A World Waiting To Be Won Duncan Heaster email the author


8. The Hopefulness Of The Preacher

8. The Hopefulness Of The Preacher || 8-1 A Positive Spirit In Preaching

9. Christians Unlimited

9-1 Christians Unlimited  || 9-2 Limiting God || 9-3 The Power Of Preaching || 9-4 God Chooses To Depend Upon Us || 9-5 Fulfilling The Sufferings Of Jesus || 9-6 Bringing People To Faith || 9-7 The Limitations Of Pastoral Work || 9-8 The Unlimited Christian Potential

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

One 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.

Another indication 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:

First cycle

Second Cycle

Third Cycle


1.       Blood

4. Flies

7. Hail

Warning: Moses stands before Pharaoh in the morning

2.       Frogs

5. Pest

8. Locusts

Warning: Moses comes before Pharaoh

3.       Gnats

6. Boils

9. Darkness

No warning

 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.