What is the gospel’s place in our Sunday services? By the term ‘gospel’ I mean evangelistic or gospel preaching.
One may ask, ‘Well, what exactly is gospel preaching?’ No doubt there are different views concerning the definition of gospel preaching, but I mean preaching seeking to tell non-Christians of their need of Christ. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that the gospel message needs to be preached in our churches much more often than it is.
If it really is ‘the power of God to salvation’, if it’s God’s means of bringing people to himself, then it must be preached often — even, dare I say it, weekly on the Lord’s Day.
Not only teaching
Now some may respond, ‘Well, you would want to emphasise the gospel, wouldn’t you? You work for an evangelistic agency. Your whole ministry is about preaching the gospel. But don’t you realize God’s people need teaching as well?’
I certainly agree, but add that the sheep need to be fed the gospel as well as being taught; not one at the expense of the other.
Three years ago I preached a series of 22 messages at our midweek meetings on Paul’s last letter, 2 Timothy. We saw how great the apostle’s concern was that God’s people be faithfully and consistently taught the Word of God.
This was something Paul addressed on other occasions too. For example, at Miletus, he called the Ephesian elders to hear him for the very last time. He had spent three years preaching and teaching God’s Word in their church. He was on his way to Jerusalem, anticipating persecution and possibly death.
This was going to be his last opportunity to pass on helpful spiritual advice to the church’s leaders, and he wasn’t going to waste it. Paul told them that, while he was in their city, he preached ‘the whole counsel of God’.
Therefore, if Christians are going to grow, they need to be fed, not only with good teaching but good gospel preaching. Of course unbelievers need to hear it, but so do believers. Here are five reasons why gospel preaching will do believers good.
First, hearing the gospel will sharpen our focus. It is the good news concerning the life, death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and absolutely central to all that we believe and are as Christians and churches.
I am sure Christians are convinced of that, but let us briefly remind ourselves why it is true. The Old Testament contains at least one prophecy making clear that the first element of Messiah’s work would be to ‘preach good news to the poor’ (Isaiah 61:1).
The first four books of the New Testament are called the Gospels. They are written accounts of the good news of salvation in Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. The word ‘gospel’ appears in the New Testament no less than 104 times.
In Mark’s Gospel the opening sentence declares: ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’. Jesus’ first public words of ministry were, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel’ (Mark 1:15).
Matthew sums up the public ministry of the Lord Jesus in similar language: ‘Now Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom’ (Matthew 4:23). Matthew 9:35 is almost identical: ‘And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom’.
At the end of the Lord’s time on earth, he commanded his people to be involved in this same work. Just before he ascended into heaven, he told the disciples: ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’ (Mark 16:15).
That is exactly what the apostles did. Acts 8:25 says, ‘So when they had testified and preached the Word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel’. There are several occasions where Luke specifically mentions that the apostles were spending their time proclaiming the gospel.
The last use of the word ‘gospel’ in Acts (chapter 20) was when Paul met the Ephesian elders in Miletus. It makes abundantly clear how important the gospel was to him and his ministry.
He reminded the Ephesian church leaders, not only about the importance of preaching the Word, but also the importance of preaching the gospel. His absolute priority was ‘to testify to the gospel of the grace of God’ (v. 24). Nothing was more important.
There may be much going on in our churches, but the gospel should be at the heart of it all, including what is preached from the pulpit on Sundays.
Is it ever right to think we can move on from the gospel? Someone once said, ‘The gospel is not just the ABC of the Christian life, it’s the A to Z of the Christian life’.
Not yet convinced? Then take a quick look at the church in the book of Romans. Paul says of the Roman church’s reputation that ‘your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world’ (1:8). What a church it must have been!
So what makes up the majority of the content of that great letter? The answer is Paul explains the gospel. And he does so in greater detail than the Bible does anywhere else. He tells the church, ‘So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome’ (1:15). If that church needed to hear the gospel, our churches certainly need to hear it as well and keep focused on it.
Secondly, hearing the gospel will humble our pride. What is the biggest problem Christians have? Someone might say, ‘I have many problems!’ Yes, and so do I!
But what is the biggest one? It’s pride. God may have dealt a huge blow to our pride when we became Christians, but it is still there. There are times when pride is given another big knock. We may not like it, but it is good for us when it happens.
In October 2012, our church spent five happy days of holiday at Cloverley Hall in Shropshire. During the free time, there were lots of games available. A lady called Mina said she wanted to play me at Scrabble.
Mina is from Philippines. She had only been in the UK four years and Tagalog was her first language. I thought the game would be very one-sided. How wrong I was! Imagine how I felt when she beat me; it dented my pride.
Our pride takes hits from time to time, but it isn’t dead yet. We know only too well it is still there and ‘lurks through the corridors of our hearts’.
We often think we are better than we are, and that we are better than others are. We often think that, although we weren’t saved by what we do, we are kept by what we do and earn favour by it. That is pride!
So anything that squashes our pride is a good thing. And what better than the message of the gospel of the grace of God — that we are saved by grace alone, from beginning to end? This is the message that we do not and cannot deserve anything from God.
Isn’t our testimony today still as it was at our conversion: the well known hymn line, ‘Nothing in my hand I bring’? We need reminding that our hands were and still are empty. We need to be pointed to the cross, so that our love, confidence, motivation and boasting will be upon that and not in ourselves.
Or, to put it another way, our confidence will be upon the One who went to that cross in our place and stayed in our place until he had fully paid our debt.
He fully atoned for all our sin, until God the Father’s anger against us had been fully poured out on him. It was all of grace. Isn’t that a message we need to hear again and again?
The water of that message douses the flames of our pride. To hear it preached directly to the unconverted will surely not pass Christians by as something no longer relevant. But it will remind Christians, better than any other message, what we were and what God has so graciously done for us in his Son Jesus Christ.
To be concluded
The author is general secretary of the Open-Air Mission