Society of Fellows
Dr. Charles Matthews served as Secretary of Evangelism of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1947-1955. In 1951 his book, Every Christian’s Job, was published. His desire was that this book would serve to help convince multitudes of individual Christians and churches that it is their duty and privilege to lead lost people to Christ as Savior.1
I read about Daniel Webster, the famous American politician, orator and statesman spending a summer with family in New Hampshire. Every Sunday he would attend church. A niece asked him why he went to their small church every Sunday when he seldom attended one of the large churches in Washington. He replied, “In Washington they preach to Daniel Webster, the statesman, but your pastor has been telling Daniel Webster, the sinner, about Jesus of Nazareth.” This needed to be the message in Daniel Webster’s day, and it needs to be the priority message of our day. Dr. Matthews’s challenge that introducing lost sinners to Jesus is “Every Christian’s Job” is as fresh and meaningful as if it were made today!
Dr. R.G. Lee, who served as pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee from 1927 to 1960, was in complete agreement with the challenges of Dr. Matthews and other great contemporary Southern Baptist leaders who were leading pastors and churches to awaken to the priority of witnessing to the multitudes of lost people. Many pastors and churches accepted the challenge which resulted in what many have called, “The Golden Years of Southern Baptist Growth.”
One only needs to know a little about the long and fruitful ministry of Dr. Lee at Bellevue Baptist Church to know that he set the example personally, and led his dedicated church staff and hundreds of committed leaders to practice the basic principle of growing a “Great Commission Church.” He realized the need to express concern and compassion for lost people. He led his church to focus on a strong evangelistic ministry. Dr. Lee, as much as was humanly possible, seemed to emulate the compassion of Jesus for lost persons as demonstrated in Matthew 9:35-38. Under the supernatural power of God, and using proven principles of reaching people, Dr. Lee led Bellevue Baptist Church to become a model for evangelistic growth all across the Southern Baptist Convention. In his book, Seven Swords, is a chapter entitled, “We Persuade Men.” In this chapter he stresses the absolute necessity of sharing the Gospel with lost people. The following statements indicate the priority that Dr. Lee placed on witnessing (soul-winning). “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we should persuade men as a lover wooing to win hand and heart . . . persuade them as a lawyer arguing for a verdict . . . persuade them as a mother begs her son to turn from evil . . . .”2
Jesus clearly stated His priority for ministry in Luke 19:10. Jesus performed many mighty ministries during His time on earth. However, his priority was to persuade lost people to come to Him for salvation. Jesus has commissioned all true believers to follow His plan for reaching people. His plan called for prayer, compassion, concern, commitment and dedication to the task. See John 20:21; Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8.
In Mark 2:1-12 we read of four men who realized the importance of bringing people to Jesus. The four men probably lacked much in having a full understanding of witnessing as we understand the teaching of the scriptures, but they present some great examples that Christians today need to follow.
Pastors in preaching from this text have used many topics including: “Four Characteristics of Soul-Winning,” “Carried By Four,” “Lessons From the Four,” “The Business of Bringing Men to Jesus.” I have chosen as the topic for this message, “Four Men Witnessing Through Creative Obedience.”
In this passage we see how four men overcame tremendous obstacles in bringing a friend to Jesus. Rather than doing a verse by verse study of the text, I ask that you consider with me some spiritual truths gleaned from this passage that can apply to individual Christians and churches today.
Observe four areas of outstanding examples that these men provide: The Example of Loving Concern, The Example of Cooperation, The Example of Creativity, and The Example of Commitment.
I. The Example of Loving Concern
This well known text tells about a paralyzed man, four friends who wanted to take him to Jesus, and Jesus who had returned to Capernaum to preach. We don’t know who the paralytic was, but we do know he was a man without Jesus. We also know that he experienced the glorious touch of Jesus and his sins were forgiven, he was healed of the affliction that troubled him.
We don’t know who the four men were, but we know they had a loving concern for this man who was helpless to go to the house where Jesus was preaching. The fact that these four men could and would work out their schedule and spend this much time to minister to someone speaks volumes about their love and concern. We don’t know the conditions that led to their relationship with this man, but the truth is they cared enough to spend time and energy to bring him to Jesus.
Psalm 142:4 says, “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.” The paralyzed man could no longer say, “No man cares for my soul.” He was about to experience a great blessing because four men showed their loving concern. In so doing they have provided for us a tremendous example of loving concern.
II. The Example of Cooperation
In addition to the example of loving concern, this scripture passage provides for us a great example of cooperation. I like to use my imagination and try to visualize what might have been going through the minds of the four men as they discussed how they could get this paralyzed man to Jesus. One may have said, “If we will all work together we can figure out a way.” Another may have said, “Hey! I know what—let’s just take him on his bed roll.” As they considered this idea, they must have agreed that each one would take a corner of the bed roll and take him through the streets across Capernaum to the house where Jesus was preaching.
As one reflects on this experience, it is clear that it was a monumental task. It would have been impossible for one person to take this man to Jesus. However, what one person could not do, was easily done by four men working together in a spirit of cooperation.
A four-legged stool or table can have many uses. However, remove one or two legs and its usefulness is greatly impaired! For maximum usefulness all four legs are needed. It is also true that in order for a church to attain its full potential in reaching lost people all members need to be committed to personal witnessing. See Matthew 9:37-38.
Cooperation is essential in Christian work today if we are to be successful in accomplishing “the unfinished task.” Whether it’s the local church seeking to reach the community for Christ, the North American Mission Board reaching North America, or the world-wide ministry of the International Mission Board—cooperation is essential for success. What cannot be done alone, can be gloriously accomplished as we serve together through loving concern and cooperation.
III. The Example of Creativity
Having examined how these four men provide great examples of loving concern and cooperation, I invite you to now consider their example of creativity. When the four men arrived at the house where Jesus was preaching they noticed the large crowd outside the door. The people had overflowed outside. The scripture suggests the crowd was packed so tight that it would be hard for anyone to get through to the door.
The four men must have tried to get the people to open up space for them to get through with their friend. However, the crowd did not move. They had to make a decision concerning what to do. These men had made a specific effort to bring their friend to Jesus. They were not about to give up. The trip across town may have taken a long time, they may have missed a day of work and they surely did not want to fail.
Like most houses in Palestine, this house probably was small with a flat roof and a stairway on the outside leading to the roof. Most of the roofs in houses of this type were constructed with wooden beams covered with thatch and compacted earth. Some houses of this type might have tiles placed between the beams.
When they discovered there was no way to get in the door, they decided to go up the outside stairs to the roof. Then they dug up the thatch and earth or removed the tiles (see Luke 5:19), and lowered their friend to the floor in front of Jesus. Verses 5-12 are filled with many meaningful truths, but for the sake of the emphasis of this message, note that Jesus not only healed the paralyzed man—but also forgave his sins.
Many lessons can be learned from this experience. I believe it is vitally important to understand in today’s society the absolute necessity for churches to be creative in their approach to reaching the lost. We must pray much, and work hard, but also be willing to do whatever God directs in the areas of reaching the lost and developing the saved. There are many exciting methods to share the unchanging Gospel message. These four men taking their friend to Jesus are wonderful examples of loving concern and cooperation as well as effective creativity. A good lesson for us today!
IV. The Example of Commitment
All the examples of these four men were important, but without commitment their mission would have failed. The four friends did not stop. They didn’t find excuses as to why they could not be there on that particular day to take their friend to Jesus. When the crowds prevented them from getting in the presence of Jesus they did not give up. They were committed to this special ministry in terms of time, energy and cost. Why cost? It’s very likely that they may have missed a day of work and thereby gave up much needed earnings.
In my opinion these men were living out Paul’s challenge to the Galatians when he said in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” The NIV says, “. . . we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” What a promise! Their commitment led these four men to believe that there were no impossible cases with Jesus (Matthew 19:26). Although the paralyzed man was seriously sick and did not know Jesus as his Savior, these men believed Jesus could change him, transform him, and make him whole.
Life offers many opportunities to experience thrills. Some of these include: young people and their first real date, their first car and their high school graduation. Older people can remember the thrill of their wedding day, the birth of their first child, or getting their dream job.
But let me remind us as Christians that the greatest joy and excitement comes when one has the opportunity to lead a lost person to call upon Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. Andrew must have been overjoyed when he found his brother, Simon Peter, and brought him to Jesus (see John 1:41-42).
Dr. R.G. Lee quotes a fellow pastor who said, “Better to be a sexton of a small church on a small salary knowing how to point men to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world than to be the most eloquent preacher that ever graced any pulpit without that knowledge.”3
Yes, I believe Dr. Charles Matthews’s challenge made years ago is as up-to-date as the morning newspaper. It is important today that pastors and church leaders help their congregations to understand that witnessing to the lost is “Every Christian’s Job.” Dr. R.G. Lee was right during his thirty-three years as pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church to stress the absolute necessity of sharing the Gospel with lost persons.
Dr. L.R. Scarborough once said, “to refuse to witness a saving Gospel to a lost world day by day is nothing short of high treason, spiritual rebellion, and inexcusable disobedience to His holy commands.” Strong words? Yes, but they line up with the challenge of Jesus who said, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Just prior to His return to heaven Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “. . . And ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
I believe all Christians should prepare themselves to be able to follow the strong command of Jesus as given in Acts 1:8. This has always been the plan of Jesus for Christians. However, for many reasons, it seems to this writer that there is a greater urgency than ever before to follow the command which Jesus gave to all believers to witness to the multitude of lost people.
The familiar text of this message provides some tremendous examples that, if followed, can enhance one’s Christian witness. When one develops a personal spirit of loving concern, cooperation, creativity, and commitment, he or she will be able to witness much more effectively even in the midst of difficulties.
I close with a question and an answer. The question is simple, but very important. It is asked by Robert Dean in The Hershel Hobbs Commentary (Fall 2001, Vol. 2). Dr. Dean asks, “Why should we tell the good news?” He answers by saying, “There is a call from outside, based on the fact that those without Christ are lost. There is a call from inside, based on the debt we owe because we have heard the good news and everyone deserves to hear it. There is a call from above, because Christ is the only way of salvation. There is a call from the future, based on the shortness of the time to decide.”4
Please join with me in a personal prayer of commitment: “ Lord, give me a burden for the lost, help me to clearly hear the call to witness, and help me to be willing to practice creative obedience when facing difficult situations. In Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen.”
Written by: Dr. Paul E. Williams
1 Matthews, C.E., Every Christian’s Job, Convention Press, Nashville, TN, 1951, p. 17.
2 Lee, Robert G., Seven Swords, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1958, p. 45.
3 Ibid., p. 55.
4 Dean, Robert J., The Herschel Hobbs Commentary (Fall 2001, Vol. 2) Lifeway Christian Resources, S.B.C., Nashville, TN, p. 136.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Paul E. Williams retired in August of 2001 as Director of Supervised Ministries at Union University. Previous ministries include: pastor of First Baptist Church, Somerville, TN; pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, associate pastor of Highview Baptist Church, Louisville, KY and Director of the Adult Division of the Sunday School Department of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. He and his wife Mildred have two grown daughters and two grandchildren.