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


9-5 Fulfilling The Sufferings Of Jesus

Paul had been reconciled, as have all men, by the cross. But he still needed to be converted, and this depended upon the freewill obedience of the likes of Ananias. It really is so, for Paul warned that preaching the Gospel with wisdom of words would make “the cross of Christ...of none effect” (1 Cor. 1:17). The effect of the cross, the power of it to save, is limited in its extent by our manner of preaching of it. And we can make “Christ”, i.e. His cross, of “none effect” by trusting to our works rather than accepting the gracious salvation which He achieved (Gal. 5:4). This is why Paul can say that Israel’s rejection was the reconciliation of the world (Rom. 1:15)- in that the preachers of reconciliation turned from the Jews to the Gentiles because the Jews rejected the message.  We are co-workers with Him in the building up of His house (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1). He could save men directly; but instead He has delegated that work to us, and thereby limited His power to save insofar as it depends upon our extension of it. Only through our preaching can the work of the cross be made complete- and that thought is frightening.

It has been perceptively commented: “The work of Christ in one sense is complete, but in another sense it is not complete until all men have known it and been reconciled to God by it. He is dependent on men and women to take it out and to make it known. He who accepts this task of bringing the message of the work of Christ to men may well be said to complete the sufferings of Christ” (9). Every leaflet we distribute, every conversation we start, every banknote we put to the Lord’s work...through all this we are extending the victory of the Lord in ways which would otherwise never occur. Thus Paul can say that in his work of preaching and upbuilding, he was filling up the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1:24). By the cross, all things were reconciled, but this is only made operative in practice if men “continue in the faith”, which Paul suffered in order to enable (Col. 1:20-23). This is the context in which Paul speaks of fulfilling the cross. Thus Paul speaks of filling up “the afflictions of Christ” in his life (Col. 1:24), but uses the very same word to describe the “afflictions” [s.w.] which he suffered for his brethren (Eph. 3:13). The sufferings of the Lord become powerful and continue to bring forth fruit in human lives- through our response to them.

All things were put under the Lord’s feet because of His exaltation (Eph. 1:22); but now we see not yet all things put under Him (Heb. 2:8; 1 Cor. 15:24-28). The “all things” matches with Col. 1:18 speaking of the Lord being placed over the church. We are the “all things”. The great commission has the same thought sequence- because of the Lord’s exaltation, therefore we must go and tell all men and bring them into subjection to the exalted Christ. In prospect His body is “all in all” (Eph. 1:23), but the “all in all” phase will only be realized in practice at the end of the Millennium (1 Cor. 15:28). It is for us to grasp the height of His exaltation and the fact that it means that potentially, all men, all of existence, is under Him. And then we respond to this by going out and seeking to bring all men under Him.

The grace of God is manifested to the world through the preaching of the ecclesia; and in this sense, God has allowed His ability to manifest this Grace to be limited according to our effort in witness. Peter could have chosen not to baptize Gentiles; and if he had done so, he would have withstood God, like the Pharisees he would have frustrated the counsel of God (Acts 11:17). As in the Song of Solomon (1:8), the bride [the church] follows the sheep [believers] to find the shepherd [Jesus]. The sheep lead others to the shepherd. God has “manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me” (Tit. 1:3). Yet Paul himself admits a tendency not to preach, to hold back from giving his all to fulfil that commission he had received to testify of the Gospel of God’s grace (1 Cor. 9:16).  He asks his brethren to pray that he would be able to “make it manifest” more than he did (Col. 4:4 cp. Eph. 6:20).

This is proof enough that God’s manifestation of His word through preaching is limited by the amount of manifestation His preachers allow it. Through the first century preaching of the Gospel, men and women were " turned from darkness to light...that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified" (Acts 26:18). Paul read the OT prophecies of how “to whom he was not spoken of, they shall see”; and he didn’t just see them as descriptions of what would ultimately happen. He realised that the fulfilment of this prophecy depended to some extent on our human freewill; and therefore he strove  (against so many odds) to preach Christ where He had not yet been named (Rom. 15:19,20). And he asks the Romans to strive together with him in prayer (15:30)- i.e. to join him in the struggle to witness world-wide, in that they would pray for his success. It was God’s prophesied will that the Gospel would go world-wide; but it required the freewill strivings of Paul to enable it, and the strivings with God in prayer by the brethren. With these thoughts in mind, bear in mind the parallels between Psalms 96 and 98:

Psalm 96

Psalm 98

O sing unto the Lord a new song (:1)

O sing unto the Lord a new song (:1)

His wonders among all people. For He hath done marvellous [s.w. ‘wonders’] things in the sight of the nations (:2 RV)

declare His glory among the nations (:3)

righteousness and truth (:13)

righteousness and truth (:3)

Let the sea roar and the fullness thereof (:11)

Let the sea roar and the fullness thereof (:7)

for He cometh to judge the earth (:9)

for He cometh to judge the earth (:13)

The Lord reigneth (v.10)

The Lord the king (:6)

But there are some subtle differences. Ps. 96:2,3 exhorts us: “Show forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the heathen”. But Ps. 98:2 puts it another way: “The Lord hath made known His salvation. His righteousness hath He openly shewed in the sight of the nations”. These latter words are only true in that we make known that salvation, and we declare His glory among the nations. Thus a statement in Ps. 98 that Yahweh has shewed His glory to the nations becomes an imperative for us to go and do that in Ps. 96.

The crucified Son of Man must be lifted up by our preaching before the eyes of all, so that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish (Jn. 3:14,15). “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (Jn. 12:32)- but we draw men by our spreading of the Gospel net, preaching to “all men”. Thus the extent of the Lord’s achievement on the cross depends upon our preaching of it. Each of the records of the great preaching commission in the Gospels ties in with earlier passages within the same Gospel record. Mark’s “preach the gospel to every creature” is to be understood in the context of the Lord’s prophecy that the seed of His Gospel would be sown by preaching, and would result in creatures  of all kinds coming under its’ shadow (Mk. 16:15 cp. 4:32). The extent of witness we make is our choice; and according to how well we do it, so the extent of the shadow of the Kingdom gives shelter to many kinds.


(9) William Barclay, ‘The Church And Its Task’ in The All-Sufficient Christ (Edinburgh: St. Andrews Press, 1978 ed.) p. 110.