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preaching

August 06, 2012

This is an article about preaching that is meant to be read by non-preachers. I am an unlikely preacher, a guy who was paralyzingly shy through high school and college and into later life who rather suddenly found himself speaking at conferences and preaching at churches. As someone who is rather new to the pulpit, I thought it might be helpful to tell you what some of the surprises have been as I’ve somehow transitioned to a person who preaches on a regular basis. 

Here are some of the things I’ve learned about preaching:

Preaching Can Be Discouraging

Any preacher will tell you that the preaching ministry can be very, very discouraging. There are many reasons for this and they may vary week-by-week and person-by-person. Here are just a few of them.

Preaching Is a Spiritual Battle. Preaching is first and foremost a spiritual battle. The battle begins early in the week with the opening of the Bible and commentaries and it doesn’t end until well after the sermon has been preached. This battle is taxing on both a spiritual and an emotional level. The reality is that Satan wants a sermon to be full of error and devoid of power and he will fight hard to ensure that is the case. I’m sure every preacher can testify of his awareness that he has an adversary who battles against him all week long.

Preaching Is a Mental Battle. Preaching is also a battle of the mind. To take a few words or a few verses and to find structure and to make that structure make sense and to find the right meaning and to find relevant application and to create appropriate illustrations takes long and dedicated brain work. With all the other responsibilities of life and ministry, that brain space can be hard to find and to maintain. It can be discouraging when the pieces just do not fall into place. What seemed like it was going to be an absolutely brilliant sermon on Tuesday afternoon is just barely tolerable by Sunday morning.

The preacher’s whole week culminates in the sermon. This is something to think about when you consider preaching and preachers. The preacher’s whole week has been structured around the time and the labor required to craft a sermon. He has read and studied and prayed and wept, and all of it comes to a climax in the 45 minutes he stands in the pulpit. His ministry is largely private—he works alone in his study, mentors small groups, counsels privately. But on Sunday morning he stands before the church and is suddenly the public face of the church and suddenly doing a short burst of very public ministry. You are there as a witness to the most important, most public moments in your pastor’s week.

It Is Exhausting. Preaching is an absolutely exhausting task, and not just for a person who is introverted, who tends to expend energy in the presence of people and who recharges away from people. When you consider the exhaustion and discouragement of preaching, you can see why so many preachers are tempted toward sin on Sunday nights or Monday mornings. 

Preachers Are Fragile

Preachers are fragile. There is a sense in which every sermon is a performance; you stand before the church and bare your soul, telling them how you interpret a passage (knowing they may disagree with your interpretation or that you may be just plain wrong), how it has affected you (when it may affect them differently) and what difference it ought to make in their lives (when that application may miss them completely). There is something very exposing, very soul-baring about it. A famous quote about preaching is bang on: “To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know that each time you do it, that you must do it again.”

In face of this fragility small bits of encouragement can do wonders. While he is in the pulpit, the preacher sees when you are paying attention, he sees you nodding in agreement, he sees you jotting a note in your Bible and he hears your “Amen!” or murmurs of agreement. Each of these is meaningful and encouraging. You help and encourage your pastor when you listen attentively and interactively. One of the kindest things you can do for your pastor is to go to him after the service and encourage him by telling him one specific way that the sermon was helpful to you. This is a ten-second investment that can be a tremendous blessing! A note on Monday morning, a recounting of how your family discussed the sermon over lunch—none of these things go unnoticed.

January 18, 2012

It has come as kind of a shock to me, now that I am a pastor and preaching on a regular basis, that the vast majority of the sermons I preach will be rather ordinary. I will study hard and pray hard and work hard, I’ll get started early in the week and give it a couple of days to germinate and give it another look-through early on Sunday morning, and at the end of it all I will have a rather ordinary sermon. Not a bad one, but an ordinary one. It certainly won’t be the sermon I had envisioned when I first sat down with my Bible and a cup of hot coffee on Monday morning. In my mind I’ve got these visions of greatness; before me on the pulpit I’ve got this reality of ordinariness.

Last week a friend asked me how my sermon had gone and I said, “Somewhere between being receiving a standing ovation and being pelted with dead cats.” That seems to about capture it, because honestly, I don’t know. It’s not like the people were weeping and throwing themselves to the ground in sorrow and repentance, and it’s not like they all just got up and left. Their response was as ordinary as my sermon—some people expressed gratitude, a couple of people offered correctives or improvements, and the majority said nothing while showing nothing out-of-the-ordinary.

I guess when I had considered preaching I figured I’d be able to knock it out of the park every Sunday—that if I began early enough in the week and gave myself enough time to study I would always be able to put together an amazing sermon, or an above-average one at least. If I just put in the time, I would be able to do something extraordinary and put together something sublime. But even in those weeks that I can dedicate a full 30 or 40 hours to sermon preparation, Sunday rolls around and I find myself wishing for just another week or just another two weeks, to iron out the kinks and get the sermon where I hoped it could be.

This month I am preaching through the second half of Ephesians, a text that really deals with the ordinary Christian life. What does it look like to live a life that has been transformed by this gospel of grace through faith? Paul lays it out in all its ordinariness. It is not a life of doing things that makes all the world take notice and declare your virtues, but a life of quiet, humble service and a long, slow growth in godliness. And yet I still find myself hoping to write extraordinary sermons on being ordinary. Until now I had missed the irony.

October 13, 2011

David and I are back this week with another episode of The Connected Kingdom podcast—episode 20 in this second season. This week’s guest is Timmy Brister. A short time ago he wrote a blog post about preaching from a manuscript; since David and I have often discussed not preaching from a manuscript, we thought this would open up an opportunity to discuss that topic. We hope you enjoy it!

If you want to give us feedback or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You will always be able to find the most recent episode here on the blog. If you would like to subscribe via iTunes, you can do that here or if you want to subscribe with another audio player, you can try this RSS link.

September 17, 2011

In reading In Light of Eternity, a biography of Leonard Ravenhill, I came across the name Samuel Chadwick. Chadwick was a Wesleyan minister who did the bulk of his ministry in the early 20th century. He was a mentor to Ravenhill and had a deep impact on his life. I found a couple of his quotes on preaching particularly helpful and challenging:

I would rather preach than do anything else I know in this world. I have never missed a chance to preach. I would rather preach than eat my dinner, or have a holiday or anything else the world can offer. I would rather pay to preach than be paid not to preach. It has its price in agony of sweat and tears and no calling has such joys and heartbreaks, but it is a calling an archangel might covet; and I thank God that of His grace He called me into this ministry. Is there any joy like that of saving a soul from death? Any thrill like that of opening blind eyes? Any reward like the love of little children to the second and third generation? Any treasures like the grateful love of hearts healed and comforted? I tell you it is a glorious privilege to share the travail and the wine of God. I wish I had been a better minister, but there is nothing in God’s world I would rather be.

And a second quote:

Nothing makes for a preacher’s effectiveness more than a true conception of his calling. He is a messenger. That which he speaks is not his own. He is not at liberty to criticize, modify, or tamper with that which is entrusted to him; neither has he any right to withhold it from any person to whom it is sent. But he is neither a postman nor a phonograph. He delivers an open message which he has received from God for men. His first business is to wait for his message, and his next is to see that it is faithfully delivered.

October 06, 2010

David and I recorded an episode of the podcast last week but lost it to technical issues. Nevertheless, we’re back this week with a new episode. This time around we discuss just one aspect of an interesting discussion between Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald. The three men got together to discuss multi-site churches (as you can see in the video below). I was struck by what MacDonald and Driscoll seemed to be saying—that there is really no significant or fundamental difference between hearing your pastor in a live setting and hearing your pastor preaching through electronic media. So I approached the issue from a media and technology perspective while David approached it through a pastoring and preaching perspective. And overall I think we ended up having an interesting discussion.

It will be worth listening to, I think, if you are a pastor seeking to know how you can best preach to your congregation or if you are a Christian who is eager to become a better listener.

If you want to give us feedback on the podcast or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or another program. As always, feedback and suggestions for future topics are much appreciated.

August 11, 2010

Not too long ago I reviewed the book The Trellis and the Vine and said that it is a book to which I give my highest recommendation. Since I wrote that review I’ve turned to the book often and have continued to find it very, very useful. I was glad to learn just recently that there will soon be a sequel to it titled The Archer and the Arrow (which I believe is due out a little bit later in the year).

As I was reading the endorsements for the book, I noticed that Mark Dever says this: “Phillip Jensen has been both faithfully and provocatively preaching God’s word for decades. Here he tells us how. His observations are keen, his suggestions convicting, his speaking plain. (And he also finally explains for us why most commentaries are so useless to the preacher!).” I was naturally a little bit intruiged by this, so went searching for Jensen’s explanation of why commentaries can be so useless. I quite liked what I read and got permission from Matthias Media to share it with you. Here it is, drawn from a chapter titled “Preaching the gospel by expounding the Bible” and a heading titled “Use your external sources wisely.”

The second thing to point out is the place of external aids in the process of preparation. It is very easy, particularly after spending years in seminary or Bible college, to assume that the answers we need will be found in the finest writers of the day. And so in order to find out what the text says we spend more time in the biggest, fattest, most up-to-date commentaries than we do in the Bible itself. But even the writers of the very best commentaries don’t know more about God’s will than the apostles who penned God’s word. And God’s revelation is not in their commentary but in the original text.

Part of the problem arises from the process by which commentaries come to be written these days. It starts with university staff and postgraduate scholars producing mono- graphs, theses and journal articles, usually about a small point in the text or an obscure matter of current debate. The pressure on these scholars (in respect of their jobs and careers) is to say something new, and this tends to push them towards historical background research—an area in which it is easier to come up with new discoveries and to contribute to the ongoing academic conversation. The commentary writers then gather up these various articles and theses into a book that is really a compendium of recent research organized by the text of a Bible book. The commentators will usually try to add something to the research by giving an overall argument to the book, but frequently they do no more than arbitrate among the various articles and debates, very often losing sight of the message and emphasis of the biblical text as they do so.

The result is that the agenda for the conversation has been set by someone apart from God. And in modern theological writing, it has often been set by someone who has no idea at all about who God is, but who has been asked to write the commentary because of their status or experience within the academic community.

It’s not that we should ignore the commentaries. They can be very useful tools, especially in pointing out interesting things in the text that we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. And if they have theological biases and commitments different from our own, they can lead us to ask questions that we would never have asked. But never read commentaries until you have wrestled with the text for yourself, and come to some conclusions about what you think and why. Otherwise you will just lap up whatever they feed you.

Commentaries, Bible dictionaries and the like are great servants but lousy masters.

And to that I think we can anticipate hearing a loud chorus of “Amen!”

May 30, 2010

While skimming through some of those books that showed up last week (see yesterday’s post) I came across some great information about Robert Murray McCheyne. This is drawn from Mike Sarkissian’s book Before God and really challenged me as I prepared to preach today in Sarnia, Ontario. It shamed me with my own lack of preparation, my own (relative) prayerlessness in approaching the pulpit. I need to be more like McCheyne!

The time McCheyne spent before the Lord gave him a better perspective of the high calling God had placed upon him as a shepherd of God’s people. He was known for saying, “I have no desire but the salvation of my people, by whatever instrument.” Little did he know, McCheyne would be an instrument God would use for centuries to come. His time with God in prayer and meditation manifested itself in a passion for souls and effective preaching.

Dr. Estrada explained the depth of McCheyne’s personal holiness in relation to bringing forth the Word of God to his congregation:

His preaching and all other activities were preceded by long periods of prayer. He kept by this rule: ‘that he must first see the face of God before he could undertake any duty.’ ‘I ought to spend the best hours of the day in communion with God. It is my noblest and most fruitful employment, and is not to be thrust into any corner.’ Both in his preaching and teaching he was very much concerned with feeding the congregation with the ‘whole counsel of God.’

McCheyne preached the Word of God with a certain gravity and solemnity. He sought after the unction of the Holy Spirit and spoke intently to his congregation. His pulpit was said to have been wet with his tears as he urged people to commit their lives to Christ. This seriousness to the calling of God would bring forth much fruit for the Kingdom.

January 16, 2010

Here is some food for thought as we prepare to hear the Word preached this Lord’s Day. These quotes are drawn from a book I just read (that will be released some time in the spring) titled Expository Listening. Do you know not only what a privilege there is in hearing the Word, but also what a responsibility? Here is what three Puritan pastors had to say in that regard:

Richard Baxter:
Remember that all these…sermons must be reviewed, and you must answer for all that you have heard, whether you heard it…with diligent attention or with carelessness; and the word which you hear shall judge you at the last day. Hear therefore as those that are going to judgment to give account of their hearing and obeying.

Thomas Watson:
You must give an account for every sermon you hear….The judge to whom we must give an account is God…how should we observe every word preached, remembering the account! Let all this make us shake off distraction and drowsiness in hearing, and have our ears chained to the word.

David Clarkson:
At the day of judgment, an account of every sermon will be required, and of every truth in each sermon….The books will be opened, all the sermons mentioned which you have heard, and a particular account required, why you imprisoned such a truth revealed, why you committed such a sin threatened, why neglected such duties enjoined….Oh what a fearful account!

December 08, 2009

We set high expectations for our pastors, and rightly so, I think. Ministers of the Word have a high calling before God to be his mouthpiece, to bring his Word to his people. We expect that every Sunday we will sit under the pastor’s teaching and learn sacred truths from his mouth. We expect that he will spend his week studying Scripture and digging deeply into God’s Word so that he can teach us something on Sunday that will change our lives. We expect him to be true to Scripture, to make a good presentation of it and to keep us engaged all the while. It is a difficult and often thankless task.

What we consider less often, I think, is that while a pastor bears great responsibility in preparing for and delivering the Word of God each Sunday, the listener shares in the responsibility. The church has no place for an audience. We are all to be involved in the preaching, even as listeners. We may drive home on Sunday muttering about the pastor’s lack of preparation after a less-than-engaging sermon, but how often do we drive away reflecting on our own lack of preparation? How often should we trace our lack of learning or our lack of engagement right back to our own lack of preparation?

Weekly Preparation
Preparation for the worship service needs to begin before walking into church on Sunday morning. The Bible exhorts us in many places to pray for our pastors. In Romans 15:30-32 Paul begged for the prayers of believers. “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, … that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints…” To the Thessalonians 3:1 he writes “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored.” We should be in regular prayer for the pastor, asking that God will continue to work in his heart and illumine the Word to him so he can in turn teach us. The congregation cannot grow beyond the pastor, so it is crucial that he continue to learn and grow in his faith. At the same time we should pray that the pastor would not fall to the attacks of Satan who is always opposed to any fruitful ministry and who will work diligently to disrupt it.

Physical Preparation
When I was a teenager, I usually tried to sit in the back rows of the sanctuary along with my other friends. We took pride in being able to be the first person to fall asleep during the service. Often we had been up well into the wee hours on the morning the night before and were now looking forward to an opportunity to catch up on our sleep. And what better opportunity is there than when the pastor is speaking for thirty or forty five minutes?

One of the most important things congregation members can do is be prepared for the service. This means that we need to be well-rested and attentive rather than tired and glassy-eyed. Our minds need to be alert and both ready and able to hear the Word of God. As a child I was told that preparing for Sunday begins on Saturday night, the implication being that a good night’s sleep is an important prerequisite to attending a worship service. And I have come to see that this is the truth. Little wonder that Christians have often written prayers and hymns meant to be prayed and sung on Saturday night as a means of preparation. Little wonder that the Jewish Sabbath began at sundown rather than sunup! Going to bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday evening is one of the best ways you can prepare for a meaningful Sunday.

Personal Preparation
When we attend church we should do so with the eager expectation of hearing words that will challenge, convict and change us. We come expecting to hear Divine words. We should approach the service with these goals in mind. We should seek to allow the words of God, as summarized and explained by the pastor, to convict us of sin and shortcomings, to challenge our presuppositions and comfort zones and to begin the process of change in our lives. George Whitefield says, “Come to hear them [pastors], not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty. To enter His house merely to have our ears entertained, and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the Most High God, as well as unprofitable to ourselves.” Come eagerly, come expectantly, come excited.

Spiritual Preparation
Knowing that we hope to be challenged, changed and convicted during the preaching of the Word, we should be certain that we are spiritually prepared. Our hearts must not be filled with unrepentant and unconfessed sin. Prior to hearing the proclamation of the Word, we should take opportunity to repent of sin and to make sure we come before God with clean hands and pure hearts. This can be done before even leaving for church or during times of quiet preparation in the service. We should seek the Spirit’s illumination for the words we will hear. Psalm 119 models this as David prays “Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (verses 17 and 18) David asks the Lord to open his eyes that he might be able to truly understand and apply the words of Scripture to his heart. In the same way we should ask the Spirit to work in us so we can understand. Matthew 5:24 warns against coming to worship while harboring anger or bitterness against a brother. Again, that kind of disunity be reconciled and resolved, as far as is possible, before we come before the Lord in worship.

Pay Attention
This seems almost too obvious, but we should make sure that we are paying attention during the service. It is easy to look around, to chat with the person next to you or to count heads. It is even easy enough to get involved in a “righteous” pursuit such as reading the Bible. But we have just one hour or two hours a week to listen to our pastor so we should be sure that we are making the most of the time. It is not just a good idea, but is our responsibility. Listen, learn and grow. Take a pen, take your Bible and make a dedicated effort. This is a very good thing to pray for throughout the week and on Sunday morning, that God would give us both the desire and the ability to heed the Word as it is preached.

After the Service
Traditionally a portion of Sunday afternoons was dedicated to gathering as a family and speaking about the sermon and perhaps looking over notes taking during it. Many families would sit down together and re-read the passage of Scripture that had been preached on that very morning and would share what they had learned. It was an opportunity for the father to ask his children for their understanding and to help them make application. This is a custom that has largely been lost, but we would benefit, I’m sure, by its recovery.

Pray For Application
After the service, perhaps during some quiet time on Sunday afternoon, we would again do well to pray that the Lord would help work in us what we heard in the morning. We should ask that He would allow the words to continue to convict and change us and that they would not simply fall out of our minds and be lost. In Revelation Jesus said “He who has ears, let him hear.” Hearing goes beyond the ears, but into the mind, the heart and the life. Hearing involves application and application usually requires dedicated though, reflection, meditation. Who knows what application of truth God will draw out of us if we spend time reflecting on what we have heard.

Be Bereans
Our final responsibility is to imitate the Bereans of old who “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11). We need to be sure that we do not blindly accept what the pastor teaches us, but that we diligently compare his words to the Scripture to ensure that “these things are so.” If your pastor is a godly man, he should be willing and eager to answer questions you may have, and be humble enough to accept correction when he has erred. I do not know of a pastor who would claim he has never made mistakes from the pulpit. When we do detect (or think we detect) error, we should approach the pastor humbly and prayerfully, going to him with our questions and not first to others.

Conclusion
While the responsibility of the preacher cannot be underestimated, the listener is also responsible before God. We, as those who sit under the preaching of the Word, are to prepare ourselves even during the week. And on the Lord’s Day we are to listen attentively, to search the Scriptures and to apply what we have learned to our lives. I fear that far too often we expect the pastor to do the work and while we coast along as the beneficiaries of his hard labor. It is time for us to take seriously our role in the preaching of the Word of God. I post this article on a Tuesday. Perhaps it is worth asking: what are you doing today to gain the greatest benefit from the sermon you heard just two days ago? And what are you doing today to prepare yourself for the sermon you will hear just five short days from now?

January 28, 2008

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

The twenty-third chapter of Jeremiah falls near the halfway point of the book, in the midst of a section where the prophet is foretelling the end of the Davidic dynasty and the coming captivity of God’s people. In this particular chapter, Jeremiah pronounces judgments against the false prophets who had become a plague within the nation. While these words were spoken some 600 years before Christ and in a particular context, his words ring as true today as they did then. “They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’” (16, 17).

How can these words fail to remind us of the false prophets who plague the church even in the twenty-first century? So many men and women today speak visions of their own minds, and teach what has so evidently not come from the mouth of the Lord. So many say that it shall be well with people who in reality are destined to suffer eternal torment for their hatred of God. They seek to show from Scripture that Christ will save those even who have never heard His Word, and who have never humbled themselves before the Lord. They say, “It shall be well with you” to those who sit in the pews but have never had their hearts of ice melted by the Lord. They speak lies and blasphemies, all the while pretending to the speak for the Lord.

The next verse, verse eighteen, teaches us how to choose good and noble teachers of the Word. If only we could master this simple piece of wisdom the church would be revitalized!

“For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord
to see and to hear his word,
or who has paid attention to his word and listened?”

What wisdom there is in this verse! It cuts to the heart of the difference between leaders who are godly and leaders who are only godly in pretense. A godly leader is one who has not only stood in the council of the Lord, and has thus seen and heard His Word, but one who has paid attention and listened. He has listened not just with his ears, but with his heart. Many of the most popular leaders can appear godly, for they can quote the Bible at will and can discuss Christian doctrine with the best of them. Yet what lacks is humility—true humility. True humility, the humility we learn about in the Bible and the humility God requires of us, is a submission to God and a submission to the Scriptures as He has given them to us. Leaders that honor God are those who are humble before God, not only hearing, but listening and applying. They are leaders who humble themselves before this book, knowing and believing that it is perfect and good and sufficient. They know that all they can offer is this book. No wisdom arising from their own minds can truly bring help to a needy soul. They know that all they can offer is what God provides.

Hear the Word of the Lord as he provides an indictment of the false prophets, who claimed to speak for Him, but in reality, spoke only their own folly (verses 21 and 22):

“I did not send the prophets,
yet they ran;
I did not speak to them,
yet they prophesied.
But if they had stood in my council,
then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
and from the evil of their deeds.”

Here we see another mark of false teachers. The false prophets ran to prophecy with boldness and that was not characteristic of the difficulty and gravity that accompanied true prophecy. And as we saw in the previous verses, these false prophets had not listened to the Word of the Lord. Had they been attentive to the Lord, they would have proclaimed the Truth of God to the people, who would have turned from their evil ways. But instead the prophets tickled the peoples’ ears, telling them only what they wanted to hear. They told the people that God was not angry with them, and that it would go well with them. They told them this despite open rebellion against God.

Does this not sound suspiciously similar to the warning Paul gave Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3-4? “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.”

The time is coming and has clearly now come. In fact, it seems that this has been the refuge of sinners since the dawn of time. When people are in rebellion against God, they gather for themselves teachers who will condone their sinful lifestyles instead of condemn them in the name of the Lord. We might think back to the false prophets and even to Aaron, the brother of Moses, who constructed the golden calf. We might think of so many teachers in our day who say little more than what the people in the pews demand to hear. This is not preaching that condemns ungodly lifestyles and pleads with men to turn from their selfish ways. Instead, it is preaching to the choir—preaching that may stir the mind or the emotions, but preaching that is devoid of the Spirit and His power to truly pierce the heart and the conscience. Even when in rebellion against God people wish to feel like they have heard from Him and they wish to know that He still loves and supports them. So in their rebellion they find rebellious teachers to condone rather than condemn.

Look now to verses 23-32. It is a natural temptation to pass over the words of Scripture and read only the commentary. Please do not do that. Read the Word of God.

Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.

The Word of the Lord is powerful. It is the most powerful tool in the Christian’s arsenal. The Lord, through the mouth of his prophet, compares it to fire that consumes and to a hammer that can smash great rocks into pieces. Later on in Scripture we see that the Word of the Lord can do more than break rocks; God’s Word can soften a hardened heart and breathe life into death. False teachers pretend to speak forth this all-powerful Word, yet they speak only their own dreams and the interpretations of their sinful hearts. God hates these words. He hates those who blaspheme His name saying “declares the Lord” or “This is the Word of the Lord” or “The Bible says” or “God says” when in reality they are declaring nothing more than their own depravity and their own hatred of their Maker. God is against these people for they do not profit His children. They lead them astray, they confuse them, and they make a mockery of God.

“Let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.” And here is the charge for those who would speak for the Lord. What an awesome responsibility it is to have the Word of God. We have it in a way that is unprecedented in history. What wouldn’t the men and women of the Bible give to have the complete revelation of God as we do today? Let those who study this word and who step into the pulpits of our churches speak that word faithfully. Let them declare only what the Lord declares and to do so boldly, powerfully, but always humbly.

In his book The Roman Catholic Controversy, James White recounts the first time he had the privilege of filling the pulpit at his church.

My pastor takes preaching seriously. He views it as a privilege and a high calling to stand before the people of God to open the Word of God. I well remember the first time I filled the pulpit in our congregation. When we met in the pastor’s office prior to the service he asked, “Are you scared?” “Yes, a bit,” I replied. “Good,” he said. “It is an awesome thing to preach the Word of God to God’s people.” Then, as we went into the service, he said to me, “Play the man, Mr. Ridley.”

The pastor’s words were a reference to the words Hugh Latimer spoke to Nicholas Ridley, bishop of London, as they went to the stake to be martyred under the reign of Queen Mary. Such is the gravity that ought to accompany the Word of God. Few in our day have such a sense of gravity. But oh, what a great thing it is to approach the task of speaking for the Lord with such an attitude of gravity and humble dependence.

Turn back to the first verse of this chapter. “’Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the Lord.” Surely the Lord will hold those in positions of teaching and authority doubly-responsible for being true to His Word. To the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day, and surely to the false teachers of our day, God says, “I am against [those] who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ Behold I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.”

And so I challenge you to choose your teachers with the utmost of care! Examine those who stand in the pulpit and those whose books you read. Choose to place yourself under the teaching of those who are humble before the Word of God and who treat it with gravity and respect. Give your attention to those who have stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear His Word, and who have paid attention to the Word and listened—truly listened.

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