"Set for the Defence of the Gospel"
Many in America today have no appreciation for religious discussion or controversy. They view such as, at best, mean-spirited, lacking love, and contrary to Christianity. However, the apostle wrote, "But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel" (Phili. 1: 17, see verse 7). The Greek translated "defence" (I shall use the King James spelling) is apologia. W. E. Vine comments thus on apologia: "A speech made in defence." We use this Greek word in the following manner regarding literature: "Apologea…a work written as an explanation or justification of one's motives, conviction, or acts" (Random House College Dictionary, pg. 63). The Pulpit Commentary makes the following observation regarding Paul's statement, "…to his work of preaching the gospel, which was both apologetic, meeting the objections of adversaries, and aggressive, asserting the truth." Christianity is not a religion for the cowardly and bleeding hearts. Truth must be defended and errorists exposed.
Paul's manner in his preaching. There are many sermons, statements, and circumstances involving the apostle Paul from which we not only can deduce truths, but they also serve as a model for us today. Consider with me Paul's first recorded sermon (Acts 13: 14-41). What was his style, manner, and emphasis? Notice that Paul "…went into the synagogue" (vs. 14). Paul did not go into the synagogue as a Jew to partake of Jewish worship. Paul boldly went there, I submit, to challenge the Jews who had not accepted Christ and who continued to seek justification by the Law of Moses. While Paul was not disorderly, Paul's manner was not shy or diffident (vs. 16). Paul had an opportunity to preach the truth and he arose to the occasion. He is seen as courteous (vs. 16). He introduced pertinent history with which his Jewish audience was familiar (vs. 17-25). In this vein, Paul injected Jesus the Messiah, a very controversial subject in the circumstance (vs. 23-25). Paul not only preached Christ, but he made clear application (vs. 26, 28, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41). The recorded results are indicative of the fact that Paul relevantly preached Christ (vs. 43-46). Paul was not undecided and of the philosophy that there is no absolute truth, but only scales of gray. His style was pressing and dialectic (46, 50).
A Greek word used in Acts by the historian Luke to describe Paul's preaching is the word dialegomai (often translated "reasoned" and "disputed" in the KJV). The root meaning of dialegomai is twofold in action, to think or reason, considering different and conflicting ideas). W. E. Vines comments thus on dialegomai, "To think different things with oneself, to ponder, then, to dispute with others.…" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Dialegomai is weakened when translated "lectured." Thayer observes regarding the use of dialegomai in Acts, "…mingle thought with thought…argue, discuss…to draw arguments from the scriptures with the idea of disputing…" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 139). We read of Paul engaging in dialegomai in Thessalonica (Acts 17: 2). The Amplified New Testament renders the verse thus:
"And Paul entered, as he usually did, and for the three sabbaths he reasoned and argued with them from the scriptures" (Acts 17: 2).
Luke used dialegomai to describe Paul's style while in Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and Troas (Acts 17: 17; 18: 4; 19, 19: 8, 9; 20: 7). One correctly concludes from the just mentioned instances and examples that Paul was a skilled and accomplished debater.
The reason for the defence. One reason so many today are indifferent when it comes to really examining and comparing various doctrines is because they believe it really does not matter what one believes, just as long as one is sincere in their belief. The average person believes that truth is more or less relative and that the Bible is legitimately interpreted in different ways. Notwithstanding, the resident teaching of the scriptures and the observed examples are contrary to such a view. In fact, we are told that it takes the truth to set free and that God must be worshipped in truth (Jn. 8: 32, 4: 24). Rather than present the truth as unintelligible, abstract, and diverse, the scriptures say that there is only one faith, one church, one baptism, and one God (Eph. 4: 4-6). Upon these seven ones, unity is based (Eph. 4: 3-6). In stern reality, all who go beyond Jesus' teaching do not have Jesus or the Father and must not be fellowshipped (2 Jn. 9-11). The curse of God is placed on those who teach a different gospel and to alter in any wise the word of God is to incur the plagues of God (Gal. 1: 6-9; Rev. 22: 18, 19).
Behavior in defence of the gospel. Do not think for a moment that in this material we are advocating uncontrolled, violent, and physically abusive conduct. The scriptures regulate conduct and lack of control is condemned. There is wisdom seen in controversy. For instance, after Paul and Barnabas had "…no small dissension and disputation" with certain false teachers who had come from the church in Jerusalem, rather than go charging in accusing the whole church of endorsing these errorists, they first met with the leaders of the church to ascertain the facts (Acts 15: 2ff.). Relative to conduct in recorded cases, they used the scriptures as their authority, standard, and appeal (Acts 17: 2). The focus was on determining the truth and not on attacking one another. There was no misrepresentation on the part of the apostles or sinful and deflective motive assignment. They were intense and undaunted when it came to presenting and defending the truth, but they were loving with the proponents of error.
It is at the same time both sad and tragic that there is so little regard for the truth in religion today. The fact of all the thousands of diverse religions is illustrative of the absence of respect for the truth found in God's word. When approached with the plea to study and discuss religious differences, many are insulted. The days of formal "debates" to compare teaching and determine the truth are almost non-existent. Even in the body of Christ, so many are of such a frail constitution that the very thought of honorable controversy to address different teaching is considered reprehensible. Yet, as seen, the New Testament is replete with such activity. Jesus himself is often observed engaging in formal debate on a host of religious subjects with the leaders of his day (cp. Matt. 21: 23-27, Matt. 22: 15-33).
In closing, I shall share two scriptures with you than not only add more evidence to the fact of "set for the defence of the gospel," but also show that in general, every Christian has the same responsibility that Paul articulated in his statement to the church at Philippi.
"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer (apologia, dm) to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (I Pet. 3: 15; Jude 3).
It is high time that preachers and Christians in the aggregate stop being afraid and ashamed of the gospel and assume the posture of Paul to be "set for the defence of the gospel."