THE MASTER TEACHER
T. PIERCE BROWN
There are many lessons that can be drawn from almost any episode in the life of our Lord that are worthy of our special attention. Let us look again at the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-21 as we think of Jesus as a personal evangelist. Can you imagine the thrill of any personal evangelist, or just an ordinary preacher, who could have a man who was so worthy of esteem, morally pure, courteous, reverent, rich and successful come to him with a question that indicated an interest in eternal values?
For any evangelist who has been dealing with some adulterous, alcoholic, poverty stricken, low grade, indifferent person, who would probably quit soon after his baptism, this sort of man is a dream! Any eldership would probably fire any preacher who would be so inept or crude as to let a man of that quality get away without baptizing him. Let us see how Jesus handled the situation.
First, He gave the man a gentle rebuke. Surely any skilled personal evangelist knows that one must not ever do that, especially at the beginning of a possible good discussion which might lead to conversion. Why did Jesus attempt to correct him about such a little matter as calling Him good, especially since Jesus had called men good (Mt.5:45)?
There may be many reasons, but one surely is that He wanted to turn the attention of the man from being man centered to being God centered. He considered Jesus as a mere man, albeit a good man and a good teacher. But the truth which all men should easily see is that if Jesus were a good man, then He must be the Son of God, for He claimed to be such. A good teacher is not a liar, so Jesus was not merely a good teacher. He was God in the flesh.
The importance of this principle of first centering on God is so great that we need to emphasize it again. The man started with his primary focus on his own need and his secondary focus on what he thought was a man who could confirm his own merits. Jesus had to turn his focus toward God and His glory in order to accomplish His purpose. One of the things that make this so hard to deal with properly is that there is nothing wrong with persons being concerned with their own needs. God is concerned with our needs! Jesus died that our greatest need could be fulfilled. What makes it bad is when our needs and desires become the center of our life. Even if the desire to win a soul is the ultimate aim of your life, you make a mistake. All who are especially concerned about personal evangelism should realize this.
Most of the personal evangelism workshops that I have attended over the past 40 years have had powerful speakers who say, “The purpose for which Christ came and died was to save souls. What is your purpose in life?” I have said that sort of thing hundreds of times during those 40 years. The trouble with that is that it is not true. It was only one of the purposes. The ultimate purpose Christ had in coming and dying was to glorify God. The best way to do that was for Him and for us to win a soul for eternity. But the truth still is: when we first focus on, and center our attention on what we are, what we want, and what we get, we start wrong.
The young man wanted some solutions to the problems of fear, death, judgment and how to get eternal life. This is good, and Jesus would deal with that. First, He wanted the man to understand something of the nature of God. I do not know how to emphasize that too strongly, especially as I have failed in it many times in the 50 years that I have tried to do personal evangelism. If a person does not start his conversion process with a proper understanding of the nature of God, his whole Christian life is in danger of being moved off the proper foundation.
There are many in the church today, including some who claim to be preachers of the gospel, who have the wrong concept of God. Some conceive of Him as being a God of terror who is waiting to send us to hell for every mistake we make. Others conceive of Him as being a gracious God who could not possibly allow anyone to go to hell if they made any effort at all to profess Christianity. Both are terribly wrong, and anyone who starts his Christian life with either concept will have a warped view of life, and will begin to teach false doctrine if he continues in that view.
Part of the tragedy of it is that the second view, which is probably the most dangerous of the two, possibly grew out of, or was partly produced by the hopeless bleakness of the first view. The first view downplays the love and grace of God and tends to destroy our love for Him, for He is viewed as harsh and almost tyrannical. It also makes us depend on the merit of our good works for salvation. The second view downplays the severity of God, and leads to the idea that no doctrine is important; no law is important; only love is important. And even that concept is perverted, for Jesus taught that if you love Him you will keep His commandments.
My point here is that every preacher and every personal evangelist should start with the proper focus on the nature and attributes of God. One reason is that if we do not understand that, our worship will be vain, for we will really be worshipping an idol of our own imagination, if we worship at all. We need to know, and let others know, that there is a holy God who has been offended by our sin. There is a righteous God who cannot overlook that sin. There is a loving God who provided the payment for that sin. When one is firmly convinced of the nature of a gracious God, then he needs to understand how he can and must accept that gracious offer of salvation on the terms by which it is offered. He needs to understand that obedient faith is not the meritorious act by which we earn salvation, but the avenue by which we accept it.
When we see a campaign by some noted television evangelist and hundreds swinging down the aisle giggling and chewing gum to accept Jesus as their personal Savior, we feel sure they have no real concept of their sin against an infinitely Holy Being. To “accept Jesus” means something like, “He is a good buddy. An elder brother who will help me over some rough spots in life and help me make wise decisions.” I talked to a woman who told me she “got saved” three times, but when I questioned her, I discovered she never thought she was lost. She had no real concept of a holy God from whom we are separated by sin.
I have seen at least three types of persons who get connected with the Lord’s church. First, there are those who get dissatisfied with their former denomination, and would rather associate with these nice people. Second, there are those who do it as a sort of insurance. If sprinkling is satisfactory, then a complete burial will certainly be at least as well. If instrumental music is o.k., nobody claims it is wrong to just sing. If taking the Lord’s supper is done quarterly, it may be good, but certainly no one finds fault with taking it each week. Why gamble? So they decide to join thechurchofChrist, for it seems the safest game in town. Third, there are those who realize they have sinned against a holy loving God, and they are ashamed and horrified at the thought. They want to reverse their life and do all they do to His glory, so they accept Him as Lord of their lives and know that if He is that, He will be the Savior of their souls. It is possible that we could pick out with about 90% accuracy which category a person is in after looking at his life for a while.
Since Jesus could not get this man to properly focus on God instead of himself and his property, He had to let him go. Would you have? Many seem to think it would have been best to run after him and say, “I did not really mean it that way. You really have such a little to do. If you will just complete your obedience by being baptized, you can come into the church and be saved.” Let us learn from the Master Teacher where to put our emphasis, both in motivation and methods.