Free Preaching

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

About the Reformer

During the century and a half closing with 1450, there were local groups of preachers as well as isolated pulpit orators who exercised a deep influence upon congregations. The German mystics with Eckart and John Tauler at their head preached in Strassburg, Cologne and along the Rhine. D’Ailly and Gerson stood before select audiences, and give lustre to the French pulpit. Wyclif, at Oxford, and John Huss in Bohemia, attracted great attention by their sermons and brought down upon themselves ecclesiastical condemnation. Huss was one of a number of Bohemian preachers of eminence. Wyclif sought to promote preaching by sending out a special class of men, his “pore preachers.”

—Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church

Pulling It Together

I was in the dairy aisle at the grocery and exclaimed to a gentleman reaching for a dozen eggs how cheap the eggs were. This store is so much cheaper on everything; I just can’t understand why anybody would do their shopping elsewhere. We exchanged a few pleasantries and I told him I shopped there because I cook for my Bible classes on Wednesdays. In fact, I was looking for an opening to invite him to church or even speak with him about Jesus in the dairy case. He then told me he was a Christian and we agreed to meet again one day in heaven.

One might expect pastors to do this all the time, that it is part of their jobs. Not so. Pastors are employed to care for the flock. They preach the good news for free. In fact, the entire Church ought to be a collective of poor preachers, for if we are moved to share the news of cheap groceries the good news of Jesus compels us more.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Stand Firmly

The Christian Martyr's Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)
The Christian Martyr’s Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)

Daily Reform, Day 90

Galatians 2:11 & Luke 12:8-12

From the Reformer

For defending the truth in our day, we are called proud and obstinate hypocrites. We are not ashamed of these titles. The cause we are called to defend, is not Peter’s cause, or the cause of our parents, or that of the government, or that of the world, but the cause of God. In defense of that cause we must be firm and unyielding.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

God does not expect you to have all the answers. He does expect you to stand firmly. Over time, four things will happen. God will give you the words that are needed. You will learn more and more of the answers. Some people will come to faith in Christ. Your faith will grow.

You will be scolded and ridiculed but you will have been obedient. The bonuses are that Jesus will call you his friend and introduce you to the angels of heaven. It cannot get any better than that.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Stand Up for Jesus

The Apostle Paul preaching in Athens
The Apostle Paul preaching in Athens

Daily Reform, Day 89

Galatians 2:11 & 1 Corinthians 2:1-4

From the Reformer

Paul goes on in his refutation of the false apostles by saying that in Antioch he withstood Peter in the presence of the whole congregation. As he stated before, Paul had no small matter in hand, but the chief article of the Christian religion. When this article is endangered, we must not hesitate to resist Peter, or an angel from heaven. Paul paid no regard to the dignity and position of Peter, when he saw this article in danger. It is written: “He that loveth father or mother or his own life, more than me, is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37).

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

When the Gospel lesson is read on Sunday mornings we stand out of reverence for our Lord. Do we stand for the Gospel during the rest of the week? Perhaps we allow ourselves to be overrun by the everyday affairs of life so that we will not be aware of where we might take a stand for Christ. If we stay busy enough we may not feel the shame of not defending the faith. After all, there are really smart people out there and they speak better than we do.

It does not matter. Stand! Moses was the stuttering voice of God to Pharaoh. Paul himself said that his speech was weak and his wisdom wanting. Yet in both of their lives God’s message was demonstrated with Spirit power. His power was displayed through Moses because he went and stood before Pharaoh. If he had not stood before Egypt’s ruler, what reason would God have had to act? God’s power was shown through Paul because he stood up with trembling legs to those who distorted the Gospel. If Paul had ignored the occasion, the Spirit would have had no occasion.

Perhaps the Spirit of God will move powerfully through you today. If so, he will not do so by suddenly making you wise or giving you lofty speech. The power of the Spirit will be manifested through you miraculously when you stand despite being afraid of having nothing to say. It is when all you have to say is that Christ was crucified for you that the Spirit of God will move powerfully. The grace and power of God will work through you (2Co 12:9) as he did through Moses and Paul. But first you have to stand up.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Speaking of Money

Daily Reform, Day 88

Galatians 2:10 & 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12

From the Reformer

Next to the preaching of the Gospel, a true and faithful pastor will take care of the poor. Where the Church is, there must be the poor, for the world and the devil persecute the Church and impoverish many faithful Christians.

Speaking of money, nobody wants to contribute nowadays to the maintenance of the ministry, and the erection of schools. When it comes to establishing false worship and idolatry, no cost is spared. True religion is ever in need of money, while false religions are backed by wealth.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

Jesus told Judas that there would always be poor people (John 12:8), suggesting a few things to the disciple’s conscience. Beyond the obvious jab at Judas’ heart, one additional suggestion might have been, Choose wisely how you spend your resources. When dealing with needy people it is easy to run out of resources, energy, and patience. So let me just admit it: the poor are a problem for this pastor. Over almost 30 years of ministry I have encountered a steady flow of needy people to the parsonage, especially during the first few years of ministry at each of the five churches I have served. After awhile, people figure it out and spread the word: Getting something out of this guy is not going to be easy or quick.

“What church do you attend?” I ask. Sometimes they give me a name so I ask them what the pastor’s name is and then, What did he preach about last Sunday? and finally, “Why isn’t your church helping you?” All of these are of course unwelcome questions. Never mind that they asked me to pay their rent or power bill or just provide plain old cash—all unwelcome requests. These folks somehow expect the Church to process their requests without question and with a big smile. Not me. Not often. Not usually. The “poor” whom the apostles were so concerned for were “the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (Rom 15:26), not everybody insisting on a handout. Even the missionaries worked for their keep and insisted others do so (2Thes 3:10). But if you needed help because you could not help yourself, the church would be there for you (Acts 2:45).

Meanwhile, those able to work must work to supply the means to bring Christ to the world. That takes money even if your name is Jesus or Paul. If we are busy spending the plate on everyone who comes along then Christ will not be proclaimed far.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Gospel Fellowship

Daily Reform, Day 87

Galatians 2:9 & 1 John 1:1-4

From the Reformer

As if the apostles had said to him: “We, Paul, do agree with you in all things. We are companions in doctrine. We have the same Gospel with this difference, that to you is committed the Gospel for the uncircumcised, while the Gospel for the circumcision is committed unto us. But this difference ought not to hinder our friendship, since we preach one and the same Gospel.”

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

Here is a lesson for today’s Church. Enjoy fellowship with those of the true Gospel. Just because you have been called to preach the Gospel to the poor does not mean you cannot have Christian fellowship with the uptown church. If you have been entrusted with the Gospel, to take it to Americans (who desperately need it), you must also have fellowship with those called to preach to Mexicans.

Too often people misread Galatians, imagining that “the Gospel for the uncircumcised” and “the Gospel for the circumcision” means there are two different gospels: one for Jews and a modified gospel for everyone else. A better reading of Galatians 2:7 is “to the circumcised” instead of “for” or “of.” Confusion carries over into today’s church from a faulty reading of the King James Version. There, it can sound like two different gospels, one for Jews and one for Gentiles since it says “the gospel of the uncircumcision” and “the gospel of the circumcision.” But Paul has already cleared this up when he said there is just one Gospel (Gal 1:6-7).

And since there is only one Gospel, though many different sorts of people who profess it, let us determine to extend “the right hand of fellowship” to those different than us but who believe on him who was taught by the Apostles from the beginning. This teaching states that we are saved by God’s grace through faith alone, not by works of faith. This is the gospel fellowship that sets us free. In this fellowship we not only have fellowship with one another, but also with God.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Get Out of the Way

Daily Reform, Day 86

Galatians 2:7-9 & Mark 9:38-41

From the Reformer

“The fact is, when the apostles heard that I had received the charge to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles from Christ; when they heard that God had wrought many miracles through me; that great numbers of the Gentiles had come to the knowledge of Christ through my ministry; when they heard that the Gentiles had received the Holy Ghost without Law and circumcision, by the simple preaching of faith; when they heard all this they glorified God for His grace in me.” Hence, Paul was justified in concluding that the apostles were for him, and not against him.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

How often we must get in others’ ways. God calls them to minister the Gospel in a new way or to a new people and we resist. What! Contemporary music in worship? A new translation? Reach out to the people on that side of the track? A woman preach? Preach from somewhere other than a pulpit? Go door-to-door with the Gospel?

Get out of the way! Let God’s grace have its way in another life. They want to preach, so let them have at it. God will attend you all.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Ministry on the Move

Daily Reform, Day 85

Galatians 2:7-8 & 2 Timothy 4:1-5

From the Reformer

To conclude, Paul is not going to be inferior to the rest of the apostles. Some secular writers put Paul’s boasting down as carnal pride. But Paul had no personal interest in his boasting. It was with him a matter of faith and doctrine. The controversy was not about the glory of Paul, but the glory of God, the Word of God, the true worship of God, true religion, and the righteousness of faith.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

A friend of mine moved to another state and began attending a small church that he sensed could use his help. My friend is an ordained minister of the Gospel and gifted by God to preach and teach. And counsel and befriend visitors and do building repairs. In short, he’s kind of a ministry handyman. Almost needless to say, the pastor of the church was threatened when my friend got involved. He immediately shut him down.

Another man moved to a different state and got involved at a church where he started working with the almost defunct children’s program. Soon the program was flourishing — and the children were then quietly given to the charge of someone from an old church family. He went to another church and worked with a faltering youth group that no one wanted to lead and the Lord blessed, the group going from 4 to 32 in the first year. At the end of the year, he was again quietly removed from leadership so that a long-time member of the church could take over the now successful program.

Some might say these are times to admit that God is saying he does not want one in ministry. Others might realize that God strengthens a person’s call through times like these. Who will win out, the call of God or the complaint of man? If God has called you, let nothing stand in the way of your ministering the Gospel. You may have to move around a bit, as Paul and Jesus and a host of others have had to do, but you will find the place where you may keep doing that which brings glory to God. Keep the cross ever before you.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Get In the Game

Daily Reform, Day 84

Galatians 2:7-8 & John 14:1-13

From the Reformer

With these words Paul refutes another argument of the false apostles. “What reason have the false apostles to boast that the Gospel of Peter was mighty, that he converted many, that he wrought great miracles, and that his very shadow healed the sick? These reports are true enough. But where did Peter acquire this power? God gave him the power. I have the same power. I received my power, not from Peter, but from the same God. The same Spirit who was mighty in Peter was mighty in me also.” Luke corroborates Paul’s statement in the words: “And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul, so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them” (Acts 19:11, 12).

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

One of the great problems facing the Church in these latter days is that we do not believe as Luther did. He believed that the very same power as worked in Peter and Paul and even Jesus was at work in Martin (John 14:12). If that is true — and it is — then that same Holy Spirit power is at work in you. The only difference between you and Paul is job description. Whatever task God has appointed for you, the same power of God’s Spirit attends you.

The ability to move forward in God’s power rests in the authority of the one who calls you in the grace of Christ. Do you really believe what scriptures tell you? Imagine the police officer who is sworn in and given a badge and gun but when confronted by the criminal element, does not really believe in the power he has been given. This is the state of the typical churchgoer today. It is time to stop being an attendee and start being a participant in the powerful work of God. Get out of the pews and into the game!

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Different Gospels

Early Greek manuscript of part of the New Testament
Early Greek manuscript of part of the New Testament

Daily Reform, Day 83

Galatians 2:7-8 & Ephesians 4:4-6

From the Reformer

Paul reiterates that Peter, James, and John, the accepted pillars of the Church, taught him nothing, nor did they commit unto him the office of preaching the Gospel unto the Gentiles. Both the knowledge of the Gospel and the commandment to preach it to the Gentiles, Paul received directly from God. His case was parallel to that of Peter’s, who was particularly commissioned to preach the Gospel to the Jews.

The apostles had the same charge, the identical Gospel. Peter did not proclaim a different Gospel, nor had he appointed his fellow apostles. They were equals. They were all taught of God. None was greater than the other, none could point to prerogatives above the other. To justify his usurped primacy in the Church the Pope claims that Peter was the chief of the apostles. This is an impudent falsehood.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

There are many gospels being promoted in the world but there is but one Gospel. May anyone be accursed if he preaches another gospel than the one you received from the Apostles. (Gal 1:8-9) Since there are so many gospel distortions (Gal 1:7) and since they are so subtle, one needs to be careful and thoughtful in order to avoid them. Here are just a few prevalent ones:

The Political Gospel  It does not matter what party you subscribe to, this one is virulent. In this errant gospel, Jesus exists to justify one’s political bent. It is fairly easy to tell if you subscribe to this gospel. If you find yourself always using Jesus to rationalize your politics, you have likely been infected. If you find it impossible to believe that God is even sovereign over American politics and that you just have to get out there and rant about it, you subscribe to a different gospel. If you find yourself telling people about how God supports your party but not telling people that God died for them…well, you get the picture.

The Cultural Gospel  If you find yourself saying things like, Well, times have changed, in order to justify your lifestyle (or someone else’s), and are intolerant of someone who appeals to the scriptures, your good news is getting ready to change with the next, newest cultural demands.

The Think Positive Gospel  Think good stuff and good stuff will come your way. This is popular on television where they are busy selling you all the good stuff while they numb your brain with vacuous programming. In this distorted gospel, you may believe in Jesus as long as everybody else is free to believe what they want. Everything is truth. To even suggest that somebody might believe wrongly would be negative. And if you think negatively, good stuff will not come your way. Just be positive. And keep your thoughts to yourself. Then we will all get along just fine.

The Bad Education Gospel  This one is sometimes called “name it and claim it” or “word of faith.” It is classically American, the result of poor educations. And it leads millions astray. In John 14, Jesus talks about assisting us in our ministry for him. I mention this because if you do not read contextually, you will miss that point. Then you may end up thinking that Jesus’ promise in John 14:13-14 is simply about asking for stuff and having Jesus, the Celestial Santa, there to grant your wishes. Tried this and not gotten what you asked for yet? Well you just do not have enough faith, child. You need to believe harder. No! What you need to do is learn how to read. Then you will discover that the gospel is not about you and what you want; it is about Jesus.

The Right Church Gospel  Things going poorly? Well, you just need to go to my church. In this age-old distortion of the Gospel, God is not blessing you because you are not going to the right church. Since when does the scripture tell us to turn to the Church (any church) when we need peace? (John 14:27) This one is easy to identify: the folks often follow the preacher or the programs offered instead of following Jesus.

The Jesus When You Need Him Gospel  You know the drill: pray in the emergency room or the funeral parlor. Or suddenly you want God near when your finances are failing. In the true Gospel, Jesus is with you always, not just when you feel a need for him. (Mat 28:20)

The Believe In Yourself Gospel – This one is very deceptive. Jesus believes in you so you need to believe in yourself. God is for you (Rom 8:31) so you need to believe in yourself; then you will be a success. The Gospel is not about success; it is about following Jesus whether you feel successful or not. The Gospel is all about believing in God-not yourself.

The Seven Dwarfs Gospel  “Just whistle while you work” your way to heaven. In this classic gospel distortion, you get to heaven because you do all of the right things and do not do the wrong things. Wrong! One goes to heaven because Jesus did the right thing and you trust in him alone. (John 14:6)

It is difficult to follow Jesus, to be a real Christian, one who believes the true Gospel, when you implicitly trust the preacher or the church. The noble path is to listen to the preacher and then go to God’s Word to see if what you heard is really the Gospel. (Acts 17:11) There are many distorters out there; examine the scriptures daily so you remain in the one true Faith. (Eph 4:4-6)

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Determination

Egyptian stone carving during the reign of King Amenhotep III (14th century B.C.), showing person with polio
Egyptian stone carving during the reign of King Amenhotep III (14th century B.C.), showing person with polio

Daily Reform, Day 82

Galatians 2:7-8 & Acts 1:6-11

From the Reformer

What does Paul mean by saying that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto him, and that of the circumcision to Peter? Did not Paul preach to the Jews, while Peter preached to the Gentiles also? Peter converted the Centurion. Paul’s custom was to enter into the synagogues of the Jews, there to preach the Gospel. Why then should he call himself the apostle of the Gentiles, while he calls Peter the apostle of the circumcision?

Paul refers to the fact that the other apostles remained in Jerusalem until the destruction of the city became imminent. But Paul was especially called the apostle of the Gentiles. Even before the destruction of Jerusalem Jews dwelt here and there in the cities of the Gentiles. Coming to a city, Paul customarily entered the synagogues of the Jews and first brought to them as the children of the kingdom, the glad tidings that the promises made unto the fathers were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. When the Jews refused to hear these glad tidings, Paul turned to the Gentiles. He was the apostle of the Gentiles in a special sense, as Peter was the apostle of the Jews.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

The natural thing to do, when one becomes committed to Christ, is to tell family and friends. Sadly, all too often the message is rejected. (Luke 4:24) However, the sharing of good news must not end with family and friends. If it is truly good news, it has to be shared with the world.

Any elementary school student is likely to be familiar with a photograph of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a wheelchair. What they may not know is that it was the disease named polio (poliomyelitis) that crippled him. Polio is an ancient disease, going back to the pharaohs of Egypt. It atrophied limbs and lungs and killed children by the thousands in the US each year. In 1952 Jonas Salk created a vaccine against the disease and in 1957 Sabin created an oral form of the vaccine, making it easy to dispense. By 1962 it was approved for use. Of course, most Americans today know little about polio which attests to the vaccine’s effectiveness.

The good news of a polio vaccine might have been kept in the US for people “like us.” However, in 1980, Rotary (a service club) began a project to inoculate everyone against the dreaded polio. At the date of writing this devotional, there were only four countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Nigeria) where polio may still be found. It has been eradicated from all the other countries of the world, largely because one service club determined to share this good news with the entire world.

One wonders at how the Church has failed. Rotary has taken the polio vaccine to the remotest parts of the earth. For that matter, Coca Cola has taken a soft drink into virtually every country in the world — even those countries where the Gospel is banned. Coca-Cola is determined. Rotary is determined. The Apostle Paul was determined. We must also be determined to take the good news of a Risen Savior beyond the circles of our friends and family, beyond our own shores, even as Jesus said, “to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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