Read Matthew 28.19-20; Luke 24.46-48; Acts 11.19-26; 1 Corinthians 1.18-25.
Gospel work involves both public preaching (evangelism), and personal testimony (witness). In the Scriptures it is frequently linked with teaching the whole truth of God's Word. We are to preach keeping back nothing, and not shunning to declare all the counsel of God (Acts 20.20, 27). The Gospel is something to be communicated and passed on. If we are not evangelistic in outlook then we are not in a healthy spiritual condition. Every assembly should maintain an active Gospel witness. Work within the assembly should be complemented by a dynamic outreach, including activities such as tract distribution, open air work, children's and young people's work, and personal evangelism.
Why we Preach
We preach the Gospel because we have a direct commission from the Lord; "Go ye" (Mt 28.19). God desires the salvation of men and women. He is a Saviour God "who will have all men to be saved" (1 Tim 2.4). He is "not willing that any should perish" (2 Pet 3.9). The sending of His Son proves the desire of God's heart. If God is concerned for the salvation of sinners, so we should be also. The Lord Jesus confirmed the importance of Gospel work by choosing disciples to tell others about new birth and faith. He sent men out to preach. The early church was active in Gospel work. It formed a prominent part of assembly activity and personal testimony. There is still a great work to do, and a great need for workers.
Who is to Preach
We should all be concerned for the lost, and have the heart of the evangelist. We are all to be "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Cor 5.20), to "shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Pet 2.9). This work is not only prompted by the Lord's commission, but also by a sense of urgency, recognising the time is short, and with an appreciation of the truth of God's Word concerning the eternal destiny of the lost. We need to value souls. The more we appreciate the Lord's work for us, the more we will strive to tell out the Gospel to others. Remember the words of Paul; "woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor 9.16). While we should all feel the burden of this work, the Scriptures tell us that there are some who are specially gifted. Philip is described as an "evangelist" (Acts 21.8), Timothy was instructed to "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim 4.5), and Ephesians 4 tells us of men who are given as evangelists.
Where to Preach
The sphere for the evangelist is the world. The sower is to sow in the field, and "the field is the world" (Mt 13.38). Matthew 28 tells us to go to "all nations", and Acts 1 speaks of "the uttermost part of the earth". Gospel work is not to be restricted to the confines of the assembly. Whilst a regular Gospel witness should not be given up, the main emphasis should be on going out. In the New Testament, there was preaching on hilltops, at riversides, in market places, prisons, palaces and synagogues. While we do not always need to be in a Hall when we preach, Gospel work is best conducted in connection with the local assembly. The object of preaching is to bring men out of the world into fellowship with the Lord and His people.
When to Preach
Ecclesiastes 11.1 says "cast thy bread upon the waters". We are to scatter the seed wherever we go. Let us not be put off by apparent obstacles. "He that observeth the wind shall not sow" (v 4). "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand" (v 6). We are to redeem the time (Eph 5.16) and to "be instant in season, out of season" (2 Tim 4.2). We must use every opportunity to present the Gospel.
What we Preach
The two simple principles to be observed are "preach the word" (2 Tim 4.2), and "preach Christ" (1 Cor 1.23). If we do not preach Christ, there is no point in preaching. If Christ is not central, the preaching is defective. Preaching Christ is not just speaking about God's love to man, about salvation and going to Heaven. It is the setting forth of God's Son, His person, His work and His glory. That is why Scripture speaks about "the radiancy of the glad tidings of the glory of the Christ" (2 Cor 4.4, JND¹). To preach Christ is to preach the cross. The cross should be at the heart of the message. The Gospel is not our message; it is God's Word. It is not just good news, but God's news. We must not tamper with it, water down the message, or add to it. Its source is God, its substance is Christ, and its subject is salvation. Since man's need has not changed, there is no need to change the preaching. God told Jonah to preach "the preaching that I bid thee" (Jonah 3.2). We are to preach what God says, not what the brethren necessarily want. Our instructions come from God, and we must look to God to bless.
How to Preach
Preparation is essential before we preach. Personal preparation is required first. There is a need for spiritual fitness whether we are used publicly or privately. The message must be endorsed by a godly life. We must be in a healthy spiritual condition, assured about our own salvation, in touch with the Lord, moved by a love for souls and a love for Christ, acquainted with the Word of God, and able to use it. Prayer is essential. Prayer is an expression of our dependence, our inadequacy, and our confidence in divine ability. This is the spirit in which we preach. Through prayer we ask for doors to be opened, guidance about what to say, and wisdom in the face of difficulties. Power is essential. Fruit will only be borne through the power of the Spirit of God. The Gospel has the power to change lives. It is a solemn work. The Spirit will convict men, not entertain them. Music, eloquence, subtle argument, personal magnetism and mass psychology are no substitute for the power of the Holy Spirit that brings true salvation.
Whether we engage in personal work or public preaching, we must obey God's Word, grasp opportunities, and be prepared for hard work and disappointments. We need a spirit of humility and meekness. Gift and grace go together. We must not harass people, and there may come a point when we should not cast our pearls before swine (Mt 7.6). Ultimately, "salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2.9). While we are responsible for the safe delivery of the message, we are not accountable for its reception. The test is not the number of people we have led to Christ, but whether we have honoured the Lord in our ministry. Public preaching should be simple, sincere, urgent, reverent, clear, brief, and with authority. Do not assume a prior knowledge of Scripture, but at the same time do not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to save through the Word. There is a great need for personal workers and soul winners (Prov 11.30). Personal work needs the right text, the fitting word and the sympathetic ear. Remember that more people are brought under the sound of the Gospel through personal invitation than by any other means.
In all our Gospel activity we must expect opposition and disappointments. Paul spoke about the "afflictions of the gospel" (2 Tim 1.8). We need patience, wisdom, courage and endurance. It is hard work, and Satan is always actively seeking to snatch away the seed, but all ultimately depends on the Lord of the harvest. If we sow in tears we will reap in joy (Ps 126.5-6). We should look for results. If there are none, then self-examination, rather than innovation, should be the first response. If there are results, then the sheep gathered must be cared for by, and in, the local assembly.
¹ J N Darby, The Holy Scriptures - A New Translation from the Original Languages.