In my last post I addressed myself to the appropriateness of rhetoric and imagination in proclaiming the good news. I argued that drawing on such resources is about effective communication. We do it as we strive to responsibly use the gifts God has given us to speak words that present the Lord Jesus in the power of the Spirit and to the glory of the Father.
But there’s a potential dark side to this. With so much emphasis on the how of proclamation — maximising its impact, etc — we risk leaving the door of our hearts open to manipulative or self-serving intentions. Paul may rejoice that the gospel is proclaimed in spite of bad intentions (Phil 1.15-21). But he doesn’t endorse an Ends Justify The Means pragmatism in assessing proclamation. He simply rejoices that something excellent is happening: the good news of Jesus is being proclaimed. (And significantly, in so doing, Paul disarms the malicious intent of those who are engaged in such work with the aim of harming him. As far as Paul is concerned, it cannot harm him for his Saviour to be exalted!)
All of us — from the globe-trotting itinerant evangelist to the full-time accountant who seeks to encourage her Christian brothers and sisters at church and point her non-Christian family and co-workers to her Lord — are profoundly privileged (and sanctified) to speak God’s words. To be caught up in God’s ultimate purposes for everything is massive!
Because of this, proclamation rightly moves out of a deeply held commitment to people. It’s part of the ‘one another’ character of Christian community and service. An expression of the mutual love through which we maintain the bond of peace, guarding the unity that’s God’s gift to us in the Messiah.
This is why Paul, for example, gives himself so totally to sharing not only the gospel but his life as well — at significant cost to himself (if you doubt it, just leaf through the Corinthian correspondence: loving that church rips Paul’s guts out). 1 Thess 2.5-13 is worth quoting in full:
As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was towards you believers.As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.
Genuine Christian proclamation must manifest (and unfold within the context of) exactly this kind of commitment to the welfare of others. It’s the same commitment that characterises God’s own triune life. The Lord Jesus’ entire life of pouring himself out — climaxing in the cross — perfectly embodied it. And His Spirit also brings it to fruition in us, the church purchased by his blood.
And so proclamation must be something we undertake with tears (when necessary). And with the unfettered joy and delight that often goes hand in hand with deep personal investment. It’s so much more than a merely mechanical matter of duty or obligation.