"...Everywhere Preaching The Word."
Nearly all Christians with any degree of maturity are familiar with the statement of Acts 8:4"Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word." We need to see that statement in its contextual setting. The death of Stephen as a martyr to the Lords cause closes the seventh chapter of Acts. Chapter eight begins with the statement "And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles."
As one thinks about this situation it would be natural to expect Christians to be quite reluctant to expose themselves to continued persecution because of further evangelistic activities. But we see fervent activity on the part of the persecuted saints (not just the apostles and preachers) to tell the story of the salvation God had provided for men. It is true that early activity was limited to an effort to reach only the Jews, but that effort was intense. "Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only" (Acts 11:19). After Peters experience with Cornelius, recorded in Acts 10:1-11:18, we find great results among the Gentiles. "And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord" (Acts 11:20-21). As we follow the limited history of some of the activities of the early church in the book of Acts we must be impressed with the fervor of the early church.. the whole church in its work to preach the gospel to the lost.
Contrasting Then And Now
The entire church seemed to be caught up in this evangelistic activity. Even in places where the efforts appeared to be largely insignificant we see evidence of evangelistic fervor by those who believed. When we read Acts sixteen we tend to discount the results of the work of Paul and his company in Phiippionly the household of Lydia and the household of the Jailer are specified as being responsive to the gospel message. But notice the letter to the church in Philippi addressed to saints, bishops, and deacons (Phil. 1.1). Granted this was written years later, but remember the statement of Phil. 4:15-16: "Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity." In its earliest existence this church was involved in supporting evangelism in a financial way.
In contrast, today we see an altogether different picture. After a church has grown to a significant number (it usually has to be near one hundred), has spent many thousands of dollars on a building, furnishings, air conditioning, carpeting, parking facilities (paved, of course), etc., they may begin to listen to appeals from godly men who want to go preach to the lost. But even then, some churches will not seriously consider appeals until they have built up a large fund in the treasury for the proverbial "rainy day." Churches have been known to treasure up tens of thousands of dollars with no plans to use it for evangelism, but rather investing it in CDs and the like! Others will press to use every spare dollar to "pay out the building loan" instead of sending to an evangelist. Brethren, the Lord wants us to preach the gospel to the lost. We need desperately to be motivated to work at the task as though we really meant to get the job done now!!
Thessalonica And Berea
Leaving Philippi, Paul next stopped at Thessalonica. It is easy to be misled into thinking the work in Thessalonica was a failure. Sure, we read that "some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few" (Acts 17:4), but our minds seem to get preoccupied with the statement about the Bereans in Acts 17:11. "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." One would think this church in Berea will be a marvelous success story in the future with such a commendable beginning, and the picture at Thessalonica will be one of discouragement and despair. But it is not so. We search the pages of the New Testament in vain for further record of the activity of a church in Berea.
In contrast, we have two letters addressed to the church in Thessalonica. Note Pauls language as he addresses them: "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. . ." (1 Thess. 1:2-3). And again, "And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord.., so that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia... but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing." (1 Thess. 1:6-8) In some way these brethren had sounded out the word of the Lord, not just locally, but in other areas where Paul was traveling. In so doing they were "followers of us, and of the Lord" Paul said. They left idolatry to "serve the living and true God." The word "followers" means to imitate (see ASV) and the original is the source of our word "mimic". The word "serve" is from the word that indicates the action of a bondservant, or slave. This is a positive declaration from inspiration that saints and churches who actively involve themselves in such evangelistic zeal are pleasing to the Lord. What evidence offers even the most speculative notion that saints and churches doing otherwise are acceptable? It is extremely unlikely the persecuting Jews that traveled to Berea from Thessalonica to hinder the work of Paul (see Acts 17:13) would offer no resistance to the brethren in Thessalonica as they told the story of Jesus to a lost world. Serving the Lord requires evangelism regardless of whether it can be done with ease and without sacrifice.
Reasons For Present Condition
In Colossians 1:6 and 23 Paul affirms that the gospel message was proclaimed to the world in a very few decades. From a very small beginning this was possible. Think now of the thousands and thousands of people who profess to be faithful as the Lords people; of the tremendous prosperity enjoyed by so many of them; of the unbelievable possibilities for travel and communication! But notice how little we are doing, and the extreme difficulty in getting individuals to do personal teaching or to raise funds for the support of faithful men who will go preach. Why do we not reach the lost more effectively?
I do not know all the answers, but some are rather obviousmany of us are not really trying. Individual Christians are not going "about preaching the word." We talk shop, politics, sports, vacations, family activities, etc., but we are not doing much preaching of the word, relatively speaking. Churches spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on everything imaginable for our places of worship and argue that we cannot reach the world without doing so. Examine the budgets of churches by the dozens or the hundreds, and figure the percentage that goes into "Building And Grounds" as compared with the amount spent in preaching and teaching. Then, contrast how little of that is spent to reach into others areas with gospel support. You will be amazed at how little effort we are putting forth. It is no wonder we are accomplishing so little. We borrow money by the tens of thousands for buildings, but how many churches have ever borrowed money to support a gospel effort of any kind? Have we lost sight of what is really important?
A big part of our problem is the unwillingness of so many to make any significant sacrifice for the Lords work. We are too busy to spend any meaningful time and effort as individuals and havent learned to sacrifice financially to support those who will make the effort. Often those least willing to sacrifice financially are the first to complain if air conditioning, seat comfort, parking lot, etc., are not just right. We find both time and money to do what we want to do, as individuals and as churches.
We need a host of men to begin to cry out about our complacency, to stir us up to become a mighty wave of power with God as our real strength, and to send men into every quarter of the globe. Elders must lead the flock in that direction; preachers must stir us with truth proclaimed on the subject; people in the pews must insist that it begin to happen. We must go "about preaching the word" in our own environments. We must learn to sacrifice time, effort, and money to get the job done. For many years preachers and their families were expected to make sacrifices in many ways in order to devote their lives to preaching the word. Brethren expected it, and often made it necessary by being unwilling to make sacrifices to lighten their burden. Now, I fear many preachers are not willing to make such sacrifices. So, we have a stalemate. Individual members will not give generously and preachers will not go unless supported so they can have things like their brethren. And in the meantime, the lost in the world remain lost and are destined for hell if we do not reach them. Brethren, unless we waken out of our state of unconcern about this matter, I fear for our own safety. Think about it! Pray about it! Lets do something about it!
By Ray Ferris
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