fail them and will keep burning until the Lord's return.

It makes a good exercise to read down just the left hand column. These are the characteristics of the acceptable, in God's eyes. Reading just the right hand column above (go on, do it) reveals all too many similarities with established Christianity.

Those who enter the Kingdom will genuinely, from the very depth of their being, feel that they shouldn't be there. They will cast their crowns before the enthroned Lord, as if to resign their reward as inappropriate for them (Rev. 4:10). Indeed, they shouldn't be in the Kingdom. The righteous are " scarcely saved" (1 Pet. 4:18). The righteous remnant who spoke often to one another about Yahweh will only be " spared" by God's grace (Mal. 3:17). The accepted will feel so certain of this that they will almost argue with the Lord Jesus at the day of judgment that he hasn't made the right decision concerning them (Mt. 25:37-40). It's only a highly convicted man who would dare do that. Thus the Father will have to comfort the faithful in the aftermath of the judgment, wiping away the tears which will then (see context) be in our eyes, and give us special help to realize that our sinful past has now finally been overcome (Rev. 21:4). We will be like the labourers in the parable who walk away from judgment clutching their penny, thinking " I really shouldn't have this. I didn't work for a day, and this is a day's pay" . Therefore if we honestly, genuinely feel that we won't be in the Kingdom, well, this is how in some ways the faithful will all feel.

Grace And Works

The paradox deepens when we consider how we must perceive ourselves both as desperate sinners, and yet also as transformed people, as men and women who are really and truly changing. We at times go too far along the path of considering ourselves inevitable sinners; and at others, too far down the way of self-assurance and smug contentment with who we are spiritually. The recent emphasis upon grace in our community is indeed necessary. But at the same time, the need and possibility for real and meaningful change in those who are in Christ needs to be spelt out:

It is God’s will that we should be sanctified (1 Thess. 4:3)

Leave the life of sin (Jn. 8:11)

The man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16)

It is written, Be holy, because I am holy (1 Pet. 1:16)

And as the adverts say, there’s so much more inside… “The grace of God that brings salvation…teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for…the glorious appearing of our…Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Tit. 2:11-14). Without this holiness, no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14), for nothing impure will enter the New Jerusalem, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful (Rev. 21:27). We are not to become or remain mere victims of our temperament. Hour by hour, we are faced with the choice of the easier way as opposed to the harder way. This is the reality of the Christian life. Exactly because we are not saved by works but by God’s mercy, therefore Paul wished to “affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works” (Tit. 3:5,8). In this sense, as Paul says in Romans, grace reigns as a King. It has power over every department of human life and thinking.

It leads us too, on the other side of the paradox, to realize that it is God who will work in us, through our regular inbreathing of His word, to produce the new creation which we of ourselves are simply too weak willed to effect. It is by Jesus working out His new creation and new birth in us that we can be renewed at the very core of our personhood (Jn. 3:3-8; 2 Cor. 5:17; Tit. 3:4-7). We, who are sinners, who are so shamefully weak willed, are being made new people. It is hard to believe this, as we stumble 3 steps backwards and 4 steps forward through life. But it is actually so. And it is the witness of our transformed and reconstructed selves which is so powerful before the eyes of the disordered, searching, spiritually unhappy men and women with whom we live. We have a life quest of an order which they do not have in the flesh. It is quite simply, to be like Jesus; to achieve an actual and real holiness of life like His, a life which is real and not just ideas, and which seeks to be ready to meet Him at any moment. Although we will recognize that we are still who we were, we will also without doubt reflect the realization that in another sense, we are now not who we once were. Inwardly, we are different people altogether (Rom. 6:2-4; 7:4-6). We will accept that it is really so that our heart’s deepest desire, the dominant passion that now rules and drives us, is a copy (faint but real) of the desire that drove our Lord Jesus. And all this is motivated by the utter purity of the grace that is saving us. We must “grow in grace”- our sense of sin becomes deeper, and yet our faith becomes stronger, our hope brighter, our love more extensive, our spiritual mindedness more marked.

The Need For Today

This is a soft age, an age in which ease and comfort are seen by the world [especially the poorer world] as life’s supreme values. Affluence and medical resources have brought secular people to the point of feeling that they have a right to long life, and a right to be free of poverty and pain for the whole of that life. Many even cherish a grudge against God and society if these hopes do not materialize. But nothing could be further from the true, tough, hard-won holiness which is slowly developed by the cross-carrying, regularly self-denying Christian. There is a beauty and a self-perpetuating upward spiral in the living of the clean, straight life before God. And yet we each have skeletons in our cupboards, secrets with which every man dies, some sort of darkness on the edge of our finest spiritual endeavour. This is what highlights the need for repentance. Especially must we be aware that the West has spread a tidal wave of hedonism and a random approach to living that is swamping the entire world. Thoughtless self-indulgence coupled with a lazy passivity has become the leading feature of our global village. We are all caught up in this to some extent, and we need to daily turn away from it, and to feel passionately again towards the Lord and the grace that has saved us.

The grace of God, the pure grace, by which we have been saved must elicit within us the disciplines of meditation, prayer, Bible study, fasting, witness, sacrificial living, working for the Lord… not because by these things we shall be saved, but because we have been saved by grace, and are gratefully responding. The love of Christ (and this phrase is almost always used in the NT of the cross) must constrain us (2 Cor. 5:14); we must reflect upon it until with Paul we pray with bowed knees to know the length, and the breadth and the height, of that love of Christ (on Calvary) that passes our unaided human knowledge (Eph. 3:19). For this alone is what will drive our passivity from us; here at last is something to respond to with all our heart and soul. The idea of a disciplined life is the very opposite to the random approach to life which is found in the world around us. They live chaotically, always being taken by surprise and tyrannized by the immediate, the urgent and the unexpected- experiencing life as a series of emergencies that one is never ready to meet. The life of joy and peace through believing (Rom. 15:13) is not like this. Fired by the greatness of Divine grace, we should be living ordered lives, which “confess the beauty of Thy peace”. Planning and praying, we should work towards what brother Islip Collyer called “the limited objective”, setting ourselves spiritual goals no matter how small. Not that the achievement of them ensures our salvation- for no works can save us. But in order to experience meaningful growth towards the image of Jesus.


The fact that the ecclesia is a hospital for sinners and not a club for the righteous, and that salvation is by pure grace and not works, must not be allowed to blur the cutting edge of these demands for change of which we have spoken. Only in realizing how far we fall short of them are we led to a more thorough humility and a more radical repentance. Regular repentance is absolutely necessary for each of us- for sin both of omission and commission, in motive, aim, thought, desire, wish and fantasy is sadly a daily reality in our lives. Yet grace, and the forgiveness it brings, reigns as a King (Rom. 5:21), in the sense that the real belief that by grace we are and will be saved, will bring forth a changed life (Tit. 2:11,12). The wonder of grace will mean that our lives become focused upon Jesus, the one who enabled that grace. Grace will be the leading and guiding principle in our lives, comprised as they are of a long string of thoughts and actions. And as with every truly focused life, literally all other things become therefore and thereby of secondary value. The pathway of persistent, focused prayer, the power of the hope of glory in the Kingdom, regular repentance…day by day our desires are redirected towards the things of God.


The Biblical record contains a large number of references to the frequent tears of God’s people, both in bleeding hearts for other people, and in recognition of their own sin. And as we have seen, these things are related. Consider:

-   “My eye pours out tears to God” [i.e. in repentance?] (Job 16:20)

-   Isaiah drenches Moab with tears (Is. 16:9)

-   Jeremiah is a fountain of tears for his people (Jer. 9:1; Lam. 2:8)

-   David’s eyes shed streams of tears for his sins (Ps. 119:136; 6:6; 42:3)

-   Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Mt. 23:37)

-   Blessed are those who weep (Lk. 6:21)

-   Mary washed the Lord’s feet with her tears (Lk. 7:36-50)

-   Paul wept for the Ephesians daily (Acts 20:19,31).

We have to ask whether there are any tears, indeed any true emotion, in our walk with our Lord. Those who go through life with dry eyes are surely to be pitied. Surely, in the light of the above testimony, we are merely hiding behind a smokescreen if we excuse ourselves by thinking that we’re not the emotional type.  Nobody can truly go through life humming to themselves “I am a rock, I am an island…and an island never cries”. The very emotional centre of our lives must be touched. The tragedy of our sin, the urgency of the world’s salvation, the amazing potential provided and secured in the cross of Christ…surely we cannot be passive to these things. We live in a world where emotion and passion are decreasing. Being politically correct, looking right to others… these things are becoming of paramount importance in all levels of society. The passionless, postmodernist life can’t be for us, who have been moved and touched at our very core by the work and call and love of Christ to us. For us there must still be what Walter Brueggemann called “the gift of amazement”, that ability to feel and say “Wow!” to God’s grace and plan of salvation for us.

Getting Real

These things make us more urgently seek for the strength to overcome, and we find it in the steady, patient contemplation of Jesus as He was in the fullness and simplicity of His human life. There, in Him, there was actually lived out the life we’ve always wanted, the life that is the pattern for us. It is here that the true Christian understanding of Jesus as having human nature, of being our representative in every way, becomes so empowering in practice. Here we at last have someone real, who went hungry and thirsty, who sneezed and wanted to scratch, who saw the funny side of situations, who cried real tears and felt even more keenly the tragedy of human situations…it is this realness of Jesus which makes Him so compelling, and makes the pages of the Gospels come alive with challenge, comfort and inspiration to “walk as he walked”…because He was so real, so like us, so much one of us. It is His realness and relevance to us which can shake us from the mediocrity of our lives, from the grip of quiet desperation which holds us, to rise up to a realistic imitation of Him. But I must ask: How much do we think about Him? It is quite possible to become Bible-centred rather than Jesus-centred. But we are in a personality cult behind this man, this more than man. We become like what and whom we love. Israel loved their idols, and thus “they became abominable like that [abomination] which they loved” (Hos. 9:10 RV). If we are transfixed by the gracious salvation that is in Him, we will become like Him in thought and deed.

What the world hungers for today is the discovery of what it means to be truly human. They admire those they see as “real”. It is through the person of Jesus Christ alone that true humanity, or realness, can be found. Ecc. 12: speaks of “the whole man” as the one who is totally obedient to God; and here we have a prophecy of the wholeness, the realness, of the Lord Jesus. The record of the life of the early church is characterized by realness, by humanity. Tremendous sacrifices, preaching in the face of persecution, speedy development of commitment, side by side with almost unbelievable moral and doctrinal weakness (like getting drunk at the breaking of bread), and an amazing slowness to comprehend (e.g. the implications of the commission to take the Gospel literally world-wide). Likewise the great saints of the Old Testament, such as David and Jeremiah, are not characterized by haloes and an aura of distant unapproachability (and here I particularly take issue with the Catholic and Orthodox way of presenting those men), but rather by their sheer humanity, and the spirituality seen articulated within that humanity.

Bent Knees, Wet Eyes, Broken Hearts

The essence of powerful personal witness is contained, I suggest, in the mixture of these two elements within the personality of the preacher. It’s the paradox of Ps. 2:11: “Rejoice with trembling / contrition”. The sense that ‘we have the truth…yes, by God’s grace I will truly be there, and so can you be’; and yet the awful, worrying sense of our own inadequacy as women and men, which should grip and haunt every sensitive spiritual soul. Paul explains his own attitude to preaching in 1 Cor. 2:3: “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling”. It could be that this is a reference to his physical weakness at the time he preached to the Corinthians. But William Barclay understands the Greek words to more imply “the trembling anxiety to perform a duty”, and I tend to run with this. The words are a reflection of the heart that bled within Paul. The man who has no fear, no hesitancy, no nervousness, no tension in the task of preaching…may give an efficient and competent performance from a platform. But it is the man who has this trembling anxiety, that intensity which comes from a heart that bleeds for ones hearers, who will produce an effect which artistry alone can never achieve. He is the man who will convert another. It has truly been said that “the need is the call”. To perceive the needs of others is what calls us and compels us to witness, coupled with our own disappointment with ourselves, our race, our nature. Bent knees, wet eyes, a broken heart…I don’t mean on the platform nor necessarily in our actual presentation of the Truth, but beforehand. As part of our beings. This is what is so essential to credible witness. If fused within the very texture of our human personality there is this earnest desire for others’ salvation, for their sharing in Israel’s Hope, coupled with a very real sense of our own inadequacy and sense of awkwardness with ourselves…this, it seems to me, is what converts. It’s the simple explanation of why the most powerful  preachers I have known are very ordinary, human people, whose realness has made them so credible to others. Virtually none of them were or are great platform speakers. They are ordinary, struggling folk who know whom they have believed, and the power of His resurrection life.

Eloquence, expositional skill, Biblical knowledge alone…are not enough. Anguish, pain, engagement, sweat and blood punctuate the truths to which men will listen. This is how Paul could only tell the Philippians “with tears” that some brethren were living as enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18). And for three years in Ephesus, Paul besought men and women night and day with tears (Acts 20:31 cp. 19,37). The Lord wept over Jerusalem- this was what His care about their lostness resulted in (Mt. 23:37; Lk. 19:41,42). The tears of Jesus and Paul reveal a stunning combination of mind and heart, the rational and the emotional…the might intellect within those men was all part of the same personality which could weep over men and women. Exposition and exhortation were thus fused together within the style of these wonderful examples. Preaching is therefore in that sense logic on fire, theology on fire. This is why a man of Paul’s intellectual genius could at times break fairly elemental rules of grammar- because of the fire within him. It’s why he breaks off from his own argument with passionate interruptions. He breaks the rules of style and grammar, despite his culture and intellectual finesse, because of the evident fire within him. In his preaching there were married together truth and eloquence, reason and passion, light and fire. Some of us seem to have excellent doctrine, but little warmth, glow or fire. Others have plenty of fire with little doctrinal underpinning. The two aspects really must be fused together within us as persons, and thereby within our preaching.

Biblical Examples

Scripture abounds with examples of powerful preachers whose witness was motivated by a deep recognition of their desperation before God.

-   John the Baptist said that he was the herald of Jesus, but he was not worthy (“sufficient”, RVmg, Mt. 3:17) to even undo the Lord’s shoe latchet (Jn. 1:27). He was saying that he did undo the Lord’s shoe, using an idiom which meant ‘to announce beforehand’- but he did it unworthily, with a deep sense of his own deep insufficiency. In saying this he was alluding back to the Law’s statement that the man who was unable to bring redemption to his dead brother’s family must undo a shoe latchet (Dt. 25:9). John deeply felt this, hence his use of the figure- and in this spirit he preached the redemption that is alone in Jesus.

-   Isaiah realized his unworthiness: " Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips" . He felt he was going to be condemned. But then the Angel comforted him: " Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged" . And then immediately he offered to go on a preaching mission to Israel: " Here am I, send me" (Is. 6:5-8).

-   The women went to preach the news of the resurrection with “fear and great joy”. But putting meaning into words, what were they fearful about? Surely they now realized that they had so failed to believe the Lord’s clear words about His resurrection; and they knew now that since He was alive, they must meet Him and explain. So their fear related to their own sense of unworthiness; and yet it was paradoxically mixed with the “great joy” of knowing His resurrection. And there is reason to understand that those women are typical of all those who are to fulfill the great commission.

-   Capturing the spirit of Isaiah, Peter fell down at Christ's feet: " Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord" . But the Lord responded: " Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men" (Lk. 5:8-10). So Peter's deep recognition of his sinfulness resulted in him being given a preaching commission. And in similar vein, Peter was given another commission to teach the word the first time he met Christ after his denials (Jn. 21:15-17). In response to this he stood up and preached that forgiveness of sins was possible to all those that are afar off from God (Acts 2:39). As he did so, consciously or unconsciously, part of his mind must have been back in the way that on that shameful night he followed the Lord “afar off”, and far off from Him, denied Him (Mk. 14:54). And remember that Peter preached a hundred meters or so from the very place where he denied the Lord.

-   The even greater commission to go into all the world with the Gospel followed straight on from Christ upbraiding the eleven " with their unbelief and hardness of heart" (Mk. 16:14,15). That 'upbraiding' must have left them wallowing in their weakness. It would have been quite something. The Son of God upbraiding His friends. But straight on from that: " Go ye...go ye into all the world" (Mt. cp. Mk. shows “go ye” was said twice). And He told them to preach that those who believed not would be damned- after having just told them that they were men who believed not. Mark’s record stresses three times in the lead up to this that they “believed not”; and then, he records how they were told to go and preach condemnation on those who believed not (Mk. 16:11,13,14,16). They were humbled men who did that.

-   Paul likewise was made deeply conscious of his sin before being given his commission. But " straightway" after his baptism, Paul begin a zealous campaign of personal witness  in Damascus, even before he was told by Christ to preach (Acts 9:20 cp. 22:17-21). Years later he commented: " Unto me  , who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles" (Eph. 3:8). Therefore he did so " with all humility of mind" (Acts 20:19). He recounts in Acts 22:19-21 how first of all he felt so ashamed of his past that he gently resisted this command to preach: " I said, Lord...I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed...and he said unto me, Depart...unto the Gentiles" . The stress on “every synagogue” (Acts 22:19; 26:11) must be connected with the fact that he chose to preach in the synagogues. He was sent to persecute every synagogue in Damascus, and yet he purposefully preached in every synagogue there (Acts 9:2,20). His motivation was rooted in his deep recognition of sinfulness. It seems that the change of name from Saul to Paul ('the little one') was at the time of his first missionary journey (Acts 13:9), as if in recognition of his own humiliation.

Paul was “well pleased to impart unto you not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were become very dear to us”. So says the RV of 1 Thess. 2:8. It is one thing to impart the Gospel to someone. It is another to give your soul to them, because you truly love them. I suspect we have all been guilty of merely imparting the gospel, without the heart that bled within Paul. They are two quite different things. Imparting knowledge, inviting to meetings, distributing books…is not the same as giving your soul. The AV of this passage says that Paul was “willing to have imparted unto you…our own souls”. There may be a connection back to Rom. 9:3, where in the spirit of Moses, Paul says that he is theoretically willing to give his eternal place in the Kingdom for the sake of his hearers’ conversion- even though he had learnt from Moses’ example that God will not accept such a substitutionary offer. To give your life, to impart a Gospel…is one thing. But to so feel for others that you would let them go to the Kingdom rather than you… this is love. No wonder Paul was so compelling a converter. There was such an upwelling of thankful love and reflected grace behind his words of preaching. Acts 28:20 describes Paul in action: “Therefore did I intreat you to see and to speak with you”. He wanted personal contact with them, eyeball to eyeball, to personally intreat. And in all this, he was motivated by the great paradox- that he, the unworthy, the condemned and rejected sinner, was going to be in the Kingdom. And it can be just as real and motivating for us too.


(1) In passing, note that if the cross was the Lord bearing the condemnation of sinful humanity, then condemnation is death, not burning in an orthodox hell. Otherwise He would have had to burn in hell, if He bore our condemnation.