Tom Roberts

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Associate Editorial

What I Owe My Hearers

As a gospel preacher I have an obligation to those who listen to my preaching. I am not a free agent in the absolute sense of the word: responsibilities limit me to some degree. While each preacher of the gospel will remain free and unfettered so that he may preach all of the gospel, this does not permit license to ignore the necessities that are thrust upon him. I am jealous of what freedom I do have. None shall restrict me from preaching "in season and out of season" (when it meets with approval and when it does not) or from preaching "the whole counsel of God."

Each preacher has a commitment to God to preach so as to please God whether it pleases the brethren or not (cf: the life of the prophets) and this is not negotiable. However, it is possible to abuse this prerogative and take advantage of brethren who agree in principle with this commitment but disagree with the application of it by an unwise preacher. The life of many a faithful preacher has been made hard by foolish ones who abuse the patience of good brethren by not using discretion toward responsibilities. Preachers should show good judgment in their work.

I owe my brethren a life consistent with my preaching. I must not be as the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized for "saying, and doing not" (Matthew 23:3). My moral life must be above question lest I prove myself hypocritical. I realize that every Christian is to be morally pure and that there is no double standard (one for the preacher and one for the members), but one who holds forth the word in a public way will have more influence for either good or bad, depending on his moral judgment. I owe it to the Lord and my brethren to allow no hint of immorality to limit my influence or destroy the reputation of my brethren. Some brethren have not been careful about this and much harm has been done to local churches.

I owe my brethren edifying sermons. There is too much speculative preaching being done. Since there are many things I do not know, I don't hesitate to say so at times, but this is not the same as one who adopts every wild idea and speculative theory that comes along and "tosses it out" to "challenge your thinking." The primary work of a preacher is to give direction, not confusion. There are altogether too many preachers around who are influenced by the spiritual lunatics and fanatical radicals who feel that the only way to do a good job (and ensure their job) is to keep the brethren in a state of turmoil. Some preachers are disenchanted with the Lord's church and seek to foment change while seeking a chance to occupy a stance of faithfulness. Faithful churches of the Lord have had more than their share of spiritual insanities. Churches have been splintered and decimated by men who ought to know better. Now don't misunderstand me. If preaching the truth of God makes me seem radical to some, I will pay the price. But if the sum total of my work has been destructive and trouble-causing, then I should re-examine myself and my belief. For the gospel of Christ will build and not destroy when properly applied.

I owe my brethren clarity in my preaching. Every false teacher will claim to "misunderstood." And there is little doubt that all of us fail to make ourselves clear at times. Such is the frailty of men. But again there is a difference between the occasional slip of the lip or pen and the constant and recurring confusion caused through intentional double talk.

Even the apostles were misunderstood by brethren. Sometimes their enemies intentionally misunderstood. But there were good brethren who also misunderstood and had to be instructed "more perfectly" about issues and doctrines. But here is my point — and it is a valid one. When the apostles finished their efforts and reached the bottom line of their work, everyone knew just where they stood and what they believed. So must I be. When I attempt to set forth what I believe, extra care must be given so that I be understood. I owe this to my brethren. Again, the work of gospel preaching is to edify and not confuse. If I am guilty of preaching in such a manner that confusion results, time after time, again and again, the fault lies with me and not my brethren. Down through the years faithful brethren have always been able to occupy an understandable and defensible position on different issues. This is because they taught so as to be understood. Whatever progress the Lord's church will make in converting the lost will be as we make men understand their lost condition and the grace of God. Whatever progress we make toward unity will only come as we understand one another and the Bible. We need to be clear when we speak.

I owe my brethren a heart of trust and love for God. Preaching is not just a job. My voice is not for hire. But I am supported by the brethren and I owe them fidelity in my heart for the cause of Christ. The Lord's church does not need men in the pulpit who preach simply because they can do nothing else. Nor does it need men who are not convicted that they have a mission to perform and a work to accomplish. One may do without conviction if he is selling cars or vacuum cleaners. It matters little to eternity which brand you sell. But anything less than total devotion to God and trust in His grace will not suffice for a gospel preacher. I know that this primary responsibility of trust and love is owed to God. But it is also owed to my brethren. No man should stand as a teacher less than 100% dedicated to the Lord. This does not mean that he will not have other interests (family, community, etc) but that when he acts as a minister of the word, he will do so without reservation.

I owe my brethren a lot more than space will permit listing here. But all of us who preach need to keep our priorities straight, our lives above reproach, our preaching clear and edifying and our trust in God. Brethren will love you for it and support you in it. Sinners will be converted and churches will be strengthened. Few callings on earth equal that of gospel preaching. I thank God that I preach the glorious gospel of Christ and pray that I pay my debt to my hearers.

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