Through this series of posts we have been seeking to understand preaching as a God-appointed means to bring His people to maturity. In this pursuit we have employed the word “mature” as an acrostic. With this post we come to the final leg of our journey.
maturE = Evaluate
The final step in the process of moving toward preaching that builds believers up in Christ is that of evaluation. We preachers are notoriously subjective in our evaluation of ourselves and our preaching. We tend toward one of two extremes in self-evaluation. We may on the one hand be overly generous with ourselves. One Sunday a pastor preached what had to be one of his best sermons ever. He felt good about it–really good about it! As he drove out of the church he wondered what his wife would say in response to the message. They drove through town making their way to a restaurant where they were to enjoy a relaxing Sunday dinner. She said nothing. Finally, to break the ice, the pastor queried aloud, “How many really great preachers do you suppose there are in the world?” She responded, “One less than you think!” Ouch!
We may, on the other hand, be overly severe in our evaluation of ourselves. Even such a great mind as Augustine struggled here.
My preaching almost always displeases me. For I am eager after something better, of which I often have an inward enjoyment before I set about expressing my thoughts in audible words. Then, when I have failed to utter my meaning as clearly as I conceived it, I am disappointed that my tongue is incapable of doing justice to that which is in my heart. The chief reason is that the conception lights up themind in a kind of rapid flash; whereas the utterance is slow, lagging and far unlike what it would convey.
I can recall early in my preaching ministry the horrible tyranny of Sunday afternoons and evenings. My wife told me I had PMS. If it wasn’t Pre-Message Syndrom it was Post-Message Syndrom. Thursday through Saturday where shot by the one and Sunday through Tuesday were ruined by the other. Wednesday wasn’t too bad.
So how do we find some objective means of evaluation? I would like to suggest Paul’s final written communication to Timothy. With his last pen strokes Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. I solemnly 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, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 3:16-4:2).
It has been noted that the four-fold description of Scripture’s usefulness in v.16 is echoed in the four imperatives concerning preaching found in 4:1-2 (George W. Knight, III, The Pastoral Epistles, p.449). The nouns of 3:16 and the imperatives of 4:2 would line up like this: “teaching” (3:16) pairs up with “preach” (4:2); “reproof” matches up with “reprove”; “correction” links with “rebuke”; “training” pairs up with “exhort.”
This points to a unity of thought that may not be readily apparent because of the division of the chapters. This makes plain what we have already suspected, that God’s purpose for the Scriptures (3:16-17) is not removed from His purposes in preaching (4:1-2). Preaching should allow the Word of God to dominate and arrive at its intended purpose. How can this help us in evaluation? Perhaps the truths of this Scripture could be transformed into questions helpful to us in reviewing our ministry of building believers through preaching. Consider the following questions.
Ask yourself: Through this sermon how has God presented what is right? (“teaching”; “preach”) Another way of asking the same question is have I positively unveiled God’s Person, truth and way?
A second question might be asked: Through this message how has God revealed what is wrong? (“reproof”; “reprove”) That is to say, Have I negatively laid bare what is distorted, perverted or erroneous about their thinking of God, truth and discipleship?
A third question would be: Through this preaching how have I illumined the way back from sin to God? (“correction”; “rebuke”) Have I helpfully shown the way back to God’s Person, truth, and way?
A final question should be considered: Through this message have I established them in what is right? (“training”; “exhort”) Restated it might be asked, Have I helped them to trust in God’s Person, hold to God’s truth, and stay in God’s way?
Another set of questions might take our investigation even further. These too are based upon this passage. Have I led them to exult in the presence of God (“in the presence of God”, 4:1)? Have I led them to kneel under the authority of God (“and of Christ Jesus who is to judge”, 4:1)? Have I led them to desire the return of Christ Have I led them to live under the reign of Christ (“by His appearing”, 4:1)? (“and His kingdom”, 4:1)?
These questions do not remove the subjectivity inherent in self-evaluation. But they do help objectify the process as much as possible. They also become the format for helpful and intentional input from peers, parishioners, and even our wives.
What a glorious privilege is ours — called as co-laborers with Christ in building believers not only for a lifetime of faithful discipleship here, but an eternity of glorious service above! How shall we ever be faithful to such a Master and demanding charge? Take them to the Book! Listen to how some long since anonymous sage once described the Scriptures:
This Book is the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding; its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s character. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. Follow its precepts and it will lead you to Calvary, to the empty tomb, to a resurrected life in Christ; yes, to glory itself, for eternity.
We must lead them to the Book that they might gaze upon Him who is true and that they might walk in His light. As we are faithful God will make us successful so that He might be glorified and His people MATURE.
If you like, here is the entire article on Preaching to Build Believers.