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


9-6 Bringing People To Faith

The Lord foresaw in Jn. 17:20 that there would be those who would believe on Him “through their word” (i.e. the disciples’). Our word of preaching can bring others to faith. Our preaching leads to faith being created in the hearers. “The word of faith, which we preach” (Rom. 10:8) is the word (Gospel) that leads to faith; and a man cannot believe without hearing the Gospel, and he will not hear it unless it is preached by a preacher. Paul summarises by saying that faith comes by hearing [the Gospel] and hearing by [the preaching of] the word of God (Rom. 10:8,14,17). Paul’s point is that whoever believes will be saved (Rom. 9:33)- and therefore, we must preach to all, so that they might take advantage of this blessed opportunity. In his repetitious manner, Paul builds up the argument in this letter:

- Even under the law, Israel could believe God’s word as preached by Moses and have righteousness imputed to them (10:5-8)

- We preach, in essence, the very same word (10:9,10)

- Isaiah said the same: that belief of his preaching would result in justification (10:11)

- We preach the same. Whoever believes in the Lord’s saving Name by baptism will be saved (10:12,13)

- Therefore preach the word, for without your doing this, people can never believe it and therefore be saved (10:14,15)

- Israel had heard the word of the cross preached in the past, so just hearing the preacher will not automatically result in faith (10:16-21). Both preacher and hearer must be aware of this. Therefore there was a need for the preachers to turn to another wider audience, i.e. the Gentiles.

Note that this passage in Romans 10 reasons that men will only hear the Gospel if there is a preacher, and yet it also states that all men have heard the Gospel, in fulfillment of the prophesy of Psalm 19 that the message would go into all the earth. But later in the same epistle, Paul says that he preached because he wanted to take the Gospel to those “who have not heard” (15:21). There must be a connection within his thought with what he wrote in chapter 10, about all men hearing the Gospel through preaching. Surely he understood that the fulfillment of the prophecy that all men will hear the Gospel is purely dependent upon our freewill effort to preach to all men. This understanding inspired Paul to press ahead with his plans to expand Gospel work into Spain; and it should motivate us likewise.

The Father and Son have turned over the mission of saving men to the church; and they have truly turned it over. This means that if men and women reject Him because we are the face of Jesus to them, and they don’t think much of it…then this is solely our fault. There is no indication that God will rush in and save us from the mess we have made of His work. He has delegated to us genuine authority and meaningful independence, just as the Levites were given a “trust” to do the Lord’s work (2 Chron. 31:15,18 RVmg.). He is prepared to work with us in assistance, but we are entrusted with the work (Gal. 2:7 RV)- just as a naughty pupil may be given a responsible job to do by a teacher, and the sheer wonder of having been thus entrusted makes him perform the duty reliably. This is a thought so demanding and unnerving we would all prefer to think that we are just insignificant pawns in a game that is being played out by God against this world, whether or not we chose to participate.

Seeking The Profit Of Others

In his preaching both by word and example, Paul sought " the profit of many, that they may be saved" (1 Cor. 10:33). He endured for the elects' sake, so that they might be saved (2 Tim. 2:10); others' salvation was partly dependent upon his endurance. In the context of Israel's latter day repentance we read some admittedly strange words: " (The Jews) have ...not believed, that through your (Gentile believers) mercy, they also may obtain mercy" (Rom. 11:31). Could this not mean that Israel's reconciliation to God is partly dependent on our " mercy" in preaching the Gospel to them? And now consider Peter's words to Israel: " Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that (firstly) your sins may be blotted out... and (secondly) he shall send Jesus Christ" at the second coming (Acts 3:19,20). Does this not suggest that Christ's eager desire for the second coming is limited by our preaching to Israel?

Consider how that once the Gospel is preached world-wide, then the end will come (Mt. 24:14); and how the Lord replied to the question: ‘When are you coming back?’ by telling the questioners to go and preach the Gospel (Acts 1:6,8), as if the preaching of the word and the timing of the second coming are related. Likewise in the Olivet prophecy, the Lord gave them some signs of His return but told them that firstly, i.e. most importantly, the Gospel must be preached to all the world (Mk. 13:10)- implying that it is spreading the Gospel world-wide, not looking for the fulfillment of signs, that will bring about His return. Surely this would associate the exact timing of the Lord's return- for which He and the Father are ever eager- with the time when we have satisfactorily spread the Gospel far enough. When the harvest is ripe, then it is harvested. The Lord has to delay His coming because of the slowness and immaturity of our development; in these ways we limit Him. And it isn’t enough to think that if we merely preach world-wide, therefore the Lord's coming will automatically be hastened. It is the bringing forth of fruit to His Name that is important to Him. 

Consider the great commission to go and witness world-wide. After His resurrection, the Lord Jesus was sent to preach blessing and forgiveness to Israel (Acts 3:26). But after His resurrection, He sent His men to preach this message. His witness became expressed through, and therefore limited by, His preachers. When they wilfully misunderstood His commission as meaning preaching to Jews from all nations, rather than taking the message to the whole planet literally, His work was in that sense hindered and His intention delayed. Remember that the Rabbis taught that salvation was impossible for Gentiles: “For the heathen nations there will be no redemption”, so reads the targum on Ex. 21:30. Like us, the early Jewish converts were influenced by their backgrounds and their limited world views. Until the Lord brought experiences to bear which, when responded to, taught them what is now the obvious meaning of His words- that we each have a duty to take the good news of Him to the whole planet.

On account of the Lord’s resurrection, God has commanded all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30,31)- again, a reference to the great commission. But God’s command of men to repent is only through our preaching of that message. Matthew and Mark record how the apostles were sent to preach the Gospel and baptize, for the forgiveness of sins (cp. Acts 2:38). Luke records the Lord stating that the apostles knew that forgiveness of sins was to be preached from Jerusalem, and therefore they should be witnesses to this.

I would suggest that John’s Gospel does in fact record the great commission, but in different and more spiritual words: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you... If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (Jn. 20:21,23 NIV). These words have always been problematic for me, especially that last phrase. Can God’s forgiveness really be limited by the forgiveness shown by fallible men? Yet if these words are taken as a record of the great commission to go and preach, and the ellipsis is filled in, things become clearer: ‘I am sending you to preach the Gospel and baptism of forgiveness; if you do this and men respond, then the Gospel you preach really does have the power to bring about forgiveness. But if you don’t fulfil the commission I give you to preach forgiveness, then the sins of your potential hearers will remain unforgiven’. Again, the forgiveness and salvation of others is made to depend upon our preaching of forgiveness. “Whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” becomes the equivalent of “he that believeth not shall be damned”. Note that the Greek for ‘retain’ strictly means ‘to hold / bind’, and that for ‘remit’ means ‘to loose’. This has evident connection with Mt. 16:19, where the keys of the Gospel of the Kingdom (which we all possess) have the power to bind and loose, i.e. to grant or not grant forgiveness. Jn. 15:8,16 also has some reference to the great commission: “…so shall ye be my disciples…that ye should go [into all the world] and bear fruit, and that your fruit [converts?] should abide”. The eternal life of the converts is a fruit brought forth by the preacher’s obedience to his Lord’s commission. Likewise through the preaching of John, he turned men’s hearts- the idea of repentance, being brought about by the preacher (Mal. 4:6). Note how in Lk. 16:6 the Lord's steward was entrusted with the power to forgive others' debts- showing the amount of power and authority delegated to us, and perhaps directly connectable with the Lord's statement that He had given the disciples power on earth to forgive sins.

Such is the power of our preaching, the possibility which our words of witness give to our hearers. We have such power invested in us! If we are slack to use it, the Lord’s glory is limited, and the salvation of others disabled. As if to bring this home, the New Testament quotes several passages evidently prophetic of the future Kingdom as having their fulfillment in the preaching of the Gospel today:

- Is. 2:2-4 (the word of Yahweh will go out from Jerusalem) = the ecclesia’s witness to the world today, “beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:47). This, the Lord said, was in fulfillment of the OT prophets- and He could only be referring to those like Isaiah.

- Am. 9:11,12 had its fulfillment in the work of preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 15:13-18; 26:16-18).

- Likewise Is. 54:12 = Gal. 4:27; we extend the joy of the Kingdom to our hearers.

- Is. 52:7 = Rom. 10:15.

- Is. 11:10 = Rom. 15:12.

The apparent inappropriacy or lack of context of these quotations need not worry us. It is not that they have no future fulfillment They evidently will have, at the Lord’s second coming. But God sees that which shall be as already happening; His perspective is outside of our kind of time. The ecclesia’s preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world is effectively a spreading of the Kingdom to them; in that those who respond properly will ultimately be in God’s Kingdom. But God sees through that gap between their response and the final establishment of the Kingdom; He invites us to see it as if we have spread the Kingdom to them. As we present the Gospel to men and women of all races, we are enabling the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham. The more we preach, the more glorious is their fulfillment This is the power of our Gospel and the preaching of it. Let’s not treat it as something ordinary or optional or to be fitted in to our spare time.

Further, let's not assume that missionary work is something to be left to others, or only done if there is some special call of God to us. The need of this world is the call! And God's way of working is to leave this work to our initiative. Perhaps the simple reason why so many after the time of Jesus lived and died never knowing the Gospel was simply because we didn't take it to them, as we potentially could have done. Looking at those maps of Paul's journeys as they are in the backs of many Bibles, it's easy to think that somehow it all just happened, that he was different, because God told him to do all that. But that's not actually the case. Most of the time, he decided where to go and how long to stay and how to go about the mission of spreading the Gospel throughout his world. Consider the kinds of phrases he uses about his travel plans:

"I shall come soon, if the Lord will" (1 Cor. 4:17-19)

"If it should seem worthwhile for me to go as well, they shall go with me" (1 Cor. 16:3)

"You can help me on my way wherever I go next" (1 Cor. 16:6)

"I had intended to come first of all to you... I meant to visit you" (2 Cor. 1:15)

"It was out of consideration for you that I did not come again to Corinth" (2 Cor. 1:23)

"I made up my mind that my next visit to you..." (2 Cor. 2:1)

Paul was "prevented all this time" from going to Rome (Rom. 15:22)

"I am hoping to come to you before long" (1 Tim. 3:14)

2 Cor. 2:13 speaks of Paul's restless desire to push on in his travelling.

My simple point is that Paul's missionary work involved a large number of freewill choices from him. He saw his calling, and yet he speaks as if we too are called to spread the Gospel in the same way as he was in essence, within the confines of the choices and situations God has put us in. The initiative is with us. All this means that how we plan to preach and care for others does need to be considered. Time and again, God works through humanly devised good strategies (Josh. 8:1,2; Neh. 4:9 etc.). But I love the way Derek Kidner puts it: "Scripture approves of strategy when it is a tool rather than a substitute for God" (1).


(1) Derek Kidner, Genesis (London: Tyndale, 1968) p. 168.