A few years ago, I was faced with a dilemma.
There was this guy who was travelling the world telling his story in churches. It was a wonderful tale, full of intrigue and adventure. It was so good that it would have made an excellent plot for a movie.
Every time he spoke, those who listened would sit as quiet as church mice, lapping up every syllable as it took them on a journey from evil to salvation. People were moved to tears as the emotion of the moment came to a crescendo. At the conclusion of his message, many decided for the first time to acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour . . . to become a Christian.
I was so captivated by this intense story, I even bought the recording myself.
But, one day while I was speaking to a group of colleagues, I became aware that rumours were circulating that this guy was a fraud; that the story was made up. I searched the Internet and spoke with those who knew about these things better than I, and to my dismay I discovered the story was nothing but fiction. I was so disappointed, and maybe even a little angry, at his deception.
One Monday morning a few years later, a lady I know was raving about a recent experience she had been through. She was physically and emotionally moved by an event that occurred during the Sunday service at her church. Yes, you guessed it, their visiting speaker was the man who shared his story across the globe.
She told of her experience on the previous day, recounting the story and the truly amazing blessings she, and many others, had received. The blessings were real and significant.
For me though, it left me with a dilemma. What do I do? Do I tell her ‘the truth’ about this guy and shatter her experience, or do I let it go so the euphoria of the moment can last?
Before doing anything I spoke with my colleagues and went straight to God’s Word. That’s the best place to start. The burning question was whether good can come from a lie. Our immediate response was NO! But God, as we know, doesn’t always work in the realm our brains do. This is the verse I was led to.
“And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” Philippians 1:14-18 (NIV)
Wow! That was unexpected.
Here Paul provides us with a glimpse of the issues he himself faced in the early days of the church. People were preaching the gospel with false motives but from it came good. The last line of this passage is so important, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
The issue I had to contend with was whether this travelling storyteller was speaking the truths of scripture, wrapped in a lie, or whether he was teaching heresy.
The good news is that his message was for all sinners, all of us, that we can have salvation in Christ. He didn’t teach theology or doctrine, just a simple message that, regardless of your circumstances, you can choose to follow Jesus, who is our guide and protector.
Having understood what Paul was saying in the passage above, and after prayer, two of us sat my staff member down and presented her both the facts, and the verse from Philippians. She was understandably upset, but she could see that the blessings themselves were valid because Christ was preached, rather than a man exalted.
Controversy still exists over this travelling storyteller and whether he’s legitimate or not. Only God, and he, know.
The main lesson I’ve learnt from this experience is that we have to be careful about being too judgmental of the way the gospel is presented. Sure, some preachers and teachers might be self serving, or the way they go about presenting Christ might not be as we think it should be done, but in the end the test is whether or not Christ is being preached.
When Christ is being preached, in whatever manner, we should all rejoice.