What Should We Preach?

These things were preached.

They were proclaimed. ~ Mark 1:14; Luke 8:1, 9:60; Acts 4:2, 5:42, 8:5, 25, 13:5, 38, 17:3, 23, 20:27, 10:8, 15:16-19, 1 Corinthians 2:1, Colossians 1:23-28, 4:3-4; 2 TImothy 4:17; 1 John 1:1-3.

All these things are really one. (It’s obvious, isn’t it?)

This one message was shared in the context of history and prophecy fulfilled (Acts 2, 3:11-26, 4:1-21, 7). It was explained in the context of current and local beliefs (Acts 17:16-34). Before great crowds and small gatherings, kings and governors, stadiums of angry protesters and fellow prisoners in jail cells, by rivers and in synagogues and in homes, this is what was preached and what the bearers of the gospel encouraged others to preach.

In all of scripture, I am unable to find instruction, encouragement or example to preach anything but this. No sermons arguing about how bad sin is, how stupid unbelievers are, how wrong other faiths and beliefs are, how right and good we are to have figured everything out, how new binding but silent law compels the follower in Christ to perfect obedience, how to discern what is binding from what isn’t, how much our works of obedience must complete our salvation, how eschatological theology affects ecclesiology in an epistemological context, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pinhead.

I did, however, find warnings about the sanctity of the gospel:

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:2

“For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” ~ 2 Corinthians 11:4

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” ~ Galatians 1:8-9

And I found one bit of good, solid preaching philosophy:

“I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:2

So here’s my two cents’ worth on the matter. You’ve heard or read me say it before:

People who don’t know about Jesus need to.

The rest of us never tire of hearing more about Him.

The Jesus Hermeneutic

I’m adapting and expanding below a comment that I made in response to a post at Jay Guin’s insightful blog post: CENI: A Better Way – The Gospels because, on reflection, I didn’t say all that I wanted to say:

Are all of the imperatives in the New Testament to be interpreted as commands? instructions? suggestions? Which ones are which? Just the ones from Jesus? Just the ones from Paul? Peter? John?

The basic premise of conservative thought, I believe, is “We don’t know (but we don’t want to admit it), so to be safe, let’s just say that all of them are commands.” I can kind of respect that as a “safe” proposition, but the underlying assumption seems to be that God will always incinerate us with fire from above like Nadab and Abihu for any supposed infraction of unexpressed commands. I can’t buy that. That’s not consistent with the nature of the God who gave His Son as a sacrifice for our sins and is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9.

Are we really called to try to be safe sinners in the hands of an always-angry God? Or to be, at least in some measure, risk-takers with our hearts filled with His instructions (which speak of His love for us and His desire for us to have the best kind of lives)?

The old law said stone the Sabbath-breaker (Numbers 15:32-36).

Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man, not vice-versa (Mark 2:27) and He was Lord of it (v. 28). That’s not stated as law (though it certainly put Him at risk!).

To me, the question is: Do we have be on the edge of our seats in such fear of God’s wrath that we must regard every imperative, every example in New Testament scripture as (potential? binding?) command … or should we trust God and trust also in Jesus? Did He come to make it more difficult to have a relationship with God (Matthew 5:48) or to point out that no one can be perfect, so He served as our atonement to establish that relationship (Romans 3:21-26)?

I tend toward the latter – and I know that makes me a damnable heretic to a good number of my brothers and sisters in Christ – but my sense of His teaching is that we’re here to trust the Master, take some risks in order to do His will and help earn Him some results , and if we don’t do that, we are indeed in danger of being cast into the outer darkness.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

” ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” ~ Matthew 25:14-30

Please body-block me if I’m wrong about this. But isn’t Jesus, in this story, condemning the cowardly servant because he only feared and distrusted his master, leading to his very fiscally conservative – but unproductive – actions?

In fact, if there was ever a more clear story in scripture about violating God’s unexpressed expectations, isn’t this it – far beyond the story of Nadab and Abihu? I realize that this story is not expressly about gathered worship and therefore does not serve the purpose of some who would otherwise cite it to prove their point, but in this story the master never once tells the servants to invest his money. He entrusts it to them according to their ability, but never says, “Make it grow!”

Sandwiched right there between the parable of the unprepared and prepared virgins and the metaphor of the sheep and the goats, here is this convicting parable that essentially says, What do you not understand about why God has entrusted you with all the good things in your life – especially the Story of His Son, Jesus? Do you think it’s all just for YOU?

The servants who had worked for the master in the parable knew he wanted results (just look at the lazy servant’s estimation of him). And it’s the same with us; we know from Jesus’ ministry, His message, the sending of twelve and seventy(-two), the Great Commission … we know He wants results! He doesn’t have to tell us in this story – He’s emphasizing it by its conspicuous absence, just as the story of Esther emphasizes God’s care and intervention only implicitly.

I asked some questions in the first couple of paragraphs about which imperatives should be regarded as commands. This story is not an imperative. It is not strictly an example. It’s really stretching the definition to call this an inference, necessary or not. It’s a parable. It’s the way Jesus chose to teach a good part of the time, for His own reasons (Matthew 13:10-17). Yet, I consider it just as binding on us any other teaching Jesus shared. The tone of His words is teaching, instruction – though this is deep and profound and hard teaching, near the close of His mortal days and ministry in His own flesh. And so were the instructions of the Holy Spirit through Paul, Peter, John and the other writers of New Testament scripture. If we can’t see the epistles through the lens of the gospels rather than the telescope of the old law, our focus is off and our hermeneutic is fatally flawed.

God did the “law” covenant with a maturing human race. It served its purpose as tutor, instructor, guardian. At the fullness of time, we needed a new and better covenant (Hebrews 7:22; 8:6; 12:24): not a law that no one could keep, but an agreement of grace offered and accepted; a contract of debt paid in full; a perfect Example and Pattern of self-sacrifice that would tug our hearts outward toward Him and others, rather than inward and self-ward; a teaching so full of abundant life that it was spoken and lived and murdered and yet could not be kept dead.

This is the Jesus hermeneutic.

It’s seeing scripture pointing forward to, directly at, or back toward Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Savior, Redeemer, Master, Teacher.

I said a few paragraphs ago that the parable of the talents is not about gathered worship, and strictly speaking, it isn’t. But it is about worship, the life of worship (Romans 12:1) to which God calls us, and wants for us to have, and wants to use in order to work His will through us and yield a great return: more souls who know Him, more souls who love Him, more souls who will share His love and His Story.