8-1 A Positive Spirit In Preaching
Our task of witness may likewise seem hopeless. But we are to be prepared (“be instant”) to preach “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). “Out of season” translates a Greek word only elsewhere rendered ‘lacking opportunity’ (Phil. 4:10). Whether there is apparent opportunity or not, we must still witness- not just wait until someone asks us if we are religious. This is a common fallacy we all fall into at times. Several times the Lord invites us to “go” and preach- we are all to feel a spirit of outgoing witness, rather than the defensive, tell-them-if-they-ask attitude which has dominated so many of us for so long. We need the same spirit of heroism in our witness which Jeremiah and Ezekiel had, as they reflected the indomitable Spirit of God in this matter of human salvation. Our unbelieving families, our workmates, our neighbours, seem to be stony ground to the point that it just isn’t worth bothering. But we need a positive spirit.
People are interested. It seems to me that world-wide, there
are more people interested today than there were ten years ago.
There is interest in our message! Bill Hybels claims from
surveys that “about 25% of the adults in the US would go to church
if a friend would just invite them”(1).
And moreover, I never cease to be amazed that those I think would
never be interested are in fact interested, deep below
the irreligious surface. Indeed, many of those who are boldest in
proclaiming their disinterest are those who are the most haunted
by their spiritual need; their inner struggle against themselves
becomes reflected in an aggressive proclamation of their mockery
of religious people and appeals. There is a theme in the New Testament
that major response to preaching is often unexpected. The disciples
were told to cast the net on the other side, when they were convinced
there would be no response. Philip was told to go onto a road in
the heat of the day- when nobody was travelling (Acts 8:26). His
willingness to go, to do at least something, resulted in an amazing
response. This is exactly why predicting response to preaching is
well nigh impossible. It’s why the geographical spread of the Gospel
is so hard to explain when it is humanly analyzed.
The Lord Himself was of the persuasion that people are more interested
than His brethren may think. "You say 'Four months from sowing
to harvest: the time is not yet'... [But I say that] the fields
are already white for reapting. Already the reaper is taking his
pay" (Jn. 4:35). It seems that the disciples thought there
had to be a gap between sowing and reaping, whereas the Lord is
saying that people were more ready for harvest than His preachers
thought. And it can be the same with us- our insistence that there
has to be a respectable gap between sowing the Gospel and reaping
the harvest isn't a concept upheld by the Lord. There's more of
a harvest out there than we think. And perhaps the relatively poor
response to the preaching of Jesus in AD30-33 was because His disciples
didn't do their part?
It’s so easy to have a negative
spirit. Are people sincere? Do they just get baptized in the hope
of material help? Can we cope with so many converts? Won’t many
of them leave? What does this person really believe about doctrine?
Can you believe them? Isn’t this or that the thin end of the wedge?
This isn’t the spirit of the Lord’s parable about the drag net fishermen
(note, not fishing with a line for a special, prize catch- but concentrating
on saving as many as possible, of whatever quality, Mt. 13:47).
But there are other questions, more personal. Can we afford it?
Can I, should I, allow my worldly advantages to slip just so I can
do this or that for the Lord’s cause? Can I afford to write so many
letters? Do I have time to go to that Bible School? What about giving
more time to revising for my exams rather than doing the readings?
Our knowledge of the positive Christ means that we don’t think like
that. One of the many slanderous allegations against Paul was that
he was indecisive and negative spirited. His response was that this
was not so, for the gospel and Lord whom he preached were so essentially
positive, that he too had had become likewise through his experience
of them: “…our word toward you was not yea and nay. For the Son
of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us…was not yea
and nay, but in him was yea. For all the promises of God in him
are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Cor 1:18-20).
And in that knowledge, let us unashamedly show forth a positive
spirit about how God sees us ourselves, about our brethren, and
in our witness to the world.
All Can Be Saved
obvious encouragement to be hopeful in our witness is the Biblical
implication that all men and women, potentially, have the possibility
of responding to the Gospel. It was so in the first century- John
the Baptist had the potential to convert all Israel, for
He came "that all men through him might believe" (Jn.
1:7), so that Christ "should be made manifest to (all) Israel"
(Jn. 1:31). The entire nation could have converted; but
they didn't. Saul of Tarsus must’ve seemed the most unlikely of
men to convert to Christ. But he later refers to how God chose “to
reveal his son in me” (Gal. 1:16). The Greek word apokalupto
means literally ‘to take the cover off’. The implication is that
Christ is passively within each person, but has to be revealed in
them, through response to the Gospel. The cover can be taken off
every single man or women with whom we come into contact! The Galatians
passage could equally mean that Paul was called as an apostle to
‘take the cover off’ Christ to others; and yet Paul felt his calling
was to all people on earth, to the ends of the world (Acts 13:47)-
to every single person of all the Gentile nations (Rom. 15:11; 2
Tim. 4:17). “The residue of men”, every single non-Jew, was to be
invited to the Kingdom (Acts 15:17). Every single person whom we
can ‘find’- and the Greek word heurisko is elsewhere translated
‘see, perceive’- should be invited by us to the wedding feast (Mt.
22:9). “As many as” [s.w. “all”] we can see or possibly imagine
should be invited- so they must surely all be capable of responding.
That’s the whole point of our being sent to call them.
that all men who hear the Gospel have the potential to respond to
it is perhaps seen in the parable of the prodigal son. His ‘coming
home’ to the Father is just that- a coming home, a being received
back, to all we were created to be from the very beginning. And
perhaps this explains the odd reference to how ultimately, Egypt
shall "return unto the Lord" (Is. 19:22). For Egypt were
never 'with' the Lord. But in prospect, Egypt along with all humanity
were redeemed, and they have to be brought by us to Him in actuality.
And so it seems to me that underneath, people are interested
in salvation, even desperately interested. For they were created
for this 'return to God'. Psychologists confirm that the problem
of our destiny, of our ultimate future, either consciously or unconsciously
preoccupies the minds of most people. Now put this together with
the fact that all such people can potentially be saved, and that
in the Gospel we have the power of God unto that salvation… ! Doesn’t
that just motivate us to get out there and witness to people about
it, seeing through their surface level disinterest? And it also
underlines for us the tragedy of mass abortions, or multiple thousands
slain by earthquakes and tsunamis… because each of those people
was a unique person with the potential of salvation.
God's Desire For Human Repentance
God's hopefulness is reflected in the way that He sought the repentance of men like Pharaoh and Saul even at the close of their poorly lived lives; or the Lord's final appeal to Judas at the last supper ["what you do, do quickly" I take to be an invitation to repentance, along with passing Judas the favoured morsel from the supper]. The plagues upon Pharaoh were to bring him to repentance, although his lack of response to them led him to only harden his heart. Consider how carefully they were planned- these were not random acts of wrath from an offended Deity. They are in three cycles, and each cycle begins in the same way- the first plague of each cycle has Moses standing before Pharaoh in the morning, and warning him; the second plague of each cycle has Moses simply coming to Pharaoh and warning him; and the third plague in each cycle has no warning. Thus:
Warning: Moses stands before Pharaoh in the morning
Warning: Moses comes before Pharaoh
My simple point is that a huge amount of thought went into the plagues, and the careful planning behind them was surely intended to appeal to Pharaoh and convict him that a God far mightier than himself or his deities was at work in his life.
The patience or makrothumia which God has is intended to be had by us too (2
Pet. 3:9,15; Rom. 2:4; Eph. 4:2). And especially is the preacher
encouraged to have this makrothumia (2 Tim. 4:2; 3:10).
God waits / is patient for repentance, amazingly so… and we
are to have it in this same way too.
(1) Bill Hybels, Becoming A Contagious
Christian (Zondervan, 1996) p. 129.