PREACHING Lesson Four CONSIDERING YOUR AUDIENCE by Given O. Blakely
INTRODUCTION The nobility and priority of preaching is worthy of your consideration. If you are in Christ, you are a product of preaching. The Lord employed the message of someone to penetrate your heart, making known its counsels. It is with you as with the Corinthians someone was given to you through whom you believed. As it is written, "What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each" (1 Cor 3:5). It was not viewing how these holy men lived that saved the Corinthians, but believing what they proclaimed! To be sure, their lives were harmonious with their message, but it was the message that had the power! The trite little saying, "I had rather see a sermon than hear one any time," is foolish, and appeals to those with little or no acquaintance with the ways of God. Our lives adorn the doctrine (Tit 2:10), but it is the doctrine that distills within the heart, bringing conviction and life (Deut 32:2).
Preaching, or proclaiming the Gospel, is not undergirded by human wisdom. It cannot be accomplished by following a prescribed procedure, or adhering to a scientific principle. You can be sure that the God Who declares the wisdom of this world to be "foolishness" (1 Cor 1:21; 3:19), will not employ it to accomplish His salvational objective in Christ Jesus. Reliance upon the flesh in preaching is as foolish and unacceptable as relying upon it for protection or justification. In my judgment, this cannot be overemphasized. You can imagine what would have happened if Paul would have sought to develop his apostleship by employing the things to which he was subjected as a pharisee. When he poignantly stated that he counted everything that was "gain" to him but "loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus," he was expressing the requisite for laboring in the vineyard of the Lord (Phil 3:8ff). While we are not expected to abandon thought, or take refuge in ignorance, our thinking processes and presentation skills can only be honed to their finest edge when we rely upon our God. At the point the wisdom of this world becomes inhibitive to faith, it becomes sinful, and is to be abandoned. That is something that must be determined by each individual, and it is to be done with the greatest of sobriety, and in complete reliance upon the Lord.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR AUDIENCE?
Preaching is never done mechanically, in ignorement of the audience that is being addressed. While we are not preaching to "please men" (Gal 1:10), we do seek to "to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith" in Christ (Acts 26:18). In this matter you find another opportunity to rely upon your God!
Think of the different audiences to whom the Gospel was preached in the book of Acts. Though not exhaustive, here is a sampling of the remarkable diversity of these audiences. (1. A multitude of devout men from every nation under heaven, guilty of murdering Jesus (Acts 2:14-36). (2. A group of people impressed by a great work of God (Acts 3: 12-26). (3. Enemies that sought to suppress the preaching of the Gospel (Acts 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 7:2-53). (4. A Samaritan city (Acts 8:5). (5. Before political officials (Acts 8:32-35; 22:2-21; 24:10-25; 26:2-25). (6. A Gentile that was a good man, with all his household (Acts 10:34-43). (7. Synagogues (Acts 13:16-41,44-47; 17:2-4). (8. A conference of Apostles and elders (Acts 15:7-11, 13-21). (9. A merchant at a prayer meeting (Acts 16:13-15). (10. A jailor (Acts 16:28-36). (10. Before heathen philosophers (Acts 17:22-31).
The early proclaimers of the Gospel did not have time to become specialists. Jesus has told them they would testify before people to whom they were not accustomed to speaking (Luke 12:11). While it is fashionable today to culture special preaching ministries, such activity must be done with care. You may very well have a burden for a certain body of people, and that is not to be condemned. However, if you are going to be used of God, you must become as versatile as your faith will allow. God may send a relatively unknown prophet like Jonah to a great city like Nineveh. He may also send a former Pharisee to the Gentiles, or a fisherman to the Jewish leaders. A former deacon in a provincial congregation may be sent to a desert road to speak to a political official from a distant country. There is not restraint with the Lord, and the preacher must learn to reckon upon that.
Preachers of Scriptural record did not simply spout forth a canned message, memorized and proclaimed without regard to the audience. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they could personalize the Gospel to a seeking Gentile like the Ethiopian eunuch,to those that had crucified the Lord of glory.
THE GOSPEL MESSAGE DID NOT CHANGE
The essential message of Christ did not change. There is only one Gospel, unchangeable in all of its aspects. If you examine the preaching in the book of Acts, you will find Christ consistently exalted. His resurrection is set forth as a pivotal doctrine, with His death as the appointed means of reconciliation. Men were also faced with the coming judgment, and their ultimate accountability to the Son of God. There was also a consist challenge for men to think on a higher level. You will not find condescending and simplistic presentations of the Gospel in Scripture. Men were addressed as the "offspring of God," with profound capabilities of thought and contemplation. An absolute reliance upon the Lord was also evident. The speakers did not become embroiled in the issues of the day, even though they often spoke to people that were caught up in such things. Peter did not speak on the glories of Jewish feasts on the day of Pentecost, nor did Philip speak on the relevance of financial responsibility to the eunuch. Stephen did not address the matter of scholarship or leadership to the Sanhedrin, and Paul did not speak on the virtues of synagogue worship to the Jews. When standing before Agrippa and Felix, Paul did not address the matter of honorable governors or equitable rule. Their consideration of the audience was at a different level.
SEE MEN AS GOD SEES THEM
Beware of perceiving men through psychological eyes, something that is highly fashionable in this generation. You do not favor to men, nor do you bring honor to God, by perceiving individuals as primarily male or female, bond or free, Jew or Gentile. More foolish still is the consideration of them as left- brain/right-brain people, or other forms of emotional classifications. This is not simply an opinion. New life in Christ does not allow such classifications. It is written, "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more" (2 Cor 5:214-16, KJV). Another version puts it this way: "For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way" (NRSV). The Spirit is telling us the Kingdom of God does not permit fleshly evaluations. It is not only unlawful for the child of God to indulge in such assessments, it is against the nature of Kingdom life. It makes little difference who proposes such evaluative procedures, God does not allow it! The "human point of view" is the sinful and unacceptable point of view! Those in fellowship with the Lord simply do not engage in such assessments.
God has spoken on the classification of men. These are the primary classifications, with all others being subordinate to them.
Jews, Gentiles, and church of God. "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God" (1 Cor 10:32).
Jews by nature and sinners of the Gentiles. "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles" (Gal 2:15).
Those in the flesh, and those in the Spirit. "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit" (Romans 8:5). The natural man and the spiritual man. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man" (1 Cor 2:14-15). Alienated and reconciled. "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled" (Col 1:21).
CONSIDERATION IS AT THE POINT OF EXHORTATION
The point of exhortation is the primary point of audience consideration. Though not confined to this area of your presentation, here is where your power becomes focused. Those on the day of Pentecost were addressed as those that needed to change. The Ethiopian eunuch was directed to respond as one that had been convinced. The Philippian jailor was offered escape from doing himself harm. The Athenians and Stoics were summoned to prepare for confronting the Judge of all the earth. The Sanhedrin was told of their stubborn hearts. Paul reasoned with Felix concerning his relationship to God. Paul led the Lydia and her associates from praying to receiving God's great salvation.
You will note in each of the cases that holy men took people from where they were to a consideration of the Gospel of Christ. It was not so much WHO they were, but WHERE they were that made the difference. You may speak to a young person that is advanced, like David. You may also address prisoners that need comfort, like Paul or Epaphroditus. It may be your lot to speak to devout people who want to know the truth, but have simply never had the opportunity, like Cornelius or the Ethiopian eunuch. Or, you may have to address hardened people, who really have no interest in what you are saying, like the Sanhedrin or Felix.
Your job is not to present a feminine Gospel to ladies, or a juvenile one to young people. You are not to make the Gospel political to an official, or philosophical to a worldly thinker. You will never honor God by presenting His Son as a means to have fun to a lover of pleasure, or a way to promote equity to the political advocate. The preacher must always declare the Divine agenda. His job is to bring the people to a common place to a consideration of the truth of God.
In preaching, you are seeking to elevate people to bring them close enough to the truth of God to be able to grasp it by faith. The role of the preacher is never to tamper with truth, make it more appealing, or tailor it to the taste of the people. Bring the truth within the reach of the people, but do so by raising them to a point where earth is subordinate to heaven.