A few months ago I noticed a well-placed billboard on a well-travelled highway leading into Kansas City. The sign was simple. It said, “God’s Word Romans 1:24-28: Homosexuality is Sinful Behavior Not an Identity.” While I heartily concur with the veracity of the message I believe the setting was misplaced. We have been called to spread the Word. But if we do not approach our task with love, we can do more harm than good. Spreading the gospel is a singular responsibility, and we must approach it with the utmost care.
In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan is sent by the Lord to convict David of wrong concerning his behavior with Bathsheba and Uriah. But Nathan does not bluntly accuse David of wrong. Rather, he tells a parable and David convicts himself. In Acts 16:3, Paul encounters a young man named Timothy. Timothy has a Jewish mother and a Greek father. But we find that Paul circumcised Timothy. He did not do this because it was required by the gospel but rather because it enabled Timothy to speak with and to unbelieving Jews. Paul could have used Timothy’s uncircumcision to point out the differences between the Old Law and the New Law. Instead he set the issue aside to enable him to reach more unbelieving Jews. This does not mean that he bent the truth or that he did not stand up for the gospel. In fact, we read in the next verse that Paul is carrying the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem refuting the doctrine that the Gentiles must be circumcised. So, we know that Paul was still preaching the whole truth of the Gospel. But, he was also making allowance for the weaknesses in his audience. Paul could have used the letter from Jerusalem in concert with refusing to circumcise Timothy, who was half Jewish, to make the point that “circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing” (1 Corinthians 7:19). But rather, Paul chose not to throw the gospel in the face of unbelieving Jews and attempt to smash their beliefs with the Word of the Lord. Likewise, we too must understand our audience and approach them with care.
As we are discussing the scriptures with a friend, we typically approach many subjects with the utmost tact. And with good reason --the revelation of our sins is a painful process. Paul tells us, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Likewise, David writes, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51: 17). It is with good reason that the Word of God is described as a sword,
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)
The three thousand souls in Acts chapter 2 were “cut to the heart” by the Word (Acts 2:37). The truth presented in the word of God will be hard enough for many to receive. But we can easily poison the Word if we are not sensitive to their weaknesses. Paul addresses this aspect of spreading the word in 1 Corinthians 9:
“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19 -22).
Paul is not telling us he changed the gospel. But rather, he varied his conduct, as much as he could, to remove barriers that might have prevented him from preaching the gospel.
Jesus told the eleven, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Jesus tells us that we “are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and that we should let our “light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Paul also told Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2). There is no doubt that we are called to preach the gospel in word and deed. However, the manner in which the message is delivered matters. In fact, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we should be “speaking the truth in love.” We cannot brow beat our neighbors into repentance. Attempting to do so will, in most cases, have the opposite effect. When it does, we have done more harm than good. In fact, Jesus tells us that we should use discretion when preaching the Word, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6). We must take stock of our audience before sharing the gospel. In some cases, this may mean not sharing the gospel at all. In others it may mean choosing a different starting place in the scriptures. But, in every case we must share the gospel in such a way that it demonstrates love for our neighbors (Matthew 5:44, Matthew 19:19).
Paul, quoting Isaiah the prophet, says, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15). The gospel is a story of how we can have peace with the Creator of the universe. It is a beautiful story! We have the privilege of conveying the gospel to the world. Let us make sure we spread the gospel with love and care.