Three Aspects in the Life of a Preacher

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-8)

In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 a beautiful sequence of events is started when then gospel came to Thessalonica. We see in verse 6 that they responded by becoming followers of Jesus and imitators of Paul (and thus Jesus). Then, in verse 7, the Thessalonians responded by becoming (local) examples to others around them. And lastly, in verse 8, they responded by becoming (global) examples to others who heard about them. Paul confidently grounds the election of the Thessalonians, first, on their reception of the preached gospel and, second, on their subsequent obedience. The result is a beautiful sequence of events, which I believe is much desired. It portrays discipleship of four generations. And thus it invites us to take a closer look at the starting point, which gives us more insight I think in the role of a preacher

Let’s read verse 5 again: “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.

What does Paul about the gospel that came to the Thessalonians? First, Paul says that the gospel was characterized by word. I take that to mean that the preacher is giving a verbal proclamation and explanation of the good news of Jesus. Second, Paul says that the gospel was characterized by power. This could mean that preaching was combined with miraculous healing (like in Luke 10:8-9 for instance), but I would say that in any case there was a manifestation of power, in either preaching or healing or both, that was able to change minds, hearts, and lives. Third, Paul says the gospel was characterized by the Holy Spirit. I think there is a strong linkage here with his previous point that the gospel came in power, but I would say that there was some manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s approving presence. And, lastly, Paul says the gospel was characterized by full conviction, which I read as a transparent sincerity and integrity, bringing certainty to the hearer’s minds. The last part of the verse tops it off when Paul is saying that the Thessalonians knew what kind of men they proved to be among them for their sake. The coming of the gospel was reinforced by the evident of its preachers.

So, what can we say about the life of the preacher and the manner of his preaching, looking at these verses? I believe there are three aspects the preacher needs to be aware of and work into his life.

1. Be faithful students and servants of the Word
It is clear that the gospel comes by word, His Word, which is both verbally proclaimed, like a herald proclaims good news from the king, as well as explained so that everyone who hears understands the good news that has come to them. This means that as preachers we need to be able to both proclaim (herald) this good news as well as explain it. And we have to be able to do this from any passage from His Word because the whole of Scripture bears witness of Jesus (John 5:39). This takes serious study of His Word, and an understanding of hermeneutics, exegesis, and homiletics.

2. Be fully dependent on the Holy Spirit
In order to preach with full conviction and passion, a preacher has to be fully depending on the miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit. I would say there a threefold aspect here. First, he needs to be living by the power of the Holy Spirit. Second, he needs to be praying by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is in line with Haddon W. Robinson’s definition of preaching, which says, “the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical-grammatical and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, and then through him to his hearers.” For the Holy Spirit to first apply the text to the personality and experience of the preacher it requires the preacher to be living and praying by the power of the Holy Spirit. A third aspect then is that it is then applied through the preacher by the Holy Spirit to his hearers, which means that the preacher is preaching by the power of the Holy Spirit, so hearts and minds are changed.

3. Be disciplining yourself for holiness
This is obviously an aspect which applies to every follower of Jesus, who calls us to train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7; 2 Peter 1:3). But I believe it is particularly important for a preacher. Again, Paul says, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” As preachers, our walk with Christ needs to be in like manner of our talking about Christ. This way our “full conviction” makes sense. This way we give the hearers examples to imitate and follow as we will be worthy to be imitated (1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; 2 Timothy 3:10-11)

I believe these are admirable and honorable aspects to work into my life, and spend a lifetime on.

Breathed Out By God #1 – An Introduction

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra — which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. I 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, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 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. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 3:10 – 4:8)

Don’t you think it’s ironic that I that present seven topics that are on my list for possible next series, and then introduce something completely different? I think it is, but such is life. It is full of surprises! Yet don’t think it’s the end of that list… Please comment still on your favorite topic here.

Anyways, the reason for this series may not be so apparent, but I used the “famous” 2 Timothy 3:16 verse this last Saturday during a meeting, and spoke on Sunday with my good friend and participant of that meeting, Patricia about this verse. She wondered about the deeper meaning of this verse and its application. We did not have much time then to go deep into it, but I must admit that I too am intrigued about the depth of it. Hence, this short series.

The verse of 2 Timothy 3:16 is pretty consistent across the different translations. Let me try to summarize it: “All Scripture is [God-breathed (NIV), inspired by God (NASB), breathed out by God (ESV), given by inspiration of God (KJV)] [and is useful for (NIV), and profitable for (NASB, ESV, KJV)], [teaching (NIV, NASB, ESV), doctrine (KJV)], [rebuking (NIV), reproof (NASB, ESV, KJV)], [correcting (NIV), correction (NASB, ESV, KJV)], and [training in righteousness (NIV, NASB, ESV), instruction in righteousness (KJV)]

I prefer a combination of the ESV and KJV, which ends up like this: “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The apparent consistency in the different translations seems to indicate that it is clear how to translate it, but what does the verse actually mean? And how and where does it apply to our lives? This introductory post will attempt to take a look at the verse as a whole, and the first half of. And then subsequent posts will deal with the four individual aspects it is useful or profitable for.

The Big Picture
As with most, if not all, verses in the Bible, this verse should be looked at within the context it is written. Although the verse itself, apart from the context, holds true and should be adhered to, it is the context which gives insights into the reason why. The verse is pretty much right in the center of a section of Scripture going from 2 Timothy 3:10 through 2 Timothy 4:8, and deals with an exhortation from the apostle Paul to his beloved son in the faith, Timothy, in contrast to the false teachers which Paul warns Timothy against in the first nine verses of chapter three. It addresses directly on how Timothy must resist the opponents and remain faithful to the gospel. It is an exhortation based on Timothy’s already established faithfulness (verse 10: “you, however, have followed my teaching…“).

So in order to fully understand this verse we need to take a look at the whole picture it is part of. In 2 Timothy 2:14-26 Paul introduces the false teaching (irreverent babble) and explains how Timothy should respond to it and be different from the false teachers. In 3:1–9 Paul describes the false teachers more extensively. Having exhorted Timothy to steadfast endurance, Paul now begins to address the problem directly. He speaks of “the last days” which according to Acts 2:17 are the days after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and are thus also still the present day, and the false teachers are the people who “will be lovers of self, a lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, b disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” for they will “creep into households” and lead people “astray by various passions“. Paul commands Timothy to avoid such people (verse 5), which most likely most involves excommunication if it pertains to those who remain obstinate. Paul then goes on to explain that Scripture is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” and that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

We first need to realize that Paul is writing this letter to Timothy. Paul sent Timothy to the church in Ephesus to deal with false teachers. Both letters from Paul to Timothy deal with this aspect in various form, although the second letter seem to focus more on exhorting Timothy to persevere. False teaching is corrected by correct teaching (next to church discipline and possible excommunication), and so Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is to persevere in teaching. We should in any case combine verse 16 with 17 in order to get the actual full sentence. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” So for who is Scripture profitable? So that the man of God may be competent and equipped. Who is the man of God? This is an Old Testament phrase. For instance, Moses is called a man of God (Deuteronomy 33:1, Joshua 14:6), angels of the LORD are called a man of God (Judges 13:6;8), and prophets like Elijah (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 1) and Elisha (2 Kings 4 – 7) are called a man of God . Overall, we can say that the “man of God” is indicating a messenger of God. Both the background of the Old Testament and the context show that Paul sees Timothy as his delegate and a leader over the church. A shepherd/pastor. A preacher. Paul provides a basic framework for Timothy on how to preach. Sinclair B. Ferguson, distinguished visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminister Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas says of 2 Timothy 3:16, “Thus informed, we come to see that preaching to the heart will give expression to four things: instruction in the truth, conviction of conscience, restoration and transformation of life, and equipping for service […] Preaching, therefore, involves teaching – imparting doctrine in order to renew and transform the mind. It implies the inevitable rebuke of sin, and brings with it the healing of divine correction.” If the man of God approached the Scripture with humility, he himself will be instructed, convinced, restored, transformed and equipped in the process of preparing. If that happens, and it should, then in turn he will be able, by the Holy Spirit, to do the same when he is preaching.

Of course this is not the only application of this verse as a whole, for the Holy Spirit does not need a preacher to accomplish His work (although John 14:26 does say that the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance all that Jesus said, hence Jesus’ words must be proclaimed first), but Paul, a preacher, is charging Timothy as a preacher, to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim 4:2) in order to overcome or correct false teaching.

All Scripture
What is considered all Scripture? First off, it seems evident that the Old Testament books are implied, but there are references in the New Testament which refer to itself as Scripture as well in two occasions. First, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul says, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” Although the command to not muzzle an ox is a quote from Deuteronomy 25:4, the command that a laborer deserves his wages is a direct quote from Luke 10:7, and Paul refers to it as Scripture. Secondly, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter says, “And count l the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” And so it seems that both Paul and Peter refer to the NT writings to be inspired by God at a very early date, considering that Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy around 64–65 AD, and Peter wrote his second letter around 64-67 AD.

Breathed Out By God
Paul is using a Greek word here (theopneustos) which does not occur anywhere else in the Bible. I actually read that this word did not occur anywhere in Greek texts outside the Bible prior to this letter. That is quite remarkable to say the least! The word is a combination of “theos” (meaning: God) and “pneō” (meaning: to breath). In any case, Paul is clearly pointing to the fact that God breathed out the Scriptures, and does not point to the human authors of Scripture as inspired people.

In the next session I will attempt to unravel the word “teaching,” its implications and its applications.

Why I Am Not Blogging?

I went from thirty-one posts in November to three posts in December to now only my second post in January. What’s up?

– It has been a busy period and so I don’t have much time to write deep theological blogs;
– I wrote a lot in November due to the NaBloPoMo and I think I am still processing that;
– Like my friend Michael, I am thinking deep thoughts
– Although not experiencing a writer’s blog (pun), I do wonder what topic or series to write on next;

And so with this last point, I kinda need your help. I have the following topics on my list, but I would like to hear from you what I should write on.

1. What is Preaching?
An intensive series on what constitutes as biblical preaching. I have had some serious discussion with different people. I have read articles and books on preaching, which tell you a lot about the goal of preaching or the necessity of preaching, but nowhere can I find a definition on preaching. And so this would be a word study in both Hebrew and Greek, going through every verse from Genesis through Revelation that uses the word preaching or any derivative thereof, and analyze my findings in a series of blogs

2. Jesus, Mean and Wild
Based on a book with the same title by Mark Galli, I will take one verse from each chapter of the gospel according to Mark and will write 16 blogs in total in which I will try to portrait Jesus as mean and wild and not like the fluffy, robe-wearing, long-haired halo hippie who never told a joke, never offended anyone, etc, etc. Should be a good challenge and get you fired up.

3. The Blessed Hope
Eschatology. This word alone gives people shivers done their spine. The study of the end times means dealing with concepts like amillenialism, premillenialism, pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, post-tribulation, dispensational premillenialism, rapture, replacement theology, etc etc. It divides people into allegorical and literal teams and the gloves are off and it’s game on. It is one of these topics that I am really interested in and that I think people should know more about because it does relate to their every day walk with God more than they possibly realize.

4. Oh, Martin
A blog telling my experience of my first time visit to a Lutheran church.

5. Calminianism
Another big one that seems to be popping up in random conversations I have with people is predestination and where most don’t really know what to think of. It would make sense to actually turn this into a series on Arminianism versus Calvinism as the question of election (predestination) seems to be at the root of most if not all of each of the five points (free will versus total depravity, conditional versus unconditional election, unlimited versus limited atonement, resistible versus irresistible grace, perseverance of some versus all saints).

6. The Tailgating Principle
A blog about the great American tradition of tailgating and how it relates to Scripture. Ha!

7. The Acts of the Apostles
Yes, a study on the book of Acts, but much more than that, a study on what constitutes a biblical church. I series in which I will go through the whole New Testament and distill a definition of the church based upon the Bible, not upon tradition. What is considered closed-hand and what is considered open-hand?

So, these are my possible topics, and like I said I would love to hear from you what you want. Please leave a comment with your preference and reasoning, and I will adhere to the majority’s choice…

To Teach Or Not To Teach

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Timothy 1:5-7)

We all have something to say. We all want to be heard. We all think we know best. In this Scripture the Apostle Paul instructs young Timothy (who’s pastoring the young church in Ephesus) not only the goal of teaching, but also the method of teaching.

The goal of our instruction (or in other words, the purpose of the commandment) is that the heart is transformed. If spending time in God’s word isn’t producing love from a pure heart, a good conscience, or sincere faith in us, something is wrong. Instead of showing love, we are harsh and judgmental. Instead of having a good conscience, we always feel condemned knowing we don’t measure up. Instead of sincere faith we practically trust in our own ability to please God. These characteristics of love, conscience and sincere faith should be shown in the person who’s teaching, in order for him to be used by God as a conduit to instruct others.

If we stray away from showing love from a pure heart and having a good conscience and a sincere faith, we end up with fruitless discussion. I love this phrase “fruitless discussion”. It echoes the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). A fruitless discussion does not bring forth love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control. It also echoes John 15:5 where Jesus says: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Our discussions should not be fruitless but bear much fruit, only then God the Father will be glorified and we prove to be His disciples (John 15:8).

If we stray away from showing love from a pure heart and having a good conscience and a sincere faith, we end up just wanting to be teachers only, instead of wanting to be learners (disciples) of the Word also. A dangerous position to be in, for every Christian is first and foremost a disciple of God and God is our teacher (Job 36:22) and the goal of a disciple is to be like his teacher, not above him (Matthew 10:24)

Much can be said about the gift of teaching. 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 says that “God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?” And so Scripture says that not everybody is gifted to be a teacher, or should aspire to be a teacher. James mentions “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). And so being a teacher of the Word comes with great responsibility.

If we want to be a teacher we must “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4). I believe that we are in the times which Paul describes here. A lot of Christians are not interested in sound doctrine. They only hear what they want to hear and conveniently discard the rest. They let culture influence their doctrine, whilst culture should only influence our methodology. Our doctrine is based on Scripture, and Scripture alone. Doctrines, or principles, described in Scripture are not dependent on cultural settings, because God’s truths are from outside of our time domain.

And so being a teacher means we have to be willing and able to reprove, rebuke and exhort with great patience. Even if we speak the truth in love, chances are that we will offend someone (did Jesus ever offend anyone?), because if we do not reprove or rebuke we will offend God.

And so the question is: to teach or not to teach? And my answer would be that if God has gifted you to be a teacher then embrace this, but be aware never to leave your first love (Revelation 2:4) and always be a disciple first and a teacher second, and that it comes with great responsibility and, very likely, great persecution. On the other hand, if God did not lay it on your heart to be a teacher, to embrace what God has gifted you with. This doesn’t take away the fact that by simply being disciples of Jesus, and living out our faith, we are influencers to the world around us, and thus are teachers as well.