The Greatness of the Gospel (1)
M. S. Staveley, Bradford on Avon
The apostle Paul had two specific and distinct ministries: one, the gospel, see Eph, 3. 7 and Col. 1. 23; the other, the assembly, Col. 1. 25. (The references in Colossians are both made more significant by emphasis on the pronoun 'I', JND footnote.) Although the same words translated 'minister', diakonos, and 'ministry', diakonia, are used in reference to the new covenant, 2 Cor. 3. 6 and Heb 8. 6, and to reconciliation, 2 Cor. 5. 18, these may be regarded as subsidiary to, or as special aspects of, the two great truths of the gospel and the assembly. The same applies to other references to 'ministry' employing the words diakonos or diakonia, as in 2 Cor. 3. 9, 'the ministry of condemnation' (death, JND), and the 'ministry of righteousness'.
These papers are written to help those Christians, who may have an inadequate appreciation of the wonderful gospel in which they have believed. Its great scope may be gauged from the fact that the Holy Spirit uses no less than eleven different descriptions of the gospel in the New Testament. These are as follows:
1. The gospel of the kingdom, Matt. 4. 23, 9. 35 and 24. 14; and of the kingdom of God, Mark 1. 14 and Luke 8. 1
2. The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Mark 1. 1
3. The gospel of the grace of God, Acts 20. 24
4. The gospel of God, Rom. 15. 16; 2 Cor. 11. 7; 1 Thess. 2. 2. 8, 9; 1 Pet. 4. 17
5. The gospel of God concerning His Son, Rom. 1. 1, 3; of His Son, Rom. 1. 9
6. The gospel of peace, Rom. 10. 15; Eph. 2. 17 (JND), 6. 15
7. The gospel of Christ, Rom. 15. 19; 1 Cor. 9. 12; 2 Cor. 2. 12; 9. 13; 10. 14; Gal. 1. 7; Phil. 1. 27; I Thess. 3. 2*, see footnote (a)
8. The gospel of the glory of Christ, 2 Cor. 4. 4 (JND)
9. The gospel of our (your) salvation, Eph. 1. 13
10. The gospel of the unsearchable riches of Christ, Eph. 3. 8
11. The gospel of the glory of the blessed God, 1 Tim. 1. 11 (RV & JND).
While others besides Paul, notably Peter in the Acts and his epistles, were used to present the truth of the gospel in terms recorded by the Holy Spirit, all the references cited above, with the exception of those in Matthew and Mark, and the one reference in 1 Peter, are from words used by Paul; and as to No. 1, see Acts 20. 25. This accords with his claim to be pre-eminently the minister of the gospel to the nations, and his references to 'my gospel'.
These different descriptions, all referring to the same glorious gospel, emphasize specific features of it; and by extension, their effects on, and in, the persons who receive them as divine truths in unquestioning faith. It may be helpful to classify the eleven descriptions in three groups, according to the divine Persons primarily associated with them. Thus, in numbers 1, 3, 4 and 11 above, God is prominent: in 2, 7, 8 and 10, it is Christ; and 5, 6 and 9 relate to both God and Christ.
By way of introduction, certain features and effects may be briefly indicated as follows, grouping them as suggested above:-
Relating to God
i). The gospel of the kingdom implies divine rule and power, exerted on behalf of mankind in deliverance from the 'god of this world', 2 Cor. 4. 4, as indicated by Matthew 12. 28, 29; Acts 26. 18 and Col. 1. 13, and other passages. Also it implies obedience to divine rule by recipients of the gospel. Paul defines the benefits of the kingdom in Rom. 14. 17 as 'righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit'.
ii) . The import of the gospel of the grace of God is clear, and there are numerous references to this aspect, especially in Paul's writings. In his epistle to Titus, he refers to 'the grace of God which carries with it salvation for all men', JND, and its effect, 'teaching us' how we should live in the light of that grace, Tit. 2. 11, 12.
iii) . The gospel of God emphasizes the authority of the gospel, with God as its source, and is used by Paul in writing to the Thessalonians, an assembly comparatively young in the faith, as well as to the Corinthians in defending his own ministry and credentials against some who challenged his apostleship.
iv) . The gospel of the glory of the blessed God is another distinctive title, in contrast to features exhibited by man and his lawless state, which are completely opposed to the 'sound teaching' which such a gospel inspires.
Relating to Christ
v). The gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God clearly centres around the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the subject of Mark's gospel.
vi) . The gospel of Christ, which is the description most used in the New Testament, occurring eight times, also clearly stresses His Person and work as the main subject of the gospel. Paul uses this description in Galatians 1. 7 to affirm the one true gospel, in contrast to false imitations.
vii) . The gospel of the glory of Christ is a self-explanatory title; and reception of the gospel in this aspect results in testimony through His people to that glory, 2 Cor. 4. 6, 7.
viii) . The gospel of the unsearchable riches of Christ effectively involves the truth of the assembly and its unique place in union with Him as His body and His bride, and as 'the mystery, hidden throughout the ages in God', Eph. 3. 9, JND; it has in view glory to God as stated in Eph. 3. 10, 21.
ix) . The gospel of God concerning His Son ('of His Son' is virtually the same) is perhaps the most comprehensive of the titles, appropriately used at the very outset of the Roman letter which sets out the full scope of the gospel more than any other, emphasizing both God as its Author and Christ the Son as its Subject.
x) . The gospel of peace is self-explanatory. As referred to in Rom. 5. 1 its application is to the individual believer and his sinful history, but in Ephesians the assembly is in view. God is the 'God of peace', Rom. 15. 33; 16. 20, and Christ Himself is 'our peace', according to Eph. 2. 14.
xi) . The gospel of our salvation. This title is of special interest as occurring in the Ephesian letter, suggesting that it is in keeping with 'Ephesian truth' as to the heavenly calling of the believer and the assembly, Eph. 1. 3-14 which is the context in which this description of the gospel occurs. It may therefore imply a very comprehensive view of salvation, linking with God's purpose and the believer's position as 'in Christ'; and also with the 'walk', or manner of life, which is appropriate for those who are of the heavenly calling.
Subsequent articles will consider i) to xi) above in more detail.
In concluding this introductory article the writer recalls hearing a respected servant of the Lord, a few years ago, commencing an address with the remark that 'there is too much negative ministry', referring to those seeking to walk in accordance with New Testament assembly truth. The same criticism might be made of much gospel preaching. The number and variety of different descriptions of the gospel listed above surely indicate that the gospel message is to be a positive one. While it is of course necessary to emphasize the need for conviction of sin, and true repentance, and preachers may often be led of the Spirit to touch on the matter of divine judgment for the unbelieving, it seems that the main message of the gospel should be one of positive blessing. This is supported by the apostles preaching as recorded in Acts. In all those preachings, warnings about the consequences of unbelief or disbelief are touched on only lightly in the inspired word by comparison with the rest of the preaching. Thus in Acts 2. 40, Peter warned his hearers, 'Be saved from this perverse generation'; and in Acts 3. 22, 23, he quoted Deut. 18. 15 and 19, including Moses' warning that every soul which shall not hear that prophet, i.e. Christ, shall be destroyed from among the people.
In Acts 13. 40, 41, Paul concluded his preaching by saying 'Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets, 'Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish'; while in Acts 17. 31, in preaching to the men of pagan Athens, Paul concluded by referring to the need for repentance, and the fact that God had 'appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained'.
There do not appear to be any other relevant references in Acts, but it is true that the Lord Jesus spoke a great deal about eternal punishment in His public ministry, and was particularly severe in addressing the religious leaders, Matthew 23 and John chapters 5-10; but it is significant that references by the apostles to coming judgment are found almost entirely in their epistles addressed to believers; and their example in preaching is perhaps more relevant to those who subsequently seek to serve in the gospel than the unique utterances of the Lord Himself, many of which could only be said by a divine Person. While one must always allow for the sovereign action of the Holy Spirit, and not limit the application of Scripture under His leading, it may well be that more souls are saved by the presentation of positive blessing in grace and mercy than by dire warnings of eternal punishment.
(a) In Rom. 1. 16 and 15. 29 and 1 Cor. 9. 18 some later translations do not contain the title 'gospel of Christ' as in the A.V.
(b) Scriptures quotations used in these articles which differ from A.V. are from JND's New Translation (1961 edition).