Rev. denHartog is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan. Previous article in this series: February 15, 2007, p. 230.
The great missionary journeys of Paul are the amazing and awe-inspiring biblical example of the beginning of the preaching of the gospel to the nations. What great zeal was manifest in the ministry of the apostle of the Lord! What an example for all preachers! Paul went to the ends of the earth. He endured great hardships and persecution. He faced fearful enemies, who often threatened his very life. He knew very little ease and luxury in life. He did not take regular vacations or live in a palatial house. He counted not his own life dear to him. So precious was the gospel to Paul that he would rather die than in any way compromise its truth. So great was his zeal for those who were Christ’s that he labored night and day for their salvation.
In the course of accomplishing the work of Christ and with the authority of Christ, Paul condemned wicked heretics and false preachers who withstood the cause of Christ and threatened to overthrow it even at its beginning. In his ministry Paul could challenge the philosophers of the world and contradict the pride of the greatest wisdom of the world. He could also speak to the poor and destitute and ignorant. At the end of his life Paul was willing to offer himself up as a sacrifice, a martyr for the cause of Christ Jesus, his blessed Lord and Savior. Having fought the good fight and kept the faith of Jesus Christ, having run the race for the great prize, he looked with eager expectation to the crown of life the Lord the righteous judge would give at His appearing.
Paul was ready to deny himself, to make all kinds of personal sacrifices, and to spend all of his energies truly for Christ’s sake. He at times even did not insist on certain rights that belonged to him. Read about this in the first part of I Corinthians 9. There were times when, rather than insisting that the church support him as they should have, he labored with his own hands, so as to be chargeable to no man. If in any way an exercise even of the rights that belong to all Christians would hinder the preaching of the gospel, Paul would rather give up these rights than give an occasion of offense to the gospel or hinder the progress of the preaching of the gospel for the salvation of God’s people, that he might gain the more, that by all means he might save some.
The principles that Paul sets forth have broad applications. The “all means” of which Paul speaks refers certainly to those means that, according to the Word of God itself, must be used in the service of the preaching of the gospel. The chief means of grace is the preaching of the gospel. This was centrally what we might call pulpit preaching. Paul did this sort of preaching all the time, wherever he went. This preaching, if it is to be true preaching, must by all means set forth the truth of Christ and of His salvation. It must be based on the careful and sound exposition of the infallible Word of Christ now recorded in the Scriptures. The apostles, by the Spirit of Christ, have recorded His Word infallibly.
The statement “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel” implies that the minister of the gospel today must spend many hours in his study to prepare his sermons carefully. He must labor with all the intelligence and understanding that God has given him, enlightened by the Spirit of Christ to discern the meaning of the Spirit of God in the words of Scripture, so that when he goes to the pulpit he is ready to declare faithfully the Word of Christ alone and not the wisdom and philosophy of man. Woe is me if I preach not the gospel of Christ!
The preaching of the gospel must be addressed to men who are in themselves sinful and depraved. They must be called out of the darkness and ignorance of their sin to the marvelous light of the knowledge of God. The rebellious hearts of men must be broken by the hammer of the Word of Christ. Men must be called to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. The preaching of the gospel must not be done in such a way that men are left to continue in their sinful and wicked way of life without rebuke and without an urgent call to repentance. The preaching of the gospel does not have the purpose to entertain men or interest them with opinions of men and the latest new and popular perspective sweeping the churches.
The preaching of the gospel must bring penitent sinners to the cross of Christ and comfort them with the mercy and forgiveness of God. The preaching must serve Christ in declaring the good tidings to the meek, binding up the broken hearts, comforting those who mourn, and proclaiming liberty to the captives. Woe is me if I preach not the gospel. God’s people, who are delivered by the power of Christ from the bondage and corruption of sin, must be called to a new and holy life. Those who refuse to repent must be warned that they stand condemned before the judgment seat of God for their great wickedness.
The preacher who refuses to call men to repentance from sin because he fears offending them or losing them from the membership of his church will be responsible for their souls. He will be guilty of not having warned them in their sins and he will have become responsible for their apostasy from Christ. The sound doctrine of the Word of Christ must be preached to convince the gainsayers, in order that they might be turned again to the truth. “The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive at his will” (II Tim. 2:24-26).
The mouths of wicked and deceitful men must be stopped before they lead others astray by their false teaching. Strong warnings must be sounded, condemning error and false teaching. Paul did this all the time. This too must serve in order that some might be saved. The preacher who fails to do this is not faithful to his Lord and will bring the blood of his hearers on his own head when members of his church are led astray by the devil and his evil devices.
The servant of Christ must be prepared also to step down from his pulpit to live and walk among those to whom he preaches the gospel. He must be willing to go even from house to house. He must be able and willing to speak with men in a very personal way. He must show his heart of compassion for the sorrows and troubles of men. He must be ready even to address circumstances in the life of people who have thrown their whole life into chaos, confusion, and despair. He needs to know how to bring the comfort of the Word of Christ, sometimes in great tragedies. It happens in the providence of God that such times can be some of the greatest opportunities for the servant of Christ to bring the powerful, comforting Word of Jesus Christ to deliver from depths of sorrow and hopeless despair. He must reveal the heart of Christ Jesus, full of mercy and compassion, strength and hope, in the most difficult days of the lives of God’s saints.
Woe unto those who in such a day cannot or neglect to bring the Word of Christ. The apostle gives us many great examples of how to bring the word of Christ at times such as this. InActs 20 he speaks of warning God’s people night and day even with tears, so that if at all possible he might keep them from going astray, and by all means lead them back to the truth of Christ and His way of salvation.
At the end of time there will be days of great apostasy. Many shall depart from the faith. Those who remain faithful will be few in number. Scripture prophesies that these times will come. Some of God’s people will be cast out of apostate churches. Others will leave and be scattered and be left desperately searching for the truth of Christ, which is no longer to be found in their own churches, which have become apostate. Some of these must be called out of such apostate churches by being shown the seriousness of the errors and gross wickedness that are tolerated in these churches. New and ever more subtle and ungodly heresies will arise with every new age. Many will be deceived in the last day. But even in those days shortly before our Lord returns, His Word must be preached. Also from those who have once heard the Word of Christ, Christ will be pleased in the last days to gather a small remnant. The love of Christ must constrain us to preach faithfully the Word of Christ for their salvation.
The members of the true church of Jesus must not be complacent or self-satisfied. Certainly they must labor to maintain the gospel in their own midst and instruct the generations of the covenant growing up in the midst of the church. To neglect the latter for the sake of preaching the gospel on the mission field would be very seriously wrong and have disastrous consequences. Each generation must labor earnestly to raise up a new generation of the covenant through faithful instruction in the word of Christ.
But in the days of apostasy we must not forget those who must yet be saved, who have for various reasons been left outside of the walls of the church. We must look for these in the communities surrounding our churches. We must break down every sinful barrier that might hinder them from joining our fellowship and hearing the preaching of His Word in our midst. Our churches must have a warm and inviting atmosphere of love and concern and humility to support the preaching of the gospel among us. The love of Christ must be extended to those who do not now have the blessed word of the truth of Christ, which He has preserved in our midst and given to us and our children. The members of the faithful church of Jesus Christ must lay hold on every opportunity to encourage the remnant of the Lord’s people to return to His church among us and to hear the blessed gospel of His salvation. God help us to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ to the end, when He shall come in glory to save His church.