Contending for the Faith

The Spirit of Elijah


It was prophesied that John the Baptist would preach and prosecute his work "in the spirit and power of Elijah." All who have ever read Elijah's debate with the prophets of Baal, or who are familiar with the fire and fervor of John, know what that means (1 Kgs. 18:17-40; Matt. 3:1-12; 14:4)! Such a spirit is much needed today in the work of the gospel (2 Cor. 10:3-5; Phil. 1:17; 2 Tim. 4:2-5). "These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority" (Titus 2:15).

The following quotation from Foy E. Wallace, Jr., in Bulwarks Of The Faith, speaks to the same effect:

Brethren, are we hearing such preaching today? Is the preaching we hear like that of the priests, prophets, and preachers of the Bible (Isa. 58:1; Ezek. 3:17-21)? "Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces" (Jer. 23:29; Cf. 5:14; Hos. 6:5)? The preaching of the prophets stung and stuck the hearts of men with its divine might (Jer. 26; Acts 2:37). Are we hearing preaching today that would make sinners tremble in fear of the righteous judgment of God (Acts 24:25)? Are the false religions and rituals of men feeling the force of the attacks of truth? They did when the apostles preached (Acts 13:44-46, 50; 19:23-26)!

No, not all preaching and teaching must be controversial. There must be balance (Isa. 40:1- "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem"). Thus, there is no need for one to cite 2 Timothy 2:24-26. We believe it and practice it. Certainly, the servant of the Lord must not strive, or quarrel, or be mean or unkind. Let it also be noted that the surrounding text speaks boldly against error, even naming it and its propagators - Hymanaeus and Philetus; Jannes and Jambres - did Paul violate his own admonition (2 Tim. 2:16-18; 3: 1-8, 13; 4:2-5; Cf. 2:24-26)? No, and neither do we when we find the need to so speak, indicting men, incriminating their messages and missions with the arsenal of truth.

Yes, Jesus did utter the gracious, appealing words of Matthew 11:28-30. "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Again, such invitations must issue from all true men of God if they would speak as he spoke. Still, though, it must be observed that just eight verses earlier, this lovely lamb of God roared as the lion of the tribe of Judah when he "began to upbraid (denounce) the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not" (Matt. 11:20-24). "Woe unto thee," said he, as he pronounced their doom in the eternal judgment!

In short, the Deliverer was also the denouncer. The lamb of "meekness and gentleness," who could call and calm the troubled heart could also be the lion of judgment and condemnation to the troublers of Israel. For example, "thou sufferest that woman teach and seduce my servants to commit fornication....I gave her space to repent...and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts" (Rev. 2:20-23).

What is protested here is the imbalance that exists, especially as it pertains to so called "negative preaching" (See concluding article below). Where is the balance when teaching that reviews and refutes error is automatically criticized as being "harsh and unloving"?

Some, it seems, can call names and speak negatively only when they call the names of those they accuse of preaching negatively. They bewail the use of sarcasm in the rebuke of error, using it only when they speak against those who employ it (1 Kgs. 18:27; Matt. 23:24-28; Gal. 5:12). Others ridicule "our" (so called) "Church of Christ traditionalism," but they are never heard reproving denominationalism for its Christmas and Easter traditions. If they say anything about such religious holidays, it is to condemn an alleged "ungodly attack" against such traditions by faithful preachers of the gospel. They criticize the rebuttal of error and apologize for those who teach it, all the while claiming that they, too, are opposed to "such things," but that they just "don't like the way some go about it." Well, if one knows the truth and hates the error, and if he knows how to oppose the traditions of men the way it should be done, we happily shall turn the work over to him!

We close with an article written for our local church bulletin.

"Two-Thirds Negative"

From Good News (July 9, 2000), the bulletin of the Timberland Drive church in Lufkin, TX, we extract the following comment on Timothy 4:2 - "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine."

Brother Bowman is correct! Preaching is indeed about the specific need of one's audience. That is why Peter did not denounce idolatry in Acts 2; it is why Paul did not speak against binding circumcision in his Athenian address in Acts 17. Preaching to an audience's need explains the tone and tenor of Stephen in Acts 7 and the thread and theme of Paul in Acts 13.

Like brother Bowman, I, too, have "heard some preachers" speak of the "two-thirds, one third" equation. However, when that mathematical measure has been cited, it has not been used to say that an audience's need should be ignored. Those who speak of preaching that is "two-thirds negative" generally are refuting the idea that we need to "accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative."

It is in that context, using 2 Timothy 4:2, that we often speak of preaching that is "two-thirds negative and one-third positive." "I have heard some preachers say" it is too much like the rustic, ruffian spirit of pioneer preachers when we name names (Baptist, Methodist, etc.) and identify denominational doctrines. We have been encouraged to take a less "polemic" approach and not to be "adversarial" and "controversial" in our appeal to truth. I have heard "some preachers say" these things as they (quite negatively, I might add) decry and deride "negative preaching" as that which causes people to "tune out" and "turn us off."

When such advice has been given, I, like brother Bowman, "have heard some preachers" show that "two-thirds" of 2 Timothy 4:2 is, "negative," while only "one third" of it is positive. They form this mathematical equation, not to downplay meeting an audience's need, but to show that they do greatly err who say that our speech and our preaching must be "positive" and "not negative."

The same is true of Jeremiah 1:10. "See I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build and to plant."

When need requires we must "root out...pull down...destroy, and...throw down." There is a time "to build, and to plant," "a time to break down, and a time to build up" (Eccl. 3:3).

It is only when we hear "some preachers say" that "speaking the truth in love" means that we must avoid "negative preaching," that we hear preachers rightly observe that "two-thirds" of Jeremiah 1:10 is "negative," while "one-third" is "positive." It is only when preaching that roots out, pulls down, destroys, and throws down is castigated as being harmful and contrary to the spirit of godly gospel preaching that we hear "some preachers" speak of the "two-thirds, one-third" equation.

Preaching that reproves, rebukes, roots out, pulls down, destroys, and throws down is as much needed as is that which builds, plants, and exhorts. If not, God would not have so instructed his holy apostles and prophets.

(Surely, no one will make comments on this article that are two-thirds negative. If they disagree with it, perhaps they can address my need in a positive fashion.)

e-mail brother Hafley at

Return to Watchman Front Page