The Rage Against Truth

These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”” (Acts 19:25–28, ESV)

As Paul proclaimed the gospel in Ephesus, the effects trickled down, affecting the very livelihood of those involved in the idol-makers guild. The testimony of Paul is clear, even when spoken from the lips of the pagan silversmith Demetrius–“gods made with hands are not gods.”

As he gathered the guildsmen to refute this challenge to their trades, Demetrius could have sought to put together a powerful rebuttal against Paul’s accusation. He could have challenged Paul to a debate, or showed where Paul’s reasoning went off track. He could have pointed out inconsistencies that he saw in Paul’s arguments against the practice of Diana worship, but he did none of these things.

Instead, Demetrius did what so many others do when they cannot refute the truth of the gospel–they resort to emotional appeals that focus on rage and victimhood. The best response that these tradesmen could come up with was to whip themselves up into a frenzied mob and shout “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for about two hours (Eph 19:34). After all, they reasoned, everyone knows this is true! Why answer questions, and why reason or have a civil conversation? Raging anger, shouting, and mob violence were all they could come up with.

I wish I could say that society has become more “civilized” in its response to contrary ideas and viewpoints, particularly about religion–but it hasn’t. Emotional responses completely devoid of reason, civil conversation, and informed information are harder to find than ever.

As a Christian, I do not claim to know all the answers, but I am more than willing to sit down and talk to someone about what I believe the Bible and Christian faith teaches, and if they are truly sincere, I would invite a discussion of their challenges to my faith. Since I believe that the Christian Scriptures are utterly consistent with the laws of reason and logic, I am encouraged and even compelled to sit with those who might want to discuss the most important matters in life.

When people resort to mockery, ad hominem attacks, filthy language, and an unwillingness to honestly look at the evidence, there is little hope that a genuine conversation can occur. Christianity is not against reason and genuine dialogue with those who have questions, but instead invites it. After all, I serve a God who is willing to reason with sinners who are sincerely looking for truth: ““Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV)

Dear Christian, I would invite you as well to, “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

How the Believer and Unbeliever Critically Differ in their Study of the Bible

“I mull over the text, I pray. I meditate and exegete. I talk to my Bible, and ask questions of the text. I take notes. I think. I sweat. And then God gives me what he wants me to have.”—Warren Wiersbe

Like many things in the Christian life, the preparation and delivery of a sermon is neither solely the work of the Holy Spirit nor is it solely the work of the preacher. The former leads to mysticism and poorly prepared sermons that are more heat than light and the latter leads to sermons that are devoid of the power of God.

In order to gain a better grasp of how the Holy Spirit acts within the preparation of biblical exposition we must first recognize that any study of the text which seeks to be accurate and God empowered is a work of the Spirit which carries along the expositor in his study as much as in his delivery.

A Preliminary Distinction

Before we can launch into the working of the Spirit in the study of the Scripture by a regenerate Christian, we must understand how it is that an unbeliever can accurately study any given text and still accurately understand what the text is saying to a certain extent. By examining how this is possible, we will be able to better understand how the Christian expositor is different and how his resultant study will yield spiritual fruit. To accomplish this, it is helpful to distinguish between comprehension of a biblical text and apprehension of the Word of God.

Comprehension

Comprehension as I am using it here is the ability to gain a knowledge of the text of Scripture through the technical sciences and application of hermeneutical principles. Comprehension allows for the accurate observation of such elements as grammar, syntax, and other exegetical and linguistic features of the text, i.e. the unbelieving exegete is not prevented by the noetic effects of sin from recognizing the verb forms of a biblical passage. He may gain additional insights regarding the biblical text from his knowledge of archaeology, background, culture and a multitude of other disciplines. 

However, it must be acknowledged that the unregenerate exegete cannot come to the text in a purely “scientific” way because his presuppositions will taint his methodology and will not allow for the Bible’s claim to be the voice of God. His comprehension will be flawed and be limited as he or she seeks to understand the fact of the text in light of their intended meaning.

Apprehension

Different from a raw knowledge of the facts of a text’s features and most basic meaning is what can perhaps be referred to as “apprehension.” Apprehension would include in addition to the comprehension of the text the additional aspect of the reception of the meaning of the Word of God in heart and conscience and communicates the intention of the passage and the desired response of the Holy Spirit to those that hear the message “with ears to hear.” This apprehension may include the preacher as well as those who hear the message. Paul wrote about this reception of the Word in 1Thessalonians 2:13, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV) 

The contrast between the understanding of the biblical text by the unbeliever and the believer is most markedly different in the comparison of these two aspects—comprehension and apprehension. 

The inability of unredeemed men to comprehend the meaning of Scripture nor can they hear the revelation of God in any form is expressed in such passages as:

  • Romans 1:18–20—They are “truth suppressors” and cannot grasp what God has made plain, yet they are without excuse.
  • 1Cor 1:18-25; 2:14—The Word of God is “folly” (Gk. moros) to the world’s wise men. Not only are they foolishness to the natural person, but they are incapable of understanding them. 
  • Eph 4:17-19—Unbelievers are marked as living “in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding…”

This suppression, mocking and darkened understanding affects some comprehension and prohibits apprehension of the Word of God when it is studied by the unbeliever, no matter his depth of knowledge in biblical studies.

Biblical Examples of Comprehension without Apprehension

  • The murderous Jews who searched the Scriptures but could not accept Jesus as the Christ—John 5:18, 39-47
  • The indifferent chief priests and scribes who had no apparent desire to seek the Christ-child in spite of knowing some were seeking his birthplace—Matt 2:1-6
  • The ignorant, yet searching Ethiopian who studied the prophet Isaiah but could not find Christ on his own—Acts 8:26-30

The missing element that links Comprehension and joins exegesis to the heart is the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination.

Comprehension and the Work of the Preacher

“Exegetical imprecision is the mother of liberal theology. When pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become closed-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don’t put much stock in doctrinal formulations. In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error.”—John Piper

It is necessary to state that the necessity of Holy Spirit working through the believer for the comprehension of the biblical text does not guarantee that the interpretation of the text is the correct one. Many passages in the Bible have been a matter of debate by believers and Christian scholars for centuries. Simply because the Holy Spirit is present does not automatically mean that serious exegetical study is not required, nor that such study guarantees the outcome of that study.

However, without Spirit dependent exegesis and the careful application of hermeneutical principles, the correct understanding of any given passage of Scripture will not be able to correctly interpret the passage as the Holy Spirit intended it to the original audience then applied to the present audience being addressed.

Accuracy with the biblical text assures that the message of the Scripture is understood accurately, but the work of the Holy Spirit is not complete. He must still work to bring about the apprehension of the message he intends.

Apprehension and the Work of the Preacher

Beyond the need for proper hermeneutical principles and accurate exegesis, there is the necessity of the work of God’s Spirit. As Paul reminded the church in Corinth:

“and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4–5, ESV)

Accompanying the words of the message there must be the Spirit and his power. A sermon that is empowered by God himself must be more than simply an accurate message, although it cannot be less. The inerrant Word will only successfully penetrate the heart when the Spirit acts.

I. Howard Marshall is correct when he writes:

“Once the sense of the text has been understood, there is the task of seeing what it has to say to a particular audience, be it the probable readers of a book or a congregation listening to a sermon. The sense of Scripture is something that can be determined with a measure of objectivity as something that is fixed; it is what the original writer intended his original readers to learn from what he wrote. The application of this to new sets of readers in new situations can be very varied. It is here that the expositor particularly feels his dependence upon the Spirit in the task of making Scripture speak again in the new situation. In a sense he is trying to repeat what the original authors had to do—to speak forth God’s Word in a way that would grip their audiences; receiving Scripture as God’s Word, he now has the task of speaking it forth so as to grip his audience. If the original authors were dependent upon the inspiration of the Spirit to do so, how much more is the modern expositor thrown back upon the guidance and illumination of the Spirit in his task?”

Conclusion

The illuminating work of the Holy Spirit refers to the Spirit-given ability to understand the Word of God as it is studied or as one considers its implications for life. Paul referred to the inability of the natural mind to understand the spiritual mind of God in 1 Corinthians: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (2:14). It is not that the unbeliever is not able to understand the bare words and thoughts of the Bible, but he cannot understand their spiritual meaning or their application to his own soul. This is best illustrated in the account of Nicodemus in John 3. Although he was a preeminent teacher of Israel, Nicodemus could not conceive of the new birth, even though Jesus condescended to teach him these things in natural pictures, relating the new birth to a human birth.

Jonathan Edwards related this to the unregenerate man having some sense of what is being referred to, but being incapable of having a total understanding of the matters of Scripture:

“The natural man discerns nothing of it (agreeable to 1 Cor. ii.14) and conceives of it no more than a man without the sense of tasting can conceive of the sweet taste of honey, or a man without the sense of hearing can conceive of the melody of a tune, or a man born blind can have a notion of the beauty of the rainbow.”

Although every believer has the ability to understand the Word of God because he has the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), the remaining effects of sin nature impede thinking and understanding. Thus, a preacher needs to be continually renewing his mind with the Word of God (Rom 12:2), asking God for clarity and understanding as he searches the Scriptures to glean its truths and apply them to his life and the lives of his hearers. 

The Pastor in His Study

The effect of illumination on the heart in preaching is two-fold. Illumination must occur as the pastor prays over Scriptures and wrestles with the text that is to be preached to his congregation. The doctrine of illumination is not meant to be pitted against the need for careful study and preparation. Millard Erickson has written that, 

“…illumination by the Holy Spirit helps the Scripture reader or hearer understand the Bible and creates the conviction that it is true and is the Word of God. This, however, should not be regarded as a substitute for the use of hermeneutical methods. These methods play a complementary, not competitive role.”

Illumination also occurs as the pastor stands in the pulpit and preaches the Word to the congregation. The words that are spoken, though they have illumined the heart and mind of the pastor in his study, will fall dead if the hearts and minds of the congregation are not also illumined by the Spirit to hear and understand. It is here that one sees most clearly the interrelatedness of the Spirit and His Word working through the Spirit-filled man of God.

John MacArthur, well known for his dedication to diligently present the Word of God, describes the necessity of illumination:

“What is our responsibility? The answer is in Ps. 119:130; “The unfolding of Thy words gives light.” God’s words are unfolded to us first by discovery. Through diligent Bible study, we unfold or unwrap God’s truth. We discover that meditation with a view to applying the truth deepens its impact. Discovery and meditation combined bring the brightest light of illumination to our hearts.”

Recognizing that the Word of God energizes the preacher and the hearer does not give pastors the right to become lazy. The Spirit most frequently works through means rather than directly in applying His Word to the human mind. Believers have been commanded to love the Lord God with their whole being, and that includes the mind (Matt 22:37). Erickson writes that even though the Spirit gives an inner testimony of the truthfulness of His Word:

“He [the Holy Spirit] creates certainty of the divine nature of Scripture by providing evidences that reason can evaluate. He also gives understanding of the text through the exegete’s work of interpretation. Even Calvin, with his strong emphasis on the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, called attention to the indicia of the credibility of the Scripture, and in his commentaries used the best of classical scholarship to get at the meaning of the Bible. Thus, the exegete and the apologist will use the very best methods and data, but will do so with a reiterated prayer for the Holy Spirit to work through these means.”

Putting the Word into Practice

We are called by Scriptures to do and observe all that the Bible teaches. So, as a people who desire to be not merely hearers, but doers, I give these five applicational thoughts about how to “use” the Bible more effectively.

By saying this, I don’t mean that we should jump from reading to application. There is a very real danger in doing this improperly. There needs to be serious study and understanding of what the Bible meant to its original context and to its original audience. But in a sermon, your pastor/expositor has done this (or should have), and now, on Monday, we need to know how to put what we have learned into practice.

  1. Notate. Take note of application given in sermons you hear. Literally take notes! Look for what God would have you DO with his Word. Don’t just collect biblical information. Then, go back and review your notes, praying for help to obey what you have seen that he wants you to do.
  2. Saturate. On your own, re-read your Bible with an eye for application. This means that you need to know how to find universal principles in the Bible. These are truths that are good in every time and every culture. They are also consistent with the whole Bible.
  3. Categorize. Take those universal truths and begin categorizing them into useful headings as you see the need for them in your own life. Begin by setting up categories for your roles in life–Bible verses for you as a Father/Mother, as a husband/wife, as a son/daughter, as a Christian, as an employee, as a neighbor.
  4. Organize. Put Scriptures (and the principles that they speak of) in categories that will lend themselves to your use–such as pride, humility, gossiping, the tongue, hope, fear of man, decision making, forgiveness, etc. Some of these will be more useful to you than others, so be sure to put them on a list that you can tuck into your Bible, or even write into the end papers of your Bible so they are handy whenever you need them.
  5. Apply. Now, when you are having a bad day with your mouth, for example, or you keep hurting others, or maybe you’ve lost your temper–you can turn in your Bible and meditate on what God’s Word says about that issue and what you need to do. As you do this over and over, you will not only begin to remember where to go without having to look at the list, but you will slowly memorize those verses and have them available for those times of temptation when you don’t have your Bible handy.

It’s not brain surgery or rocket science, but it does take discipline and effort. Jesus said for you and I to “do and observe” His Word. If you claim that the Bible is truly your authority, then you need to know it so you can obey it. If not, then you are merely a hearer of the Word and not a doer–fooling yourself. May we never find ourselves there.

Thus Sayeth the Lord: Why We Preach the Bible (weekend repost)

When stripped down to our historical foundation, IFCA International is a Bible movement. Our churches and ministries exist to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), a prospect that has never been acceptable to the world and is rejected by the apostate church. Like the Apostle Paul, we do not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). We believe that God has spoken without error and that His Word has never failed. We believe that the Word of God rules over the Church and God’s people, and that this authority extends to all humanity whether it accepts it or not. We believe the Bible, and this should have a direct impact upon how we minister in the preaching of the Word.

Read the rest here: Thus Sayeth the Lord: Why We Preach the Bible

Thus Sayeth the Lord: Why We Preach the Bible

When stripped down to our historical foundation, IFCA International is a Bible movement. Our churches and ministries exist to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), a prospect that has never been acceptable to the world and is rejected by the apostate church. Like the Apostle Paul, we do not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). We believe that God has spoken without error and that His Word has never failed. We believe that the Word of God rules over the Church and God’s people, and that this authority extends to all humanity whether it accepts it or not. We believe the Bible, and this should have a direct impact upon how we minister in the preaching of the Word. 

Why do we preach the Bible, and even more specifically, why preach expositional sermons? Why take the pains to study deeply and move book-by-book and verse-by-verse through the Bible? Many answers could be given to answer these questions, but I’d like to give three reasons that center around the nature of this divine Book that has been handed down to us from God.

It Declares with Divine Authority

When a preacher stands in the pulpit, he has no inherent authority. His authority is derived from God alone. Those who demand respect and unquestioning obedience simply because they are a pastor or preacher have more in common with the Roman Catholic Pope and a cult leader than the Apostles of Christ (Mk. 10:42-45). The faithful preacher of the Word shepherds through the teaching of the Word of God. Our Savior demonstrated this in his ministry with such power and grace that it is worth noting four examples of when Christ used the same biblically derived authority that is available to all Christians.

Authority in Denouncing the Enemy: Challenging the Son of God (Matt. 4:1-10)

The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:17 that the Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit. Because of this, we should not be surprised to see our Savior use the Sword not only in His teaching and discipling, but also in His direct confrontations with Satan himself. Although Christ has all authority to command Satan in any way He desires, Jesus ended each targeted attack of the enemy with the words, “It is written…” (vv. 4, 7, 10). Of all the options available to the Son of God, Jesus chose to wield the Sword of the Spirit against the Enemy. We do not have any power in ourselves to fight the enemy. We must follow the example laid down by our Lord and take the Word of God and use it to call out evil in all its forms so that those who have come under its sway might bow the knee to Christ.

Authority in Decrying the Legalists: Challenging the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-5)

When the Pharisees brought charges of unlawful Sabbath breaking against the disciples, Jesus once again turned to the Scripture to silence their accusations. Whereas the legalists were quick to point to the Law regarding the sin of harvesting on the Sabbath, Jesus responded to their legalistic error with the cutting words, “Have you not read…? (vv. 3, 5). In pointing to the Word of God, Jesus demonstrated the authority of the Word of God itself. Then, with Scriptural precision, Jesus referred them to Hosea 6:6 to learn that what God wants is not only obedience, but also mercy. This powerful response could not be overcome because Jesus’ challenge stood firmly upon the Scripture itself.

Authority in Discerning Application: Challenging the Traditions of Men (Matt. 15:1-9)

When the Pharisees and scribes once again attacked Jesus, this time through the actions of his disciples regarding the traditional cleansing ceremonies of the elders, Jesus turned the tables on them and immediately challenged them from the Scriptures. They had quoted the tradition of the elders and demanded to know why Jesus did not respect such traditions. But Jesus stated with great boldness his biblical reasons for not following these traditions, “For God commanded…” (v. 4). By placing this debate on the uneven footing of the traditions of men versus the commandments of God, he declared these men hypocrites—and then used the prophet Isaiah to show that the Word of God condemned them for this sort of vanity and pride. The traditions of men are not equal to Scripture and even useful traditions must submit to the authority of the Bible.

Authority in Declaring Orthodoxy: Challenging the Resurrection (Matt. 22:23-33)

When the Sadducees stepped up to try and overthrow Jesus’ popularity, they brought a theological challenge that was probably successful in silencing other opponents. These men who denied the resurrection brought a question which they couched in pious references to the teaching of Moses (v. 24). These deceivers thought their question would silence Jesus and show Him to be the uneducated man they thought Him to be. Jesus once again directly refuted them with the Bible, saying, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (v. 29). He then referred them to Moses, this time to Exodus 3:6 where He destroyed their argument by pointing to the present tense of the verb in that verse that demonstrates that there is a resurrection of the dead. Jesus proved that although the Sadducees said that they accepted the writings of Moses, they had not read carefully enough what God had said (v. 31)! When we say that we believe in verbal plenary inspiration, we mean that every word in the Bible is inspired by God. That includes the grammatical tenses of the verbs too!

The herald of the gospel must stand upon this same authority. We must declare the truth of the Word of God when we proclaim that Christ has won the victory over sin and death. We must courageously face off with legalists who seek to place a yoke of burden onto people by adding law to the gospel message and some who add the traditions of men on top of the gospel, taking away the freedom we have in Christ. We must declare with the authority of the Word the fundamental truths of Scripture when men want to deny doctrine, thereby silencing the deceptive hiss of the Serpent. In ourselves we have no authority, but wielding the Bible, we have authority that comes from heaven itself! 

Many times, the reason that sermons lack power is not because the Word is ineffective. Instead it is because Scripture has been given second place, with primacy given to a heavy dependence upon devices that we think will make our message more effective—quotes from commentaries and so-called authorities, emotional appeals and stories that seek to move the hearer, and exegetical data that would better be called a seminary lecture, delivering dry, passionless facts that don’t seek to affect the heart and the conscience, along with the mind. When the pews begin to empty, we either blame the people, or the Word. But there is power in the Word.

It Demonstrates Divine Power

If we understand that all of unregenerate mankind has been blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4) and are dead in their trespasses and sin without Christ (Eph. 2:1), and that even after we have come to know Jesus as Savior we are still in need of the Spirit’s illuminating power (1 Cor. 1:12-13), then we also will understand the need for the divine power of the Word that can overcome the devastating spiritual effects of the Fall.

The Power to Open Blind Eyes

In the aftermath of the resurrection of Christ, there was a lot of confusion among the disciples of Jesus. They had begun to recall the words of Jesus about His rising from the dead, and they had also heard the seemingly outrageous stories from the women who said they saw angels who told them about the risen Christ (Lk. 24:1-9, 22-24). As two disciples puzzled over the events of that first Easter morning, they moved along the road to Emmaus where they encountered a fellow traveler, the resurrected Christ, who was veiled to their eyes.

As they spoke to Jesus, they explained the confusion and the promises and the grief they shared over having lost their dear Master. Jesus gently rebuked the men (v. 25) as He explained from the Old Testament how the Scriptures needed to be fulfilled concerning the Messiah (v. 27). After Jesus’ sudden self-revelation and departure, these two men discussed what they felt as the Scriptures were opened to them: “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”” (Lk. 24:32, ESV). Their experience was not simply an emotional response, but the active working of the Spirit in revealing truth to their blind eyes, which now could see.

Another example of such power to open blind eyes can be seen along a riverside just outside of the city of Philippi where the Apostle Paul and his team proclaimed the gospel message to a small group of women who had gathered there to pray on the Sabbath (Acts 16:11-13). As Paul preached, Lydia’s eyes were opened by the Lord, causing her to pay attention to the message that Paul preached. Immediately she was changed as she gave her life to Christ. She was baptized and hosted Paul and his companions in her home (v. 15).

Why do we preach the Bible? Because it is the only means that God has given us to open blind eyes. 

The Power to Bring Revival

Our God is not a genie that we can simply schedule when we want Him to show up. Biblical revival cannot be stirred up by man, for “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:8, ESV). But this truth does not mean that there are not elements of true, biblical revival that accompany God’s work in bringing about a genuine work of God. The Old Testament gives a few prominent examples of revival that came to the people of Israel, and each one was accompanied by the proclamation of the Word of God. I want to highlight two of those examples so that the power of the Word might be shown in how God brings about genuine revival.

Josiah (2 Kgs. 22-23)

Having found the Book of the Law while making repairs to the Temple, King Josiah was undone when it was read in his presence. As he listened to the reading of the Book of the Law, the king began to see more clearly how disobedient Judah had been in God’s eyes (vv. 10-13). After seeking the prophetic Word of the Lord, Josiah was humbled, and he actively began seeking to eradicate the wicked idolatry that had been rampant in his kingdom. Along with cleansing the land of false worship, he also sought to restore the approved worship that the Word of God directed to his people. Think about it, the Word wasn’t preached, it was simply read. No fancy outlines, no illustrations or catchy titles or PowerPoint slides. The Word was read, and the Spirit did His convicting work in Josiah, moving him to reform the whole kingdom. 

Ezra (Neh. 8-9)

Under the leadership of Ezra, the priestly scribe, and Nehemiah the governor, the returning exiles longed to hear from the God of their Fathers as they had begun to see their need to be a separate people from the pagans all around them. God had begun to restore the nation, but not without challenges from their enemies. And so, as Ezra opened the Law and the elders explained its meaning to the people (8:3), the people began to sense their spiritual thirst and their parched souls began to be refreshed as the Spirit began to move them to understand the great and tender mercy of their God (8:9-12). Following a short time of rejoicing, the people began to reinstate the holy practices that had been long lost and forgotten (vv. 14-18) and began to openly confess their sin with grief and contrition (9:1-4). The brokenness of the people led to worship that was filled with confession, restoration, cleansing and rejoicing. The power of the Word had broken the hardest hearts and restored them like nothing else could.

In the modern church today, there are all sorts of man-made methods and programs that seek these kinds of results but fail to make any lasting change. Pragmatism, that philosophy that seeks to determine value based upon the success or failure of end results, is not a Christian concept. Where was the pragmatism in the prophet Isaiah when God said to Him, ““Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isa. 6:9–10, ESV)? There was no revival in the land, but God still called for faithfulness in the ministry of Isaiah.

And where can we find a pragmatic approach in the ministry of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who mourned over the sins of God’s people for their sin, but was mistreated and scorned and seemed to have been ignored by nearly everyone (Jer. 38:6)? And what about the testimonies of those spoken of in Hebrews 11:36-38?

Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb. 11:36–38, ESV) 

There is still power in the Scripture, and it is to be preached whether revival comes or not, because Scripture carries with it a divine duty for God’s people.

It Demands Divine Duty

The hard soil of men’s hearts is not something unique to the 21st century. It is as old as humanity itself. This fact needs to sink into the heart of the pastor who is looking for low-hanging fruit when he seeks a ministry. God has not called most of us to a large pulpit ministry, nor world-wide fame. But He has called every one of His ministers to faithfully proclaim the Word wherever we are sent. Hard hearts, gang violence, poor attendance, meager offerings, inadequate facilities, nonexistent leadership, are all realities that can make ministry challenging, but none are reasons to walk away from a church or a community. As a matter of fact, all of these are reasons that a faithful Bible preaching, gospel-saturated church is needed in that place. The marks of this divine duty require us to preach faithfully, preach plainly, and preach patiently.

Preach Faithfully (Ezek. 2-3; 2 Tim. 4:1-5)

Facing the rebellious nation of Israel, the Lord clearly told Ezekiel what he must do, “And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezek. 2:7, ESV). Over and over again, Ezekiel was told that Israel was a rebellious house, impudent, stubborn, and hard-headed. And yet, his instructions were clear, speak God’s words to them. Though they would not listen, and though they were so hard in heart, it did not change the directive—be a watchman (3:17) and speak the words of impending judgment (v. 19) no matter what. Faithfulness is what God requires (3:19, 21).

As the Apostle Paul faced his own death, he exhorted Timothy to continue to persevere in the ministry of the Word in season and out of season. For Timothy, Paul’s imprisonment and coming death was a very real illustration of the threat to the gospel ministry. Paul didn’t instruct Timothy to move to a safer territory nor did he instruct him to avoid suffering, but instead encouraged him to keep preaching even when people will no longer endure it and that this might include the need to endure suffering for the sake of Christ. Paul was faithful to preach the whole counsel of God and he would receive his reward in due time (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Preach Plainly (1Cor. 2:1-5)

Plain preaching is not the same as bland preaching, nor does it mean to preach simplistically. Paul’s desire to give Jesus Christ all the glory required him to make sure that his own preaching did not put the spotlight on his considerable education, gifts, and talents. Although the so-called super-apostles had a low view of Paul’s presence and preaching ability (2 Cor. 10:10), he placed his full dependence upon the power of God’s Spirit working through the Word of God. In doing this, Paul put the cross of Christ on full display. Plain preaching is not flashy, gimmicky, or self-seeking. Simply put, plain preaching is Spirit-empowered, not man-centered. The Puritan Richard Baxter wrote, “It is no easy matter to speak so plain that the ignorant may understand us, so seriously that the deadest heart may feel us, and so convincingly that contradictory cavaliers may be silenced.”[1] 

Preach Patiently (2 Tim. 4:2)

Our duty to preach the Word must be done with the reminder that we do not preach ourselves nor do we preach our words. Pastors are under-shepherds that are to lead without being domineering. We are to be loving examples to the flock that has been placed in our charge (1 Pet. 5:2-4). This means that we must teach the Word of God with the patience of our Master (2 Tim. 4:2), and that is easier said than done, particularly when we are facing the growing challenges of ministry today. Nevertheless, we must teach and preach with great patience, waiting upon the Word and Spirit to do their mighty work.

Although the reasons that we preach the Word could be multiplied, these three should stand out for us—it is our authority, our power and our duty. And as we faithfully proclaim the Word, we can expect that it will do its mighty work of reviving the soul and enlightening the eyes (Ps. 19:7, 8). The benefits of doing so will manifest themselves in due time, showing us that as we sow the seeds of the Word into the hearts of our congregations that all our efforts are profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and will accomplish the will of God in the end (Isa. 55:11).

As William Gurnall wrote a long time ago, “The Word of God is too sacred a thing and preaching to solemn a work, to be toyed and played with.”2 May we pick up our Swords and faithfully execute the ministry that the Lord has called each of us to do, for His greater glory and for the good of the Church. 

ENDNOTES:

  1. Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, (Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, 2012), 695.
  2. Ibid., 685.

Originally published in the VOICE magazine, Nov./Dec. 2019. Used by permission.