In her book Say Among the Heathen the Lord Reigns, Mrs. Jean Kortering tells the conversion stories of several individuals in the continent of Asia. The first story is about a young girl in Singapore named Poh Li who was raised by a strict Buddhist mother and a father who was a gambler and drunkard. One day, a young woman named Karen of the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church saw Poh Li in a store studying a picture of Jesus. Karen asked her if she knew who was in that picture, and Poh Li said no. So she started to tell her about Jesus and asked if she would like to learn more. Poh Li said yes, and they began to meet. Karen eventually invited her to church, and she began coming and hearing the preaching of the gospel through Rev. Jason Kortering. But Poh Li’s mother was not happy about it and would cane her legs when she came home from church. The girl persevered even when she could not come to church for a time, and she grew in her faith.
Several years later, Rev. and Mrs. Kortering saw her again. She excitedly told them that both her parents, to whom she had faithfully witnessed, had repented of their pagan beliefs and ungodly ways and become Christians. “Karen did not know and certainly did not expect that the Lord would use her simple little remark to kindle a flame in Poh Li’s heart and that later the flame would be spread abroad into the lives of so many others. It is God’s work alone that calls His children out of darkness into His marvelous light, but there are means through which He works. May we all be faithful witnesses of the glorious truth that He has revealed in His Word” (p. 35).
Has the gospel come to you not in word only but alsoin power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance (I Thess. 1:5)? Have you become a follower of the apostles and missionaries and an example to other believers by your sounding out the word of the Lord not only in your local area but everywhere your faith in God is spread abroad (vv. 6-8)? That was true of the Christians of Thessalonica in Macedonia. They appear in Scripture as marvelous examples of the personal evangelism that is the calling of us all. They show forth the relation between official preaching of the gospel and the unofficial witness of all believers.
The official preaching of the gospel is the chief means God uses to save the lost. Although the preaching of the gospel comes to mankind through mere earthen vessels, “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (II Cor. 4:7), it is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18).
God makes the preaching of the gospel a power unto salvation for all whom He has predestinated to eternal life out of every nation; for all whom He gave to Christ to redeem from sin and death by dying for their sins and rising again the third day. For God is pleased to give us salvation through faith in the Christ who died and rose again (Rom. 10:9-13), and God is pleased to work that faith in us through the preaching that sets forth Christ crucified and risen as the only way of salvation, and through which Christ Himself calls us to repent and believe on Him (vv. 14-17).
But how shall a man preach except he be sent? Therefore, God calls certain men to devote their lives to preaching and sends them through the church with authority to preach the gospel, both within the church and outside among the heathen. Some preachers spend most of their lives preaching primarily within the church. Others spend most of their lives preaching primarily among the heathen. But even those who labor primarily within the church must “do the work of an evangelist” outside the church in their local area (II Tim. 4:5).
In 2008, Rev. Arie denHartog spoke at a mission conference sponsored by the Domestic Mission Committee of the PRC, similar to the one at which the content of this article was delivered in May. Rev. denHartog called us to pray for boldness for the preaching of the gospel as it goes forth in missions in a day when ungodliness worsens, apostasy runs rampant, and ignorance of Scripture is widespread. Rev. Kortering also spoke at that conference. He called for special training in missions, including the creation of a “culture for missions” in the churches so that the children and youth grow up understanding the importance of missions. Do we pastors agree, and if so, are we endeavoring to create this culture for missions by our teaching, exhorting, and example as local evangelists?
The preaching we pastors sound forth every Sunday comes not in word only but also in power if the believers who hear it follow our example and sound forth that word wherever they go to the unchurched, as opportunity arises. That was what the Thessalonian Christians were doing. That is what Karen was doing when she responded to a young girl in a store studying a picture of Jesus by telling her about Jesus. Do you do that kind of thing?
The phrase “sounded out” in I Thessalonians 1:8 could be translated “echoed.” They were echoing the word of the Lord everywhere they went. An echo is a unique sound because it is the repetition of an earlier sound. In a canyon, if you shout “hello,” the sound wave goes out of your mouth, reflects off the wall of the canyon, bounces back to your ears, and you hear the echo of your own voice. When the apostle and others preached the word to the Thessalonians, the sweet sound of the gospel went out of their mouths and struck the hearts of the believers. When those believers went about their daily lives, that sweet sound reflected off their hearts and bounced outward, so that others heard the echo.
Like an echo, the sound that came out of them was the same sound they heard from the pulpit, the same word of the Lord. Unlike an echo, the repetition of that sound was not the automatic effect of a physical cause, but it was the result of a powerful, delightful, and mysterious spiritual cause. The Holy Spirit does not deal with us as He deals with the wall of a canyon that mindlessly echoes a sound. Rather, He sweetly bends our will so that we believe the gospel that we hear, and our hearts are ignited with a flame of thankful joy in Christ. He sweetly moves our will so that we respond well when we hear our calling to share that gospel with others, and we become eager to do so, according to our ability. He strengthens us with courage so that we are not afraid of what men may think of us and are not ashamed of the gospel, but we begin to echo it in our daily lives to our unbelieving neighbors.
When believers become faithful in echoing the word, as the Thessalonians were, their preacher may be able to exclaim, “We need not to speak anything!” (I Thess. 1:8). In this comment of the apostle, we not only see the biblical warrant for zealous personal evangelizing by ordinary believers, but also the great effectiveness of such evangelizing. Mind you, this is the same apostle who teaches the primacy of preaching by ordained menas the power of God unto salvation. But here he rejoices in the echoing of that preaching by unordained men and women. Let us not misunderstand. He was not throwing out the preaching, as if there was no more need for it in Macedonia. Rather, he was taking delight in the fact that the divine power at work in the preaching flowed like an electric current through ordinary believers, so that they too sounded out a witness everywhere they went, and consequently the apostles did not need to speak on every street corner or in every marketplace of Macedonia. God caused a little of the spiritual power that flows through faithful preaching to flow through the faithful echoing of that preaching as well.
How exactly does that work, or what exactly does that mean? Imagine for a moment that you are walking into a large stone church building somewhere in Europe. You immediately hear the echo of the most beautiful singing of a choir somewhere inside the building. You are not hearing the sound directly from the mouths of the singers, but after it has bounced off the walls and through the corridors of the building. You are captivated by that sound and drawn deeper into the building, down the hall, around the corner, because you want to hear the sound more clearly and fully and straight from the mouths of the singers. In a similar way, God uses the echoing of His word by you unordained Christians. He goes before you to prepare the hearts of His elect who are lost in unbelief, so that when they hear you echo the preaching you heard in church, it captures their attention and draws them to hear the sweet sound of the gospel straight from the mouth of the ambassadors of Christ.
Therefore, the echoing of the word by ordinary believers is vitally important for the growth of the church and spread of the gospel. We preachers of the gospel must take the lead in fulfilling the Great Commission in the world and set an example by our own personal evangelizing in the places where we live. But we must spend most of our time in the study, reading our texts, exegeting the Scriptures, and crafting sermons to preach on the Lord’s Day. You members of the church, however, go forth into every nook and cranny of society in your daily lives as mechanics, engineers, farmers, doctors, builders, mothers…. You must understand and embrace your calling, as you have opportunity and according to the gifts God has given to you, to confess Christ before men and echo the word of the Lord everywhere you go. If there is no echoing of the word by the members of the church in the world, the church might grow from within for a while, but it will become what some have called an “ingrown church.”1 God grant that our churches continue to develop a “culture for missions” so that through our zealous echoing of the word of the Lord, others may be gained to Christ and added to the church from the outside, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Practically, there are many ways to echo the word: publishing a magazine, making a podcast, writing a blog, distributing pamphlets, and more. But the most important way, I am still convinced, is personal and even face-to-face interaction with the neighbors in your life. I know that we often do not have great opportunities to speak to our neighbors about our faith. I know that many of our neighbors want us to keep our religion to ourselves. But look for the man or woman who is interested, as Karen noticed Poh Li staring at that picture of Jesus, and do not fail to open your mouth to talk to him or her about Christ. Realize that you need not cast your pearls before the swine who shamelessly express their militant atheism or disdain for Christ, but you may pray for them and let God deal with them as He will. But when God shows you a person with some level of interest in Scripture or openness to hearing the Christian faith, do not fail to follow up and pursue the person with your Bible and a willingness to talk.
Let it be primarily positive at first, not an immediate harsh condemnation of all their errors, but a speaking of the wonderful works of God in Christ in whom we have hope and joy. Let the troubles of your neighbor (cancer, divorce, loneliness) be a point of departure to speak of the comfort that is in Christ alone. Once you have developed some rapport with the person, invite him to church and take him with you to hear the sweet sound from the mouthpiece of the Savior. Remember to pray for your neighbors, not only those who show interest, but also those who do not. May God be pleased to use you to gain others to Christ, and may God be praised through your echoing of His Word.
1 “An ingrown church is that denomination of churches that has turned in on itself. Its clergy and membership focus the vast majority of their attention on the affairs of their own denomination without paying much attention to what is going on around them, except in a critical way” (“Structure for Domestic Missions,” Wilbur Bruinsma, 2019 [DMC Syllabus], 19). Such a church has left its first love, become a cesspool of gossip, complacent about the gospel, and doctrinally imbedded and stagnant (20-23).