The Letter and the Spirit of New Testament Christianity (III)
In this third article on the above subject, I wish to explore the central work of the New Testament church—preaching the gospel. Our careful obedience to this central command determines the extent to which we truly are a church today that replicates the church Jesus instituted and the apostles executed as they carried out the commission of Jesus. In Mark’s gospel Jesus is quoted as saying: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15,16
It is as necessary to obey the first part of the great commission as it is to obey the second part. Sinners come to Jesus by faith that recognizes Him as the Son of God. This faith compels them to confess, repent and be baptized. Their faith causes them to commit to the great work of spreading the gospel to others to the extent of their ability.
In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-8, 18-23) Jesus put the sowing of the seed before the production of fruit. Preaching must continually be done in order for fruit (more preaching) to be done. The good news of the gospel changes man’s relationship with God; it also changes his relationship with his fellow man. The gospel obeyed makes a new creature, a creation of God designed to be patterned after the life of His Son. Being “in Jesus” allows us to be “like Jesus” in our daily lives.
The church of the New Testament was engaged in the work of constantly edifying the disciples. They needed much encouragement to face a hostile/heathen world who did not know the true God. The proclamation of God’s new covenant through Christ was not always welcome even among Jewish people who lived in anticipation of the Messiah. Unbelieving Jews and hostile pagans constantly challenged the message of a crucified Savior. Paul wrote to the people at Corinth: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’ Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18-24
In the growth of the apostolic church, there arose opportunities for the disciples of Christ to provide the necessities of life to their fellow Christians. Several examples exist of this benevolence. In Acts 11 there is an account of how disciples in Antioch sent relief to brethren in Judea, sending it “to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul instructed brethren at Corinth to take a weekly collection “for the saints” in Jerusalem. 2 Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9, give considerable detail about this collection, as does Romans 15:25,26: “But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem.”
These three activities: preaching the gospel, edifying (building up spiritually), and relieving saints who were in need of daily necessities are clearly seen in the actions of New Testament congregations. Individual Christians were busy living transformed lives and showing Christian character before the world. They were trying to be the “salt of the earth,” shining as “lights in the world” and spreading an influence like “leaven” that would change society for the better.
The proclamation of the gospel must be foremost in the planning and execution of God’s will by every congregation determined to follow God’s plan. Social programs, entertainment, day care, sports, political involvement, and general benevolence for the physical needs of the world are not a part of its work. Let every member wrap his mind around the central mission of God’s church and pray and work toward the preaching of the gospel of Christ that can save souls, transform lives, and equip us for our journey to heaven.
Many years ago Foy L. Smith wrote these words which were published in the Firm Foundation journal (Volume 80, Number 5): “Brother, roll up your sleeves and thunder forth that message that rocked the hills and vales around the Jordan long ago—that pierced the hearts and convicted thousands on the day of Pentecost and subsequent days—that vibrated through the hills and valleys of Kentucky and Ohio in the days of the restoration, and that still thrills and influences the hearts of men when it is given the rightful place and emphasis! Preach it because you can do nothing greater. Preach it because you love it. Preach it because you are afraid not to preach it. And preach it exactly as it is written, neither fearing nor favoring men. Preach it every time you go into the pulpit like that time will be your last time. Preach it as ‘a dying man to dying men.’”
The spirit of obedience is based on an abiding trust in the wisdom of an almighty God who does all things well. God, in His infinite wisdom and goodness, has designed the church to accomplish His will in His way. We are His true servants if we simply trust and obey. Consider this passage: “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,” Hebrews 5:8,9. Jesus, the Son of God, taught us perfect obedience by fully embracing and fulfilling God’s will.
The refrain of a familiar old song teaches us to:
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”