Category Archives: Evangelism

Don’t Pull Your Punches, or Don’t Cushion the Cross

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:9-10).

The church of Christ, the church of our Lord (Matt. 16:16-19; Acts 20:28), is very special. We have in our possession the things which the prophets of old desired to look into, the very things that have now been revealed to us in His word (I Cor. 2:7-13). Those holy men were deprived of that sacred knowledge and yet inquired and searched diligently into the things revealed to them but which they, themselves, could not alone understand (I Pet. 1:10,11). Moreover, not only the ancient prophets but even now the angels still desire to look into these things (I Pet.1:12). Now that is special! That is very special!

Is there any conceivable, intelligible reason why we, as His servants, would not want to make this known to every accountable human being? Paul said it was God’s plan “to make all men see” these truths. This is why He commanded His apostles, and consequently us through them, to take this good news into all the world and to preach it to every creature, and to teach all nations (Mark 16:15,16; Matt. 28:18-20). The great commission gives us the marching orders for the church. It is why we, as the church, exist (Acts 2:47)!

Faithful men and women of God willingly sacrificed their lives to fulfill the great commission. That commission was why Stephen was stoned to death in the great persecution against the early church which was at Jerusalem (Acts 7:59 – 8:4). That is why Christians were assaulted and thrown into prison at the hands of it’s arch nemesis, Saul of Tarsus (Acts 8:3,4). That is why James the brother of John was slain with the sword, when Herod stretched forth his hand “to vex certain of the church” (Acts 12:1,2). That is why Antipas was horribly martyred because he held fast to the name of Christ and did not deny His Faith (Rev. 2:13) and the early church faced the Great Tribulation which resulted in the deaths of many a faithful child of God (Rev. 2:10; Matt. 24:21).

How many preachers, how many elders, how many Christians today would preach the truth and let the chips fall where they may, as these brethren did long ago? How many today would be willing to hazard their lives for the name of the Lord (Acts 15:26)? If the answer is that there are many today who would do this, then why are there so many apparently so timid now when it comes to professing the name of the Lord and His church to the world? Does courage somehow blossom in the bosom of timidity when the danger increases? Is he who is unfaithful in the lesser more likely or less likely to flourish in the greater (Luke 16:10)?

It is hard to conceive of a time when the apostle Paul would have cloaked the message of the gospel in some dress that hid it’s power and truth from men either to avoid confrontation or to lure the unsuspecting prospects by “good words and fair speeches” (Rom. 16:18). It is hard to imagine Paul ever downplaying the importance of the Lord’s church. Certainly, he said our speech should always be with grace, seasoned with salt (Col.4:6). But that does not mean we pull the punches!

Paul pulled no punches when he spoke to the Jews in Thessalonica (Acts 17). He reasoned with them out of the scriptures and opened and alleged that Christ must needs have suffered (Acts 17:1-4). He did not shy away from the truth even though the unbelieving Jews suborned certain lewd fellows of the baser sort against him (Acts 17:5,6).

Paul did not pull his punches when speaking to the Athenians but told them plainly that they were worshiping in ignorance (Acts 17:23). He did not feel it audacious or presumptuous or harmful to instruct them in their religious inscience.

Paul pulled no punches when he, no doubt in exasperation, shook his raiment, as if to shake off the dust of the responsibility for the Corinthian Jews, and declared that he would henceforth go the Gentiles, saying “Your blood be upon your own heads. I am clean” (Acts 18:6). Even if he had been tempted to dull the edge of the Spirit’s sword for whatever reason, the Lord would have disallowed it, for He enjoined him to “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace” (Acts 18:9).

Brethren, is it not plain? Could it be any clearer that the truth is to be spoken, in love to be sure, but spoken without compromise? Let us not be afraid to boldly proclaim either the name of the Lord or His church or His gospel. Let us never soften the edges of the old, rugged cross in order to ease the discomfort of those that seek a soft road to heaven. Let it not be said of any child of God that he willfully withheld some vital truth to lure people with some false sense of comfort.

Don’t pull your punches or cushion the cross.

Eric L. Padgett

A Great Man Fallen This Day

It was with great sorrow that we received the news that brother Garland Elkins passed from this life on Friday, October 28, 2016. Because he dad such a profound impact not only on me, but also on the brotherhood, I feel compelled to mention a few things in his memory. Brother Elkins was a prolific writer, dedicated editor, capable debater, sound Gospel preacher and faithful child of God. The value of his work in the kingdom of God is inestimable.

I have spent many hours listening to brother Elkins in meetings and in lectureships and when ever I had the opportunity. Some years ago, I spoke with him on several occasions when he held meetings where I attended, discussed doctrinal and brotherhood issues while eating with him or driving him to his hotel, and generally picked his brain whenever possible. I will forever be indebted to him for his wonderful Christian example and for the truth I learned from him.

Four things impressed me about brother Elkins. The first was his love of the scriptures. As a new Christian, I had heard others quote the scriptures before, but not the way brother Elkins quoted them, nor so prolifically. No matter what the issue was, brother Elkins would quote the scriptures. I remember when Brother Elkins was on the Donahue program, Phil Donahue sarcastically quipped, “I’m gonna guarantee you the minister’s got a section of scripture that covers that in the Bible.” But brother Elkins, with what little time he was given, unflappably quoted the scriptures and spoke the truth. Truly, the word of Christ dwelt in him richly (Col. 3:16).

Second, he was a very kind person. His presentation was always with meekness, yet firmness. When he spoke about an issue with me that I had inquired about, though he knew the truth about it, he would say something to the effect, “Don’t you think that’s right?” He didn’t need my affirmation, but he was trying to gently nudge me in the right direction. He often humorously observed about certain individuals, “Some people are so disagreeable, even their stomachs disagree with them.” He followed Paul’s teaching, “Let your speech be always with grace” (Col. 4:6).

Third, he was dedicated to the Lord’s work in saving souls. I remember in one lesson he recalled how he was with another Christian and he saw a member of their congregation who had become unfaithful. He told the brother that was with him that if they had the opportunity, they would have to encourage that person to return to the Lord. It just so happens that they all got on the same elevator with other people, yet he spoke softly but clearly, and urged this unfaithful child of God to return back to the Lord. He was always trying to convert the sinner from the error of his ways and save a soul from death (James 5:19,20).

The fourth thing that stood out about brother Elkins to me was his energy. He was always going somewhere to preach or else coming from somewhere having preached. He was forty years older than I was but he had much more energy and purpose. I remember one year at the Spiritual Sword lectureship that the atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair was in Memphis on a radio talk show in town, and he encouraged others to call her and challenge her. I don’t remember if he did or not, but if he had the time, I am sure he would have tried. On another occasion he stayed late after the lectureship was over playing tapes of some false teacher for others to be informed. He epitomized Paul’s direction to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58).

A couple of years ago I wrote about brother Elkins (and other preachers who influenced me) in an article entitled Honor to whom Honor. “Brother Garland Elkins has also had a profound impact upon me. I can listen to brother Elkins preach for hour on end and never grow tired. His nimble recollection of scripture and his meek but forceful presentation of the truth and defense of it are a pattern for me in my preaching, though I fall far short of his example. His lessons are filled with book, chapter and verse preaching and quotation of scripture, but they also contain the occasional anecdote that brings the point home. He has a great sense of humor, as well. I remember on one occasion in Kentucky when he was encouraging others to attend the Spiritual Sword lectureship, he said “You want to go to heaven, don’t you!” Every young preacher ought to listen to his sermons and learn from them.”

I always checked to see if brother Elkins opened my newsletter. I was proud to know that he, with some other beloved brethren, received and looked at this newsletter. He always did until some time ago and I wondered then if he perhaps didn’t like it.  But I later learned that his health was poor and that this was the reason why.  When Abner fell at the hands of Joab and Abishai, David stated: “Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?” (II Samuel 3:38). And so it is today that a great man is fallen this day in Israel. Brother Elkins will be missed in the years to come. We need more men like him to stand for the truth and defeat error. May God bless and comfort his family in their time of mourning.

Eric L. Padgett

Reaching the Lost

One of the issues which often arises in discussions in business meetings and among faithful brethren in other settings is how we can effectively reach the lost? We fret because we seem unable to reach large numbers (or even small numbers) of people consistently with the truth, with enough impact for them to obey the gospel. While this author does not profess to have all the answers (or even some) to this important question, he would like to offer a few observations on the subject.

First, we must recognize that some of the greatest teachers in the world were unable to affect obedience in their audience. Noah preached impending doom for 120 years, but was able to save only his own family (II Pet. 2:5; I pet. 3:20; Gen. 6:3). The prophets were often regularly ignored and killed (Matt. 23:30,31). Jesus, the Master teacher (John 7:46), did not always get a positive response (John 6:66,67). In Athens, Paul encountered those who mocked him (Acts 17:32). If these had their troubles with reaching the lost, why do we suppose that we would be any different?

Second, we must recognize the limits of our responsibility. Our obligation is not to convert or save anyone, but to preach the gospel (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15,16). We, ourselves, cannot save or convert anyone. It is the word which convicts and converts (e.g., Acts 2:36). It is God that gives the increase (I Cor. 3:6). If we go with the idea that we are to convert, then we will most likely be disappointed. Let us be content to limit our activity to that which the Lord commanded and He will be pleased with that.

Third, we seriously err if we think that we can substitute the gospel of Christ with worldly attractions to lure people into the church. We all know how to draw huge crowds: simply offer people what they want to hear instead of what the Lord says they need (II Tim. 4:3,4). Jesus condemned this type of attitude when He condemned those who followed Him only because of the loaves and fishes (John 6:26,27). Too many churches of Christ offer people things, things like various kinds of classes unrelated to Christ or His word, food, giveaways, fairs, etc., in exchange for their continued patronage of the local church. This is neither scriptural nor moral.

Furthermore, all this does is to cause people to think materialistically. It doesn’t pique their interest in spiritual things. Our affections should be set on things above, not on things on the earth (Col. 3:1-3). It is the gospel of Christ which has the power to draw people to Him (John 12:32). If you lure people in with material things and activities, then you will have to keep them there with material things and activities.

Fourth, there probably is no one reason why people refuse to come to the Lord. For some, it may be that they do not want to tacitly condemn their family by obeying something their family did not do. No one would purposely condemn their family to hell, which is what they may feel like they are doing when they, themselves, obey. For others it may be a love of the things of this world is too strong a pull on them (Matt. 13:7,22). Some may not understand the teaching of Christ or the importance of obedience to Christ. It may be these things and many things more or it may be many of these thing all rolled up into one bundle. Each case is unique.

Fifth, sadly, there are some people who are just unreachable. Some have hardened their heart so much that the light of the gospel will not shine in unto them (II Cor. 4:3,4; Eph. 4:17-19). Jesus said of Israel that “this people’s heart is waxed gross and their ears are dull of hearing” (Matt. 13:15). Jesus recognized this and said that we must cast the dust off our feet in such situations (Matt. 10:14).

Finally, the best way to reach people with the gospel is to get it out there where it can be believed. There is no possibility of the seed producing fruit if it is not sown. Seed kept stored in a bag will not grow. It grows only when it is sown in great quantities. The more we know of God’s word, and the more opportunities we take to teach others, the more likely we will reach people with the truth. There is no magic formula for positive results that does not include hard work.

Eric L. Padgett

Lessons For A Preacher

Timothy was quite a young man. He exhibited unfeigned faith in Christ, even while coming from a religiously divided home. His mother was a Jew who believed in Christ but his father was a Greek (Acts 16:1,3). Perhaps because of objections made by his father, Timothy was never circumcised. However, his mother and grandmother were powerful influences on Timothy in his youth, so much so that Paul now observed great enough qualities in Timothy that he desired him to join him in his labors for the Lord in the kingdom (II Tim. 3:15; Acts 16:3).

The second epistle to Timothy was the last letter we have from the aged apostle, who knew that his own death was imminent (II Tim. 4:8). Knowing that his own time was short, Paul would not mince words but speak what Timothy needed to hear. In both of his epistles to Timothy, Paul gives important, final instruction to Timothy regarding his work and conduct as a preacher. These letters also give us insight into the responsibility of a preacher and into the substance of his doctrine.

The very first thing Paul mentions to Timothy was his responsibility to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (I Tim. 1:3). This was the very reason Paul left Timothy at Ephesus. Earlier, Paul warned the Ephesians to guard against false teaching by “grievous wolves..not sparing the flock” who would arise from among themselves (Acts 20:28-30). Fortunately, we see later, that Ephesus stood fast in the faith, and tried those which taught error and found them liars (Rev. 2:2). But Paul taught that soundness of doctrine was so vital to the work of the preacher that he mentioned this as the first item of importance.

Sound doctrine is a common theme in the epistles to Timothy (and in all of his other letters, as well). In the second epistle, Paul encourages Timothy to “hold fast the form of sound words” (1:13). The word “doctrine” is mentioned twelve times in these two short epistles. He concludes his letters to son in the Faith, before mentioning his own martyrdom, that Timothy should preach the word, both when it was accepted and when it was not accepted (II Tim. 4:1-5). This instruction should be heeded by all preachers of the gospel in this age, as well.

Another area of emphasis which the inspired apostle gives is in the area of moral purity. Paul said men should lift up “holy hands” and women should adorn themselves in “modest apparel” (I Tim. 2). Paul noted the timeless truth that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Tim. 6:6). Furthermore, Paul urged Timothy himself, and others, as well, to flee immorality and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience and meekness (I Tim. 6:11). Those who do will have treasures far greater than any wealth that can be accumulated on earth. Gospel preachers need to call on God’s people to keep themselves pure and unspotted from the world.

The one imagery that Paul used most when speaking to Timothy was that of a soldier. This is interesting in light of the fact that Timothy seems to have been somewhat timid. Paul had to encourage him to stir up the gift that was in him by noting that God had not given them (nor us) a spirit of fear but of love and of a sound mind (II Tim. 1:6,7). But Paul often encouraged him to “war a good warfare” (I Tim. 1:18) and to “fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 6:12). He encouraged Timothy to be a good soldier of Christ Jesus (II Tim. 2:3). Faithful gospel preachers today in particular and Christians in general need to be less timid and see their work as an active battle with the forces of evil and not a courting of the world’s favor.

A final emphasis that is found in Paul’s epistles to Timothy is the need to trust in God. Paul stated, “I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” (II Tim. 1:12). Paul trusted in God to reward him for the labors he had bestowed in kingdom of Christ. Again, Paul informed Timothy of his own death in the near future. This must have been a great blow to Timothy, given how close these two men were. But Paul said he was ready to be offered (II Tim. 4:8). What a lesson of trust in God that must have been for Timothy and should be for us.

Eric L. Padgett

100% Response To The Invitation, or, How not to be a struggling congregation!

Every time I preach, I get a 100% response to the invitation to obey the gospel by the alien sinner or by Christians to ask the Lord’s forgiveness. How do I do that? Actually, it’s not hard at all. You see, everyone automatically makes some kind of response. Some people respond to the Lord’s invitation by rejecting Him. Others respond with apathy and put off any immediate decision. Some are offended. Still others are interested enough to come back the next time. Some obey. When the word of God is preached and the invitation offered, there is always a 100% response to it. It may not always be what I want it to be, or what the Lord wants it to be, but there is always a 100% response.

I have had members of large congregations express to me the notion that because an individual is a member of a small congregation, he must not be doing something right, or, at the very least, those large congregations must be right with God or they would not be growing. They make a goal for themselves and a decided effort to make themselves likable to “their community.” And so they offer “programs” that appeal to their community and many times the community responds favorably to the “programs,” so long as those programs are offered.

I have heard others suggest that small congregations are by definition “struggling”. But this view is borne out of a misconception of the mission of the church. The great commission given by Jesus was to “teach all nations” and “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15,16; Matt. 28:18-20). Our job is not to make ourselves likable or to please men. Our job is not even to fill a building with people. Our job is to spread the seed, to preach the word. It is God’s part to give the increase (I Cor. 3:7).

Paul wanted to persuade individuals to obey the gospel. He wrote, “knowing therefore he terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (II Cor. 5:11). To “persuade” means to “convince by argument.” While a scriptural argument may be valid and sound, it may not always persuade someone, not because the argument is ineffectual but because the heart of the individual is not open or receptive. The heart of another individual is not something over which we ultimately have any control.

Paul’s preaching of the resurrection brought him ridicule (Acts 17:32). Even some of his own brethren felt he was more their enemy than anything else simply because he preached the truth to them (Gal.4:16). In some places Paul was driven out of town and beaten and left for dead by those who did not like what he said (Acts 14:19). Should we consider Paul a failure because his “message” was not universally accepted or because he was not universally loved?

Even with the ability to prove what He said was true by miracles, wonders and signs, not everyone was persuaded by Jesus’ teaching and mighty works. If personality and charisma could bring about universal acceptance of the truth, surely Jesus would have done so. But He did not. In fact, he was so “despised and rejected of men” that He was wounded and abused and afflicted by them (Is. 53). Should we conclude from the fact that Jesus was not liked very much that He was “struggling” as a teacher of God’s word?

How do we define success as a congregation of the Lord’s people or even as an individual Christian? Should we define it by how much we are liked by the world? Jesus said the world hated Him (John 15:18). Should we define by how big of a congregation we have? Jesus blessed the congregation of Philadelphia even though it had “little strength” (Rev. 3:8). Furthermore, many denominational churches would be counted faithful if this were the only criteria. Should we define success as having great wealth? Jesus said the church of Smyrna was financially poor, though spiritually rich (Rev. 2:8). Should we define success by how many programs we have instituted? Jesus said many that have done “many wonderful works” of their own creation will be cast into hell (Matt. 7:21-23).

Every Christian struggles to some degree in living the Christian life. It is difficult enough to control our own life much less the life and thoughts and actions of others. In truth, we really can’t control what others believe or how they will respond to the gospel. Some try to do this by manipulating others, or enticing them. The one thing we do have control over, however, is our own actions. If we live the truth and teach the truth and preach the truth, we will be successful in God’s eyes and that is all that matters.

Eric L. Padgett