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Jeremiah 29:11 in Context

Jeremiah 29:11 is a verse that has been used too often out of context. You see it on t-shirts, mugs, pens, Bible covers, etc. In the industry that I am in as a Christian retailer, one local South African supplier (not mentioning any names – but I am sure you know who I mean) plasters this, and other verses (e.g. Philippians 4:13), out of context, all over their merchandise, as though those verses relate directly to us.

Context is king, so let’s consider this passage:

First and foremost, Jeremiah clearly states who this message is for in verse 4, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon” Clearly this verse was not written to individuals struggling with discerning God’s will or who to marry, but to a group of people in a specific situation – the nation of Israel whom God had sent into exile in Babylon.

But take a look at verse 10, “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” Here God is clearly stating the specifics of His promise within a particular time-frame. What follows then in verse 11 is the reason why God was going to do this – “For” in verse 11 is a purpose clause – with verses 12 to 14 spelling out more details of the promise in verse 10.

God was going to take Israel out of exile and restore the nation because this was God’s plan for the nation – He had a bigger plan in mind than what their futile minds could possibly imagine while living under the iron fist of the Babylonians. This is a far cry from the modern interpretation of this verse of using it to find God’s specific purpose for our individual lives.

One final thing: in verse 11, the “you” is not singular, but plural. And you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that one verses many makes a big difference.

So what now? Am I saying that this verse does not apply to us at all? Not at all. God is still in control and He does have plans for each one of us. The question though is, does this verse apply to me as it stands? The answer is both – yes and no.

Firstly we need to make sure that the Bible speaks into our lives and not us speak into it. Exegesis and correct application instead of eisegesis and “eise-application.”

Since Jeremiah 29:11 is speaking to the nation of Israel as a whole and not just one person, then this should be our starting point. God was speaking at a particular point in time, to a particular group of people, for a particular reason. In this case, to the nation of Israel, in exile in Babylon, for the purpose of restoring them as a nation in their homeland.

If you read on in the Old Testament you will see that each of these promises were fulfilled during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. They returned to their land, rebuilt the temple and the city walls, and the nation was restored. The promise of this text is therefore fulfilled and does not directly apply to us today – as non-Jews, living free, in our own homes and nations.

However, this is not the end of it, because this verse is revealing to us something of the character of God – that He is sovereign, in control, and that His plans will prevail – and therefore we can put our trust in Him, that the things He will do for us have a purpose far greater than we could ever dream or imagine. It gives us hope that the God who can control nations and restore a people group of thousands, if not millions, He can do the same for us in our communities, within our churches, and in our lives as individuals.

So, although this verse is often taken out of context and used by people to try and ascertain their paths of life, it does provide us with hope and trust in the God of the Bible. Even more important than our decision about marriage, career or education, is our decision about the God that we serve. The promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is not ours – to claim and apply directly to our lives – but the God who made the promise is.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Why I No Longer Use PowerPoint

I have always been a person who has used visual aids, and have found them particularly useful when working with children or teens. However, as I have recently been preaching behind a pulpit more, speaking primarily to adults, my opinion has changed. And this has been primarily due to an Expository Preaching Course that I recently attended. Since then I have been more observant in terms of seeing how people react when I or another pastor use PowerPoint, and also how the pastor and the ministry team use the PowerPoints. What follows are four reasons why I no longer use PowerPoint, and my related observations.

1) The Purpose of a Sermon

The first thing that I began to consider was what is the purpose of a sermon in the first place? Is it merely to give people information, or is it to encourage life change?

If it is merely to give people information, then a PowerPoint presentation is certainly going to do that. But isn’t the purpose of a sermon far more than that? Isn’t it about changing lives for the glory of God? Is it not a personal oral event, by one person, presenting the Gospel that has the power to salvation, to a group of people, listening? And if this is the case, which I strongly believe it is, then what benefit does a PowerPoint really have?

Now you may think it helps people to remember things more, such as the outline of your sermon, but I beg to differ. I personally remember more what is spoken in a sermon than what I see on a screen. I tested myself with this recently. I thought back to the most recent sermon I had heard and asked myself, “What do I remember from the PowerPoint?” The answer, nothing. Yes the main points of the sermon and indeed many verses were displayed, but I could not remember the specifics from the slides. Instead I remembered the words of the preacher and was even able to remember something that he had said that was incorrect. But whether or not it was on a slide – who knows?

If preaching is about changing lives, then having a brilliant PowerPoint should not have any affect in that regard in any way.

2) PowerPoint is Distracting

In watching a DVD of myself preaching I became increasingly aware that the congregation’s heads were turning and looking at the screen instead of their Bibles or me. Even when nothing had changed or was being displayed on the screen. In fact, I was reminded at the course, and I have experienced this in my own life, if you have a TV or screen in the room that you are having a conversation in, on average a person’s eye’s will look at the screen every seven to ten seconds, even if the screen is off. Test this for yourself the next time you are having a conversation in front of a TV.

I have also come to realise that screen after screen of Bible quotes actually makes the sermon a little more tedious. I recently observed this when watching myself on the DVD and when observing another pastor. We both referred to a number of passages right after each other, and by time we reached the fourth passage or so, I was saying to myself, “OK I get the point, move on now.” But when I just listened without looking at the screen, the passages seemed to flow better and the impatience disappeared.

As we were told at the course, if you are going to refer to a long portion of Scripture, then best have the people turn there. If just a short quotation, then just read it – no need to show it.

In short, the point here is that the congregation should have their eyes on you or their own Bibles and not a third party, i.e. a screen.

Now I can hear the objections already, “What about those that are at church and do not have Bibles with them?” Fair point, but then why don’t you as a church make Bibles available for those that do not bring their own? I have been in a church where the actual passage being preached from was projected on the screen and eventually what happened, and quite quickly I must add, was that no-one, except for the few leading in the service, brought a Bible to church any more. It made them lazy. And I can almost guarantee you, if they are not bringing their Bible to church and are not reading along with you, then they are not reading their Bibles at home either.

Rather follow the example that I witnessed at a friend’s church a few weeks ago. Just before they began their Bible reading for the day they asked if anyone did not have a Bible and needed a copy to read from themselves. Those that put up their hands, or should I rather say, the one who put up his hand, then received a Bible to read from for the service. The rest of the congregation, of which there were over 100 people, had their own Bibles.

Not putting the verses on screen will probably encourage more people to bring their Bibles to church so that they are not left out and can follow along. It also encourages personal Bible reading and helps people to learn to navigate their way around the Bible as you refer to passages that they probably would not ordinarily read on their own. When last did you read from Habakkuk in your quiet time?

Another way in which PowerPoint is distracting is when one uses long quotations from a book, such as a commentary or theological textbook. I understand the temptation here because how they say things can explain something far better than you could yourself, or it may pack a greater punch than what your words can. But there is a problem here, and it is one that you can apply to Scripture quotations too.

A person reads faster in their heads than you can reading out loud. On average about 20% faster. That means that before you are 80% of the way through reading the quotation as it appears on the screen, they are already finished. So if it takes you 1 minute to read it out loud, this gives them 12 seconds for their minds to wander. Yes they may be processing what they have read, but they are no longer listening to you. Add to this the tendency that many of us have while reading a long quote to interject in the middle with some thought of our own, while displaying the rest of the quote on the screen. If they are reading ahead, like I know I have done myself, they are no longer listening to you, and they may miss an important point you are making in the interim.

Rather, if you want to include something from a commentary or textbook, summarise or paraphrase what they say, and then if you want to quote them, select one short sentence or phrase that packs the punch, that gem you want them to remember – without displaying it of course. That way they are with you all the way, and not ahead, allowing their minds to wander.

3) It is Time Consuming

How much time does it take you to prepare your PowerPoint presentation? An hour? Two hours? More usually if you want the PowerPoint to be creatively done. Now imagine if that time was reallocated to actual sermon preparation. What would an extra two hours do to your sermon? Alternatively, if you are spending most of your time in the study and not with your family, what benefit would that time have if you were now spending time with your children? I don’t think I need to say any more.

But never mind your own time, what about the time of those running the presentation? Before the service they have to make sure your PowerPoint works, that it is displayed properly, etc. This tales time away from their preparing other necessary parts of the service such as the songs for the time of worship.

Even during the message itself. Their time is taken up making sure they display the correct slide at the correct moment in your sermon. Which would you rather have, them spending their time making sure your presentation is presented correctly, or actually in the Word, with you as you preach, getting the same benefit as the rest of the congregation? I know which I choose.

In terms of timing, I was witness to really bad timing during a recent service. The person who was operating the projection was way out of time with the pastor. On occasion they displayed the quotations or passages before the pastor got there, which distracted me as I was reading something different to what the pastor was saying. And the same was true for those slides that came too late. I was now backtracking myself as it were, and lost the flow of the sermon at that point.

Remember too, the person on the projector does not have your brain. They do not know exactly where and when you were thinking the slide is to come up, even if they have a full manuscript with the necessary slides marked in the right places. I have had this happen to me too. I noticed that a couple of slides were up too early because they picked up the wrong sentence in my message. This then became a little distracting even to me as I became aware of the projectionist constantly looking at the notes and the screen to see if they were on track. And the problem was aggravated for me by the fact that they had a screen facing the pulpit.

I can hear the objection now, “I use my own remote control to advance the slides.” OK, great, but what if accidentally you advance one slide too many, now you have to go back a slide. Or if you forget to advance so now you have to catch up. This in itself becomes a distraction for both you and the congregation, and it diverts your attention from effective delivery to effective multimedia management.

4) Do People Really Take Note?

This final point was the final blow that put the final nail into coffin as it were. I mentioned to my wife what was discussed at the preaching course regarding PowerPoint, to which her reply was, “I don’t even take note of the slides anyway.” For her, there is usually too much reading on a slide and could not be bothered to read along while the pastor is preaching. They are of little to no significance to her.

And I think the same can be said for many others. As I said in my first point, do people really remember anything from the slide, or do they remember your words? A verbal picture does far more than a ten bullet list of applications and implications. A well placed illustration does far more than a lengthy quote from a technical textbook or commentary.

After all, I am at church to hear the Word of God, to learn from it, and to be changed by it. As Paul said, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” I think this applies not only to evangelism, but also to every day preaching and discipleship.

One Final Question

So then, this leaves one final question: Is there a place for PowerPoint in a sermon? Well, yes, but it is very limited. Let me give you one practical example: You are dealing with a geographical or cultural issue that needs a picture to best explain it, such as the Exodus. It is good in such cases to give your congregation a visual picture as to the geography or terrain that the passage is set in. Not everyone has a visual picture in their mind of the size and shape of the land, so to show a map from an atlas may be good when introducing the context. But that is where you leave it. Show the slide only for that purpose and only at the appropriate time, and make sure the slide is taken off the screen during the rest of your sermon.

And, more importantly, don’t do it every time. Not every geographical or cultural situation needs an actual picture. Often-times a simple description will suffice.

A Challenge

For those of you who have been regularly using PowerPoint in your sermons, I challenge you to take a break from them and simply preach the Word of God. Do not allow yourself to become reliant on them, or to use them to preach for you, as I have witnessed some doing over the years. I have even known a few pastors to read their notes from the presentation on the screen instead of from their own notes or manuscript on the pulpit. This is even more distracting.

And if you are not yet convinced, spend some time in the pew observing others and their use of PowerPoint. Remember the points and observations I have been making and see for yourself if what I say has any truth to it.

Whichever route you take, PowerPoint or no-PowerPoint, the choice is yours. But for me, based on the foregoing points, I have decided to no longer use PowerPoint.

© 2015

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

5 Tips to Discernment

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” [Philippians 1:9-11]

Being in the industry that I am in, and having been involved in ministry in one form or another for over twenty years, I have seen my fair share of false teachings coming out. What follows are a few tips to help you in the area of discernment.

Context, Context, Context

Whenever a passage is cited or quoted, be sure to evaluate it in its original context. Take care to look at the context within the text itself, ie. those verses that come before and after the cited verse, as well as the historical context. This includes the writer, the original recipients, the time period in history, and various other cultural aspects. Often a verse is quoted and applied to your life today when originally it was never intended to be used in such a way.

A number of verses stand out in this regard, but I will refer to two by means of example:

Jeremiah 29:11 – “I know the plans I have for you” – This verse was never written for you, but for the nation of Israel and their time in Babylon. If you look at what they went through, I am sure you would not want those plans to be for your life.

Philippians 4:13 is another passage used – “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” – Again, unless you are in prison for the sake of the Gospel, this verse cannot be applied to your life and the troubles you are going through.

Be a Berean

The recipients of the Gospel in Berea did not take even the sayings of Paul for granted. As Luke tells us in Acts 17:11, “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Examine what teachers tell you. Examine what the author’s you read are writing. Do not take what they say for granted. This goes for everything that they say or write. Just because they were 100% correct the previous two years, does not mean that they are going to be correct today. Evaluate everything that they say. A number of well-respected teachers of today have changed their views from what they used to be in certain areas (eg. Gay rights, women priests, etc.), but if you do not evaluate their teachings thoroughly, you can easily miss it.

The first step in this regard is to get to know the Bible for yourself. The easiest way to spot false teaching is to know the truth in the first place. So study, study, and study some more.

Think Biblically and Logically

The Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). And it is all contained within His Word. But He has also given us His Spirit and our own brain in order to be able to reason things both Biblically and logically. If something does not make sense, then think it through. If logic tells you something is wrong, then maybe there is. But at the same time, there are things in the Bible that do not make sense logically, such as God’s sovereignty – Him being in control of everything – while at the same time we have to make choices for ourselves. The two conflict with each other in a logical sense, yet both are taught in Scripture.

So think things through logically, but at the same time, allow the Holy Spirit to direct your thinking in terms of what the Bible teaches. This again shows the importance on knowing God’s Word for yourself.

Nothing New

Beware of claims that what they are teaching is new information that has never been discovered or taught before. When it comes to interpretation of Scripture you must always remember that there is only ever one interpretation. It never means one thing to you and then something different to someone else. Though the applications may vary, the interpretation is always the same.

Often times the new interpretations are due to a wrong way of interpreting the Bible in the first place. There are many who try to allgorise everything, to make everything in the Bible is a symbol of something and therefore there is a deeper, more spiritual meaning. For example, David selected five stones from the river to kill Goliath. People have given this many different interpretations, saying that each of the stones meant something in a spiritual sense and that even Goliath himself has a twenty-first century spiritual meaning. As if the story of David and Goliath is not true, but is merely a story to teach us some spiritual truths. Beware of things like this. There are no hidden meanings in the Bible. Everything can be understood by anyone, even a child. There is nothing mystical or allegorical about it.

Judge Them by Their Cover

It has always been said, never judge a book by its cover. Well this is not true. In many cases a book can be judged by its cover. One tell-tale sign on a cover is when it tells you how many copies are in print. Though not always a negative sign, it can be an indicator of the popularity of the book. Usually, the more correct and convicting material is not popular. Even Jesus Himself was not popular in His day.

Another tell-tale sign is when they advertise on the cover that it is a New York Times best-seller. This is a secular publication. If they are calling a best-seller, who is buying it? Chances are that more secular people are buying it than true Christians.

Also, look at who endorses the book. If a known false or not-so trustworthy teacher is endorsing it, there could be something in it that is to be avoided. The publisher too could be an indication. Some publishers are well-known for bringing out dodgy titles, so if the book is published by one of them, beware.

The same tests can be applied to ministries and churches themselves. Their popularity, who endorses them, or what kinds of teachers they themselves endorse, are all indicators of where their theological bias lies.

Finally, be on guard for those that are seeking fame or fortune. Though we cannot judge their motives, often their desire for money and their name in lights is evident by what they say and what they do. Though they may have begun their ministries without these desires, when large amounts of money or great fame are in play, it can be difficult for people to resist the temptation.

I could say much more about discernment. There are many guidelines within Scripture of the things to look out for. Read the books of Jude and 2 Peter for example. But these five simple tips are a good place for you to start.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The Biblical and Theological Basis for Expository Preaching

 

Before we can begin to look at the Biblical and theological basis for expository preaching we first need to have a basic, working definition of what expository preaching is. Mike Aben-droth, in his book, Jesus Christ: The Prince of Preachers, proposes the following definition: “a style or method of preaching God’s Word which seeks to logically expose the biblical text to the mind and the will of the congregation.” He then goes on to explain that it is the duty of the pastor who is preaching expositorily to “open up, uncover and lay bare” the truths of God’s Word and then to encourage the hearers to “obey the truth they have just learned.”i Though many other writers have proposed a number of other definitions of expository preaching, they are all rather similar to Abendroth’s definition. For this reason therefore, the above definition is the one upon which this study is based.

BIBLICAL EXAMPLES

So where does one find expository preaching in the Bible? After all, the term itself does not appear anywhere in Scripture. However, though the term may not appear in the Bible, the practice certainly does.

Old Testament Examples

There are a number of examples in the Old Testament that clearly exhibit this practice as defined by Mike Abendroth. The following two examples should be sufficient for the purpose of this study to illustrate its use in Israel before Jesus’ birth.

Firstly, in Deuteronomy 33:10, Moses, in describing the duties of the Levites shortly before His death said the following, “They shall teach Jacob your rules and Israel your law; they shall put incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar.” Here Moses was reminding the people of Israel before their entering into the Promised Land that the Levites had a particular function. One part of their function, essentially repeating what had already been declared to them in Leviticus 10:11, was that of teaching the Law of God. A practice that continued throughout the history of the Jewish nation, right through to the time of Jesus.

This instruction was later repeated as a rebuke by God through the prophet Malachi shortly before the close of the Old Testament canon, “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Mal 2:7). Clearly this was something that God took seriously and to not obey this command was a serious offence.

Our second example can be found in Nehemiah 8:8, “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” This verse clearly shows that it is not just the reading of the Law that was important, but also the explaining of it so that there is no confusion by the hearers as to its meaning. Some debate has existed as to whether the phrase “gave the sense” is referring to explaining the text or to translating it into a language they understood. A debate that is somewhat irrelevant as the point remains, those who read the Law to the people took the responsibility of making sure that the people understood the text. Whether translated or explained, the people knew what the text meant. And as we see later in Nehemiah, at another reading of the Law, they applied something that they had heard in the text, “As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.” (Neh 13:3) Reading had become teaching, which was then applied by the hearers.

In both of these examples we see Abendroth’s definition coming to the fore.

New Testament Examples

In the New Testament there are also a number of examples that can be cited, so again two should be sufficient for the purposes of this study.

The first example is Jesus Himself. In Luke 24:27, while walking with the two men on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, … interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Here Jesus was expounding the whole of Scripture to these men showing how He was a fulfilment of all that they already had been taught. From the writings of Moses, the Law, and all the prophets that followed, Jesus made sure that these men understood the Scriptures. When Jesus departed from them, after their eyes had been opened, they themselves testified, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). Jesus’ clearly did not just quote Scripture to them, but explained the Scriptures to them which brought about conviction and deep understanding of the entire Old Testament.

The second example is the sermons of Peter and Paul in the book of Acts (Acts 2:14-21 and 13:16-47 respectively). In both of these cases Peter and Paul opened up the meaning of what was written in the Old Testament, and on both occasions, the people applied the teachings to themselves which brought about repentance.

BIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICAL BASIS

Other then the examples cited above, there are a number of passages in the Bible that clearly teach the principle of expository preaching as defined by Abendroth. Since half of the New Testament was written by the apostle Paul, it should be sufficient to look Paul’s own philosophy of preaching.

Paul’s Writings and Life

When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome he expressed his desire to visit them in order to “impart… some spiritual gift to strengthen… that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine… I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” (Rom 1:11, 12 &15). Though this is not necessarily referring to expository preaching, there is a clear indication here that Paul desired to teach them the Gospel and not merely to share positive, feel-good messages.

In Paul’s next letter, Paul in no uncertain terms declared what the message of the Gospel was that he preached, “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23). As Robinson rightly says, “Preaching in Paul’s mind did not consist of a man discussing religion. Instead God Himself spoke through the personality and message of a preacher to confront men and women and bring them to Himself.”ii Too often preaching today offers little to no substance of the Gospel. Instead it offers nice-to-hear feel good messages that any secular motivational speaker can bring. When I consider both the Romans and 1 Corinthians passages, I have to agree with Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert who write, “…one of the most important things we do when we stand to preach is herald the good news of Jesus Christ. We make Christ known, and we make known the good news that salvation is to be found in Him. Just as Christian preaching should edify believers in Christ, it also ought to call those who do not yet believe to do just that. We should preach to evangelize.”iii

Later, towards the end of his life, Paul wrote to the young Timothy charging him, “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus” to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:1-2). Here Paul is using courtroom type language, and is expanding on the type of authority that Timothy had as a preacher. Authority that goes beyond merely reading God’s Word, but authority to reprove, rebuke and exhort his congregation. Let us look a little closer at these words.

Reproof helps the hearers to be able to discern what sin is and what it is not. It is therefore the preacher’s responsibility to inform and assist the listeners to properly understand what God’s Word says about sin and repentance. But it is not enough to just hear about what sin is, it has to be taken further. This is where rebuke comes in.

Rebuke takes reproof one step further in that it attaches ownership to the sin that one has been reproved of. It convicts the sinner by making is personal.iv Where reproof defines the sin, rebuke does what Nathan’s words did to David by saying, “You are the man!” (2 Sam 12:7), you are the guilty party. Again, the hearers cannot be left at this point with no direction as to what they are to do next. It has to lead to exhortation.

Exhortation gives the reproof and rebuke application. It urges and encourages the sinners to repent. Compared to reproof and rebuke which are somewhat negative in nature, exhorting is positive. A good example of this from Paul’s own life is given in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

In fact, nowhere do we find a better exhortation to preach in this manner than Paul’s visit to Thessalonica. In Acts 17:2-3 Luke wrote, “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.'”

It is interesting to note the words that Luke used to describe Paul’s approach to preaching. Firstly, the word translated as “reasoned” is the Greek word dialegomai. This is a compound word made up of a preposition meaning “through” and a verb meaning “to speak.” Paul’s approach here was to speak through the Scriptures.v It implies not just reading them, but expanding on them.

Luke then goes on to tell us that Paul went on the explain the Word to them. The word translated as “explaining” is the word dianoigo, which again is made up of the preposition “through,” but this time coupled with the verb meaning “to open.” Therefore we see that Paul not only preached through the text, but actually opened it up in an explanatory way.vi

Along with speaking through and opening up the Scriptures, Paul also proved that Jesus died and rose again. The third word Luke used here is paratithēmi, which means to place alongside.vii This is legal language similar to what a lawyer would do in a court of law, to lay out the evidence alongside in order to support his case. In the same way, Paul was laying out the evidence to support his message.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

But why is all of this important? Is it not enough to just hear the Bible read to us and allow the Holy Spirit to do the work? Why can I not just preach or listen to sermons that make me feel better, that provide encouragement rather than make one feel guilty? In the words of a pastor in a medium-sized church in Johannesburg, “I come to church feeling like a dog. I do not want to leave it feeling like a whipped dog.”

The truth of the matter is that we are living in a society where preachers seem to be more interested in reasoning with their hearers through philosophy, popular psychology, current events, motivational speeches, the super-natural, and by providing what itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3). As Mark Dever writes in his book Twelve Challenges Churches Face: “No one is looking for the one true God to be incarnate and to bear our sins as a substitute by dying the death of an outcast traitor. So when the church begins to peddle a message by what pleases the world, of course the true gospel will be de-emphasized or compromised, if not actually replaced.”viii

This is a fast track downhill, but one way this can be avoided in the church is to preach like Jesus and the apostles did. Preachers today need to be like Paul who “spoke through,” opened up the Scriptures, and gave evidence to support what he was saying.

CONCLUSION

We are living in an age of post-modernism where people are not wanting to hear the truth. They desire rather to hear what pleases them and makes them feel good about themselves. As a result, many a pastor has shrunk back from declaring the whole counsel of God, and from preaching expositorily. Rather thematic and topical sermons, or sermons about the heroes of the Bible are preached, with seven step programmes on how to be better people or forty days to a better you, being the main thrust of the message. From the few examples we have seen in this short study, this is not the pattern we see presented by Jesus, the early church leaders, nor even by those in Old Testament times.

Our ministries, and our preaching, need to echo the testimony and charge of Paul to the elders from Ephesus in Acts 20, “And when they came to him, he said to them: ‘You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.'” (Acts 20:18-27)

Unlike many behind the pulpit today, Paul did not “shrink from declaring … anything that was profitable.” Nor did he “shrink from declaring … the whole counsel of God.” As a result, he was “innocent of the blood of all.” Paul had fulfilled the commission entrusted to him when Ananias laid hands on him in Damascus (cf. Acts 9:15-16) – he had proclaimed the Gospel to the gentiles in its fullness. This mandate is just as valid today as it was back then, for any man who calls himself a preacher, pastor or teacher in the church. It is a great responsibility, which as we have seen is important to God. The cost is too high for us to neglect the declaring of the Gospel in its entirety. We must ensure that our hearers not only hear, but also understand the whole counsel of God.

ENDNOTES

iMike Abendroth, Jesus Christ: The Prince of Preachers (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2008), 145.

iiHaddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980), 18.

iiiMark Dever & Greg Gilbert, Preach [Theology Meets Practice] (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing, 2012), 57.

ivJohn MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 1813.

vO.S. Hawkins, The Pastor’s Guide to Leading & Living (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 25.

viIbid., 26.

viiJames Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Greek Dictionary of the New Testament (James Strong, 1890), 73.

viiiMark Dever, Twelve Challenges Churches Face (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008), 29.

 

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2014 in Uncategorized