|Volume 17 Number 12 December 2015||
Gary C. Hampton
It is easy to let the urgent push out the important. Stephen R. Covey suggested that each ought to envision his funeral. Imagine there will be one speaker from family, one from friends, one from work and one from church. Try to “hear” what each speaker would say about you if your funeral was today (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon and Shuster, 1997). Honestly ask how you could live so as to eliminate those things you would not like to hear and add those you would like to hear.
Covey also suggested the most effective people begin with the end in mind. Paul expressed that very idea in Philippians 3:13-14. He focused on a single goal, heaven (1:21-24). Such living allowed him to face death with confidence (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Looking ahead to the end enabled great men and women of faith to live as wanderers in tents rather than to reside in more permanent structures. Their longed-for homeland was not on earth, but in heaven (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Joseph was able to turn aside the advances of Mrs. Potiphar and not seek vengeance on his brothers (Genesis 39:9; 50:20). Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego trusted God to deliver them. Daniel centered his attention on pleasing God and prayed in violation of the new law (Daniel 3:16-18; 6:10, 20-22).
Many other examples of faithful service could be cited (Hebrews 11). These serve to show us the power of looking at one’s own funeral before deciding what course of action to follow. If I want to be remembered as a good husband, a good father, a sacrificial servant and a diligent soul-winner on the day of my funeral, I need to start acting like one today. After all, I have an appointment with death. I just do not know when its time will arrive (Hebrews 9:27).
“And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16). Over and over again, Scripture asserts the sovereignty of God, that is, God is the ruler of all nations, of all peoples. If God is sovereign, how is He Sovereign? If He is the King of our lives and we refuse to listen to Him, are we not dethroning God? If we insist that the message preached from the pulpit be pleasing to us rather than pleasing to Him, are we not on the throne instead of God?
The apostle Paul spoke of a future time in the church at Ephesus. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, having itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
We would never openly dethrone God and reject His Word, but we might end up doing the same if we fail to discern “ear tickler” preachers and “itching ear” messages. In the name of church growth (and who does not want to grow?) messages that entertain are supposed to draw the crowds. This type of preacher might even quote Paul: “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Yet, “…being ‘all things to all people’ can be a prelude to good communication or to surprisingly self-subversion and shabby compromise” (Guiness 79). Mega-church preachers like Joel Osteen fill an arena, but who is on the throne? Not God.
Earl West made an interesting observation about the relation between preaching in the Restoration Movement and church growth.
If any pioneer preacher had been asked why he was preaching the gospel, the answer would inevitably have been, “to save souls.” …The language of modern Christians is not incorrect but the focus requires clarity. A preacher moves in with a modern congregation, and borrowing the terminology of an industrialized society, his duty is “church growth.” This is not wholly inaccurate since in New Testament times the same thing that saved a person also added him to the church. Yet the vision of building up audiences and increasing contributions swings the mind away from loving the lost and bringing them to Christ which is the nucleus of the message of good news. (West 375)
What is the solution? “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2). The way to exalt God and to enthrone Christ is to allow the Word of God to be proclaimed faithfully. As God’s Word is proclaimed, may we submit our hearts and lives to “the KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Guiness, Os. Dining with the Devil. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993.
West, Earl. “The Abuse of the Restoration,” Henderson: Freed-Hardeman University Lectures, 1998: 355-377.