The Purpose of Preaching

Man with Open Bible

From the beginning of the New Testament we read about preaching. First we see John the Baptist “preaching in the wilderness of Judea” (Matthew 3:1). A little while later “Jesus began to preach” (Matthew 4:17) and went “throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). Jesus commanded His disciples on different occasions to go out and preach the gospel (Luke 9:1-6; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). Throughout the New Testament, this is what we see – the gospel being preached. Though men may see this as foolish, this is what God desires (1 Corinthians 1:18-21).

God designed preaching to accomplish certain things. Let us notice the purpose of preaching.

To Convert the Lost

Despite the fact that many see preaching as foolishness, it is God’s power to save (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21). But the only way preaching can save is if the correct message is preached. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). There are many different topics that are discussed from pulpits in various churches that are labeled as “preaching.” Many times, these topics have nothing to do with religious things. We need to limit our preaching to those things contained in the word of God.

Because the gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16), it stands to reason that the preaching of it precedes salvation and all spiritual blessings that are found in Christ. However, more than just being reasonable, this is what Paul told the Ephesians. The inspired apostle wrote to them of the spiritual blessings we have in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14). In this passage, he showed when they became beneficiaries of these spiritual blessings in relation to their hearing of the gospel: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). Their hearing and believing of the gospel came before they were able to receive the spiritual blessings in Christ.

One cannot be saved without hearing the gospel preached. After stating, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13), Paul asked the question: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). Yes, it is necessary for one to meet God’s conditions to be saved. But before they can do that, they must first hear the gospel message.

We see this demonstrated through examples in the New Testament. When the Lord appeared to Saul (Acts 9:3-6), He did not save him on the road to Damascus. We know this because once there, Saul had to be baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). Instead, Jesus told him to “get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do” (Acts 9:6). After he was there, Ananias came to him with a message from the Lord. Later, an angel appeared to Cornelius (Acts 10:3) and told him to send for Peter (Acts 10:5). Cornelius understood that the reason for this was to hear a message from Peter (Acts 10:33). Even when the Lord or an angel appeared, these men still had to hear the gospel first before they could be saved. Some today tell of visions they have had, supposedly from the Lord, which assure them they are saved. I do not doubt these people did have had some sort of vision or dream, but I do doubt it was from the Lord. What we learn from the examples of Saul and Cornelius is that if the vision was from the Lord, then those people would have been told that they needed to hear the gospel taught, not that they have been saved arbitrarily.

To Edify the Saved

Obeying the gospel and becoming a Christian does not mean that one no longer needs to hear preaching. Paul returned to strengthen the churches he had previously established and visited (Acts 14:21-23; 15:36-16:5). He wrote to the saints in Rome and expressed his desire to come to them. He said he was “eager to preach the gospel” (Romans 1:15) to them. They were already Christians, but they still needed to hear the gospel preached.

Edification is done through the word of God (Acts 20:32). If saints are to be edified, it must come from the preaching and teaching of the word. Edification is something that is done, not something that is felt. Some brethren misunderstand this. They seem to think that if something feels good in religion, then it is edifying. But by the Biblical definition of edification, it does not always make one feel good. One may hear a lesson that steps on their toes, offends them, and leaves them with a bad feeling. But if the message was true to the word of God, it edified them, even if they did not like it.

The local church is to be a self-edifying body. God designed the church to be able to carry out “the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16). We know this particular passage refers to the local church because it is said to have pastors, or elders (Ephesians 4:11). In fact, all the “offices” listed (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) exist in order to familiarize brethren with the word, thus edify them. This is how God designed the church.

It is important for us to be reminded of something at this point. Visible results of these (particularly the first point about converting the lost, but edification as well) sometimes are not there. There may be no new converts. We cannot see that the brethren are growing spiritually. This can be discouraging. But we must remember two points. First, results may not come immediately, but they may come later. The seed has been planted. That is all we can do (1 Corinthians 3:6). Second, God said of His word, “It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please” (Isaiah 55:11). When the word is preached, it will fulfill God’s purpose. The next two points are about what will be accomplished, even without visible, positive results of the first two.

To Be a Witness Against Those Who Reject

Moses told the Levites, “Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you. For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness” (Deuteronomy 31:26-27). The Law of Moses was the standard for the nation of Israel. If they were stubborn and rebellious, the Law was a witness against them because it clearly defined their actions as sinful (cf. Romans 7:7). In the same way, the gospel of Christ constitutes our standard today. If we reject it and live unfaithful, disobedient lives, the law of Christ is a witness against us because it clearly shows us what we ought to do (Romans 1:16-17).

The gospel needs to be preached even if people are going to reject it. In fact, most people will reject it. Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy to preach knowing that many would reject their message (Luke 9:1-5; 10:10-12). God’s message was taught in the Old Testament in spite of certain rejection (Romans 10:16-21). God told Ezekiel that He was sending him to prophesy to Israel even though they would “not be willing to listen” and were “stubborn and obstinate” (Ezekiel 3:7). Because of this, God said He would make Ezekiel’s “face as hard as their faces and [his] forehead as hard as their foreheads” (Ezekiel 3:8). As far as Ezekiel’s responsibility was concerned, he was to go speak to Israel “whether they listen or not” (Ezekiel 3:11).

In the same way, God expects the gospel to be taught today even though many will reject it. Jesus told His apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). Yet He knows that many will follow the path that leads to destruction and only a few will follow the path that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). Regardless of whether people will accept the gospel or not, we need to preach it.

To Save Ourselves

Throughout the New Testament, we find instructions about our need to teach (Acts 8:4; 2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Peter 3:15). Preaching the gospel is not optional. Timothy was told to continue teaching in order to be saved (1 Timothy 4:16). Paul declared that he was “innocent of the blood of all men” because of his preaching (Acts 20:26-27).

God told Ezekiel that He was appointing him as “a watchman to the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 3:17). His responsibility was to warn Israel of the things that God had revealed to Him (Ezekiel 3:17). If he failed to warn the wicked to turn from his evil ways, he was told: “That wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 3:18). Similarly, if the righteous man turned to iniquity and Ezekiel failed to warn him of his fault, God said, “He shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 3:20).

However, like Paul who was “innocent of the blood of all men” because he taught the “whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:26-27), Ezekiel would be innocent if he warned of these things. If he “warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but [he would] have delivered [himself]” (Ezekiel 3:19). Likewise, if he “warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and [Ezekiel would] have delivered [himself]” (Ezekiel 3:21). Ezekiel would be saved whether Israel heeded his warnings or not. In the same way, we can save ourselves regardless of whether people accept the message or not.

Conclusion

God’s will is for the gospel to be preached to all mankind (Mark 16:15). This is necessary in order for man to be saved (Romans 1:16). The gospel must also be preached to encourage Christians to continue pressing on to the goal (Philippians 3:14). We must continue to proclaim the gospel regardless of the visible results (or lack thereof). We will be held accountable for how we have carried out this work.

Many have apparently lost faith in the preaching of the gospel. They neglect it for other methods that they deem to be more effective in accomplishing these purposes. However, we cannot improve upon God’s way. Let us be content to preach and teach the gospel in the way He has instructed us to do so.


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