Friday, February 1, 2008

The Success of Noah's Sermons

Before entering the naval sector, there isn't a lot of information about Noah's occupation. Lamech's exposition of Noah's name certainly implies the family worked the ground. Likewise, his embarrassing post-flood condition showed he certainly knew how to cultivate a vineyard. Whatever Noah did to put matza on the table, we know he was also a preacher:

and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;--2 Peter 2:5
"Preacher of Righteousness." Two words (in the Greek) provide the only explanation. What else do we know about Noah's preaching? Was he good at it? Could we call him successful? Did people listen? Did he see results?

How do we assess a preacher?

By most modern calculations, Noah's preaching would be considered average at best. No sermon transcripts remain; his sermons seem to have died with him. We have no record of future generations emulating his style. If we're generous, his "conversions" total seven...and those were all family, possibly converted beforehand. The man did not even seem able to gather a crowd.
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.--1 Timothy 4:16
Paul reminds Timothy that a preacher's responsibility is two-fold; Life and Teaching

Character & Doctrine--These are the two items Timothy is called to guard. Paul has mentored his son in the faith, placed him in a church, and is now giving him instructions. These are not two segregated items, for true doctrine will effect your living and your life will either confirm or deny your doctrine. Paul does not instruct Timothy to guard the "buzz factor" around the church, or to even hone his oratory skill. His key will not be in his management skills, nor in his civic connections. He is called to watch his conduct and guard his teaching. It is to be guarded, persevered in, marking that it is not just something established at the front...but it should remain foundational through his ministry.

Similarly, Noah guarded these things as well. He was set apart from the violence and sin of his society. He acted in faith, preached righteousness and walked with God (see: Genesis 6:8-9; Hebrews 11:7)

See Salvation--Just how can life and teaching draw others to salvation if it is not centered upon the gospel message? Paul reminds us: Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Clearly, for our lives to remain focussed on the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, we must walk with Christ. However, such obedience can quickly turn to life sucking legalism if not constantly accompanied with the life altering declaration of the gospel. He did not give Timothy a two point action step--preach the gospel then pursue obedience--but calls for perseverance. We are to continue to guard our life and doctrine.

It is interesting here to note that Paul is not giving Timothy a method. He is not saying to Timothy, "My disciple, let me encourage you that a way to reach people for Christ is by guarding your life and teaching." No, Paul offers no alternative. His instruction is that salvation comes through the practice of guarding one's character and doctrine. Often, I hear other pastors present evangelists as theologically shallow by nature. To many, it is almost a requirement; for the evangelist cannot get himself bogged down with doctrinal issues. But Paul not only says that compromising one character or side-stepping some doctrinal truth is not to be preferred...he states it is nonproductive. Salvation is ensured by continuing in these things.

Grading Noah

I recently sat in a meeting where men were willing to deem something a "movement of God" simply by crowd size. (This man's church is growing, it has new people. Clearly God is blessing!) But if this were the case, every large church (including the one who boasts being the largest) would have to be deemed blessed by God. If this were the case, every Protestant pastor in a Catholic community would have to acknowledge the blessing of God lies with the church of Rome. Globally, we'd have to claim that God is doing some amazing things within the Moslem community. Brothers, we know these things to be false.

But often, we refuse to see it working the other direction. Is the faithful pastor of the small, insignificant (in the eyes of men) congregation unsuccessful? Is the pastor who is mocked by other community clergy for his refusal to accept their universalist ecumenical agenda failing to be kingdom minded? Can we really call the pastor of a persecuted church whose numbers have dropped due to martyrdom a failure? Are we ready to call one preacher, with only his family as followers, a failure?

So Great a Salvation!

Noah saw seven others saved from the flood. It is not wrong to desire more converts than that. Clearly, every gospel pastor should desire to see every soul saved they encounter! However, if we think Noah only brought salvation to eight people, we have miscalculated.

While the creationist acknowledges that we are all Adam's descendants, we sometimes neglect to note we are all Noah's as well. Had Noah been unfaithful, our life and breath could not trace through his DNA. As Hebrews 11 points out, that message of faith that was passed down by the patriarchs passed right through the blood of Noah. In the generation of the flood, this faith message only passed through one man. At that particular time, the rope of the gospel was down to one singular thread. And lest we forget, it was not just the message of the coming Messiah that carried through Noah, but the lineage of the Messiah as well. Jesus Christ's arrival on earth, enabling Himself to lay down His life as our ransom, came through the family of Noah and was thus made possible through Noah's faith and obedience. As the world turned a deaf ear to Noah's message and his ministry almost appear fruitless, God sovereignly works to accomplish the salvation of all His elect through the life and teaching of Noah.

How sad if Noah would have changed his message to reach more masses. What a tragedy if Noah decided to participate in the violence of his culture so he could connect better and foster relationships. Oh the great loss if he had simply become fatigued and quit due to the lack of visible response! Ironically, if he had adapted so that he could reach more than seven, he would have failed to bring salvation to all. However, by walking in faith, trusting that God creates the increase, Noah guarded his life and teaching and carried that salvation to all. (In a more recent example, the continent of Africa would look different if James Gribble had focussed on immediate results instead of his life and doctrine.)

Certainly, we desire to see all men saved. But this is not accomplished by doing whatever we can to reach as many as we can. This is done by paying close attention to our life and doctrine, and trusting God that through it He will reach far more than we could ever imagine!

Brothers, preach the Word.


Keith said...

This is a truly outstanding article!! I hope it gets a wide reading.


TheReformedThinker said...

Great article Danny.

I agree with you that it is our desire to save all men. Where some preaching has went wrong, is that they phrase it "it is our job to save all men". The difference is subtle yet catostrophic.

If it is my desire to save all men, but not my job - I simply preach the gospel as laid out in Scripture to as many as possible, and allow the one whose "job" it is to save to do the work. If I believe it is my job to save, then I will manipulate the message in order to see results.

greensideup said...

Great article.

I spent some time in the book The Expository Genius of John Calvin today and if i recall correctly this desire to preach the word by the word with the word was foundational to his ministry. It's nice to see that concept continue. We are called to present the truth and then get out of the way. Keep it up.


danny2 said...

The church in Rome offered these thoughts to the church in Corinth as well:

"Noah preached repentance, and those who obeyed were saved"--1 Clement 8.6


"Noah, being found faithful, proclaimed a second birth to the world by his ministry, and through him the Master saved the living creatures that entered into the ark in harmony."--1 Clement 9.4