Romans 10:13-14 - The Purpose of the Ministry
Whoever calls on 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?Romans 10:13-14
What is the most important thing in a man’s life? Health? Healthy people in time will die. Old age, if nothing else, will bring even the healthiest to the grave. Wealth? Regardless of how much one has gained in this life, the question remains, at death, “Whose then will those things be?” Popularity? Acceptability? But all men know that they will die, and after death “...the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).
Jesus sums it up for us in these words, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37). What then is the most important possession you possess? If I understand Jesus correctly, it’s one’s immortal soul!
Is the purpose of the church then to provide an exercise gym? Or a game room for teens? Or a meeting place for the purpose of exchanging ideas? In preparation for this message I purposely read through the Book of Acts. Since it is a history of the early New Testament church, I wanted to see how the Apostles viewed the purpose of the church in their day. I came to the conclusion that they saw the purpose of the church as proclaiming of the Word of God.
In fact, even when the Scriptures instruct the church in godly living, it is not for the purpose of gaining a self-satisfied life; rather, it is for the purpose that the church might be a light in a darkened, sin-cursed world. As we see from the instruction of the Apostle Peter,
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.1 Peter 2:11-12
That is, we are to so live that the world might be inclined to ask of us regarding the reason for the hope that lies within us.
I reread the Book of Acts in order to compare the attitude and mindset of the Apostles with what one may observe in the larger part of the visible church today, and I have to say I saw little or no similarity at all. In the Book of Acts I saw a church deeply concerned about the eternal souls of mankind. I saw Apostles willing to die, not to engage a congregation in some kind of weight loss program, or in how to have a better physical relationship in their marriage. Instead, I saw men willing to die for the truth of the Gospel and things eternal.
Nor did I observe the Apostles attempting to make the message more compatible with the Greek mind, which considered the message of the cross as foolishness, nor did I observe them trying to make the message more acceptable to the Jewish mind, which saw the preaching of Christ as a scandal, as something offensive. I would remind you that Paul in his ministry was determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Why? Because he saw Christ crucified as the central purpose for Jesus coming into the world, and therefore the central message of the church.
As Paul sums it up for us in his instruction to Timothy, a young minister of the Gospel, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15). This is precisely why Paul told Timothy that his responsibility as a minister of the Gospel was to ... “Preach the word!” (2 Timothy 4:2).
From the text we are considering, “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?” I would present to you that the question before us is this, What is the purpose of the Church? More particularly what is our purpose as part of the church of Jesus Christ here in this part of the world we occupy? Throughout this message I want you to keep in mind the command of Christ to His church just before He ascended on high, when He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15).
Note carefully from the text, calling upon God implies faith, and faith requires knowledge, and knowledge requires instruction, and instruction requires teachers. Let us then consider the purpose of the ministry of the Church under these three headings,
the necessity of faith,
the necessity of the Word and
the necessity of faithful messengers of the Word.
The Necessity of Faith
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? The apostle is not talking about faith in faith. Some may say that it doesn’t matter what you believe, just so you believe. Thus the custom in many churches today is to have a convert repeat a little prayer after the counselor, have them sign a decision card without any further instruction or follow-up, while assuring them with what could be a false assurance that they are now eternally secure. But believing in “SOMETHING” — whatever or whoever — is not what Paul is talking about.
I would remind you from the context of this passage, Paul tells us that the Jews believed in God; in fact, he said they had had a great zeal for God but ... not according to knowledge and therefore their faith was not in the God of Scripture but a god of their own making. One then can only conclude ... they were lost because they set about to establish their own righteousness and were outside the righteousness of God. It might be said they missed heaven by 11 inches, that is, they had a head knowledge but lacked a true heart knowledge.
Saving faith, to be true faith, must be faith in the God of Scripture. This is why the message of the church must be sound. For it is entirely possible for one to be a member in the church visible and yet not know the only true God. God through the prophet Isaiah warned the visible church of the Old Testament in these words, “I have named you, though you have not known Me” (Isaiah 45:4). One can be like the church in Sardis in Revelation 3, that had a name that they were alive, but they were dead. For one to be able to call upon God, their faith must be a true faith in the God of Scripture, for He alone is able to hear and answer.
And as Paul has asked, how can they call upon God in whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe if they have not heard? It becomes most evident, then, that to truly believe requires knowledge, not some dumbed-down message. This then brings us to the second part of the message — the necessity of the Word:
And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?
The Necessity of the Word
The only source of true faith is the revealed truth of Holy Scripture. As Paul points out later in this passage, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” How else could one come to the knowledge of the TRUE GOD?
Therefore the purpose of the church must be to proclaim to all men the Word of God. We live in a church age where even evangelical pastors refer to doctrine as something dangerous. They say doctrine divides. But when the Scriptures speak of doctrine, we need to understand that the Greek word so translated is simply, “didache” — the Greek word for instruction. Since when is biblical instruction dangerous? Yes, it might bring division, that is, it separates truth from error, but again, how could that be something dangerous?
The Church has no other message, no other purpose than to be obedient to Scripture and “Preach the word!” (2 Timothy 4:2). There is no place in the pulpit for comedians or storytellers. That might be an enjoyable “tickling to the ears,” but it is also that which could fail to bring the Gospel to souls condemned to hell. Paul carefully warned the church that the time would come when men would “not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” The church and her teachers today need to take to heart the same careful instruction Paul gave to Timothy “be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:3-5). This ministry simply stated is, we must “preach the Word.”
One must ask why, in a land of so many churches and so many Bibles, that most (even those in the church) are biblically illiterate. When, according to recent Barna Polls, 46% of people professing to be born-again Christians deny Satan’s existence, when 41% of adults living in America believe that Jesus sinned when he lived on earth and when 53% of Americans in the church believe that one can gain heaven by “being good.” When some who so answered were classified as evangelical believers, something is terribly wrong in the visible church today. One can only conclude that the Bible is simply not being taught in the churches. Thus, the blame for much biblical illiteracy has to be laid at the foot of Church visible.
People need to hear about the God of Holy Scripture. A Jesus who sinned cannot be the Savior of mankind. He could not be that spotless Lamb of God. A sinning Jesus cannot provide a saving, imputed righteousness. One can only conclude that God’s means of salvation is not being faithfully taught today in the church visible.
Why do men need to hear about the God of Holy Scripture? Simply stated, there is no other God. And outside of the name of Jesus Christ there is no salvation. And the only source by which men can hear about God is from you and me who have heard and been brought to understanding and faith in God’s Word. We need to be bold in our teaching, preaching, and witnessing. God tells us
Do not fear, nor be afraid; have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.Isaiah 44:8
The Necessity of Faithful Preachers
And this brings us to the final part of the message — the necessity of faithful messengers of the Word. “And how shall they hear without a preacher?” The meaning of the Greek word translated ‘preacher’ is simply one who proclaims or publishes a message. I do not think that there can be any doubt that Paul here is referring to the minister of the Gospel — the preacher in the church. And this is a clear message for God’s minister to be faithful in the Word. But in a very real sense every believer is to be a messenger. I would point out to you that when Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” he was addressing that to the multitude that had gathered on that mountainside that day. When Peter instructed the church to be ready to give an answer for the hope that was within them, it was to the whole body of believers.
Again I need to ask, why are so many biblically illiterate today? Is it not because the church is not as faithful in witnessing as it ought to be? Not as faithful in its teaching as it ought to be? Is this not the responsibility of the Church?
Let me ask you, do you ever have a bit of a fear about witnessing? Even Paul as he ministered in Corinth said,
I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.1 Corinthians 2:3
Do we not find ourselves a bit fearful of man? Questions come up like: What will they think of me? Will I sound like some kind of religious nut? etc. etc.
I think this may well be why so much of the preaching in the church today is not bold preaching. We do not want to tell the sinner that he is a sinner. The common message today is simply, “It’s nice to believe in Jesus.” I fear that in a very real sense we do not trust the Gospel. We need to remind ourselves that Paul in his introduction to this book of Romans said from the very start that he was NOT ashamed of the Gospel of Christ because that very Gospel was the power of God unto salvation.
Can it be because the church does not trust in the power of the Word of God that it has come up with gimmicks — bells and whistles, pictures and rituals, games and entertainment, etc.?
Let’s be honest, it is true, the sinner does not want to hear the truth. Therefore, the church is afraid to speak the truth. Are you telling me that God is not a loving God, a kind, grandfatherly type? Oh of course not. Are you telling me He is a God of wrath? — no one wants to hear that!!!
This is why the tendency today is to make the message “seeker-friendly.” It is not “seeker-friendly” to tell the sinner that he is a sinner. It is not “seeker-friendly” to tell the sinner that he has no goodness in Him.
But, dear ones, the Good News is not about the “goodness” of man. It’s about the goodness of a good God with a good message of salvation. Let me remind you that Jesus did not come to save the righteous, but sinners. It is never pleasant to speak the truth when it is bad news. I am sure no doctor delights in telling a patient that he or she has terminal cancer and only has a few months left to live. But a faithful doctor has to be honest with his patient. Can we in the church be any less honest with terminal souls before us?
Why then is there such a tendency to fear to speak the truth to the lost? Again, can it be that we simply do not trust the Word of God because we do not rely on the power of the Holy Spirit?
Is this why the church today does not want to talk about death, judgment, and an eternal hell? Fearing that if we do so, we will “turn people off”?
Sometime back, I was watching Larry King interview evangelist Joel Osteen. In a discussion about who could go to heaven, Larry King asked, “What if you’re Jewish or Muslim, and you don’t accept Christ at all?” And Osteen answered, “You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know...” Can you picture Peter on the day of Pentecost having been asked, “Are you telling me there is no other name whereby we can be saved?” and Peter answering, “Oh no, I would never say that,” or responding, “I don’t know?” Would Paul on Mars Hill say, “Who am I to judge? After all, you are very religious people”?
Love demands that we speak the truth. Let us be clear on this, the Word of God cannot fail and therefore we need to be bold in proclaiming God’s Word to the lost. God, through the prophet Isaiah said,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.Isaiah 55:11
We, as God’s people, need to trust the Word of God. It is sharper than a two-edged sword. The Bible works. It cannot fail because the Word is Spirit-given and Spirit-taught.
As God’s people we need to be ever mindful that we are engaged in a divine partnership. Yes, we are His witnesses. But all we can do is witness. It is the Holy Spirit alone who convinces and converts. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to do what we cannot do. Jesus said that when He, that is, when the Holy Spirit is come “...He will convict the world of sin, and of judgment and of righteousness” (John 16:8).
Rejoice Christian. It is not up to us to convince and to convert. That is up to God, and be assured — our God is ABLE! I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that because I am a lousy salesman. Remember we are not called to be salesmen. We are called to be witnesses. It may be true that in sales training one is told to use this word and not this word, etc. I remember reading an article by a popular campus witnessing group in the 60s which was teaching the college students how to witness to their fellow students. In this instruction they were told to never use the word “sin” and to never talk about the “cross” when witnessing to a Jew. How foolish! For how then could one be a faithful witness?
The simple truth is that the lost will never hear without a faithful messenger proclaiming God’s Word. We need to listen to God who said,
Do not fear, nor be afraid; have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses.
Let us then as God’s people be bold and faithful to speak truth to the lost about us.
Let us determine the following: men need to know about God so they can call on Him. Therefore we need to speak truth so men can come to true faith. And we need to be faithful in prayer, in seeking opportunities, and in making ourselves available, for “whoever calls on 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?” Let this be our prayer: O God, make us, as the church and as your people, a faithful witness to your glory, your greatness, your truth, and to your honor.