Thursday, December 21, 2017

Preach the Word. Just Preach the Word.

“What is truth?”

Pilate asked a fair question. I wonder how the average pastor would answer it?

Your answer to that question may be the most important conclusion you come to in life. It is certainly the most important conclusion you will come to in ministry. 



Have you ever wondered why Paul spent so much time writing about preaching? Maybe you have not noticed it before, but just read through the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) and note how many times the words teach, charge, confess, command, practise, urge, keep, guard, remind, follow, entrust, think over, remember, rightly handle, correct, continue in, rebuke, declare, insist, and preach are repeated. On top of this are the repeated warnings to not get off-track and embroiled in arguments and speculations and basically anything that distracts from the teaching, etc. 

And there is no question that Paul had in mind a certain body of data as he wrote these instructions. There was something to be taught that was not original to the teacher. Hence, the memorable verses…

2 Timothy 3:14–17 [14] But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it [15] and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV)

We ought to assume then that there is a constant temptation to pull other things into our pulpit than the truth. Why else would Paul repeat the command so many times? No doubt he had sat through his own share of church services where some (perhaps well-intentioned) teacher had read the scroll then waxed eloquent for then next 55 minutes about nothing in particular. As loving and kind as the Apostle was, I cannot help but wonder if there was not the odd time of him standing up in the middle of a useless lecture only to say, “The text, man! Preach the text!”

It is of growing concern to me that more and more preachers in the Reformed tradition seem unable to discern when they are importing their own ideas into a sermon, as opposed to saying what the text says. I would give $100 to hear a boring man tell me what a text says and help me to understand it better, than listen to some tattoo-covered, did-you-notice-my-biceps, infomercial boy blab on and on about his opinions. What good are opinions when you are facing death?

I read the account of Lazarus and Rich Man the other day. That rich man had gotten all he wanted in life. Now he was starting an eternity in the torment of hell. 

Luke 16:24 [24] And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 

What a horrifying image. Just one drop of water. One drop! For a relief that would not last. And there was none. 

Preacher, did that Rich Man listen to opinions his whole life? Where were the prophets calling out his sin and warning him of hell? I do not like preaching on hell. The only reason I ever preach on hell is that it is in the Bible. I can barely handle the emotional intensity of preaching on hell. But I must preach on hell. You must preach on hell. For God has declared there is a hell and he has called us to warn everyone about it. 

Do you have the kind of inner commitment to say what the Bible says, regardless of what kind of trouble it is going to get you in to? Regardless of what kind of discomfort it is going to bring you? More than that, are you committed to study hard enough and long enough with your own mind (not just an assortment of commentaries!) to know what it means? And are you willing to labour to make it known as clearly as you can to anyone who will listen? 

Some people think preaching is easy. I will admit getting up in front of a room and talking has gotten easier for me over the years. But preaching has only gotten harder. The more I learn, the more I realize I do not know. And that means the more I need to study. Brother, if  you feel pretty confident you’ve “got the Bible down,” please don’t be my pastor. 

Do you know who I want to preach to me? I want men that are going to work their tails off getting to the bottom of a passage. Men who will actually work extra hours if needed to figure something out. Men who will take those four hours to study one conjunction since the meaning of the entire passage hangs on how it is understood, even though that will only give them 5 seconds of preaching material on Sunday. I want to hear men who spend all those hours not just getting to what the text means, but getting to God in the process. Men who will not rest until they can get into the pulpit and speak with a confidence that is rooted entirely in the authority of the Word. Not them. Not their personality, nor their ability to draw people to themselves, nor their “charisma.” I want to listen to men who are devastated when it appears to them that people have enjoyed them, more than God, when they are done preaching. 

If you are a young man thinking about preaching, here is my advice. Read your Bible. Read it up and down. Read it until you can almost see the page when someone else references it. Read it and read it and read it. And think hard about it. Don’t let unknown words stay unknown. Don’t let obscure meanings stay foggy. If you really want to serve people, if you really want to love Christ’s church, read and read until you understand and then start telling people what you see. 

We don’t need more personalities in the church. We need men of the Word. Be that man and you will have answered the question.

John 17:17 [17] Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (ESV)


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