Often times we will hear a preacher tell his audience to “open their heart” to the Lord. What strikes me about this phrase is that the only time I can find the concept of the opening of the heart mentioned in the New Testament, it refers to God being the one who opens hearts, not man.
Acts 16:13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well…”
Knowing this is extremely liberating for preaching and teaching. Obviously, for someone to be converted, the heart must be opened. A new attitude is needed. Hostility towards God and His gospel has to dissipate. There has to be openness to the message. When we understand that it is Almighty God who acts to open the heart of man, it allows the preacher to preach all the counsel of God, including the so called “rough edges” of the gospel. He can preach anything found in the word of God and do so with boldness, knowing that some will reject the message outright but others will experience this opening of the heart, as God the Holy Spirit does His work under the sound of the gospel. If we really get this, we can preach anything the word of God says – absolutely anything – we can “tell it like it is” and be free to do so. God will accomplish all He intends to accomplish. His word will not return to Him void but will accomplish everything He intended; either the hardening or the opening of the heart.
Paul wrote, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:22-24). He knew ahead of time that the only people who would be thrilled with what He had to say were those called by God. All others would either see it as foolishness or be offended by it. But what of it? God has chosen to use the foolishness of preaching to accomplish His will, the salvation of all His elect people. So.. preacher.. preach.. teacher.. teach.. Christian share the gospel. As Acts 13:48 describes the response to the preaching of the apostles in this way – “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” All who had the appointment (to believe) made the appointment. God will do what only He can do and unlock every closed heart He intends to open.
If on the other hand we think that it is in the final analysis (even subconsciously), our eloquence or likeability, or our ability to avoid all unpalatable subjects that the unbeliever would scoff at that gets people into the kingdom, then we are forever enslaved to man and his opinion. Under such a system, we would then have to tiptoe through the tulips, making sure that we never say anything that would make the unregenerate man feel uncomfortable. We should never mention sin, judgment or hell, or justice, holiness and sovereignty. These things must never be mentioned if we think in this way.
We need to face the fact that the message of the cross is intrinsically offensive, yet it is the assignment of the preacher to preach it. To preach without causing offense is impossible, if in fact we are preaching the gospel. Some will not like it. (We do not need to be offensive in our presentation or delivery, but the message itself does in fact offend all human pride and self righteousness).
Knowing it is God who opens hearts allows us to focus on pleasing God in what we say. We can preach boldly knowing, as C. H. Spurgeon once said, “Christ’s sheep will never be offended by Christ’s voice.”