Preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God
Jesus, always setting for us the perfect example, stressed in the very early stages of his earthly ministry the essential need to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God.
In Luke 4:42-43, we find Jesus under pressure from some of his listeners to stay with them, discouraging him from departing to share with others his life-giving message. Jesus, however, responds very firmly: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”1
There could hardly be a more compelling guide for us to follow. Here, in the very first reference to the Kingdom of God in Luke’s Gospel, the stress is on the urgency of its proclamation and the imperative call to preach and share it with others. Jesus would not be deterred from that preaching mission, nor should we. Jesus perceived that the duration of his ministry would be short, with absolutely no time to be wasted without sharing the gospel call.
In these Last Days, this same spirit of urgency and commitment must motivate our own preaching efforts. We should be satisfied with nothing less as our guide.
At the other end of the Lord’s earthly ministry, shortly before his supreme sacrifice, we find the same emphasis on the preaching of the good news of the coming Kingdom. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14).
This statement has special meaning in these Last Days in relation to our own ecclesial experience. We rejoice in hearing that the true gospel preaching of the Kingdom, near and far, has been facilitated in these Latter Days by the remarkable proliferation of Bible translations into an immense range of languages and dialects.
We derive the same sense of appreciation, satisfaction, and joy as those ecclesias which welcomed Paul and his company on return from their missionary journeys. They had “declared all that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” (Acts 14:27). Preaching is a great blessing for both those giving and receiving the Gospel call.
Imperative Need to Peach
The command to preach the gospel is stressed in the strongest terms by the great Apostle Paul. “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” (1 Cor 9:16 RSV). He adds, “For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission [to preach].” (v. 17). Paul is saying that even if we do not want to preach or if we receive no satisfaction from it, we must still preach, as we are entrusted to do so.
This is challenging language, placing preaching as an essential element of the disciple’s service to the Lord. The strength of Paul’s language is so direct and confronting that we might ask—why is preaching then so important?
From Scriptural reading and our own experience, we know that people come to understand the true saving gospel by one of two means—their own independent reading of the Scriptures or being taught by those who have found the pearl of great price.
Why is preaching so important?
Cases of self-education, however, are generally rare indeed, with the great majority throughout the ages needing help and instruction. So Paul poses the question, “How are they to hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14 NKJV). He proceeds to cite Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news.” And so it continues to be. In whatever circumstance Paul found himself, whether free or a prisoner, preaching is imperative for the true disciple.
Paul saw his preaching as an immense privilege, an instrument for transmitting to others the wonderful call of the gospel. “Entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, making his appeal through us.” (2 Cor 5:19-20). If we can capture that excitement, sense of privilege, and responsibility conveyed in these words, we are surely well on the way to being effective and blessed in our own preaching endeavors.
The Apostles Peter and John shared the same excited feeling, exclaiming: “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20). A similar sentiment should underscore our own sense of privilege in being conveyors of the great gospel call. A precious possession is typically enjoyed much more when shared—and so it is with the gospel of salvation.
Paul saw his preaching as an immense privilege
The prophet Ezekiel puts the point very starkly, impelling us to reconsider our role as God’s faithful watchmen seriously. “But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life.” (Ezek 3:19).
This is very strong and arresting language indeed, suggesting that our personal preaching and witness have a bearing on our own salvation. Of course, we are saved by grace and not by works. But Ezekiel’s statement underscores that our living faith is surely evidenced, importantly by our commitment to be effective watchmen for the Lord.
Ezekiel’s message and challenge have a marked and special resonance in these Last Days when imminent judgments on mankind are at hand, as was surely the case in his own day. The need to preach and witness becomes more imperative than ever.
Power of Example
A prerequisite for effective preaching is our own true and evident commitment to the ways of the LORD. Anything less conveys to the listener and observer a compromised message that limits the impact of what is being said and taught. The strength and authenticity of Paul’s statements on preaching have their full influence because we know that he lived out fully his understanding and convictions.
This is not to say that preachers must be paragons of virtue in their way of life—but they must be seen as conducting their lives in ways strongly influenced by the teachings which they share. This adds to the challenge of preaching, which has its inherent call to a transformed life.
People to whom we witness and preach should see many qualities in our lives that are appealing and which they would seek for themselves—including contentment, trust, compassion, direction and sense of purpose, ability to accept and endure suffering, and self-control. These attributes will hopefully draw such people to the gospel, seeing them as needed to help find fulfillment in their own lives.
Our invitation through preaching remains as David declares, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psa 34:8). Or as Paul states, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment.” (1 Tim 6:6). What we have experienced ourselves we wish to share with others. Our example of a satisfied and fulfilled life is so powerful as an aspect of preaching. Without it, we move towards hypocrisy with a disconnect between person and message, a sure way of compromising our impact and effectiveness.
A Good Listener
Perhaps paradoxically, a key to effective preaching is to be a good listener. Jesus, the master preacher, knew uniquely well the needs, interests, and preoccupations of those to whom he was preaching. His ability to read the human mind, including its innermost thoughts, allowed him to fashion his preaching in the most effective and appropriate way possible. He was able to present the gospel call with matchless appropriateness given the individual circumstances of those listening.
His challenge and preaching to those seemingly the lost of society were so very different, for example, to the approach taken towards the arrogant religious class who needed to have their spiritual pretensions forcibly exposed. Jesus shaped his message to the particular needs of the listener, all within the context of the universal appeal of the true gospel.
the gospel message applies to all who are prepared to listen
The nature and style of the Apostle Paul’s preaching also make it very clear that his effectiveness rested on his ability to meet the needs and interests of his audience. In a very positive sense, he “became all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Cor 9:22). His was not a set pattern of preaching indifferent to the circumstances of his audience. Other great communicators of the gospel message recorded in Scripture had this developed and divinely directed skill of addressing the audience in the way most likely to encourage them to pause and consider. These are great role models to follow.
One of the most evident aspects of the divine authority of the Scriptures is its applicability and relevance for all humankind. Whether in the first or twenty-first centuries, whether to the most highly educated or to the poorly trained, whether to peoples of well-developed nations or to nations much less developed, the gospel has its fundamental appeal. This reflects its dealing with the basic issues of our condition, providing a way out from human bondage, sin, and mortality to the prospect of a redeemed earth praising and serving its Maker. Hence, the gospel message applies to all who are prepared to listen.
All who constitute the circle of our own lives are potential recipients of the gospel. The majority, we realize, will pass it by. But our task, then, is to sow the seed as broadly as we can, alert to as many opportunities as possible that come our way.
Our ecclesial lectures and outreach efforts, requiring as much support as possible, need to be programmed and arranged with a mix of previously selected topics. But even there, the effectiveness of such public and collective witness is most likely when focused on issues understood to be on the audience’s minds. Hence, the concern of so many about the drift in human and social values on a variety of issues provides, for example, an excellent platform in which to discuss Bible teaching on divine solutions to the many and varied end-time problems. A rounded presentation of the key elements of the gospel remains, of course, essential. But its relevance for the audience needs major emphasis as the Scriptural guides on preaching so clearly show.
It’s very exciting shaping our individual presentations of the gospel with the diverse needs and interests of the audience in mind as best we can discern them. That said, personal preaching, of course, immediately focuses on the home environment where teaching and example come into full and obvious play. This must always be seen as the point of top priority, as witnessing to others is generally unconvincing if not observed as being practiced at home. Furthermore, our experience with preaching and witnessing in the home provides an excellent background for our efforts in the wider society in which we find ourselves.
Realizing the imperative need to preach and the inherent satisfaction in so doing, it could be helpful to list some qualities needed in personal preaching. In our witness efforts, we don’t know all the answers to queries and issues that might emerge. However, a basic ability to support our beliefs with appropriate Scriptural references is essential to establish our credibility and avoid conversations becoming no more than expressed opinions. All style and no substance—often the flavor of evangelical preaching—will not get us very far. We have so many Bible helps available for our use.
At the risk of some repetition, serving, however, for emphasis, the following features could be kept in mind:
- Learn to listen and encourage people to provide their background, which could be useful in guiding the discussion and encouraging interest.
- Seek to obtain some understanding (even if brief) of what the person believes or doesn’t believe to help guide the discussion meaningfully.
- The spirit of our preaching is crucial. It’s not overbearing but gentle and reverential (1 Pet 3:15).
- Be patient, and don’t expect immediate results.
- An incident or word, even trivial, might be the means of establishing a link that can later be developed and explored.
- Don’t judge whether a person has the potential for spiritual development.
- Be sure that our homes have some Scriptural books and leaflets on hand that might appeal to friends to witness of our basic Biblical interests.
- If in a workplace environment, a well-chosen Biblical quotation on display can be a powerful witness.
- Emphasize constantly the link between belief and behavior, ensuring that the Gospel is seen as a way of life and not only a set of doctrines to be affirmed.
- The concept of a living faith and the abiding presence of the risen Christ need to be stressed as essential for a proper spiritual perspective (Gal 2:20).
- Don’t expect people to fit into our ecclesial mold immediately –time may be needed to make social adjustments.
- Don’t be deterred by disappointing responses, for which there is sadly ample Scriptural precedence.
- “Preach the Word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.” (2 Tim 4:2). The time for preaching is continuous and always by word and behavior.
Overall, preaching is much more than talking to people. It presents a whole way of life and purpose based on Godly principles. It reflects a perception of what the gospel has come to mean to us. It is indeed the jewel of great price, with our greatest satisfaction and responsibility being its sharing with others.
God’s name and purpose can thereby be more widely honored and worshipped. Because we are immensely privileged as the custodians of God’s message of grace, we must enthusiastically assume the responsibility to preach and witness in every circumstance that comes our way or that we can find.
Washington Ecclesia, MD
- All Scriptural citations are taken from the English Standard Version, unless specifically noted.