Preaching to Change the Heart
Preaching to Change the Heart
Paul's example is bold, courageous proclamation
In Acts 24, Paul is being kept in a form of house arrest. He is imprisoned on the charge of being a troublemaker, a ringleader of a Nazarene sect. Felix, whose name means happy, the governor—you might want to call him Mr. Happy—having listened to Paul's defense, adjourns the proceedings awaiting the arrival of Lysias, the commander. While Paul waits for the inexorable slow, lumbering movement of justice, this encounter, involving Felix and his wife Drusilla, takes place.
We're not told what motivated Felix and Drusilla to send for Paul and to be prepared to listen to him. Conjecture allows us to imagine that life got a little dull, and perhaps they had the idea, Well, maybe we could send for the character we've got under house arrest and see what he has to say. People have been saying all kinds of things about him, so why don't we see what he has to say for himself.
You have two individuals who in all likelihood would never have attended one of Paul's public meetings. But here, in the providence of God, they are to be confronted with the message Paul brings.
These examples of power in the culture of their day, their background, and all the accoutrements of their lifestyle would be imposing to somebody who had gone through the heartache and beatings that represented Paul's life. He probably had difficulty in walking. He was able to take off his shirt and show the marks of all he experienced as a result of the ministry of the gospel. As they sit in the posture of strength, in comes the apostle Paul in the posture of apparent weakness.
Now how would you have felt going up the stairs? I wonder what would have been going through our minds? We would have thought, Should I use this as an opportunity for "pre-evangelism"? Will I try and make friends, show them my nice side, tell them about a few dogs that got run over by a train, and let them know I'm a warm and comfortable character? I do have a hard edge, but I'll keep it concealed in the hope that at some later date I may have an opportunity for the cause of the gospel.
Though I've made light of it, it would be a realistic strategy. It would be a legitimate response to say, I don't want to take the whole wheelbarrow and dump it on them. Maybe I ought to play it carefully. That would have been one possibility.
One other would have been, Maybe God is creating an opportunity for me to negotiate my release. After all, I'm far more useful to God out of here than I am in here. I could certainly do more if I wasn't holed up waiting for the arrival of this character Lysias. He could have thought in that way.
Pauls' motivation and method
But it is clear that Paul was single minded in his approach. We can learn from what actually happened about Paul's motivation. What was it that drove Paul? In 1 Corinthians 9 he tells the Corinthians it is his earnest endeavor to win as many as possible. "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave of everyone to win as many as possible." He was zealous in the matter of evangelism. His life had been revolutionized by the power of Christ, and now it was his business to set others on the same journey.
If he had been consumed with self-interest or with fear or if he had been keen simply to become friends of the rulers, then he would not have launched into the discourse that follows. No one in his right mind who is trying to make friends with these people would do what he did. We must conclude that something else drove him.
And it did. Paul's conviction was clear. In 2 Corinthians 5:11, he states it well. "Since then we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men." In verse 14, "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all." "We no longer," in verse 16, "regard anyone from a worldly point of view."
There had to be tremendous temptation to regard Felix and Drusilla from a worldly point of view. The more prominent and powerful and able to alter our circumstances people appear to be, the greater the temptation to show them preferential interest. What he writes in 2 Corinthians 5 he lives in Acts 24. His motivation is clear.
His methodology is equally clear. He discoursed; he reasoned. He did what came naturally to him. I don't need to try and show off to these people. I don't need to impress them with my background. My significance is in the fact that I have been made a herald, an ambassador, a proclaimer of the gospel. So I am going to declare the message.
We also can find his message. He spoke with them about faith in Christ Jesus. It's striking in its simplicity.
I want to thank you for having me up, Mr. Happy and your good wife. I'd like to take the opportunity to speak to you about one thing—about faith in Christ Jesus. I don't want to speak to you about the prevailing crisis in morality that is part of the outlying districts here. I don't want to speak to you about the dreadful things that are happening to children. I don't want to address with you the issues of governmental structures and the various possibilities of political reforms. I want to speak to you about faith in Christ Jesus.
Just in case we're tempted to think that this is some little sugarcoated sermonette to tickle the ears of Felix and make Drusilla feel good about herself, a kind of happy sermon for Mr. Happy, we are given the points, so we can be in no doubt as to the nature of his message.
Not exactly what you'd call a user-friendly point with which to begin. "I'd like to talk to you, Felix and Drusilla, about the fact that God is a holy God, and he has made clear the standards of his righteousness in his law, and that we are lawbreakers. We have sinned against his holiness."
Paul doubtless confirmed for them the standard of God's law, perhaps illustrated it from his own pre-converted condition, perhaps looked into their eyes and quoted the Psalmist and allowed the power of the Word to reverberate around the massive walls.
He would have preached the Old Testament Scriptures. The Lord is righteous. He loves righteous deeds, and the upright will behold his face.
Paul is not preaching moralism to them. Preaching righteousness, so that in the piercing of their armor by the sword of God's law there may be the opportunity for him then to bring the balm of God's healing Word to them.
His second point was about self-control. He might have quoted the proverbs. "Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control." He may have spoke a little about passion and desires, perhaps told them that the world's view of freedom was really a cage, that what is held out as happiness is essentially the embracing of sorrow.
His third point is the coming judgment: Just in case you're wondering, the wicked are not going to stand. The Lord reigns forever. He has established his throne for judgment. There is coming a day when all of this will be judged. And while you think that I'm standing here in terror of a judgment that awaits me, I'm forced to tell you on the authority of the Lord Jesus, whose ambassador I am, there is a far greater judgment that awaits us all. And, Mr. and Mrs. Happy, it awaits you, too. Therefore, the issue of righteousness and of self-control and of the judgment to come is something to which you must pay most careful attention.
What a sermon.
Does our preaching follow this example?
If this approach of righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment is any kind of paradigm of preaching with a view to a change of heart and mind, is this the approach of the church in the West? Is this the sort of thing we're doing?
Take for example the matter of motivation. Are some of us tempted to back off on the persuasive element because there is a distrust of persuasiveness? In our generation people fear persuasion. Anybody who is persuaded is regarded as sort of weird or over the top. You don't indoctrinate children. You leave them free to make up their own minds. We don't persuade because it isn't fashionable. Everyone has their ideas, their own space. Who are we to invade their space? Why don't we persuade? It's because we don't fear. "Knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade men." There's no part two because there's no part one.
If Revelation 6:17 is firmly in my mind, I become persuasive. If I have that picture of my neighbors and friends and unsaved relatives in the day of God's wrath crying for the mountains and rocks to fall on them so they don't have to stand before the judgment, if that grips me and moves me to tears, then I may become persuasive. But until it does, you just got a guy behind a box speaking with empathy.
Our motivation is suspect.
Our methodology is also suspect. O that God would lay on our hearts again a renewed conviction for a methodology that is biblical.
You tell the people, "I know you're feeling lonely. I know you're losing direction and need a little joy. Here's a little joy. Here's a little friendship, and here's a little direction. Now let go of those big, bad sins." That's pragmatism not theology. That isn't Ephesians 2, "dead in your trespasses and sins" and without any ability to make yourself alive. We have congregations that are smug and self-satisfied. If we don't show man his need of a Savior, he may respond to the gospel because he likes what it may do for him, not because he's come to recognize he's a dead man and can't affect his own resurrection.
Preach the Word of God. It's not easy but it is straightforward. When was the last time we heard or preached this kind of sermon? Three points: righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment.
In prophetic voice
We lack a prophetic voice. The church has politicized, psychologized, pragmatized, and trivialized. People may say, "That approach was okay for Paul. But these are different days. Mr. Happy and his wife could handle that. You wouldn't do that to twenty-first century people."
Did you read any of the history? Felix was a twin. He and his brother were a bad lot. They were born as slaves. They crawled out of obscurity into the limelight. It was said they exercised the power of kings with the disposition of slaves, in savagery and lust. Felix had financial security, power, status, and a good-looking woman. However, he had stolen the woman from her husband.
And Paul says my first point, Mr. Happy, is righteousness. I want to talk to you about doing the right thing. I know you're an adulterer, but I want to talk to you about righteousness. And Drusilla's father killed James. Her great uncle killed John the Baptist. Her great grandfather murdered the babies in Bethlehem. And Paul spoke to her about self-control.
A real user-friendly sermon.