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
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
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 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
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
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.
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
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.
- “My eye pours out tears to God” [i.e. in repentance?] (Job
- Isaiah drenches Moab with tears (Is. 16:9)
- Jeremiah is a fountain of tears for his people (Jer. 9:1;
- David’s eyes shed streams of tears for his sins (Ps. 119:136;
- 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.
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.
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
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.