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Preachers and their hearers

November 2005 | by Don Fortner

As Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius and his friends, ‘The Holy Ghost fell upon them which heard the word’ (Acts 10:1-48). This should not surprise us. Such a marvellous manifestation of God’s grace may be reasonably expected when men and women come to hear the Word of God with the attitude Cornelius had: ‘Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God’ (v.33).

When preachers faithfully proclaim the gospel of the grace of God — and those who hear them receive the Word of God with reverent, submissive, obedient faith — the blessing of God is likely to accompany the ministry of the Word.

In this study, I will use both Peter and Cornelius as examples, showing us what should reasonably be expected both from preachers and their hearers.

Attitude

First, what should a person’s attitude be toward those who faithfully preach the gospel? Generally, people run to one of two extremes in their attitudes toward gospel preachers.

Some hold them in contempt, despising them, ignoring them, or even opposing them — as the Judaizers in Galatia did Paul (Galatians 4:16). Others put preachers on a pedestal, as though they are to be adored and blindly followed — as Cornelius was ready to do with Peter (vv.25-26). Both these extremes are deplorable.

Those who faithfully preach the gospel of Christ are only men. Therefore, they must not be worshipped and followed blindly. But every faithful gospel preacher is God’s man. Therefore, he is not to be despised or treated with contempt.

The servant of God is to be known, loved and highly esteemed by those to whom he ministers (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). He is to be generously provided for by those who receive the benefit of his instruction (1 Corinthians 9:7-14; Galatians 5:6; 1 Timothy 5:17-18).

And believers ought also to remember their pastors in prayer, follow both their doctrine and their example, and obey the messages they deliver as God’s servants (Hebrews 13:7,17,18).

Esteem

Second, what did Cornelius and his friends expect from Peter? Cornelius had received a special revelation from God, showing him that Peter was ordained of God to be his instructor in the way of life and faith in Christ (vv.5,6,32).

Therefore, he regarded Peter as God’s ambassador. He expected to hear from Peter all that God had commanded him to declare (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Every faithful servant of God should be held in this high esteem by God’s saints (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).

God’s preachers today (pastors, elders, evangelists and missionaries) are not prophets or apostles. They do not possess prophetic or apostolic gifts. But they are God’s ambassadors to eternity-bound -sinners.

They are sent to proclaim the same message that Peter was sent to proclaim to Cornelius — justification and peace, remission and forgiveness of sins through Christ, who is Lord of all (vv.36,43; Hebrews 7:25).

They are sent to preach Jesus Christ the Lord in his substitutionary redemption, saving power and sovereign reign. You have a right to expect from every man who claims to be a gospel preacher the same thing Cornelius expected from Peter (v.33).

Fidelity

On their part, those who preach the gospel must be men of utmost fidelity to the Word of God and to the souls of men. They must keep back nothing that is profitable, but faithfully declare all the counsel of God (Acts 20:28). God’s express command is, ‘He that hath my word, let him speak it faithfully’ (Jeremiah 23:28).

Three things must characterise every gospel preacher. You should expect and require these three things of any man who ministers to your soul. The preacher must be first a man who knows the gospel (1 John 1:1-3); second, a man who preaches the gospel faithfully, regardless of cost or consequence (1 Corinthians 9:16; Ezekiel 33:7-8); and third, a man whose conduct is consistent with the gospel (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 4:12-16; 2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Expectation

On his part, what did Peter find in the group at Caesarea? Here are four things Peter found among Cornelius and his friends — which every gospel preacher might reasonably expect to find among God’s saints when he comes before them to expound the Holy Scriptures.

First, Peter found in Cornelius a man who was truly concerned for the souls of men (v.24). Cornelius knew some people who were perishing. He knew where they could hear the gospel and he put forth considerable effort, time and expense to get those people under the sound of the gospel. Surely, it is reasonable to expect all who fear God to behave in the same way and do their utmost to bring their friends along to hear.

Second, those who gathered came to the appointed place at the appointed hour. They came with reverence, as in the presence of God, expecting to hear God speak to them by his servant (v.33). They would never have heard God’s voice if they had not been there.

Like the child Samuel in the temple, they came to the house of God saying, ‘Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth’ (1 Samuel 3:9). Many do not hear from God when his servant preaches simply because they do not come to the house of God

seekinga word from God. Others professing to be Christians come irregularly, if at all. ‘Forsaking the assembling of [themselves] together’ (Hebrews 10:25) they suffer great loss.

Obedience

Third, Peter found a readiness to receive the Word of God with meekness. Not one of them arrived late (v.33). As far as they were concerned nothing was so important as hearing the gospel.

Further, they received God’s message readily (Isaiah 66:1-2). They did not try to mould that message to their way of thinking. Rather, they moulded their thoughts to the Word of God.

Fourth, the congregation at Caesarea was willingly determined to obey God. What God said, they immediately believed. What God required, they immediately gave. What God commanded, they immediately did.

They submitted to Christ as Lord of all, trusted Christ for the remission of their sins, and confessed Christ in believer’s baptism. These men and women did not merely acknowledge the truth of the Word of God. They took it as their only rule of faith and practice.

They addicted themselves to it. We must do the same, holding fast the truth of God (2 Timothy 1:8-13) and proclaiming it everywhere (Matthew 28:18-20).

Blessing

What was the result of this meeting? Peter was faithful to God, to his word, and to the souls of men. Cornelius and his friends received the Word gladly. The result was glorious! The Lord God graciously visited and poured out his Spirit upon this band of chosen sinners (vv.44-45).

Blessed are those who are privileged to hear a man like Peter faithfully preaching the gospel. And blessed is the preacher who ministers to such a congregation as Peter found in Cornelius’ house.

Wherever such preachers and such hearers are found, God the Holy Spirit is present and will manifest his presence in blessing!