Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: January 2011 (page 2 of 2)

Preaching to Build Believers #2

mA = Authority

Erecting a building requires authority.  You need permits, the community building inspector must sign off on the project, there are specifications that must be adhered to, a state inspector must survey the final results.  If a stranger shows up and begins to erect an edifice on your property, you will no doubt have him removed.

What constitutes authority in preaching?  The people marveled at Jesus’ teaching  because unlike the professional clergy of the day, He spoke with authority (Lk. 4:32).  How do we come to the place where we are not simply professional, but where God speaks an authoritative word to His people through us?

The apostle Paul spoke to the Corinthians concerning “our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up” (2 Cor. 10:8; cf. also 13:10).  The Apostles were vested with authority by Christ from God through the Holy Spirit to build the Church.  Apostleship (in its narrow sense of the twelve) does not continue today, though a gift of apostleship may be found operative.  The authoritative office does not remain today.  What then?  Are we to flail away at preaching in accountability without authority?  No!  The authority of the apostles continues today, not in some papal delegation, but in the written documents of the New Testament.  The Holy Spirit penned through the apostles and their designates the authoritative words of God (2 Peter 1:20:21).  These words are given for the up-building of the church (2 Tim. 3:16-4:2).

The issue at root in preaching is that of authority.  R. Albert Mohler has stated the issue well, “The authority of the preacher is intrinsically rooted in the authority of the Bible as the church’s Book and the unblemished Word of God . . . We speak because God has spoken, and because He has given us His Word.”

The only authority a preacher may legitimately claim is a delegated authority, that authority which belongs to God alone.  The true preacher does not seek personal authority.  He seeks, rather, a message full of authority.  God delegates His authority to we preachers when He hands us His Scriptures and calls us to proclaim them.  To the degree we speak what God has spoken in holy Scripture, to that same degree we speak with divine authority.  Where cleverness and cuteness govern our message there is no authority.  Again, Mohler well says, “The issue of authority is inescapable.  Either the preacher or the text will be the operant authority.” And he warns us “of confusing our own authority with that of the biblical text.  We are called, not only to preach, but to preach the Word.”

Lets be clear, our authority in preaching arises from the text of Scripture and our fidelity to it, not from any subjective experience we may claim to have had with God.  We must carefully distinguish between a perceived authority that grows from an experience we have had and the authority of God inherent in the text of Scripture.  Paul warned the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:8).  Paul did not discount the spiritual nature of the experience, only the authority of it.  Paul, similarly, warned the Corinthians of those who would come preaching another Jesus or another gospel and he warned them against receiving another spirit (2 Cor. 11:4).  Paul did not deny that these folk had gone through a spiritual experience, only that it carried the authority of God.

Experience alone does not constitute authority.  “Feeling” like God wants you to say something is not the same as having authority when you preach.  Our only authority is that which is inherently God’s and embodied in the text of Scripture.

Our authority comes from the text of Scripture, but it must be delivered under the empowering of the Holy Spirit in order to be biblical preaching.  So, in one sense, there is experience necessary for authority in preaching—the experience of God the Holy Spirit pulling the preacher through the knot-hole of divine truth in Scripture and then pouring that truth of holy Scripture through the clean vessel of the preacher (if I may mix my metaphors!).  Our every experience must be governed by the text of Scripture, and our every proclamation of the text of Scripture must be empowered by the Holy Spirit.  When these two elements come together as we step into the pulpit the Apostle Peter’s words come true, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (1 Pet. 4:10-11a).

How, then, can we actually preach with God’s authority?  The answer to that question will be taken up in our next post … and in the next letter of our acrostic.

Preaching to Build Believers #1

Few missions in life are as challenging as that of preaching the Word of God.  We who preach are under Divine commission, but we stand before people for whose minds a million things compete.  We preach under the discerning gaze of God, but too often before the glazed daze of people suffering from sensory overload.  We stand to proclaim the timeless, authoritative Word of God, but we do so in an age of pluralism and relativism where any given voice is deemed as no more legitimate than the next.

How are we to faithfully “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:1) in such a day and age as ours?  There is some preaching that gathers crowds.  There is some preaching which garners guffaws.  There is some preaching which is mired in a day gone by.  Our calling as pastor/teachers is to build believers through the proclamation of the Word of God.  How can we preach so as to strengthen and establish the people of God on the foundation of Jesus Christ as revealed in the timeless Scriptures?

To answer this question in a series of posts I would like to employ the use of an acrostic.  Lets take the word mature, since it represents our goal in building up mature believers in Christ, and use it to guide our way.

M = Mission

“M” stands for mission.  What are we preachers aiming at?  I take Paul’s words to Timothy as normative for our divinely given mission in preaching:  “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (I Timothy 1:5, NASB).

Note that this is “instruction.” Practically speaking in our cultural context preaching and teaching are often viewed as distinct.  We, however, should not make too fine a distinction between preaching and teaching at a philosophical basis.  All good teaching includes application, and all good preaching is didactic as well as applicational.  Yet the primary goal of preaching is not the imparting of information or the increase of knowledge, but the production of love.

We do not simply teach a passage, explore a topic, or preach a message.  We must do more than be orthodox, though that we must be.  Our goal in preaching is not just to “get through the material” we have assembled from passionate study.  As God’s spokesmen we do not have the freedom to get lost in a topic, theme, or doctrine as we frantically attempt to say all that could be said on the topic of the day.

We must seek to communicate a given passage, topic or theme in such a way as to provoke love toward God and man in a particular people.  There must be connection with these people.  This love is, however, not some nebulous sense of goodwill.  It must arise from an encounter with God the Spirit through the Scriptures.  The desired love must spring from a firm, three- pronged base: “a pure heart,” “a good conscience,” and “a sincere faith.”

  1. This means I must preach in such a way that the people to whom I speak that day are moved toward a love which looks outward at others with good motives (“a pure heart”),
  2. looks inward at self in self-judgment (“a good conscience”), and
  3. looks upward at God without ulterior motives (“a sincere faith”).

Such an encounter will begin to produce the love sought from the beginning to the end of the preaching process.  This encounter is accomplished logically by providing a preaching experience which moves people from #3 (looking upward to God with a sincere faith), through #2 (looking inward with a clear conscience), and on to #1 (looking at others with a pure heart).  That is to say that we first seek to bring people into an authentic encounter with God through His Word, this encounter should lead to an inward examination of self before God, which in turn changes the way they look at and respond to others.  This and nothing less is our desired objective each time we stand to say “Thus saith the Lord!”

We do not aim at experience over content, for it is the truth that sanctifies (John 17:17) and sets free (John 8:32).  Nor do we function merely as a conduit for content.  Rather we aim at a presentation of the Scripture’s truth that grows from disciplined preparation and is delivered under the Spirit’s enablement so that it might accomplish its divine mission.  This means we preach messages whose very shape as well as content are derived from the biblical text.  We select the appropriate content gleaned in our exegesis that will accurately convey the Spirit-intended message of the passage to the specific people before us at that time and that will produce in them a love that is catapulted forward on the fulcrum of “a sincere faith,” “a good conscience” and “a pure heart.”  Preaching is the art of selection; selection made on the basis of a specific desired outcome.

The question is how can I preach so as to create an atmosphere wherein the Holy Spirit can produce this well grounded love?  That will lead us to our second letter in the acrostic, which we shall take up in our next post.

Radio Interview — Long Story Short

This morning Mr. Dick Lee, Station Manager of WCRF 103.3 FM in Cleveland, Ohio, graciously interviewed me regarding my new book Long Story Short.  WCRF has a great ministry all across northern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. If you’d like to listen to the ten minute interview you can do so by clicking longstoryshort.wcrf.

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