Wayne Coats (1927-2013)
I was assigned the subject of temperance to be discussed during a lectureship. I will never forget the feeling of self-condemnation which became a part of my life as I prepared my lecture and studied the Bible, which I held across my fat belly. My clothes were getting too small and my breathing was out of control. I could do a fairly good job preaching to the brethren and sisters about what they should and should not do. They needed to practice self-control but did I not need to do the same?
A lengthy spell of illness has helped me to practice temperance and self-control which is a real problem, but such is my duty as a Christian. The food which I relish so much must be rejected and I can do it. I am doing it.
One occasion was a Gospel Meeting and the other was a home-coming service when I was invited to return and speak where I had formerly preached. On both occasions a bountiful lunch had been prepared by the good sisters. When the closing “amen” was said, people moved out into the area when lunch was being served. At both of those congregations I tried to act as if I had a bit of manners and stood greeting the people as they moved out of the auditorium. At one of the congregations, a good lady who had been the wife of a deceased elder came and asked me to come along to lunch. When she and I entered the lunch room I saw the local preacher all bent over a plate filled with food and shoveling it in somewhat like a hog eating out of a trough. The two occasions mentioned above were almost identical. To surmise that I wanted special treatment is sheer nonsense. One thing which is sickening, nauseating and downright disgusting is to see preachers who have no manners or self-control and who feel justified in ignoring those Scriptures which tell us to be temperate. It doesn’t take much sense for a normal human to learn a few decent manners and if such are not learned, please spare me the thrill of having to be around such people.
In picking a preacher, let me refuse the temptation to lobby for my close friend and demand that all the others kow-tow to my whims. There is no kind of politics as dirty as church politics. If you have not seen this, live a little longer. Diotrephes will pay a visit by and by (3 John 9). One dear sister described her husband by saying, “All he does is attend a business meeting and run off his mouth.” She hit the nail on the head. Self-willed people can be a pain in the neck.
There are some other characteristics which I deem to be important in picking a preacher but I do not have time to write an entire book on this. Pity the people who have picked the wrong preacher! Getting rid of the wrong preacher can be like getting rid of the seven-year itch. There will usually be a lot of clawing and scratching — which God hates (Prov. 6:16).
I believe if I was engaged in picking a preacher, it would be of tremendous value to pick one that could also be “unpicked” if need be. Some preachers just do not blend. The mix isn’t right. Why rip a congregation to pieces over purely personal desires? I shudder to think of the sorry mess which has developed over picking the wrong preacher. The same is true in trying to change preachers, in some places.
If I picked a preacher I would earnestly pray for one who was constrained to preach the Gospel. I mean the preacher like Paul who had some deep convictions about preaching! The dear brother with all his trials declared, “woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).
The phone rang and the brother who called wanted to know if I knew of a place needing a preacher. He said he used to preach but quit and went into secular work but he just couldn’t make a living in secular jobs so he decided he would try preaching again. Well, er, ugh, I don’t know about no church who needs that kind of preacher. I like the man who can say — “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!”
Incidentally, no congregation has invited me to pick a preacher for the group and I am not anticipating that any will. It sounds fairly cranky I know, but if I should ever be saddled with the awesome task of picking a preacher, I would really want to view two places. I would want to look at the seat of his britches to see how slick his pants were (from sitting around), and I would also want to look at the soles of his shoes to see how thin they were from moving about. I read somewhere about “making full proof of thy ministry.” This did not say, “make a fool of thy ministry.”
Wayne Coats (1927-2013)
I would pick a preacher that has common sense, studies hard, is constrained to preach the Gospel, is temperate in all things, and doesn’t expect others to kow-tow to his every whim.
I am not writing this article based upon a lot of preacher picking experience, in fact, I have never been faced with the serious task of picking a located preacher. I sometimes think the situation might be comparable to selecting a good watermelon out of a large field of melons. One dear old brother remarked, “I’ve never preached a sermon but I’ve read the Bible and heard enough preachers to know when a man is preaching the Bible.”
I believe if I attempted to pick a preacher to locate with a congregation, I would demand as my number one qualification that a preacher have an unusual amount of common sense. Brethren with common sense can determine if a preacher has any common sense. But someone may object that a knowledge of the Bible should be the first priority. If a man is to preach and work with a congregation, common sense would demand that one would study to know the Book. If one knew ever so much Scripture and had no common sense, I would not be interested in supporting him. Common sense is a marvelous quality which is not always so common.Sometimes we may refer to a brother as having a lot of horse sense which has been defined as stable thinking. Isaiah said, “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people do not consider”(Isa. 1:3).
Back during the thirties, my dad had several mules and mares, and one old donkey. Old John was not the most intelligent animal on the farm but he knew his specific stable or crib. He knew where he belonged. Even a dumb ass knows that much, which is not true of some preachers. A Gospel preacher needs to know where he belongs. He needs to have enough common sense to work within his sphere. We are not born with common sense. One big dummy in a congregation can ruin most everything.
At the Divinity School the curriculum was arranged in order to assist denominational pastors to become Administrators, if that was what they wanted. It is amazing how many youthful Administrators we have who virtually sit at the controls while elders grin. So many of the youth ministers are nothing more than social service Administrators. Honesty demands that we admit this.
A second qualification which I would require if I picked a preacher would be to find a man who studies very hard. It seems strange that all the brethren in secular work need to arise early and punch the clock for an eight-hour work day but the preacher can still be in bed snoozing the time away. I know there are brethren who stay up late to do their studying. God bless them, but there are others who are nothing more than sleeping goof-balls. One brother was asked when he studied and his reply was, “I did my studying fifty years ago.” It was pretty obvious. Brother N. B. Hardeman used to compare such men to green watermelons, i.e. they got pulled too green. The very height of pleasure for me is to take my trusted Bible in hand or a good sound, sensible book written by a faithful brother, and let the hours flow by. It is difficult to preach on themes where ignorance is so prevalent. I know! There have been subjects assigned for me to deal with in Lectureships concerning which I was totally ignorant. Give me a couple of months to prepare and I promise that by diligent study I can dig out that which I need to present. No preacher should ever get up before an audience and begin to apologize. If he is stupid, dumb or ignorant, the brethren will realize it without having to be told. If a preacher isn’t ready, he needs to get ready or not try to preach. Apologetic excuses will not help the situation. Begging for sympathy will not solve the problem of being unprepared.
I would pick a preacher who knows how to be temperate in all things. Titus was to teach the aged men to be temperate (Titus 2:2). The bishop was to be temperate in all things (Titus 1:8). It isn’t necessary in this article to deal with every area wherein temperance is to be practiced but we must know that temperance is a part of the beautiful cluster described in the Bible as the fruit of the spirit of God (Gal. 5:23).
The Choices God Makes
by Tim Jennings
We are taught early in life how to choose sides. Just choose the strongest, fastest, tallest, smartest, prettiest and trendiest and you can’t go wrong. With a smiling face, you’ll find your place among the stylish crowd. But, what if our precious standards of evaluation are wrong? What if the best choices are not the most popular or comfortable? What if success is not found in the path of the beautiful and the bright? What if our method of selection is so flawed it actually leads to our ruin? The history of human choices is not a good one. The original couple made a choice that had all the indicators of success.
They choose a beautiful fruit to be smarter and stronger. How brilliant! But, it was dead wrong. Look around, our ability to make wise choices isn’t much better. There is something deeply flawed with the way we decide things. However, God doesn’t evaluate things like we do. Who would choose David over Saul to be king? God did. Who would choose a life of poverty for the Christ? God did. Who would willingly choose to die on a cross? God did. Clearly, God doesn’t make choices the way we do. We would do well to throw away our flawed filters of decision and pay attention to how God chooses. A case study: God chose Jacob, not Esau. God’s choice is explained at the birth of these twin boys (Gen. 25:19-26), and later examined by other Biblical writers (Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:11-14; Heb. 12:15-17).
We also learn about God’s choice by looking at the families of Jacob and Esau (Gen. 36-50). Genesis sets up the study this way, Gen. 36:1, “This is the account of Esau.” Gen. 37:2 “This is the account of Jacob.” That similar beginning is followed by a shocking contrast! Who God chooses is surprising! First, the family of Esau is described as large and powerful. They control twenty-seven chiefdoms and have eight kings who rule the rising power of Edom. They are literally, a royal family. Align yourself with Esau and you’ll never lack food or protection (or so it seems; see Obadiah). On the other hand, the family of Jacob is described, “This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen was tending the flocks” (Gen. 37:2). What? The hope of Jacob’s family is pinned on a boy! A shepherd boy, from a dysfunctional family, surrounded by brothers who hate him. Now, what family do you want your daughter to marry into?
What family do you want to be a part of your church? That’s easy, Esau! Yet, the hope of humanity does not rest with the numbers and security of Esau, but in the single, rejected, but faithful son of Jacob. Take heart! God often chooses to work through unexpected and feeble people (1 Cor. 1:26-31). God’s work is not often done among the many and the mighty! It is done among the few and the faithful. Our value is not tied to how big a church we attend, but to the God we serve. Our future does not depend on the quality of our family tree, but on the newness of our life in Christ. Our hope does not rest on our plans, but on God’s providence! We don’t have to be many, powerful, smart, or even perfect, God chooses to work through feeble, but faithful people. God does not choose to remove us from pain. Esau’s family had so many possessions they decided to leave the land of Canaan. They seized some land to the east and set up their own nation. On the other hand, Jacob “lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan” (Gen. 37:1). He has no nation, and before long he is nearly starving to death. Remind me, who did God choose? Then, there is Joseph. The chosen one! Yet, his brothers hate him, toss him in a pit, and sell him into slavery. He is later lied about, thrown in prison, and forgotten for over decade. Could God choose such a path for His people? Yes! God often chooses the most painful path. Faith is not found on the couch of convenience, but by carrying our cross (Luke 9:23-24). It is fleshly religion that seeks to make comfortable spectators.
Discipleship calls for sacrificial service (2 Cor. 12:15; Phil. 2:17). To make godly choices we cannot run from the pain. When we sacrifice our time, affection, energy and possessions to know and serve the Lord, it is the best choice we can make. Our salvation is the goal of God’s choice. Yes, Esau’s family was attractive, but ultimately, they became corrupt, ungodly, murderers who brought death, not life (The Herodian family of the N.T.).
On the other hand, Joseph’s pain worked out to the salvation of his family. Joseph summarized the purpose of God’s choice in this memorable statement, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). The ultimate purpose of God’s choice is not to make things comfortable for us, but to save our souls and the souls of people around us (1 Tim. 2:4). So, the fundamental question behind each godly choice is, “Does this lead me closer to God and help me save more people?” Our “decision maker” is broken! It is too corrupted by external appearances and personal comforts. It is time to ask, “What would God choose?” Then, do that.
WHY IS THERE SO MUCH BITTERNESS?
Roger D. Campbell
Bitter food is one thing; but a bitter spirit that eats at the soul and spews forth cutting, hateful words is another matter entirely.
When you think about something tasting bitter, what comes to mind? An unpleasant taste? No doubt. A cutting feeling on the tongue? Most likely. A bitter-tasting object can cause a person’s tongue, mouth, face, and even entire body to twist, shake, and recoil in response to it. It is sometimes comical to watch such a reaction when unsuspecting souls bite into a food item from which they did not anticipate a bitter taste. Small children can be a riot to watch do so.
There is nothing comical, however, about a scene in which children of God demonstrate a bitter spirit towards God or their fellow man. Bitter food is one thing; but a bitter spirit that eats at the soul and spews forth cutting, hateful words is another matter entirely.
Since Jesus said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16), we would do well to consider some of the consequences or fallouts that come about due to bitterness. They are not pretty. Hopefully, the ugliness of them will catch our attention and cause us to be determined to work diligently to keep bitterness from taking root in our hearts.
WHAT DOES BITTERNESS DO?
Bitterness troubles. That is what Hebrews 12:14 teaches. “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” Bitterness stirs up trouble. If Satan cannot get us to fall for false teaching or give in to the pull of immoral conduct, he will take a crack at bringing us down with a bitter spirit. Marriages, friendships and elderships have crashed due to bitterness robbing people of their joy, rational thinking, and peaceful demeanor. Let’s face it: some people have “bitter breath.” I do not mean they have a foul odor, but rather the words that spring forth from their mouth are full of bitterness. James asked, “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter” (James 3:11)? The answer is obvious. Just before that, James had made these two declarations: “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (3:10).
The point? Christians need to remove bitter speech from their vocabulary. That means, of course, that we must first remove any bitter spirit from our hearts. Make no mistake about it: a heart filled with bitterness causes big trouble, some of which is undoable.
Bitterness defiles. We see this truth in the latter part of Hebrews 12:15: “...lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” Many would be quick to point out how horrific murder, adultery, and idolatry are. Yet, a bitter disposition is sometimes passed off as, “That’s just the way he/she is.” If “the way he/she is” means that he/she is a bitter grump, then he/she needs to have a serious change of heart and repent! The same Lord that tells us to avoid murder, adultery and idolatry also charges us, “Let all bitterness...be put away from you...” (Eph. 4:32). God knows what you and I need to understand and admit: bitterness defiles the soul.
Bitterness divides. A bitter spirit gets in the way of obeying the Lord’s instruction to “follow peace with all men” (Heb. 12:14). There surely was a good reason for God saying, “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them” (Col. 3:19), don’t you think? Bitterness can turn the best of friends into permanent enemies, drive happily-married couples to divorce court, and spark a civil war within what was once a stable, solid, and contented congregation. Satan must watch with glee as bitterness leads to turmoil within families and God’s church.
Bitterness damns. Quite simply, if God tells me to put away bitterness, and yet I do not do it (Eph. 4:32), then my sin of bitterness will keep me separated from Him and thereby keep me in a lost state. Back again to Hebrews 12:15, we see that the bitterness which troubles and defiles a person causes him/her to fail or fall short of the grace of God. No wonder the Holy Spirit exhorts Christians to look diligently lest bitterness spring up in our hearts (Heb. 12:15)!
A bitter disposition and bitter tongue do not jive with being a child of the living God. As we have seen, bitterness troubles, defiles, divides, and damns. Those truths get my attention. Do they get yours? Because “the heart knoweth his own bitterness” (Prov. 14:10), let each one of us look into his/her own heart, do some self-analyzing, and if bitterness be found, get rid of it.
A STRONG PULPIT
Most faithful brethren would affirm that we do not hear the kind of preaching we heard as we were growing up. Oftentimes, more attention is paid to how something is said rather than what is said.Attracting large crowds is emphasized more than preaching sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). In many congregations today, when plans are being made for a youth function or Gospel meeting, the criteria for selecting speakers is not, “Is he sound and does he teach and uphold sound doctrine?” but rather, “Is he dynamic?” and “Can he draw a crowd?”
Theatrical preachers who stir the emotions but leave the mind befuddled, remind one of the false teachers Jude mentioned who spoke great swelling words of vanity but were clouds without water (Jude 12,13). Many churches and preachers are guilty of promoting gimmicks, games, and gymnasiums rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). Jesus Christ and His word are the drawing power! Weak preaching has become more and more commonplace. Consider the effects of weak preaching.
Weak preaching causes a lack of genuine conversions. Since it is the word of God that sets men free from sin (John 8:32), preaching without it will cause men to remain in bondage to Satan. Some teachers tell story after story and joke after joke and do not give the people enough scripture to fill a thimble. A preacher cannot bring men to Christ when he deletes the power (God’s Word) from his sermon (Rom. 1:16).Some of our preachers play on people’s emotions just to get them “down the aisle,” and he can say, “I’ve baptized X number of people.” The preacher is not “the main attraction” -- Christ is. Emotionalism is not to move sinners -- the cross is.
Weak preaching causes the faith of Christians to be weakened. It is by a steady and strong diet of God’s word that Christians are built up. Paul stated, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). How can Christians be strengthened if they do not hear Bible-based sermons filled with scripture? If our physical bodies are not fed properly, will they remain healthy? How then could we expect Christians to remain spiritually healthy if they are not fed from the word of God?
Weak preaching leads to apostasy. Churches are being torn asunder by every false doctrine imaginable. Why are some of our churches ready to put women in leadership roles, bring the instrument in, and partake of the Lord’s supper on any day other than Sunday? The answer is clear: weak preaching. We need more sermons on the plan of salvation, the distinctiveness of the church, the worship of the church, etc.
Weak preaching causes a lack of real church growth. One observed that weak preaching has made the church a little more “than a soup line for the distribution of loaves and fishes when we should be pointing people to eternal water and eternal food” (John 4:10-14). The church needs to be reminded of its mission: to seek and save the lost through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Luke 19:10; Matt. 28:19,20). Real church growth will come if we follow God’s way. Christians must be taught. The souls of men are at stake.
Gospel preaching saves, and without it men cannot be saved: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness: but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18). We need a strong pulpit and we need elders who will demand nothing less!