Preaching to a Pioneer Church

Paul was a church planter. He was used of God to start many pioneering works. He had both the advantage and disadvantage of preaching a message that had never been heard before (outside the original 12 apostles): The Gospel of Jesus Christ. And he was preaching this message to a largely pagan world.

So how do you reach an audience with such a strange and foreign message?

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

(3)  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

(4)  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures…

1 Timothy 1:15a

(15)  This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners….

Meet People Where They Are

If Paul’s evangelistic outreach teaches us anything, it teaches us that we need to meet people where they are in order to bring them where they need to be in Christ.

1 Corinthians 9:19-22

(19)  For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.

(20)  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;

(21)  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.

(22)  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.

This doesn’t mean Paul compromised his character or his stand. He always maintained a right relationship to God as he related to the people around him:

“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

But Paul always made sure he never preached over anybody’s head. He met with them where they were spiritually and brought them to a greater knowledge of the truth. The Lord did the same thing. Consider how Christ dealt with Nicodemus and compare that with how He dealt with the woman at the well. He gave them both the same message of salvation, but His approach was modified to reach each of them at the level they were capable of understanding.

Paul did the same thing. As I mentioned in the last entry, Paul went to the Jews first (often by way of the local synagogue) and then to the Gentiles, meaning he often went to the “most churched” people first because they usually had a good foundation on which he could build. When he approached Gentiles who were strictly idol-worshippers, he almost always started off with God as Creator and therefore worthy of all worship. Then he would tell them of Christ as the Means of reconciliation to the God of creation.

Be Honest with the Scriptures

Paul never preached his own agenda. Our job as believers is to win people to Christ, not to convince people of our own opinions. Luke, the beloved physician and longtime friend of the apostle Paul, used some very precise words to describe Paul’s preaching ministry to the Thessalonians.

Acts 17:1-3

(1)  Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:

(2)  And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,

(3)  Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.

  • Reasoned means “discourse using questions and answers.” “Dialogue” is a good synonym. It was a technique commonly used by rabbis of the time.
  • Opening is what we might call expository preaching. Paul would read a passage, and then explain it in light of Christ and the gospel. (See Luke 4:17-20.)
  • Alleging means “to lay beside.” In other words, presenting a well-organized argument and showing how the Scriptures of the OT harmonized with all the claims of Jesus Christ. It’s like a lawyer clearly presenting the evidence in a case.
  • Preach means “to proclaim, to announce.” (“Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36))

It is interesting to note the amount of build up to the actual preaching. When Paul did finally proclaim the truth of the gospel it had great power and effect because of all the groundwork he had laid out in the process. Effectively preaching the Gospel requires a great deal of patience and understanding.