14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Paul does something very interesting here. He takes the usual road of faith and he flips it. He gives it to us backwards. Instead of: God sent preachers -> They preached -> People Heard -> People believed; Paul takes us down the natural backwards progression of questions. How can they believe if they have not heard -> How can they hear if nobody preaches -> Who will preach if they are never sent. But he leaves the next logical step out which would be “How can they be sent if there is no God to send them?“
Why wouldn’t he walk us through the entire progression? Why stop there? Why assume that the people that would hear his message believed in a god. The reason was most likely that most people did in fact believe in some sort of deity. But in verse 16 we see that he is not just talking simply about belief in God but about the Gospel; about Jesus.
Now assuming that we believe in God I think the next question that we need to ask is ”Who is sending preachers out?“
In today’s world there is no shortage of people that think they have a message that everyone needs to hear. Whether it be global warming and green living, how to get rich fast and stay that way, gay marriage and a woman’s choice and so many others. They may not want to be called preachers but they certainly are preaching. Al Gore is a preacher. Barack Obama is a preacher. Oprah Winfrey is a preacher.
The very idea of preaching at is one of the current generations most hated ideas. A speech will often be premised by, ”I don’t mean to be preachy but...“
Preaching has been turned into a negative idea because of the form that it has taken over the years and the current generation’s understanding of truth. When one preaches a message they are unequivocally saying that they believe their position is the correct one. And the rest are false. Even if they preface their messages with statements like, ”I am just one person in a much larger discussion.“ or ”Everyone has their own truth but...“
And when truth claims are given to a generation that say they don’t believe in truth except for their own than it makes it very hard to win over hearts (unless of course your message is supported by the mainstream media and Hollywood). Especially if your message is one that is counter cultural, which in the case of Christ, will always be.
Many try to engage the culture so much that they end up being the ones engaged. Meaning that the culture infiltrates not only their style of worship and services, but the very core beliefs of their message. The substance is lost for the sake of relevance. When this happens, what we see is a bunch of churches pursuing social justice and global responsibility preaching that this was Jesus’ main message. That the church’s job was to bring the kingdom of heaven down here by loving on others.
Don’t get me wrong. This type of service to others in and of itself is not wrong by any means. I think that this type of service should be typical of all churches in America. However if the very heart of the Gospel is not preached which is God’s redemptive work through Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross for the salvation of sinners from God’s wrath (Romans 2,3:21-26), then what that produces are vibrant, energetic, philanthropic, culturally hip yet spiritually dead congregations.
”For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
I have too many thoughts to write in one posting but I will continue later...