John also teaches us that we should express our love for our Lord and Saviour by keeping His commandments, John 14. 15. He preceded that statement in John chapter 13 verse 34 with a ‘new commandment … that ye love one another’ and in the next verse we are told that this obedience will identify us as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Our obedience to Him is not optional or selective. The fact that we call him ‘Lord’, should indicate that our lives are directed by His will. In Mark chapter 16 verse 15, the Lord Jesus calls on His disciples, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature’. This means that we should be a people from whom the gospel is sounded out.
Over many years I had been all too aware that we were very good at preaching the gospel to those that knew it well and were in the good of it. However, I had been increasingly challenged as to how to reach out to those that had never heard the gospel message. The Apostle Paul did not have the privilege of a comfortable Gospel Hall or any similar facility in which to organize his meetings. In Acts chapter 17 verse 17, we read that he met with Jews to reason through the gospel in the synagogue and, to those that happened to be there, in the market place. This may have been, in a paradoxical way, a great advantage. When we are faced with difficulty or opposition, then, just as in nature the hedgehog rolls into a ball or a rabbit looks to his burrow for protection, we can often retreat to a place of safety.
The Lord did not command us to stay in our Gospel Halls and preach the gospel but to ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel’. It is true that there are examples in the scriptures of those that came to the Lord Jesus, one famous example would be Nicodemus in John chapter 3. However, the Lord certainly visited people in their need when maybe they were not seeking Him. In the next chapter, the Lord Jesus came to a city of Samaria and engaged a lady in conversation. It is very evident from the recorded dialogue that this lady knew her life wasn’t right but was doing little or nothing about it. As I try to engage with people on the streets, very often I meet people just like this! They know things aren’t right, but they don’t know where to turn.
In Romans chapter 10 verse 14, the Apostle Paul is teaching us about Israel rejecting the gospel; while doing this he reminds us of a simple lesson that should be obvious to us, ‘how shall they hear without a preacher?’ We often think that others will do it, the gifted ones, the brave, the ones that God calls, yet, in 2 Timothy, Paul reminds Timothy that he, though not an evangelist, should be doing the work of one. It is the challenge that we all need to face up to. How do we tell others the greatest news we have ever heard? How do we tell others of the person that has changed our lives? How do we tell others of His love and work that has changed our eternity?
The answer for each one is personal and the Lord Himself will reveal to us the sphere that we should serve Him in.
Personally, the Lord revealed to me very clearly that some of my time was to be devoted to serving Him in prisons and on the streets. There are many more experienced and gifted than myself. However, I have come to understand increasingly that God calls, God equips, and God gives you just what you need to face each circumstance. There is a massive lack of reapers for the ‘plentiful harvest’.
We often hear of a land that has turned its back on God, and, to some extent, that has to be true as we see laws being passed that are contrary to the word of God. However, when talking on the streets to people, it is also true that we have a rudderless generation that know that life seems empty and I often hear the phrase, ‘there is something missing’. Stress levels for some are off the scale, many are struggling with money issues, many are reaping the lack of morality in their lives and drugs are wreaking havoc in so many lives today. Many in the world are asking, ‘What is it all about?’ or even, ‘Where is God?’. What we cannot do is sit back in our comfortable halls and lament that they won’t come in.
So, what should we do? I had the great privilege of standing on Mars Hill not so long ago. There I thought how Paul chose his words carefully yet told a consistent message, preaching the gospel appropriately using what was around him. The unknown God is where we are at with this generation. Every time we don’t speak out, when we are not willing to do a certain work, we are in danger of handing territory to Satan.
Last Christmas I stood in the main street of Cardiff and preached. I had the title on the board, ‘The Way in a manger’, and used John chapter 14 verse 6 where the Lord Jesus states, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’. A man listened for about five minutes. After I had finished, he walked up to me and shook my hand. He thanked me for what I had just said. The man was around forty years old. The next thing he said astounded me. He told me that he knew Jesus had something to do with Christmas, but until that day he had never understood what! At first I wondered if he was joking. He was not. Generally, Christians have been quiet for too long. The greatest message has got lost in the trivial messages of man. We must be bolstered by the fact that we have a God-given commission to ‘Go … into all the world and preach the gospel’. The call couldn’t be a higher one. The commission is one of great dignity as it is from God.
What stops us being obedient? This is a challenging question. Maybe, for many, it is that they are out of practice. When I was a boy, we would often go to gospel campaigns and there would be more gospel outreach activities than maybe there are today. As opposition grows or efforts see less fruit, it should be that we look to redouble our efforts rather than shrink away from the challenge.
It is true for most assemblies that in this generation we have seen fewer saved than in previous generations, and we must remember that Lamentations chapter 3 verse 26 teaches us that it is the ‘salvation of the Lord’. But we are told to be the sowers and the farmer that sowed no seed would then be astounded to see a bumper crop.
As people who have met in Gospel Halls, we should be a people synonymous with sounding out the gospel and as God’s people we should want to be obeying our Lord Jesus Christ and ‘going’!
As we go and sound out the gospel in different ways to reach different echelons of society, we remember that it is for the ‘whosoever’. What we are actually doing is teaching others, the younger believers coming through, that it is their reasonable service and that the gospel can be effective in the lives of those around us.
When we see the full effects of the gospel, those that are saved, baptized and then, in time, added to the assembly are a massive encouragement to us. Over recent years in the assembly in Cardiff, we have seen a number saved, many of them have been baptized and are now in fellowship. When they gather with us, maybe for the first time, to break bread, it is wonderfully uplifting. The reality of having those with us that God has saved is encouraging. Hearing a male taking part, thanking God for His Son and that He died to be his Saviour, is a delight, not just to God, but to the believers who sounded out the gospel to him.
So, as God’s people, we need to look for avenues that God would take us down to reach people for His glory and their salvation. We, of course, do not just strike out on our own; we need to be before God in prayer asking for direction, operating in His strength and exercising wisdom in the literature we use, and title and format of meetings we convene.
We should also be ready to live out the gospel in front of those that we encounter. The vast majority of the generation before us do not read God’s word but they do read our lives. Only if our lives are right will they turn to us in their crises and want the joy and peace that we have through Jesus Christ.