The Primacy of the Word of God in Preaching

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Paul’s last written charge to Timothy was culled down to these three words, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). What Word?  Just a few verses prior, he outlined the nature of the Bible:

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[a] may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Theologians use the term plenary verbal inspiration: All Scripture is inspired, breathed out by God!  But it is also profitable, making the man of God both complete (mature) and equipped for every good work.  Think on this just for a moment.

All Scripture. At this time, ‘all Scripture’ meant the Old Testament.  In Luke 24:13-35, Jesus has just risen from the dead and comes up upon two of His disciples, Cleopas and another unnamed disciple on the road to the town of Emmaus.  They were trying to process the events of Christ’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion–and the fact that the women disciples reported that His body was missing. Here’s Jesus’ response:

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

The Old Testament was sufficient in showing the person and work of Jesus–every portion, every page. Granted, the New Testament brought a clarity to the message of the Old Testament, reminding us of what Augustine said centuries ago: “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.” Jesus tells us that everything that happened in the days prior was prophesied and verified in the Old Testament centuries before.

Later, the apostle Peter (and in all likelihood Paul) recognized that the New Testament writings (specifically, the writings of Paul) were included under the heading of Scripture:

15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16).

The implication is that Paul’s writings are (1) hard to understand, and (2) like the other Scriptures, ignorant and unstable people twist to their destruction.  Paul, an apostle, was given wisdom by the Holy Spirit to write to the church regarding matters that are considerable not just scriptural but Scripture itself.

Therefore, we as pastors preach all of the Bible, Old as well as New Testament, as Christian Scripture pointing to Christ.

Profitable.  

Profitable for what?  He lists four items: teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Let’s flesh this out:

  • Teaching: not the act of teaching, but the content taught–teaching the teaching that is right.
  • Reproof: showing what is not right in our doctrine and our actions.
  • Correction: showing us by the Spirit and the Word how to get it right.
  • Training in righteousness: showing us how to stay right.

When you talk about profitable, this is as profitable as it gets. Our goal in preaching is not simply ‘information dump.’ Rather, our goal is to learn the Word so that we can help our people know God’s will and way, and to see where we line up.  Preaching must serve to help others know Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, and by the Holy Spirit be convicted and counseled in the way of truth.

Scripture equips for every good work.

“… that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

The Scripture is sufficient to bring the pastor/elder into full maturity. And more so, out of the overflow of his life, is equipped by the teaching and by living out that teaching to accomplish ‘every good work’ God has for him. Martin Luther once said, “What is asserted without the Scriptures or proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed.”

Illustrations have their place (that will come later), but the exposition of Scripture is where all else springboards for the preacher and pastor.

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The Primacy of Prayer in Preaching

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The apostle Peter mentioned prayer first, and for good reason. Preaching is a supernatural act!  We are not simply dumping information, we are praying for transformation through what God has said.  A.J. Gordon noted:

Our generation is rapidly losing its grip upon the supernatural; and as a consequence, the pulpit is rapidly dropping to the level of the platform. And this decline is due, more than anything else, to ignoring the Holy Spirit as the supreme inspirer of preaching. We would rather see a great orator in the pulpit, forgetting that the least expounder of the Word, when filled with the Spirit, is greater than he. (1)

While some look at the power of preaching coming from a certain type of personality, a certain twist of a phrase, being a stand-up comic that intersperses Scripture in from time to time, or other human-driven motives and methods, preaching is a supernatural act that needs bathing in prayer. D.L. Moody got it right:

I’d rather be able to pray than be a great preacher; Jesus never taught his disciples how to preach, but he did teach them how to pray.

How? Although each of these deserves a longer treatment, let’s quickly look at these four matters:

Through prayer, God invests in His people, especially His preachers.

Christ is the one who sends out His preachers to whom and where He sends.  In Matthew 10, Jesus sent out the twelve, “instructing them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”’” (Matthew 10:5b-7).  Later, Jesus tells them to “Go, make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  It was here that the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 meeting in the upper room in Jerusalem, where they were given the Word and the languages to make that Word understood (Acts 2:1-4). By the Holy Spirit, men are called to preach and lead God’s people.

Through prayer, God illumines the Word.

In 1 Corinthians 2:9:10, Paul tells the Corinthian church:

But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

   nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

In verse 13, Paul goes deeper: And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

Through prayer, God opens up hearts to rescue His own.

Just a little later in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul explains the roles of preacher and Trinity:

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

The preacher plants and waters. “Oh, if we had a preacher who ___________, then many would come to Christ.”  How would we fill in that blank?  Was serious? Funny? Handsome? Young? Old?  These items are not mentioned as qualifications for the preacher, as if these items assisted God’s saving work.  The qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 suffice, and one who preaches “the gospel of grace” and one who does not “shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” and pays “careful attention to [themselves] and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:24, 27). By His strength, we stay faithful to what He has clearly called us to. By His Word, He opens up hearts to receive and grow in His Word.  

Jesus came to earth, “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), and how will this happen without a preacher sent (Romans 10:14-15)?  Preaching is a supernatural act in a natural world to bring the natural into the supernatural by Jesus.  Here my pastor, Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892):

To us, as ministers, the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. Without Him our office is a mere name. . . . Unless we have the spirit of the prophets resting upon us, the mantle which we wear is nothing but a rough garment to deceive. We ought to be driven forth with abhorrence from the society of honest men for daring to speak in the name of the Lord if the Spirit of God rests not upon us. . . . If we have not the Spirit which Jesus promised, we cannot perform the commission which Jesus gave. (3)


(1) A.J. Gordon . Quoted in Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2007), 7.

(2) Source unknown.

(3) C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954), 186-87.

Keeping in Step with the Spirit as Leaders

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22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:22-26, ESV).

God raises up leaders in a church that is an overflowing of their relationship to Jesus as hopeful, joyful disciples of Him. In the life of a believer and a leader, we must live as we are–followers of Jesus. The world (and the church, for that matter) watches who we are. The fruit of who we truly are comes out, either in the fruit of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) or in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24).  

How do we as leaders keep in step with the Spirit and avoid being “conceited, provoking one another, envying one another”?  In our relationship with Christ, we see these traits as follows:

Love

This word ‘agape’ is a type of love that is selfless and sacrificial, a love that loves to give of self rather than a ‘getting’ for self. This aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (as well as the “fruit of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21) informs all of the other aspects.  In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, you see:

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[a] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.

Do we find ourselves aiming to love people the way God loves them (selflessly and sacrificially), or do we lead because we desire to be loved?  To be in control?  To have people sacrifice themselves for us?

Joy

Joy is fueled by contentment.  “Joy is the ability to take good cheer from the gospel.  It is not, therefore, a spontaneous response to some temporary pleasure. It does not depend on the circumstance at all. It is based rather on rejoicing in one’s eternal identity in Jesus Christ” (1)  Christian leaders must not go up and down based on circumstances such as numbers, flatterers, critics, and the like. Our contentment comes from the glorious, hopeful, joyful, majestic work that Christ accomplished on our behalf, the gospel.  The Holy Spirit takes hold, sealing our heart in the Christ who brings “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).

Is your joy fueled by the person and work of Jesus?  Do the cross and the empty tomb ground your contentment in Kingdom work?  What do numbers, flattery, and criticism (constructive or otherwise) do to you?

Peace

John MacArthur notes, “If joy speaks of the exhilaration of the heart that comes from being right with God, then peace refers to the tranquility of mind that comes from saving relationships” (2) Paul reminded the Corinthians church that we have been reconciled to God through the atoning work of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21), therefore we should have relationships marked by peace with others.

Are we peaceful in our relationships? Do we bring about a “tranquility of mind” to those areas we oversee? Or do we find ourselves stoking the fires of contention when someone disagrees with us?  

Patience

Hardships come in life, and especially in leadership. Paul addressed this to the Roman church:

2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

The ‘endurance’ piece in this hope-filled chain is dealing with patience, a dealing with adversity.  These hardships produce a Christ-like character, but that doesn’t happen without producing patience in the annoyances and persecution.

Ryken rightly said that “a patience person has a slow fuse.” Does that mark you as a Christian and leader? What triggers your impatience? Did you believe that, when you came into the Christian life and leadership, you would only face easy times and loving adulation? When did you realize that wasn’t the case?  How did you react?

Kindness

Kindness is not simply a one-and-done act every so often, but a consistent consideration that is part of the Christian’s personality. This continual readiness to help epitomizes a servant’s heart that seeks no kindness in return.  When a Christian is gripped by the grace of Christ, this grace is extended to others. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

What is your motivation to be kind? Do you see kindness as a weakness or a hindrance to getting things done, or are you willing to take a slower pace in getting things done if it means adding that extra bit of kindness in the process? Would others mark you as ‘kind’?  Why or why not?

Goodness

This term was a term used in Paul’s day to denote a moral excellence that overflows in a generosity.  Romans 5:5 tells us that, as believers, God pours out His love into our hearts by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who are believers and, in turn, have received the Holy Spirit as all believers do, will in heart and mind have a ‘goodness’ that brings glory to God and benefits all around.

Do you have a generosity about you? Do people recognize the change God has brought about in you, taking you from self to Christ?  How has this shown in your thinking and your behavior? Do you keep everything above board, or do you believe that the ends justify the means?

Faithfulness

Our Christian life and leadership must be marked by being trustworthy. That trustworthiness comes from where our trust lies–in Christ and Christ alone. Our loyalty to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ is imperative, both in good times and in troublesome times. God told the people of Israel:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression of sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6-7a).

As the Spirit resides in us, the faithfulness that God has can come to others as we serve as His conduit. Are we trustworthy?  Do we keep our promises and our word?  Do we make commitments to pray for and talk to others, then fail to follow through? May the faithfulness that God shows grip our hearts in demonstrating that faithfulness to others.

Gentleness

This is power under control (also known as meekness). Doris Akers wrote a song that was quite popular in days gone by known as Sweet, Sweet Spirit (3).  That sweet, sweet spirit that’s “in this place” when it comes to a church service starts with it being in the ‘place’ known as our hearts.

Do a sweetness and gentleness exude from us? Are we ones who come off as proud and in control of the room, or as ones who are humble?  Do we lose our temper and become angry when things do not go our way?

Self-Control

In a culture that’s out of control in all matters (eating, drinking, sex, etc.), Christians by the work of the Holy Spirit stay under control. While we are free in Christ, we are not free to use that freedom as a blank check to do as we wish.  Paul wrote to Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Conclusion

Be careful not to cherry-pick the fruit of the Spirit.  It’s one fruit.  Praise God for the areas in which fruit is borne. And pray to God that He would show you areas where you need His work to take place.  None of us are perfect, but the Spirit has called us to “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

God’s blessings on each of you as you see how Jesus is enough!


Endnotes:

(1) Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 233.

(2) John MacArthur, Galatians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 66.

(3) Sweet, Sweet Spirit” by Doris Akers. https://hymnary.org/text/theres_a_sweet_sweet_spirit_in_this_plac?sort=tuneTitle