Greetings to you!
We are finishing our study of Luke 17:11-19 this week. We saw our Lord’s mercy and cleansing last week, and now we will focus on the worthiness of our Lord to receive sincere worship and genuine faith. Praise His Name!
The Lord is also worthy of His gospel being preached faithfully with integrity, clarity, and boldness. We need to be aware of subtle ways that we can compromise the gospel.
I have been looking back through an incredibly insightful book that I read years ago. The book is called, The Gravedigger File*, written by Os Guinness. It was first published in 1983. Os Guinness is exposing subtle challenges (and some less than subtle) to genuine Christian discipleship and especially the Western Church as a whole. The book is written as if it contains secret papers presenting “a sinister design to sabotage Western Christianity,” a plot titled, “Operation Gravedigger.” What Os Guinness presented in 1983 still has relevance today.
There are way too many important aspects of the book to discuss here. But, in the light of this book I want to share a word of encouragement and caution with you. One of Guinness’s concerns is the potential for the Western Church to be sleepwalking in the midst of forces that can compromise its genuine spiritual life. (And as I view it, this potential compromise that is true for the faith and life of the Western Church is true for the clarity of the gospel message that is to be preached as well.)
For example, and this is just one simple example, Guinness points out the potential for a consumer culture to influence the church’s mission and message. He points out that the media in America is free (i.e., it is not state-run), but he writes “almost anything can be said on commercial T.V., but only if someone can afford to say it and if they can say it profitably” (p. 137). In short, T.V. programming and most media costs money, and is often funded by sponsors who must view their investment as profitable. If what is being shown on T.V. (or other media) does not make money or is not viewed as profitable, it will not be supported very long. Right?!
What about preachers and teachers of God’s Word?? We need to avoid “at all costs” being dictated to by a consumer culture that is willing only to support certain Biblical messages, but not others. People will certainly want to hear that God loves them. That is an important truth. But, people may not want to hear other Biblical truths, revealing their own sinfulness, the wrath and judgment of God, and the call for true repentance, faith, and discipleship.
The church is not in the business of selling a message for money! Preachers have been rejected, dismissed from pastorates, harmed, and of course martyred for the sake of Christ and the Word of God. The more subtle temptation preachers face is just to say what people want to hear, adopting almost a “preaching for money” mentality. John the Baptist is a great example of someone not fitting that “preacher for hire” description; remember what happened to him!
On the other hand, we do not have the right or the freedom to be personally and needlessly offensive. Indeed we must always proclaim and teach the truth with love. We are to love people (friends and enemies), and seek to show compassion in every aspect of our ministry. But, the message of the cross, the gospel and the truths of God’s Word are what they are. We don’t have a license to change what God has called us to communicate, nor should we ever want to do so.
God’s Word is the saving and sanctifying Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can expect, though, that as we sow the seed of the Word, there will be different kinds of soils receiving that Word. Also, there will be different reactions to God’s Word, and different attitudes towards the preacher or teacher. There is nothing wrong with people supporting ministry financially because they value the ministry of the Word and the church. But, we need to avoid a consumer mentality that results in changing, adjusting, and even diluting the message so as to get a better response and even potentially more money. Very few preachers would ever admit that money (or simply numbers) influence what they preach, but let God examine our hearts.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “we have renounced shameful hidden things, not walking in deceit or distorting God’s message, but in God’s sight we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience by an open display of the truth….. For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves because of Jesus” (2 Corinthians4:2, 5 HCSB).
Paul is declaring that he presented his message with integrity and clarity. He was not at liberty to distort the truth, his job was to clearly expose the truth of God regardless of response. He recognized that some would not receive the message, but he was not to change or compromise the message he was called to preach. And ultimately that message was “Jesus Christ as Lord.”
Os Guinness breaks down issues such as secularization, privatization, pluralization, confusion of thinking and so much more. An important thrust in the book is that these things (in our culture and society) have happened already and they are happening. They are not ideas to refute, they are processes that are taking place.
Our need is to be aware of what is happening, and to seek to thinking Biblically about these cultural realities. Then, of course, we are to seek to live Biblically, faithfully and impactfully within the context we are facing. This calls for alertness and wisdom in order to recognize the subtle and not so subtle forces in our world that might “conform us” to the world around us. Rather as we surrender to the Lord, we must seek continual transformation by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). And this will happen as we deeply read and apply the Scriptures to our lives and walk accordingly in the power of the Holy Spirit.
*London; Hodder and Stoughton: ISBN: 0 340 32469 4
This week I am providing two devotionals (Part 3 and Part 4) based on the story described in Luke 17:11-19.