"How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things."
Previous articles by this writer in Watchman Magazine appearing under the broad heading of "Attitudes Toward Preaching" have identified problematic areas which hinder the spread of the gospel. When men who preach have bad attitudes, those mind-sets invariably interfere with the free dissemination of truth. The "earthen vessels" (2 Cor. 4:7) which carry the precious message of the cross can certainly detract from its message. Whether accidental or intentional, human weaknesses mask the beauty of the story of Jesus. It should be the goal of every minister of the gospel to "hide behind the cross of Christ" and "evangel" (proclaim) Jesus and not himself.
In the rhetoric which often surrounds the work of gospel preaching, we sometimes lose sight of the significance of what we do. God did not entrust the gospel to angels, to supernatural beings, to higher life forms without foibles and feet of clay. Indeed, he entrusted the gospel to men. As an objective fact, this is rather astounding. The message of salvation is in feeble human hands! While realizing that the truth of the gospel is an inspired message and that God's promise assures us that "my words shall by no means pass away" (Mt. 24:35), we yet must realize that the "go" of the gospel is man's responsibility. This knowledge is at once both humbling and gratifying.
Among the gifts which Jesus gave when he ascended on high (Eph. 4:7-11) was that of "evangelists, pastors and teachers." The companion gifts of "apostles and prophets" were singular works of the first century, restricted to those of that "office" (Acts 1:20) and their fulfilled work continues with us today in the body of revealed truth (2 Tim. 3:16-17). However, the work of evangelism (whether by evangelists, pastors or teachers) continues in every age. Paul's instruction to Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5) includes this advice: "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2:2) This implies the need for "faithful men" in succeeding generations beyond that of the apostles to evangelize.
The evangelist (Gk: euangelistes) is "lit, a messenger of good (eu, well, angelos, a messenger), denotes a preacher of the gospel, Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11 which makes clear the distinctiveness of the function in the churches, 2 Tim. 4:5" (Vines, p. 44). Though some have attempted to make an arbitrary distinction between "preaching" and "teaching" (gospel and doctrine) as the means of "committing these to faithful men," the Bible makes no distinction between the functions of preaching and teaching. Jewish leaders threatened the apostles and "commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18). Unmoved by these threats, the apostles continue to "preach" the doctrine of Christ and "teach" the good news to the lost.
Every generation needs men committed to telling the story of the cross to those lost in sin. It is a singular honor to preach "publicly and from house to house" (Acts 20:20). No greater need exists, no greater challenge is before us, no greater fulfillment awaits than that of being a simple preacher of the gospel. Only those who fail to appreciate the honor of the work insist on adding titles of prestige and hierarchy: reverend, doctor, Ph. D. Let us never be ashamed of being simply a preacher. If one is a preacher of the gospel, the reflective honor of the Master is sufficient to the laborer.
The text of this article (quoted at the start) is Rom. 10:15: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel, who publish glad tidings of good things." It should be understood that Paul was recalling a passage from Isaiah 52:7-8 which prophesied the work of evangelism and is so applied in Romans 10. The "watchman" that publishes the good tidings, the "voice" that proclaims salvation is the evangelist of the gospel. "For 'whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.' How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (vs. 13-14). The gospel of Christ is a "sent" message (v. 15), having its origin with God and commissioned to the world. To fulfill its purpose the "sent" message must reach those to whom it is sent, the lost. But "How shall they hear without a preacher?" "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (v. 17). Clearly, both Isaiah and Paul (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) taught that God expected those who preach to be "watchmen" and "evangelists" in warning that souls are in danger and how they may be saved. The criticism that some have raised about Watchman Magazine being an abuse of terminology restricted to the prophetic office is unjustified. Romans 10 and Isaiah 52 specifically include evangelists as among those who are watchmen.
There is little mystery in the use of "feet" as the beautiful part of those servants who preach. While feet are not considered body parts of physical beauty, feet are the instruments of travel and it is God's intent that evangelists "go" with the message. This does not necessitate a circuit riding, non-located preacher as some have mistakenly insisted. The ancient "town crier" who "cried out" the news wanted to reach as many people as possible whether in one locality or in many. Paul traveled on three journeys which covered many miles and many cities, but he also remained in Ephesus for over three years. In each instance, whether located or on the move, he evangelized.
Please note that God chose lowly feet as the proper analogy for evangelists. He did not select the brain (human wisdom), hands, (ingenuity), tongue (oratory), or physical beauty, but feet. Surely, the message is clear. The man must not obscure the message! Herein lies the difference between human and divine wisdom. The gospel elevates God through Christ; philosophy elevates the philosopher. The Holy Spirit tells us of the cross as central to salvation and the messenger is incidental. Though Paul's life is described in bold relief as an apostle chosen out of due season, Paul himself realized that he must "count all things loss" for Christ. "Indeed, I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:7-8). Paul was willing to be a "foot" soldier for Jesus Christ.
It seems that in the heat of controversy, we often forget the purpose of preaching. When some try to bend the law of God to include in our fellowship the guilty fornicator who remarries, opposition breaks out (as it should). But often, lost in the shuffle is the soul that is living in adultery. That person seems to be insignificant as compared with our battle, which takes on a life of its own. Because of the error that some teach, the guilty are given false hope. Fellowship is extended by some and denied by others. In the ensuing confusion, the sinner is unable to comprehend the clear message of Jesus (Mt. 5; 19) and preaching is defeated. The salvation that might be theirs is obscured by the babel of conflicting voices. Surely, God intends truth to be spoken in a unified voice (Jn. 17:20-21). The feet of preachers are beautiful only when they walk in the right direction, deliver a single message and encourage faithfulness to God.
There is no room for jealousy and infighting among those who preach the gospel. It is possible for us to forget that the world is still lost and to spend our time carping and criticizing the efforts of fellow preachers. We can see how wrong the apostles were when they argued among themselves as to who should be "the greatest." By now (nearly 2000 years later) we should have learned that "he who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven will be the servant of all" (Mk. 9:34). There is room in the kingdom of God for different styles of preaching, different methods that fit different size "feet." I am afraid that our problem is not with big feet but with big heads: egotism.
If error is being taught, this should be exposed, even (perhaps especially) among preachers. It is not a sign of jealousy to question one who teaches false doctrine. Denominational preachers are not gospel preachers and should be marked as the false teachers they are. But gospel preachers who become a minion of Satan through espousing error should not be allowed to parade under false pretenses. One is a gospel preacher because he preaches the gospel. When he begins to teach error, he ceases to be a gospel preacher. Our generation has its share of those who fly the false banner of being a gospel preacher when they preach anything but the truth. When exposed, they claim "misrepresentation," "jealousy," "lack of integrity," or make a personal attack on those who expose them. But let us not be misled by such charges. It is not wrong or sinful to expose imposters, compromisers, or pseudo-preachers. Such betray the gospel message and the Master who gave it. Such men are not worthy of wearing the name of "evangelist."
While issuing a disclaimer against human pride, let me speak of the honor of being a preacher. The office (work) of evangelist is a singular and esteemed place. True, his glory is reflective of the high and holy message that is preached and not inherent within the person himself. But a gospel preacher is a person of importance. His work is significant. He is God's messenger to the lost with the words of salvation. He can affect the eternal destiny of those who hear him speak. His words can point to heaven and lead one away from the punishment of hell. As a companion to other preachers, he is in the company of those who are in the forefront of the battle against the kingdom of darkness (Col. 1:13). He is a friend and upholder to other workers in the kingdom, those who are elders, teachers and faithful Christians.
A gospel preacher has a "ministry" (2 Tim. 4:2, 5) though he is not God's only minister. There are works peculiar to his ministry that are not true of others in the church. He should give himself wholly to his ministry (1 Tim. 4:15). God has decreed that "the laborer is worthy of his hire" (Lk. 10:7) and that those who "preach the gospel should live of it" (1 Cor. 9;14) Though some will abuse this support from the church, no man has ever become wealthy by preaching. He must be willing to preach even when financial support is absent, otherwise he is a hireling (Jn. 10:12-13) and not worthy of his calling.
The ministry of preaching, by its essence, revolves around the word of God. Paul's instruction to Timothy (2 letters) and Titus are the "job description" of a preacher. He is to be at home in the scriptures, read them, meditate on them, then teach them. "Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine" (1 Tim. 4:13). His obligation for what he preaches is to God and not to the church. "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2). While some brethren think they can dictate what a preacher is to preach because they pay his salary, they need to learn that they can decide whether or not to support a man but they have no right to determine his message. This is already laid out by the Holy Spirit and the hireling can be told what to preach but not a gospel preacher. (This relationship between the supporting church and the supported preacher can be abused in both directions. A church might try to control what is preached. A preacher might take advantage of brethren's funds. But abuses do not negate the proper role of either churches or preachers. A proper balance exists when brethren are willing to support a man to preach the gospel and he is faithful to the Lord.)
A preacher must speak the gospel with authority, not asking permission for his message. "These things command and teach" (1 Tim. 4:11). There is no conflict between an eldership and a gospel preacher. Peter was at the same time an elder, an apostle and a preacher. Thus, an eldership does not dictate the preacher's message any more than the whole church. A good relationship between an eldership and a preacher exists when those who "shepherd the flock" (Acts 20:28) have the same interests in the spiritual welfare of the members as does the evangelist. A preacher does not violate the authority of elders when he speaks authoritatively about the gospel. In fact, the work of preachers and elders complement and support the work of one another. Peter was able to be both a preacher and an elder because of the close affinity of the work of each, not in spite of it.
A preacher must be committed to his work because there are times that try one's soul. Preachers have enemies within the church as without. Some people see the preacher as fair game for an outlet of their sour disposition. Others resent the truth and will try to destroy those who teach it. Some will mistreat the family of preachers, knowing it will hurt the preacher. The ill treatment towards prophets recorded in the scriptures is still afforded preachers. Not many have been killed (as Stephen was) but "dirty tricks" is not limited to politics in our time. Preachers have been fired without notice, hounded personally, derided even while in the pulpit and humiliated without mercy. However uncalled for this kind of treatment is, a preacher must be prepared to deal with it. Thankfully, such malcontents are in the minority and good people more than make up for the bad times, but persecution is a fact of life and must be considered as one of the tests for his spirit.
During the difficult times, a preacher might question, "What am I doing here?" When money is scarce, when your family is under attack, when truth is "out of season," and when a brother is making life torturous, a preacher might think of secular work as a welcome relief. But let me tell you what keeps a preacher in the work.
A preacher continues in his work of ministry because he has made a commitment to God that is not true only when the going is easy. A preacher continues because of his love for truth...for the satisfaction that comes when the opportunity to preach is presented...for the joy of seeing lost souls obey the gospel...for the gratification of watching a babe in Christ develop into maturity...for the association with fellow Christians in the local church and in other areas where he has opportunity to preach...for a handshake and an occasional appreciation expressed by the brethren...for the sheer joy of preaching...for the spiritual life that is required...for the time it permits to study the scriptures...for being part of a ministry that permits me to be a fellow-worker with Paul, Peter, Timothy, Titus, Apollos, and thousands of unnamed preachers known only to God...for the opportunity to "contend" for the faith (Jude 3) against those who abuse it...for the honor of being yoked together with Christ in a fight against Satan. There are thousands of little reasons why one would be a preacher, daily reminders of a ministry that is a life-long calling.
How sad to remember the words of a young man at college who, unable to select a major for his education or to find an occupation that suited him, finally said, "Well, if I can't do anything else, I guess I can always preach." What woeful ignorance! That young man, as well as too many others, think of preaching as a cushy, 3-hour a week job that brings prestige simply by being in a pulpit. One might ask Stephen what he thought about the prestige of preaching and how cushy the bed of rocks it brought to him.
"How beautiful are the feet" as it relates to preachers is an apt description. It has a singular honor attached to it, but only among those who are willing to sacrifice a life of self and become a "fool for God." There will be little honor in this life for those willing to wear out their shoes and blister their feet as they go, preaching the word. If that is too great a sacrifice, you would not make a faithful preacher anyway.
The next time you look in a mirror and arrange your hair, etc., trying to enhance what little physical beauty you have, sit down and look at your feet. No one brags on these "less comely" parts of the body (1 Cor. 12:21-24). But God chose this exact analogy to describe gospel preaching in order to eliminate human pride and philosophy from the consideration of those who would preach (1 Cor. 28-29).
The next time you think of preachers and preaching, think of feet. It will do us all good to remember what God thinks of when he thinks about the work of preaching.
Email Tom Roberts
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