Sounding Forth the Word

Tin can phone

The local church is God’s “missionary society” – the organization through which we work to spread the gospel. Though man has concocted many different schemes and systems since the time when Jesus established His church, the Lord’s design is for His message to be proclaimed through the work of individuals and local churches. Paul mentioned the church in Thessalonica as an example of how this simple arrangement can be successful.

For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything” (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

The influence of this congregation affected not just the city in which they were, but also the whole province (Macedonia) and the neighboring province (Achaia). Their reputation had even spread beyond that. While a congregation may certainly support preachers who work in distant places (2 Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:15-16), a lot of our focus should naturally be on spreading the gospel locally – starting in our home city and, as we can, move out from there.

This was what the church in Thessalonica did. They were able to reach not just that city, but also Macedonia and Achaia. We are not told exactly what they did, but we do see several things mentioned in the New Testament that individuals and congregations can do to spread the gospel in the surrounding area. Let us notice some of these.

Open Assemblies

For most congregations, this is the most consistently practiced method of sounding forth the word, yet it is one that we sometimes forget in this context. Except for circumstances in which Christians are being persecuted and must meet in hiding, our assemblies should be open so that anyone can attend. Notice what Paul told the church in Corinth about the assembly:

Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:23-25).

Paul said that “unbelievers” could be expected to be present in the regular assembly of the church. The result was that the visitor could be “convicted” and “called to account.” This was not a special event designed to provide entertainment or recreation for the unbeliever. It was to teach him the truth! Paul said this was done through prophecy and not through tongue-speaking. We do not have these kinds of miraculous gifts today (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), but there is a principle for us to remember – the unbeliever needs to hear a clear message (1 Corinthians 14:6-9) explaining to him the gospel which is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16).

Members Inviting

Open assemblies are important because from time to time you will have a visitor attend who is unfamiliar with the church. But it can also be very helpful for one to be invited by someone they know. Consider the example of Philip inviting Nathanael to Jesus:

The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see’” (John 1:43-46).

Sometimes we wait to invite someone until after they express some interest. But here, Nathanael did not express interest – only skepticism. So Philip offered a simple invitation. This can be done by anyone, even those who are uncomfortable or unprepared in their knowledge of the Scriptures to convince someone themselves of the truth. But Philip’s invitation came after he started talking about Jesus. We can try to work certain topics into our conversations – Jesus, the church, the Bible, faith, morality, etc. – that might provide opportunities to offer an invitation to the assembly or a Bible study.

Private Studies

Private studies have an advantage in that they can be geared specifically toward the individual. Philip had a one-on-one study with the Ethiopian eunuch:

Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘Well, how can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: ‘He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He does not open His mouth. In humiliation His judgment was taken away; who will relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.’ The eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:30-35).

Philip started where the eunuch was already studying and addressed his question. We might do the same when studying with others, although we should limit ourselves from feeling any obligation to address “foolish and ignorant speculations” (2 Timothy 2:23). But regardless of the starting point, the primary goal is Christ. So Philip “preached Jesus to him.” “Knowing the fear of the Lord,” we want to lead others to salvation, not just satisfy their curiosity (2 Corinthians 5:11).

Public Teaching

Private one-on-one studies can be effective, but public teaching can have a much broader reach. Though our assemblies are open to visitors, there are times when other meetings or lectures are helpful in spreading the truth. Notice what Paul did in Ephesus:

And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:8-10).

In Ephesus, two years of public teaching resulted in “all who lived in Asia” hearing the gospel message. Private studies can be flexible as to the time and place. Public studies or lectures do not have the same flexibility, but can be very effective if you have two things – a location that is open and allows the truth to be taught freely and regular meeting times so people can know when to come and can plan to attend. Paul had both of these as he conducted his daily lectures in the school of Tyrannus. We do not necessarily have to do something daily; but we can have public discussions or lessons weekly, monthly, one week out of the year (such as a gospel meeting), etc.

There is an advantage to this over the regular assemblies of the church. While both have the truth being proclaimed publicly to any who will come, there are many people today in other religions and denominations that we are trying to reach. These people will often have other religious obligations during our regular meeting times. Having additional assemblies, lectures, or studies provides an opportunity for these individuals to hear the truth when they might otherwise ignore the invitation.

Seed Planting

In the parable of the sower, Jesus described the word of God as a seed (Luke 8:11). Everything that has been discussed in this article has one thing in common – planting this seed in the hearts of others. Paul described this in writing to the church in Corinth: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Let us use the opportunities and resources we have as individuals and congregations to sound forth the word of the Lord to all those we can reach.


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