Preaching: From God & Before God

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“For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. Who is adequate for these things? For we do not market the word of God for profit like so many. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-17, CSB)

Pastor, the weekly privilege of preaching God’s word to God’s flock is no small task. Some would say it is the most significant, most valuable thing you do every week. After hours of studying the text and praying for the Holy Spirit’s discernment, wisdom and anointing, God gives you the awesome responsibility of representing him and re-presenting his word before a group of people who have gathered to meet with him and to hear from him (not with you or from you). The message of Christ is a matter of “life” and “death”, writes Paul; the gravity of the Sunday morning hour should be an occasion for sincerity and awe.

“Who is adequate for these things?” asks the apostle, rhetorically. “No one” is the appropriate response. Apart from the calling of God in Jesus Christ, not one of us is educated enough, dynamic enough, faithful enough, or eloquent enough to represent God and re-present his word every week. Apart from Christ, the preacher brings absolutely nothing to the table. There is no room for boasting or pridefulness in the pulpit. The gravity of our weekly task would completely devastate us, apart from the call of the Father, the redemption of Christ Jesus and the anointing of the Spirit.

“Profit” is a dangerous motive for preaching God’s word. If the question is “what might I gain from preaching today?” you have failed before you have begun. What is it you hope to gain from preaching? Money? Acclaim? Admiration? Experience? The preacher is only prepared to stand in the pulpit when he seeks no such earthly reward. Our only gain is found in our humbled obedience to God. In the words of Richard Baxter, 17th Century preacher, we must walk off the stage each week able to say with integrity: “I preached… as a dying man to dying men.”

In verse 17, the apostle offers a single guiding thought that may do us all good as we prepare and preach every week: “as from God and before God.” Is this message a message from God? Am I preaching it today, as if God himself is in the room watching and listening? Biblical preaching is not biblical preaching if the message is not from God and before God. Preach the word, trusting the Holy Spirit to do the work of conviction in listening hearts. Deliver every word with sincerity, knowing that the Author of your message is in the room, listening intently as you deliver his message to his people.

When Paul meditates on the gravity of his preaching task, he comes to the conclusion that on our own, none of us are “adequate for these things.” But you can stand in the pulpit every week in humbled, impassioned obedience to God when the message you have prepared is “from God” and is being delivered as “before God”.

Grace and Peace
Tony

 

King David, Absalom, & the Pastor’s World

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Having lived in the senior pastor’s world for five years and in the associate pastor’s world for 13, I can say from experience that being called of God to shepherd his flock can often be a daunting task. It was in the pastorate that I experienced some of the most joyful moments of my life. It was also in the pastorate that I experienced some of the most wearisome moments of my life. There were times when I lay down on the floor of my office with my face planted in the rug (and if I could have gotten any lower, I would have), begging God through streaming tears to intervene, to vindicate, or to deliver.

In those moments God sometimes brought a comfort I did not understand. But other times, he simply reminded me of my calling – a pastor is who I am because a pastor is who God called me to be. There were many times in the pastor’s world when the only solace and comfort I found was to just remind myself that I was called of God. Now in a position where I have the honor of serving and supporting pastors and churches across the state of Texas, I am reminded every day that resting in the sure calling of God is often the pastor’s only consolation. As it should be.

When God calls a pastor, he calls the man first to himself, then to a people. Loving and serving God is generally easy. But loving and serving the people to whom he has called you is… well, let’s be honest… people can be hard to love. Pastors are often slandered and subverted, defamed and denigrated. It is difficult to love and serve people who go to such great length to destroy you. But in moments of dejection and despair, the pastor is to rest secure in the solace of God’s calling. He is to remember that God has called him first to himself, and secondly to the people under his care.

King David had been called of God, from shepherding sheep in the field to shepherding an entire nation spread across the land of Israel. David was a good boy. He had the heart of a lion and the courage of a warrior. But as you read 1 and 2 Samuel it becomes obvious that the only reason David was fit to be king over Israel was because God had called him to it. He was God’s anointed. God called David first to himself and secondly to the people of Israel. God could have anointed anyone king in Israel, but he chose David. That’s it. That calling from God would prove to be David’s only solace many times throughout his life.

Take, for example, 2 Samuel Chapters 15-18. David pardoned his son Absalom from banishment after he had killed one of his brothers for raping his sister (Jerry Springer would have eaten this up). Upon his pardon, Absalom surreptitiously positioned himself between the people of Israel and their king, David. Over the course of a few years Absalom “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” with his silver tongue and his charming demeanor (2 Sa 15:1-6). In short, David had been sabotaged by his own son. Absalom undermined God’s anointed and stole the kingdom away. I guess some people just have that (un)spiritual giftedness about them. Most pastors have, at some point, had a member of the flock clandestinely smooth talk his or her way into the hearts of the other sheep. It wasn’t long before the people of Israel called Absalom their king, and David was forced to abscond. By verse 30, we see David at the lowest he had ever been – having escaped his arrest in the city, yet held prisoner by his own depression in the mountains.

I’ll be honest, pastor: Absaloms will hurt you the most. The people you think are for you – you have served them graciously and poured your heart out for their benefit, even when they did not necessarily deserve it. They’ve taken you to lunch and have slipped you a $50 bill here and there, “for you and your sweet wife”. They have spoken your praises from the well-lit platform, but planned your demise in the dark corners. And one day you are blindsided by the realization that all along they’ve been playing you like they’ve been playing everyone else – and you will be the one to fall. That hurts, pastor. I know.

To add insult to injury (literally), as David continued his retreat a man named Shimei walked beside him assaulting him verbally and physically, from Bahurim all the way to the Jordan River. That’s about 15 miles! 2 Samuel 16:5-14 details Shimei’s special ministry to King David – a ministry of defamation, slander, and physical battering. Thank God for Shimei’s, right? Those people in your flock, pastor, who have the uncanny ability to kick you when you’re down. Like blood-sucking leaches, they wait to make their move until you are weary and drained; they capitalize on your disheartened exhaustion to latch on and suck from you the last bit of life you have left.

You know the ones I’m talking about. You spent all day Thursday in crisis marital counseling sessions then committee meetings. You got a call Friday afternoon just before you finished nursing home visits to inform you that one of your young families had been in a car accident – off to the hospital you went. Saturday morning one of your deacons knocked on your door at home because “we need to talk” – a two hour conversation that revealed the urgent need for three hours worth of follow-up. Sunday morning immediately before the worship service began, one of the children’s workers stopped you in the hallway to complain about supplies going missing from her closet. Absolutely drained, you preached your sermon from the end of 2 Corinthians Chapter 4 with lackluster. And the first person to catch you after the service (he may wait until Monday Morning, if you’re lucky) is Mr. Smith who takes the liberty of criticizing your sermon, attacking your devotion to the pastorate, and questioning your ability to lead the church. God bless you, Shimei.

At this point, King David just wants to give up. Can I tell you a secret? There were a few times in the pastorate where I honestly felt that way, too. But here’s what’s great about resting in the call of God alone: in Chapter 15, David was sabotaged by a smooth talker… in Chapter 16 David was defamed by a slanderous accuser… but in Chapter 17 David was delivered by the Lord’s decree (v.14). As it turned out, David’s enemies had been plotting against him in the dark corners, then defaming him on the high hills. But the whole time, God was for David because it was he who was anointed. It was he who was called. The war that David’s enemies incited brought about their own destruction. In the end, because David rested in the call, God subverted the subverters. He slayed the slanderers. He demolished the defamers.

Pastor, I have no doubt that you know how David felt. You live in the pastor’s (shepherd’s) world, too. You will spend entire seasons of your pastorate dealing with the surreptitious scheming of smooth talkers and/or enduring the malicious verbal barrage of flagrant fools. But if you’ll remember that God has called you first to himself – and if you’ll trust in his faithfulness to you in every circumstance – you will see God take you from defamation to deliverance in a way that brings him great glory and always works out for your good.

David was sabotaged. David was slandered. David was defamed and demoralized. But in the end, all that matted was that David was anointed by God. This is the beauty of life in the pastor’s world. Difficulty, dejection, and despair will, at some point, find you. But remember while your face is buried in the tear-stained polyester of your office rug that in the end, pastor, as long as you are faithful, all that matters is that you have been called by God.

Grace and Peace,
Tony