In season and out of season
Paul’s admonition to Timothy needs to be remembered by gospel preachers today: ‘Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season’ (2 Timothy 4:2).
These words are reminders that even the clear, strong and consistent preaching of the gospel does not always bring ‘results’. The preacher may be tempted, therefore, to think he is responsible for the lack of response from his congregation.
At Miller Avenue Baptist Church, California, where I seek to preach the gospel, I observe unconverted people hearing sermon after sermon and yet remaining unmoved by what they have heard. They look right at me and thumb through a Bible, yet nothing seems to be going on to penetrate the thick veil of unbelief that prevents them from seeing Jesus and the cross. I am tempted to frustration.
Those who have read the book Are You Really Born Again? know the change of direction I have experienced in my own ministry. For twenty-nine years as a minister of the gospel I did not really understand conversion, and relied on ‘the sinner’s prayer’ and other unbiblical techniques to (supposedly) bring people to Christ. If I gave the unconverted an easy, man-centred means of ‘making their decision’, as I always used to in the past, they might make a ‘response’. But they would only be Christianized, not truly converted to Jesus Christ.
A few conversions
There have been a few true conversions here, brought about by God’s Spirit, which show the truth of Jesus’ statement, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him’ (John 6:44). When the Holy Spirit convicts someone of their sin, and begins to draw that person to Jesus, they often experience considerable discomfort of soul. Few adults come easily to the cross. Such a process may take many months before peace with God is found. Sadly, people often turn away because they can no longer bear to hear the gospel.
For example, one woman told me, nearly a year ago after a Bible study, that she had thought being a Christian was all about love until that night. Then she heard me say that a person had to come directly to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation. This was a movement in the right direction in her understanding, even though she had been a member of the church for five years and had given testimonies in many places. But I have seen her at church only once since then.
Can you see, from this brief description of my experience at Miller Avenue, why I have picked out Paul’s words of encouragement to Timothy? In our own church’s experience, largely, the unconverted remain unconverted. Those that are truly converted are few, and they are converted with difficulty and distress.
Not in charge
I am not in charge of this gospel preaching enterprise – God is! My job, as a pastor, is to preach Christ as the only Saviour and Lord, for the conversion of the lost and for the building up of believers. But I confess I need to heed the charge to preach the Word, regardless of people’s response, and to be ‘urgent in season and out of season’. My desire for ‘response’ and ‘numbers’ once led me in a sorry direction. Now I realise that God is working in our preaching for his own glory, and will bring salvation to the people of his choice in his own way and time. This we can count on, whether we see it or not.