“How Will They Preach Unless They Are Sent?”

Paul sent from Antioch

After telling the Romans, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13), Paul proceeded to tell them of the critical role of preaching in salvation.

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).

When Paul, the apostle who authored these words by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, needed to be saved, it was a preacher – Ananias – who was sent to tell him, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Jesus, despite appearing to Paul (then called Saul) on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6), did not grant salvation to him there, nor did He speak from heaven to tell him what was required of him. Rather, Jesus said, “Get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do” (Acts 9:6). Ananias was then sent to speak the Lord’s plan of salvation to Paul (Acts 9:10-12).

Just as preaching plays a vital role in salvation, Paul indicated that the sending of preachers is also crucial. “How will they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:15). We do not have the same direct divine involvement today as we read about in the New Testament. Ananias was instructed by Jesus to go to a specific location and speak the word to Saul (Acts 9:10-12). Earlier, Jesus specifically instructed His apostles to carry out what we call the Great Commission (Mark 16:15-16). Philip was specifically told by the Holy Spirit, “Go up and join [the] chariot” belonging to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:29). This type of direction is not given today. So what is the sending that is done today to aid in the preaching of the gospel?

As Saul and Barnabas were about to begin their first preaching journey, we read of two types of sending – the miraculously-given directive from above, and the support that allows the preacher to carry out his work of teaching the gospel.

Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them,’ Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:1-3).

First, we see that the Holy Spirit instructed the church to set apart Saul and Barnabas for a specific mission. Second, we see that the church “sent them away.” What does this mean? Did the church instruct them what to do and dictate where they would go? No, this was what the Holy Spirit had done – “the work to which I [the Holy Spirit] have called them.

So if the idea of Saul and Barnabas going out to preach originated with the Holy Spirit and not the church, in what way did the church send them?

The church in Antioch sent Saul and Barnabas by providing the monetary support necessary for them to do their work. Once the field was chosen – Cyprus, Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia (Acts 13:4-14:24) – all that was lacking for these two preachers was the financial means that would make their travels and work possible.

Notice what John said about the support of traveling preachers:

You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth” (3 John 6-8).

John said that the brethren to whom he wrote should “send [these men] on their way in a manner worthy of God.” This is the same kind of sending that the church in Antioch did with Saul and Barnabas. John said that those who engage in the work of preaching the gospel of Christ ought to be supported. This was not limited to the traveling preachers that he mentioned. Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth (Acts 18:11), but received support while he was settled there (2 Corinthians 11:8). John’s statement harmonizes with the words of Paul to the church in Corinth: “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14).

When Paul posed the question to the saints in Rome – “How will they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:15) – he did not imply that preachers are incapable of preaching without the financial support of their brethren. Through his example, Paul proved that this could be done – working to support himself in Corinth, Ephesus, and Thessalonica while he preached the gospel (Acts 18:1-4; 20:34-35; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8). This can still be done today. Preachers can continue to preach even if they must work to support themselves because financial support is not such to allow them to “get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14).

But when men who are committed to preaching the gospel must work to support themselves, how will they preach? The answer is that they will preach to the best of their abilities, making the most of the time that they have. Notice what Paul did in Corinth:

And because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:3-5).

Prior to the arrival of Silas and Timothy from Macedonia, Paul preached “every Sabbath” (Acts 18:4). After their arrival, he “began devoting himself completely to the word” (Acts 18:5). This means he no longer worked with Aquila and Priscilla making tents (Acts 18:3). How was he able to quit secular work and focus solely on preaching in Corinth? He received financial support for his work in preaching the gospel. He told the church in Corinth, “I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you” (2 Corinthians 11:8; cf. Philippians 4:15).

Those who have determined to devote their lives to the preaching of the gospel must “endure hardship” and “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5) whether they receive support or not. But “how will they preach unless they are sent?” How will they proclaim the gospel without the ability to devote themselves “completely to the word” (Acts 18:5)? They will do so, of necessity, on a limited basis as they also work to provide for themselves and their family (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10; 1 Timothy 5:8). When conditions change and support is available that allows them to leave secular work, that does not mean they will fill their time with selfish pursuits, but with “fruitful labor” (Philippians 1:22) in the cause of Christ.

John wrote, “Therefore we ought to support such men” (3 John 8). Why? It is not just to make life easier on the preacher. Even if one is fully supported, the life of a gospel preacher is one of sacrifice and hardship (2 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Timothy 2:3; 4:5). Rather, “support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth” (3 John 8). It is good for God’s people to work together in this way to proclaim the truth of His word.

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  1. Tim Haile says

    Good article. In Romans 10 Paul has reference to the “apostles” (the apostolos were those “sent”). If this were a general “preacher” passage, as suggested by denominationalists, then no preacher could preach until and unless he was “sent” to so. It is a mistake to apply Romans 10:15 today, for it involved the divine interposition of the miracle age.

  2. Tim Haile says

    Correction… sent to DO so…

  3. Robert Wilson says

    Thanks for writing this great article. It’s good for people to understand the dedication that it takes to devote oneself to the preaching of the gospel, and why it is important to support their efforts.