WISDOM FOR PREACHING AND MINISTRY: THE NEW TESTAMENT
Last week we looked at Old Testament texts setting forth God’s wisdom on preaching and ministry. This week we turn to the New Testament for wisdom and insight on this vital theme. Again, we will strive to be as succinct as possible and urge the reader to read the texts that are mentioned in this essay.
John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, the one who was commissioned to prepare the way for the ministry of Christ, “came preaching” (Matthew 3:1-2). His message was a stern one of repentance and sober warning of the consequences of not repenting (vv. 7-10).
Not surprisingly, when Jesus emerged on the scene He “began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matthew 4:17). He delivered “The Sermon on the Mount,” a compendium of the principles of the spiritual kingdom He would establish (Matthew 5, 6, 7).
Preaching lay at the heart of Christ’s ministry (Luke 4:16-19, note the times the word “preach” is mentioned in this text quoted from the prophet Isaiah). He said, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities, because for this purpose I have been sent” (v. 43). As we noted last week, the late Paul Rogers observed that “God only had one Son and He was a preacher!”
Following His death, burial, and resurrection, Christ commissioned His apostles to “Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them… teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). The apostles were to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” setting forth the divine conditions on which all could be saved (Mark 16:15-16). By the apostles “repentance and remission of sins” were to be “preached in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). The wise and faithful preacher today will declare these same conditions for being saved and for staying in a saved relationship with the Lord!
In the Book of Acts preaching is highlighted. In Acts 2 the kingdom of heaven, the church of our Lord, was established by the preaching of the gospel and obedience to it. When the hand of persecution scattered the members of the Jerusalem church, they “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4), leading, in time, to the establishment of a large and thriving congregation in Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:19-26). Later, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them” (Acts 8:5). Philip preached “the things concerning the kingdom of God (the church, hf) and the name of Jesus Christ” (v. 12), matters that today are made light of and said to be unimportant, but vitally essential in preaching Christ. Beginning with the same Scripture from which the Ethiopian eunuch was reading, Philip “preached Jesus to him,” leading to the eunuch’s obedience to Christ in baptism (Acts 8:35-39).
The apostle Paul, with the assistance of various others, conducted three extensive preaching journeys, proclaiming the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles, and establishing numerous congregations. To the elders of the church at Ephesus, he said “For I have not shunned to declare to you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). The great preacher and writer E. A. Elam said that he wanted inscribed on his tombstone: “He shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God.” Would that all gospel preachers would be motivated by such divine wisdom and such a great desire!
The gospel is God’s power to save (Romans 1:16), but it must be faithfully preached, honestly believed, and sincerely obeyed (Romans 6:16-18). Paul declared: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18). He went on to write: “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom did not know God, it pleased God by the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (vv. 20-21). Preacher friend, rely on God’s wisdom, not man’s wisdom!
Paul’s preaching was not with “excellence of speech or of wisdom” (human wisdom), for he “determined not to know anything among [the Corinthians] except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:1-2).
The purity and integrity of the gospel is to be maintained at all costs. The man who preaches “another gospel” abides under the curse of God (Galatians 1:6-9). It is God, not man that we must please with our preaching (v. 10).
The purpose of all preaching is set forth in Colossians 1:28: “Him we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom (there’s our subject—wisdom!, hf), that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” No wonder Paul would say a bit later, “Beware lest anyone take you captive through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). How many times in more than sixty years of ministry have I seen this warning ignored, both by preachers and by hearers!
Preachers are to faithfully preach only the word of God. It has great power to effectively work in those who will believe it (I Thessalonians 2:13).
Preachers today should pay attention to Paul’s description of “a good minister of Jesus Christ” (I Timothy 4:6). It does not always match the modern idea of what makes a good preacher!
Preachers should know that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Timothy 6:6), and realize that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (v. 10).
Faithful and wise preachers will “hold fast the pattern of sound words” (II Timothy 1:13). They will “flee youthful lusts” (II Timothy 2:22). They will follow the divine wisdom and pattern of teaching and ministry set forth in II Timothy 2:24-26. They will heed Paul’s words, “Preach the word; be instant (ready) in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Timothy 4:2). John T. Lewis, who did so much for the establishment of the New Testament cause in Birmingham, AL, said, “I would rather have thousands say to me at the judgment, ‘We heard you preach and you hurt our feelings,’ than to have just one lost soul say to me, ‘I heard you preach, but you did not tell me the truth.’ ” Talk about great wisdom for preaching and ministry!
Faithful preachers must recognize that there are times when there are those “whose mouths must be stopped” because they “subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:10-11). On some the faithful preacher will “have compassion, making a distinction; and save others with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).
Wise preachers will “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The true man of God will “in all things [show himself] to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that he who is of the opposition may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of [him]” (vv. 7-8).
The truly wise minister will walk in the steps of Christ (I Peter 2:21). He will understand that “As each one has received a gift, [he is to] minister it to one another, as good stewards of the grace of God.” He will “speak as the oracles of God.” He will minister “as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is the praise and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 4:10-11).
The church of our Lord is in dire need of strong, faithful, God-fearing, and wise preachers. Many preachers receive these weekly “News & Views.” It is my fervent prayer that all of them will recommit themselves to pursuing the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom of man in their preaching and ministry. It is also my fervent prayer that many able young men will determine to devote themselves to the ministry of the word and become good and wise and faithful preachers of the gospel.
June 22, 2021
June 23: Shackle Island Church of Christ, Goodlettsville, TN, 6 p.m.