|Volume 24 Number 1 January 2022
Sometimes, because they have products or services to market, businesses have sales meetings to pep up the sales force. Some of these sales meetings may resemble high school sports pep rallies. Companies insist that their salespeople have an emotional commitment to promoting their products or services. Some of the most productive salespeople maintain a high degree of company loyalty and are convinced that their company’s products or services are uniquely superior to all competitor’s products or services.
Often, salespersons have quotas or goals that they must achieve regularly. Those quotas or goals are set just beyond salespeople’s grasp – requiring them to stretch and reach for the objectives. The more often a salesperson or sales team achieves its quotas or goals, the more useful that salesperson or sales team is to the company.
Many times, salespersons are motivated by incentives or rewards. Cold, hard cash – money – is an ever-popular favorite! Sometimes vacations to exotic locations entice salespersons to reach or to exceed their quotas (e.g., “Hawaii or Bust!”). Of course, there is always the negative incentive of being fired for either poor personal performance or for being a poor team player.
Are you beginning to see some similarity between being proficient salespeople and being fruitful children of God – Christians? The parallel between a salesforce and evangelistic Christians should be apparent. References to emotional commitment, loyalty, a superior product, goals, regularly, team, fired, poor personal performance and poor team player easily relate to the exercise of one’s Christianity.
God is an equal opportunity employer. Every Christian is God’s salesperson. The whole world is the market. God has an incomparable product – the Gospel of Christ. God has set quotas or goals for His sales force. God’s positive incentive for being the best salesperson we can be is an exotic vacation from planet earth – to Heaven forever. God’s negative incentive for being the best salesperson we can be is to be fired – in a devil’s Hell for eternity.
Whereas in the secular world, numbers or quantity may be the overpowering drive, the Lord’s sales force must also concern itself with quality (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Quality – conviction and conversion – supersedes quantity or numbers. (Unfortunately, often the church merely judges its success based on numbers; Christians often ask a short-term missionary upon his return home, “How many people did you baptize?”) Whereas some companies may be little concerned with ethics, of course, God requires His salespersons to conduct themselves ethically always and certainly respecting the conversion of souls, too. With the Lord, numbers are important, but numbers alone are not the driving force for the conversion of the lost.
Examples and instructions for taking God’s Word to the world appear in both testaments of the Bible. God has always required His people to take His Word to the world, even when His servants sometimes did not want to go. The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel used the illustration of watchmen in a tower overlooking a walled city and its surroundings to teach personal responsibility toward others. His message is so important, we simply have to allot space here for it.
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 3:17-21 NKJV; cf., 33:1-9)
No other words could more emphatically reinforce personal obligation to convey God’s Word to others. Likewise in the New Testament, the half-brother of Jesus, James, taught fellow Christians to restore wayward church members (5:19-20).
Sometimes these watchmen heralded news of peace (Isaiah 52:7-8; 62:6; cf. Romans 10:13-18). However, some watchmen were derelict in their duties; “His watchmen are blind, They are all ignorant; They are all dumb dogs, They cannot bark; Sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber” (Isaiah 56:10). What a horrific characterization of God’s people, and hopefully God doesn’t look at you and me that way. Unfortunately, some people will not respond to God’s watchmen; “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen’” (Jeremiah 6:16-17). In addition, sometimes God’s messengers are delinquent, and Jonah is probably the most famous derelict prophet of God, one who refused to take the Word of God to the lost (Jonah 1-4).
Especially in New Testament times, God’s people often eagerly and boldly proclaimed God’s Word, despite frequent perils. Brethren in Thessalonica went beyond their own community to spread the Gospel of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8). Imagine the delightful surprise of the apostle Paul when he was interrupted by fellow Christians who exclaimed, “Thessalonian Christians were here before you and introduced us to the Gospel.”
Though scattered from Jerusalem by severe persecution, early Christians told people everywhere they went about the Gospel of Christ (Acts 8:4). Do we demonstrate in our lives and does the Gospel roll off our tongues everywhere we happen to go today? Perhaps, we can learn a valuable lesson from and imitate first century Christians, even if we are fortunate not to be scattered by persecution because of our faith. No greater conviction and no lesser regard for personal safety could be cited than the example of John the Baptist when proclaiming the Word of God (Matthew 14:3-12). Though penned much later, John the Baptist lived and died by the exhortation of Revelation 2:10, which reads, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
The first century church so widely spread the Gospel message that Christians were accused of turning the world upside down with it (Acts 17:6). Oh, that you and I would turn the world upside down with the Gospel – to saturate communities near and far with Gospel opportunity. The apostles of Christ refused to stop teaching and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:18-21; 5:29). Stephen became the first Christian martyr for boldly and relentlessly preaching the Gospel (Acts 7:54-60). The apostle Paul suffered extensively while proclaiming the Gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-28; Acts 9-28).
Today, we need realistic individual and congregational goals toward which to strive in earnest. Jesus Christ firmly established evangelization of the whole world as the goal of the church and the Christians who comprise it (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8). Likewise, the apostle Paul defined the work of Gospel preachers or evangelists (2 Timothy 4:2, 5). However, evangelization of the world is not limited to the duties of preachers, but it is also the responsibility of every child of God (1 Peter 3:15; John 15:1-8; Titus 2:14).
Evangelism is a primary characteristic of the New Testament church. Without evangelism, the church in its local sense will cease to exist (Revelation 2:1-7; 3:14-22), and that is happening at an alarming rate. Statistically, the church of our Lord will cease to exist in the local sense in a matter of a few decades in western civilization, including the USA.
Christians are capable of telling the world about the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:14; Colossians 1:23). Congregations must saturate their respective communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Every affordable method that promises favorable results needs to be used to help familiarize a congregation’s local populace with the Gospel and with the church Jesus Christ built. This may take the form of Gospel meetings, vacation Bible schools, Bible Preschools and other activities to which the public is invited. When possible, public media such as radio, TV and Internet platforms can help. Massive distribution of Gospel literature in any community contributes to spreading the Gospel. The local church must saturate its neighborhood with the Gospel through various opportunities.
Individual Christian goals will contribute immeasurably to the success of the congregational goal. First, Christians must attend all the appointed assemblies and classes they can, for the world observes whether we have enough conviction to match the claims we mouth. Second, each child of God must always practice his or her Christianity carefully and faithfully because the world is looking for hypocrisy in us. Third, each Christian must take personal responsibility for encouraging absent and delinquent church members to attend services regularly. Fourth, each child of God must accept personal responsibility for informing non-Christians (e.g., family members, friends, fellow students, coworkers, neighbors) about the Gospel and the true church of the Bible. Fifth, individual Christians and collectively as congregations, the Lord’s church must take seriously and personally the Christ-given charge to take the Gospel to the world. If Christians don’t take Christianity seriously enough to propagate it near and far – who will?
The local congregation has the responsibility to evangelize its own community, turning it upside down with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as much as a lighthouse that fails to warn ships of treacherous rocks is useless, a congregation that fails to evangelize its community is powerless, too. The Gospel of Christ and only the Gospel of Christ is powerful enough to save souls (Romans 1:16). Failure to obey the Gospel is eternally tragic, whereas obeying the Gospel makes one a child of God (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Romans 6:17; Acts 2:38; 8:22).
Brethren, you and I must accept the responsibility for evangelizing the lost. Elders and churches need to set reasonable goals to evangelize the local community, rather than limiting financial participation and evangelistic efforts to foreign fields. Don’t neglect precious souls abroad, but neither neglect souls equally precious at home. Some of the Christian hymns that promote evangelistic zeal are “The Banner of the Cross”; “Onward Christian Soldiers”; “Soldiers of Christ Arise”; “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus”; “To Christ Be True”; “Stepping in the Light”; “I Want to be a Worker for the Lord”; “To the Work”; “There’s a Great Day Coming” and “Here We Are But Straying Pilgrims.” If only these spiritual songs and others like them were sung preceding the Sunday morning sermon, do you suppose that the congregation would anticipate a lesson about personal evangelism? If hymns such as these were led frequently, do you think that the congregation could be reminded often of the need to be evangelistically minded – as a local church with their families and acquaintances in mind, as well as mindful of people they will never meet overseas? Brethren, let’s accept the Christ-given responsibility to evangelize the lost – far and near.
The Way to a Man’s Heart
Rodney Nulph, Associate Editor
I am sure most have heard the old saying, “A way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” This is usually repeated in the context of the method in which a woman can attract a man. In many cases, this saying may be true physically speaking. However, Jesus spoke about the true way to a man’s spiritual heart and that is through his ears. Matthew 13 records this truth in a convincing way. The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15) helps us to understand the importance of hearing and shows what and how we hear affects our spiritual make-up. The Parable of the Sower was so named by Jesus Himself (Matthew 13:18) and is one of two parables that Jesus interpreted for us (the other was the Parable of the Tares, Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43). What can we learn from the Parable of the Sower?
The seed is clearly the Word of God (Luke 8:11). “Seed” is often used to describe the Word of God on many occasions (1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 3:9; 1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Why is this comparison used? Firstly, seed is alive and has great potential, just like God’s Word. God’s Word is living (1 Peter 1:23; Hebrew 4:12), is powerful (Romans 1:16) and produces fruit. It wins souls to Christ (Romans 1:13), produces the fruit of holiness for those who apply it (Romans 6:22), produces the fruit of Christian character (Galatians 5:22-23) and produces the fruit of good works (Colossians 1:10). Like seed, the Word of God must be planted in the right heart, cultivated, nurtured and protected in order to produce what God expects. One thing is certain, though; God’s Word always does what He intends (Isaiah 55:10-11).
A sower, one who sows the Word of God, is a partner with God. The one who sows is not the one who causes the seed to grow and increase (1 Corinthians 3:6), but he is an aid, a partner, in the process (John 4:35-38). We are partners with the greatest One ever known (1 Corinthians 3:9). When we sow Christ’s Seed, we are joint heirs together with Him (Romans 8:17). A sower is also patient. “Behold the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains” (James 5:7 NASB). We must not get ahead of the process and attempt to harvest too quickly. “…First the blade, then the ear, after that, the full corn in the ear” (Mark 4:28b). Sadly, some sow everything but the Word of God. Some sow to the flesh (Galatians 6:7-8), while others sow discord (Proverbs 6:19). However, the faithful understand the mission clearly; sow the Seed!
The soils in this wonderful parable represent the human heart. In this teaching, Jesus showed the four types of hearts in which the Seed is sown. There is the surface soil, “…some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up” (Matthew 13:4b; 19). Foot paths were common in Palestine when Jesus said these words. This “wayside” soil did not permit the seed to ever germinate. This is reminiscent of those who hear the Word of God but do not understand it. For someone to give mental ascent to the Word is vastly different from understanding that Truth. Until the fallow ground of a person’s heart is cultivated, seeking the Lord will never happen (cf. Hosea 10:12). There is the stony soil, “Some fell upon the stony places…” (Matthew 13:5a; 20-21). The soil in and around Palestine was often undergirded by a thick layer of limestone. The soil on top was not deep enough to really support the “root” system of a seed once it started to grow. Without a deep and abiding root system, a germinated seed will quickly perish. The stony soil is seen in the person who quickly obeys the Gospel, but his or her faith never becomes rooted and grounded. This is often more of a purely “emotional” obedience rather than a deep and abiding conviction in the truth of God’s message. Sadly, it sometimes takes very little to stop the growth of this type of heart.
There is the stuffed-out soil. “And some fell among thorns and the thorns sprung up and choked them” (Matthew 13:7; 22). The amazing thing about thorns is that they do not really need to be planted and tended for them to flourish. Those who have garden experience know this truth all too well. Weeds and thorns need almost nothing to grow and choke out our choice plants. This heart is the one who obeys the Gospel, but then as the cares and obligations of this world take root, the Seed, which is God’s Word, has little room to mature. Quite possibly this is the most popular soil in the church today. It is not that these hearts are not sincere, but it is just that they are too busy, too tired and too distracted to really serve the Lord as they should. Yet, thankfully, there is the superior soil; “But other fell among good ground, and brought forth fruit…” (Matthew 13:8; 23). This heart receives the Word (Mark 4:20) (unlike the surface soil), understands the Word (Matthew 13:23), (unlike the stony soil) and holds fast to that which he or she heard (Luke 8:15) (unlike the stuffed-out soil). These characteristics all culminate into fruitfulness!
The lessons in the Parable of the Sower are many. A couple take-aways for us to remember are: (1) Satan knows the power and the potential of God’s Word and will attempt to snatch that Word out of the human heart any opportunity he has to do so. (2) Sowers must understand that not everyone who hears the Word of God will respond as we hope. (3) Sobriety in hearing is essential to all of us. The way to a man’s heart is truly through his ears; “Take care then how you hear…” (Luke 8:18a).