Preach (and teach) the word (1)
Graham Hobbs, Bognor Regis, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Good news is not for keeping to oneself
Like Timothy, we all have a responsibility to communicate the word of God to our fellow human beings, 2 Tim. 4. 2. There are clearly many ways of doing this, both on a personal and a corporate basis.
Our late, esteemed brother Archie Naismith has provided us with numerous interesting and helpful illustrations in his two volumes of (More) Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes. In the second of these we read, ‘Hulm, the great naturalist, tells us that if a wasp discovers a deposit of honey or other food, it returns to its nest to impart the good news to its companions, who will sally forth in great numbers to partake of the fare he has discovered’, (no. 729). Brother Naismith adds, ‘Good news is meant to be shared – shall we, who have made a much greater discovery, be less considerate of our fellowmen than wasps are of their fellow-insects?’
Scripture examples abound of the spreading of good news. A delightful incident is recorded in 2 Kings chapter 7 of four lepers, who discovered an abundance of food and other possessions that had been abandoned by the Syrian army, which God had scared out of its wits! They stumbled unexpectedly on the ‘table in the wilderness’ and greedily started to help themselves until their conscience smote them. ‘We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household’, v. 9.
The woman of Samaria who, at Sychar’s well had received living water direct from the Saviour, went back to her village with the good news, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ John 4. 29. Jesus Himself told the demonfreed man, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you’, Mark 5. 19.
The New Testament uses three verbs to demonstrate how this should be done
Three particular verbs are used in the New Testament to describe the principal means of disseminating the word of God, and Paul uses all three in the solemn charge he gave to Timothy in 2 Timothy chapter 4 verses 1-5:
kerusso preaching the word, v. 2
didasko teaching the word, v. 2
evangeliso evangelizing (with) the word, v. 5
The words have distinct meanings and are used somewhat interchangeably, sometimes being paired together, but are, sadly, often incorrectly rendered in the Authorised Version and other translations.
This word is used fifty-nine times and it means to herald forth, to proclaim like a herald, to announce or pronounce, to make an important proclamation: it does not include the idea of teaching. The emphasis here is on the manner rather than the matter or content of the presentation.
Traditionally, the herald was a man of dignity in a royal court, who also carried a sceptre and was both a freeman and friend to his master. Later, the herald became a servant of the state, opening public assemblies in prayer, praying at meals, officiating at public sacrifices – he was even given the tongue of the sacrificial animal! He came to town with official notices just like our Town Crier, and publicly delivered messages on behalf of others. The herald needed to have a loud, clear voice and had to be dignified and loyal.
The word is used twenty times of the Lord Jesus and five times by Him. He identified Himself as the prophesied herald, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news’, Isa. 61. 1; Luke 4. 18. It is used nine times in Acts and Paul uses it in all but three of his letters. He was a herald of the Sovereign Almighty God - which gave authority and dignity to his office, power and substance to his message.
The Lord’s Great Commission to His disciples included the exhortation to ‘go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation’, Mark 16. 15. The clear objective which He had in mind was that ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in his name to all nations’, Luke 24. 47.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul challenges believers, ‘How are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”’ Rom. 10. 14-15. It is not too much to say that preaching is part of God’s act of salvation; it is a way, not the only way, but certainly the chief way that God communicates salvation to men.
This word is used 105 times and essentially it means to give instruction. It appears almost fifty times in the Gospels and is used frequently in the Acts. From the same root we derive our word didactic and also the noun teacher.
Of Jesus it is recorded that ‘he opened his mouth and taught them’, Matt. 5. 2 (the ‘Sermon on the Mount’), at the close of which we read, ‘he was teaching them as one who had authority’, Matt. 7. 29. Nicodemus recognized the Lord as ‘a teacher come from God’, John 3. 2. The Pharisees, always trying to ensnare Jesus in His words, said, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully’, Matt. 22. 16.
The teacher was a familiar figure in the first century AD. The Jewish rabbi and the Greek philosopher were both teachers and their usual method was to lecture students, who sat at their feet or on the hard benches provided. It was a method of imparting distilled knowledge and understanding and frequently had an emphasis on the learners doing something as a result of the teaching.
Jesus said, concerning the Holy Spirit, ‘he will teach you all things’, John 14. 26. In Matthew’s record of the Great Commission, the Lord says, ‘make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’, Matt. 28. 19-20.
It is quite significant that one of the qualifications for an elder/overseer in a local assembly is ‘able to teach’, 1 Tim. 3. 2. This is not necessarily from a public platform, but certainly covers the ability to teach others the truths of scripture in a private setting. God seeks for a continuing, effective transmission of spiritual truth. So Paul writes to Timothy, ‘What you have heard from me . . . entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also’, 2 Tim. 2. 2.
Before leaving the subject of teaching, we do need to mention a very particular method represented by the Greek word dialegomai (from which we derive our word dialogue). Normally, dialegomai started with a formal lecture by the teacher, which formed the basis of a discussion. Generally, it was formal and public, but the word could refer to a private and informal discussion. It was a favourite teaching method employed by Paul and he used it both in evangelism and in teaching Christians. We will look more closely at those uses in our next article.
This word is used seventeen times and it means, literally, to bring or announce good news. For example, ‘(Timothy) has brought us the good news of your faith and love’, 1 Thess. 3. 6. Unlike preaching, the emphasis is on the matter, rather then the manner of its presentation. Early believers, scattered through persecution, did not so much preach the word, Acts 8. 4, nor did they gossip the gospel (an expression that somewhat degrades the noble task of evangelism!), but ‘they went through the countries announcing the glad tidings of the word’ JND, ‘went from place to place spreading the Good News of God’s message’ WEYMOUTH: The New Testament in Modern Speech. They were evangelizing the word, or evangelizing with the word.
It is the word used several times about Philip in Acts chapter 8, which earned him the epithet ‘Philip the Evangelist’. He did not in reality preach Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch, but rather he evangelized Jesus to him, that is, ‘he announced the glad tidings of Jesus to him’, Acts 8. 35 JND. Of Peter and the other apostles we read, ‘they ceased not teaching (didasko) and announcing the glad tidings (evangeliso) that Jesus was the Christ’, Acts 5. 42 JND. There is great scope for ingenuity and imagination as to how we evangelize. We may not be too comfort-able with all the methods or motives that are employed by some Christians, nor would we wish to imitate them. However, we have no jurisdiction over what others do. Paul’s attitude to others preaching from different motives than his is exemplary, see Phil.1. 15-18. Though he recognized these others for what they were yet he rejoiced that ‘in every way . . . Christ is proclaimed’.
In the next article we shall look at more uses of these words and endeavour to see what implications they may have for us today, personally and collectively.
To be continued.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Graham Hobbs is retired training manager and is now in fellowship with assembly in Bognor Regis. His written and oral ministry is appreciated in England and he also regulary visits Albania where he is involved in Bible teaching.