The Need for Distinctive Preaching

by Jim Deason
Biblical Insights, September 2014

In the shadow of the cross, Jesus prayed, "I do not ask on behalf of these alone (the apostles - jhd), but for those also who believe in Me through their word (me and you - jhd); that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me" (John 17:20-21). Our Savior left little doubt that He wanted believers to be united. Unity is a living testimony to the world of the deity of Jesus.

The unity Jesus taught was a unity based upon truth. "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth" (John 17:17). The foundation of this unity is laid out in the seven "ones" of Ephesians 4:4-6. There is one God, one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one baptism, one body, and one hope. Paul told the divided church in Corinth to remember that "no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 3:11). It is with that foundation in mind that he urged "that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians 1:10).

How, then, can this unity be attained? By "being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). This is a unity based upon revelation from God, written in human language whereby when we read, we can understand what God wants us to be and do (Ephesians 3:3-5). Any other "unity" is not unity at all but merely union, and it is based upon compromise, not conviction of truth.

One of the most often overlooked qualifications of elders, those most responsible for shepherding the souls of men to unity, is that they must be "able (skillful) to teach" (I Timothy 3:2). Titus adds that he must "be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9). In the context of the role of the evangelist, Paul said that he must be "able to teach" (I Timothy 2:24). He gave specific charge to Timothy urging him to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine..." (II Timothy 4:2-3). According to Paul, the work of both elders and evangelists involves the presentation of truth both in its positive and negative forms.

It is easy to preach on the grand themes of God's love, grace, and mercy. Forgiveness offered "at the cross" is a powerful and needed message. But it is not sometimes so palatable to your audience to teach on subjects such as immodesty, misplaced priorities, divorce and remarriage, submission, social drinking, dancing, women's role in the church, giving, and even the work of evangelism (these sermons hit too close to home). Sermons on institutionalism and the various false doctrines of denominationalism are not very popular.

Still, the role of the teacher is to hold back nothing profitable but to teach the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:20, 27). And I suppose that is the key to faithfully fulfilling the work of an elder or evangelist, i.e., that we hold back nothing profitable to the people. Preaching on the love of God will not help the young women of the congregation when they fail to hear a sermon directed toward their immodesty. Preaching on grace is good, but not if you fail to preach on how folks frequently absent themselves from worship in favor of their favorite sports or recreational activity. Preaching on mercy is wonderful, but sometimes people need to hear a lesson on social drinking or dancing (prom). Forgiveness is a grand theme, but sometimes, brethren need to be warned of encroaching false doctrines and practices. I believe there is a justifiable cause for concern today, not just because of what is preached from some pulpits, but even more because of what is not being preached! (One of my heroes in the faith once observed, "If we don't preach on certain subjects, it won't be long before we can't preach on those subjects because people will not put up with it." He was right, and in my opinion, we see the fruit of that in our time). Again, the key to faithfully fulfilling the work of an elder or evangelist is to hold back nothing profitable. It is not always easy to properly assess and preach to the needs of the people, but by all means, do it!

The "ole Jerusalem gospel" has a distinctive ring about it. It is a message flooded with Scripture and practical application. It is not always popular, but it is always right when presented with the best interest of the hearers in your heart and on your lips (Ephesians 4:15).

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