by Mike Ratliff
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4 ESV)
As I write this it is May 24, 2008 the last day of the week. Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day. While many will go to church tomorrow and hear expository preaching and worship God in spirit and truth, many more will hear sermons that the preacher bought from Sermons.Com or some other source. While I understand the pressures these men are under trying to be “successful” in growing their churches, I contend that those doing this are serving an idol rather than the Living God.
John Bunyan gave us his ideal for a preacher of the Word of God in his masterpiece, The Pilgrim’s Progress. We find this as the Interpreter is taking Christian through his house revealing spiritual truths to him before he goes to meet the Lord at the Cross. Christian has just entered the house and the conversation begins:
Chr. Sir, said Christian, I am a man that am come from the City of Destruction, and am going to the Mount Zion; and I was told by the Man that stands at the Gate, at the head of this way, that if I called here, you would shew me excellent things, such as would be a help to me in my Journey.
Inter. Then said the Interpreter, Come in; I will shew thee that which will be profitable to thee. So he commanded his man to light the Candle, and bid Christian follow him: So he had him into a private room, and bid his man open a door; the which when he had done, Christian saw the picture of a very grave Person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it, It had eyes lifted up to Heaven, the best of Books in his hand, the Law of Truth was written upon his lips, the World was behind his back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a Crown of God did hang over its head.
Chr. Then said Christian, What means this:
Inter. The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand; he can beget children, travel in birth with children, and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas thou seest him with eyes lift up to Heaven, the best of Books in his hand, and the Law of Truth writ on his lips; that is to shew thee, that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he hath to his Master’s service, he is sure in the World that comes next, to have Glory for his reward. Now, said the Interpreter, I have shewed thee this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going, hath authorized to be thy Guide in all difficult places thou may’st meet with in the Way: Wherefore take good heed to what I have shewed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou has seen; lest in thy Journey thou meet with some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death. – John Bunyan from The Pilgrim’s Progress the First Part.
John Bunyan was such a preacher and his contention was that there are many who preach and lead, but the World is not behind their backs nor is the best of Books in their hands nor is the Law of Truth on their lips. Instead they are worldly and they minister accordingly. The following is from the Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God.
Of the Preaching of the Word.
PREACHING of the word, being the power of God unto salvation, and one of the greatest and most excellent works belonging to the ministry of the gospel, should be so performed, that the workman need not be ashamed, but may save himself, and those that hear him…
The servant of Christ is to perform his while ministry:
1. Painfully, not doing the work of the Lord negligently.
2. Plainly, that the meanest may understand; delivering the truth not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect; abstaining also from an unprofitable use of unknown tongues, strange phrases, and cadences of sounds and words; sparingly citing sentences of ecclesiastical or other human writers, ancient or modern, be they never so elegant.
3. Faithfully, looking at the honour of Christ, the conversion, edification, and salvation of the people, not at his own gain or glory; keeping nothing back which may promote those holy ends, giving to every one his own portion, and bearing indifferent respect unto all, without neglecting the meanest, or sparing the greatest, in their sins.
4. Wisely, framing all his doctrines, exhortations, and especially his reproofs, in such a manner as may be most likely to prevail; shewing all due respect to each man’s person and place, and not mixing his own passion or bitterness.
5. Gravely, as becometh the word of God; shunning all such gesture, voice, and expressions, as may occasion the corruptions of men to despise him and his ministry.
6. With loving affection, that the people may see all coming from his godly zeal, and hearty desire to do them good. And,
7. As taught of God, and persuaded in his own heart, that all that he teacheth is the truth of Christ; and walking before his flock, as an example to them in it; earnestly, both in private and publick, recommending his labours to the blessing of God, and watchfully looking to himself, and the flock whereof the Lord hath made him overseer: So shall the doctrine of truth be preserved uncorrupt, many souls converted and built up, and himself receive manifold comforts of his labours even in this life, and afterward the crown of glory laid up for him in the world to come.
How can a Pastor these days preach and minister in such a way that God is glorified and believers are birthed into the Kingdom of God as He wills? While the language may be a bit archaic, the meaning of this piece from the Puritans is very clear. Those who do this are able only in the power of the Holy Spirit who leads them into using their gifts to die to self, turn their backs on the World, and preach the Word. Their churches may not be mega-churches, but has God ever used numbers as a mark of a successful ministry? Isn’t the mark of success of a ministry if the sheep in it know the Word, know the Lord, and live out their lives manifesting the fruit of the spirit?
Much of the problem, of course, is that most are still convinced that Christianity is a life or relationship based on experience and feelings with no relation to Doctrine. This is a fruit of relativism and liberalism in the Church. Real Christianity is a life that is lived according to the doctrine of which our faith consists. This doctrine, or as some like to say, this “systematic theology,” is based on what happened when Jesus came, lived, died, resurrected, and ascended all based on why He came and lived the way He did and died the way He did and rose from the dead the way He did, and ascended into Heaven the way He did. Therefore, the preacher who is not an idolater serving in a false form Christianity that is based on feelings and experience will minister as a captive to the Law of Truth from God’s Word. He will not be a hireling who cares not for the flock, but will work intimately with the Good Shepherd in ministering to the sheep.
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:7-16 ESV)
My brethren, let us worship the Lord in Spirit and Truth this Lord’s day as we pray for the Good Shepherd to rescue His sheep from these “hirelings.” Also, let us pray for God to raise up a new generation of ministers who are not corrupted by the world and its ways.
Soli Deo Gloria