Toning It Down
A “country meeting” had gone exceedingly well, and elders from another community asked the preacher to work with them the following year. He came at the appointed time, and found his reputation had spread, and the building was packed. The elders met him at the car, told him they had never had such a gathering of Methodists, Baptists, and no-church folk, so he must be very careful lest he offend someone with his forthright teaching.
Being young and brash, and having no more tact than to tell the truth, he reminded them of the undiluted lessons that had been given at the neighboring church in the previous year. He said that since he had not been in that section of the state before, the previous year’s work must have drawn this year’s crowd; and certainly was the reason he had been asked to come. He concluded, “If you expect to hold and convert these people with something other than the kind of preaching that brought them together, I’m afraid you have the wrong man. I’ll get back into my car and go home.”
With much confusion — “Oh no, you must have misunderstood us” etc., the preacher was persuaded to stay, and the meeting began. The preaching was strong, and seemed to get a little stronger; but the people continued to come, and several were converted.
I do not now believe, nor did I then, that “skinning the sects” is good preaching. Some folk will turn away from straight, plain truth, no matter how fairly we seek to present it. But we are dead wrong in thinking we can convert people to Christ with anything other than the Bible message. It will convict the world respecting sin, righteousness, and judgment; and many won’t like that. But we are looking for the “few” who will like it, and will genuinely turn to God.
“Toning it down” will produce only “toned down” members of a “toned down” church. You may keep the money, the politicians, and silk-stocking row; but you will lose the backbone and fiber that is necessary for a church to prevail and please the Lord. And if “members” are not interested in pleasing the Lord and saving souls, why bother with any preaching at all?
The Last Fight
On the ruins of a theater in Ephesus there is a memorial to an athlete of the 2nd century A.D. which reads: “He fought three fights, and twice was crowned.” Watch out for that last step! You see, those “athletes” fought to the death. A man’s last fight was always fatal. So, the crown meant only that one changed opponents; and sooner or later the last would slay him.
What a difference in this crown, and that of the apostle Paul: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day…” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Paul did more than fight “unto death” — he fought unto life, eternal. If his fight of faith cost him his earthly life, it only meant he was now free to claim the crown that counted most (Revelation 2:10, 2 Cor. 5:6ff.). How different from those who die without hope.
Paul sought an enduring victory — one that could not be taken from him. He exhorted Timothy, “La hold on eternal life…” (1 Timothy 6:12). This called for training, perseverance, and above all, self control (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). The athlete trained his body only to prolong the day when it would fail him; but Paul trained his that it might the better serve the Lord, and thus serve his eternal purposes.