Two Kinds of Messages
by Tony Cooke

Two Messages by Tony CookeHave you ever stopped to think about the different types of messages that are preached from pulpits? Certainly, all messages are not the same. I suppose there would be dozens of different ways to classify and categorize different kinds of sermons, but I want to look at two specific kinds in this letter. To put it simply, there are messages that pertain to what the believer receives from God, and there are messages that pertain to the believer’s responsibilities before God. Both of these are deeply rooted in biblical truth, both are essential for the spiritual maturity and development of believers, and both are interdependent on the other so that the overall message believers receive is thorough and balanced.

Let’s first address the type of message that focuses on what a person needs to receive from God. This focus is really foundational and primary in that which we minister. After all, we didn’t choose Jesus, He chose us (John 15:16). God is the great initiator and we are responders. John said it is “not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10, NLT). So it is only fitting that our foremost emphasis should be on teaching people how much God loves them, what God has provided for them, and what God wants to do in their lives.

None of this has to do with the performance, efforts, or works of a believer. All that God has done for us in Christ is based on His grace and is received by faith—by trusting God and taking Him at His word. So what are some of the Scriptures that would form the basis for this type of message? There are many. For example:

  • Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32)
  • But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).
  • For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
  • I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
  • He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32).
  • Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12).

Each of these verses, and hundreds more like them, are powerful and penetrating expressions of God’s love and what He has provided for us. It is essential that believers be solidly convinced and fully established in their realization of God’s great love and provisions for them.

Having said that, it is also important for believers to understand the fruitfulness and productivity that God wants coming from their lives. The virtues that are to come from us, such as obedience, good works, consecration, etc. are never to be seen as a means of attempting to earn the love of God. Rather, they are an avenue of expressing the love of God that has been freely given to us through Christ Jesus.

Having looked at what we receive from God, now let’s consider the responsibilities we have toward God. This represents the second type of message we will hear from pulpits today. If you are a preacher, you realize that it is always easier (humanly speaking) and more popular to preach on the free gifts and the blessings that God wants to bestow upon His people than it is to preach about what God expects and requires from believers. However, it is essential, if full maturity and development is to occur, that believers understand, receive, and walk in both of these perspectives.

Here are some Scriptures that represent the responsibility side of the equation.

  • Freely you have received, freely give (Matthew 10:8).
  • Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
  • For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:48).
  • For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
  • That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10).
  • Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28).
  • That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10).

Can you see the distinction? In the first type of message, we learn what God did for us, what He’s given to us, and what He’s done in us. In the second type of message, we learn how we are to respond to what God did, what our corresponding actions are to be, and how we are to allow His love to process through us, resulting in actions that will glorify God.

If a minister exclusively teaches the first type of message—only telling people that God loves them, etc.—the people can falsely believe that God has no interest in their resultant lifestyle, fruitfulness, or conduct. On the other hand, if a minister only teaches the responsibility side, listeners can falsely assume that Scripture is primarily about human effort, and that what we do is more important than what God has done, or than what God is able to do through us.

If I, as a believer, only hear messages about how much God loves me and how many blessings He wants me to have, I can become a very self-indulgent, self-focused person. However, if I only hear messages about what God wants me to do for Him and others, I can become very works-oriented without having a knowledge of or assurance concerning His love for me. We want to avoid both ditches, therefore, we need both emphases.

We need well-rounded, comprehensive teaching of Scripture to understand the harmony of God’s heart and intentions toward us. For example, the book of Ephesians heavily emphasizes, especially in the first two chapters, what God has done for us and freely given us in Christ. However, beginning in Ephesians 4:1, Paul changes the emphasis and writes, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called…”

Paul transitions from talking about their wealth in Christ to focusing on their walk in the world. Even though I have referred to this as two types of messages, I don’t think Paul would have seen these as separate and distinct classifications. I think he would have seen the discharging of our responsibilities (our walk) as the overflow and natural result of what we have received from God through Christ (our wealth). When it comes to the Christian life, what we receive from Him and what we express in terms of obeying Him and serving Him are really just two complementary sides of the same issue.

In Acts 20:20, 27, Paul says, “I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you,” and “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” Referring to these passages, William Barclay says that Paul “had spoken fearlessly. He had told them all God’s will and pandered neither to the fear nor the favor of men.” As hearers, may we treasure all that God has to say to us. As ministers, may we hold back nothing that is profitable from God’s people, and may we be faithful heralds of all that He says.