August 29, 2014.
When you hear the term ‘peddler,’ what comes to mind? Does it have a good connotation? Bad? In terms of a salesperson, do they sell a cheap product or one of quality? I think most of us grasp the concept of a peddler who hawks a product of questionable quality for a quick gain. He or she is interested most on quantity sold rather than the product itself or the satisfaction of his or her customers. Peddler, needless to say, is not a term of endearment for most people. We think mostly about this concept of a ‘peddler’ in the context of a sales environment, but have you ever heard it applied to the context of religion?
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreadsthe fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God amongthose who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”
(II Corinthians 2:14-17)
What exactly is a “peddler of God’s word”? I suppose you could take any of the descriptions we discussed above and apply them to one who “sells” the gospel, but I think it is much more subtle than that, at least in some cases. There are three characteristics that I would look for when evaluating whether someone (including myself) is a peddler of God’s word or not. They (or you or I) could have one, two or all three of these characteristics. Let’s discuss what I mean by each and then examine ourselves to see if we should change our evangelism technique.
1. Cheap Grace
One of the first things that I think of when I think of a peddler is someone who has a product that does not have much quality. It’s a cheap version of something that could be quite useful. A knock off, if you will. The product will have some, if not many, of the same characteristics of the quality product, it may even look almost exactly the same, but in function it never lives up to the standard. This is the first characteristic in a peddler of God’s word: one who’s “product” is a cheap version of the real thing. Sometimes this is referred to as cheap grace.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
Even in the early days of Christianity there seem to have been knock-off versions of the gospel. Distorted pictures of Christ that lead people away into a false sense of belief. The Galatians had this problem as Paul needed to write to them not to accept any other version of the gospel than the true, original good news. He even says that there is not any different gospel, but that people were distorting the teachings of Christ. Twice Paul tells the Galatians that anyone who preaches any other gospel then the one preached to them by Paul and the other Apostles is to be accursed. It is obvious that he felt very strongly about this subject. I don’t think the Galatians were the only ones who were having this problem, because Paul also writes this to the Corinthians in his first letter:
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.”
(I Corinthians 5:1-2)
Reading through the first epistle to the church at Corinth, I get the sense that people were taking their freedom in Christ and using that as an excuse to sin and basically do whatever pleased them. This was not the meaning behind “freedom in Christ” as Paul points out. Look at what they were doing: A man had taken his father’s wife, and the church as tolerant of it. Even more so, they were arrogant about it! I picture the scene (as I see often today in some churches) of the Corinthians saying “Yeah, come fellowship with us, we tolerate anything as long as you believe in Jesus!” Maybe this isn’t what was going on, but it certainly seems to be the case to me. Freedom in Christ to them, as it is to some today, was a license to sin.
This is the opposite message of the gospel. The good news is Jesus died for our sins, not that we might continue in them, but that we might have a way of escape from them! The concept that Christians could continue in sin was simply absurd to Paul:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
I actually like how the King James translates this verse, for instead of saying “By no means!” it uses what I consider to be stronger language translating “God forbid!” Regardless, they both mean the same thing. It is not the will of God that we continue in sin that grace may abound. That is not the point of grace.
That’s cheap grace.
2. Quantity over Quality
Another, perhaps even more subtle characteristic of a peddler of God’s word is one who is focused more on quantity of “converts” as opposed to the spiritual health of those they teach. I put converts in quotations because I do not think that a shallow conversion based on cheap grace is a true conversion. This focus on quantity drives the peddler to change bits and pieces of the gospel to make it easier to “sell.” This is comparable to using cheaper parts or cutting corners in a product that makes it less expensive to sell, thus inflating the quantity of sales.
One of the problems with a focus on quantity is the endangerment of souls that you are teachings and converting. If you do not provide the whole truth, they will not have the foundation on which to stand for very long, if at all. They will be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. When the rains and floods came, his house fell, and great was the fall of it (ref. Matt. 7). This also reminds me of the parable of the sower and the seed that feel amongst thorns. There are thee categories of “converts” who Jesus says will not last long, if at all:
“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”
If the ones we are teaching have no roots, they will not be able to stand, and we are doing much more harm than good. This is why, I believe, James says for not many to be teachers, knowing we will received the stricter judgment. Anyone who peddles the word of God needs to consider what he or she is doing to themselves as well as all who are listening to them.
Finally, the characteristic that I think is the easiest to spot is insincerity in the seller. Often, you can pick out peddlers in a crowd. We know what they look like; we know how they will act. They have similar mannerisms that come from the common goal of peddlers: their own gain. This reminds me of how Paul described some teachers of the gospel to the Philippians:
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
This passage is quite interesting to me. Whereas Paul does note that some people preach the gospel out of selfish ambition and not in sincerity, he doesn’t seem to be too concerned about it for one reason: the gospel is preached. Period. But he doesn’t say that the preachers of insincerity are on good terms with God. However, they must have at least been preaching the true, else Paul would have warned that they were preaching a distorted gospel as he did to the Galatians. There was only one thing that Paul really cared about, and that was the furtherance of the Kingdom. His mission was to save souls, and he did not seem to drift from that goal.
But some did, losing sincerity and thus peddling the word of God. One of the best way to teach someone about Christ is to live your life as a Christian, so that people see Christ in you. In the business world it is known that you are so much more effective at selling a product if you believe in it yourself. I think the same goes for Christianity. We must actually believe in what we are preaching, to the point where we are living the life that we proclaim to others. People are smart, and they can usually spot a fake or hypocritical person from miles away. It will surely be a hard sell, even if you are preaching the true, if you are not practicing what you preach. Paul says that they were not peddlers of God’s word, but men of sincerity. This should be who we are as well. Our job is to seek and to save the lost. Sincerity is a key element for our job.
So what about you? What about me? Are we people of sincerity? Or are we simply peddlers of God’s word? Self evaluation is important for this question, as we could be leading people astray without even realizing. I pray that we are able to improve our efficiency of our evangelism so that we might advance the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth.
Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 7, 13, Romans 6, II Corinthians 2.
All glory to Him who reigns above.