Preach (and teach) the word (2)
Graham Hobbs, Bognor Regis, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
A formal lecture led into a general discussion
In our first article mention was made of the word dialegomai (to dialogue), a method which Paul used both in evangelism and in the teaching of the scriptures to believers. Normally, but not necessarily, it started with a formal lecture which then led into a general discussion.
Here are some examples of its use in evangelism:
- Acts 17. 2 (Thessalonica), ‘Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures’.
- Acts 17. 17 (Athens), ‘he reasoned (‘disputed’ AV) in the synagogue with the Jews and devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there’.
- Acts 18 4 (Corinth), ‘he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks’.
- Acts 18. 19 (Ephesus), ‘he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews’.
Some overseas missionaries and enterprising believers in the homelands have tried this approach, with some success and perhaps it is a method we should try more often. With the understandable reluctance of non-believers to come into our gospel services, a neutral venue, a well-chosen time, an attractive topic/debate, could well draw some who would not wish to attend an overtly ‘religious service’. Though the Lord invited people to come to Him, He told His followers to go out with the good news into all the world! Such events, of course, would require thorough preparation and expert organisation. Speakers would need to be selected who have an excellent grasp of their subject matter and possess effective presentation ability. Any debates would need to be handled courteously and sympathetically.
A particularly significant use of the word in relation to ministry to Christians is found in Acts 20 verses 7 to 9, ‘Paul talked with them. Paul talked still longer (‘discoursed’ RV, JND). It is a salutary warning for us long-winded preachers! Perhaps too many of our long-suffering congregations relate sympathetically with Eutychus! I am reminded of two pertinent sayings from the past, ‘The mind can absorb only as much as the seat can stand’, and ‘A hungry stomach has no ears’!
Two of the primary words paired together
It is noteworthy that two of the primary words on which we focused kerusso - preaching and didasko - teaching, are sometimes paired together. For example:
- Matt. 4. 23; 9. 35, ‘he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom’.
- Matt. 11. 1, ‘he went on . . . to teach and preach in their cities’.
- Acts 5. 42, ‘every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ’.
- Acts 28. 31, Paul’s activity while under house arrest in Rome ‘proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance’.
It would appear that, broadly speaking, the Lord Jesus and the apostles taught in the temple and the synagogues (where there would have been an already-convinced, if not ‘converted’ congregation), but preached, or proclaimed, the kingdom of God, in the open air, in private houses or in other types of venue. An exception, of course, would be the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ where Jesus taught in the open air. Paul’s endeavours at Ephesus are enlightening, Acts 19. 8-10, where, initially, he taught in the synagogue for three months, ‘reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God’, but subsequently he was ‘reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus – this continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks’. From this and other references, we could deduce that the teaching of the word of God should be authoritative, systematic, consecutive and objective. Little wonder then that Paul, in what he assumed would be his final message to the elders of the Ephesian assembly, could say, ‘I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God’, Acts 20. 27
Implications for us today
What implications might there be for us today, as we consider our responsibility to spread the good news to ‘all the residents’ of our locality, area or region? In many assemblies the main focus of ‘outreach’ is still the traditional Sunday evening Gospel Meeting, which has been a feature since the Victorian era, where speakers are usually, not always, perhaps faced with an august company of ‘saints and seats’! Often there is a fringe element of folks present, who may or may not be saved: they have been attending for years, but they never come to any other meeting of the assembly. What do we give them? We preach at them rousing gospel messages, based on a very narrow range of scriptures, accompanied by a very restricted choice of hymns. John chapter 3 verse 16 is vitally important and often springs to mind as the speaker prepares his message, but the ‘gospel’ contains much more. Do we honestly feel that we have presented our ‘residents’, or indeed the ‘saints’, with ‘the whole counsel of God? A person who had recently started attending the gospel meeting at a particular assembly remarked, ‘It is virtually the same message every week’! In one sense it should be, but on the other hand it is a sad reflection by an ‘outsider’ on the limited subject matter of our gospel presentations.
Christ was a ‘radical’
The Lord Jesus Christ was a ‘radical’ during His time on earth, often challenging traditions and religious formulae and shocking the religious establishment of His day by His associations and conduct. He and the apostles caused more than a ripple on society; in the estimation of some people they ‘turned the world upside down’! Acts 17. 6. What about us and why the difference? Sincere soulsearching in the presence of God is called for, if we are to effect a change for the better.
Consider the following questions
Without wishing in any way to be prescriptive, for this is an individual and local church responsibility, we would do well to consider the following questions:
- Are we reaching the residents of our locality by our present approach?
- Is there a need to change the timing, format and title of our ‘gospel meeting’?
- Should we perpetuate our cyclical arrangement for speakers?
- Should we be more thorough and sequential in presenting ‘gospel’ truth?
- Should we not aim to present ‘the whole counsel of God’?
Faithfulness to God and His word is required of us, in spite of present-day apathy and increasing opposition to the preaching and teaching of divine truth. Things may have been different, but not better, for Timothy in his day, as reference to Paul’s letters to him will inform us in particular, see 2 Tim. 4. 1-5. As the Lord would help and enable us, may we, therefore:
preach the word;
teach the word;
evangelize (with) the word.
At the close of training sessions or courses in the secular world, ‘students’ are often asked to write down an ‘Action Plan’, to indicate how they propose to implement the subject matter that has been presented. No doubt we are all aware of the comparative ease of reading a magazine article – and then forgetting it! May the Lord help us to stir ourselves on this occasion to prepare and implement a plan of action, whereby we can become, individually and corporately, more effective in spreading the good news! see 2 Tim. 4. 1-5.
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 regularly visits Albania where he is involved in Bible teaching.