WISDOM FOR PREACHING AND MINISTRY: THE OLD TESTAMENT
Preaching is a high and holy calling. Nothing excels it or is more important. The apostle Paul declared: “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” (I Corinthians 1:21). That message, of course, is the gospel of Christ, God’s power to save those who will believe it and act upon it (Romans 1:16; 6:16-18). Paul Rogers, who preached for the Lord’s church in Centerville, Tennessee for almost 50 years, observed: “God only had one Son and He was a preacher.”
Much knowledge, love, compassion, courage, and wisdom must characterize the faithful and effective preacher. God’s word is the greatest source of these resources, not the wisdom of men. “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Corinthians 1:25). The man who would gain true wisdom as a preacher must do so from God, not from man. Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with choice words of spiritual counsel for preachers. This week we will look at some Old Testament wisdom on preaching, next week we will examine some New Testament texts on preaching. We will be as brief and as succinct as possible and make as little comment as possible, hoping that the reader will read the texts listed and draw from them the wisdom to be found in them.
Though not referenced in the Old Testament itself, Enoch, the seventh from Adam, was a preacher who proclaimed a powerful message of warning and judgment to those who were ungodly (Jude vv 14-15).
Likewise Noah, in the tenth generation from Adam, was “a preacher of righteousness” (II Peter 2:5). While the Old Testament says little about the specifics of Noah’s preaching, Peter provides some of the details and the results of Noah’s preaching (I Peter 3:20). The great thing about Noah is that he did “according to all that God commanded him, so he did” (Genesis 6:22).
Moses urged Israel not to add to the word of God or to take from it, nor to turn aside to the right hand or to the left (Deuteronomy 4:2; 5:32). This same wisdom was passed on by the Lord to Joshua, Moses’ successor (Joshua 1:5-9) (By all means, read these texts).
The prophet Samuel’s message to rebellious king Saul was: “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (I Samuel 15:22-23). Preachers must have that kind of boldness today and call for strict obedience to the will of the Lord.
When Micaiah was instructed by king Ahab’s advisors to tell Ahab what he wanted to hear Micaiah boldly declared: “As the Lord lives, whatever the Lord says to me, that I will speak” (I Kings 22:14). Preachers must be motivated by such courage today. They must not “cut” the message to please the hearers. Instead, they must faithfully declare the word of the Lord.
Of Ezra it was said, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Note the order of Ezra’s ministry – seek the Law of the Lord, do it himself, teach it to others.
Nehemiah, when tempted to compromise with the enemies of God, said, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3). Pay attention, preacher friend.
Of the power and sweetness of God’s word, the Psalmist wrote: “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:103-104). Do we today hate every false way?
Further, the Psalmist said, “Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:128). “Your word is very pure; therefore your servant loves it” (v. 140). “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of your righteous judgments endures forever” (v. 160). “My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness” (v. 172). What great wisdom for those of us who preach!
The wise man penned these words of wisdom: “The way of life winds upward for the wise, that he may turn away from hell (Sheol, footnote) below” (Proverbs 15:24). “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18). Sadly, in over 60 years of preaching, I have seen those words fulfilled many times by elders, deacons, teachers, and preachers in the Lord’s church, as well as among the members. “Buy the truth and sell it not, also wisdom and instruction and understanding” (23:23).
“ ‘Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ says Your God” (Isaiah 40:1). What a tremendously important role for the faithful man of God today! People need to be encouraged and comforted by the preaching of God’s word.
“Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1). What another tremendously important role for the faithful man of God today!
God charged Jeremiah with these words: “See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). Faithful preaching is both positive and negative, it is not all just “make me feel good about myself.”
When he became discouraged, Jeremiah said, “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him (God), nor speak anymore in His name.’ But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary from holding back, and I could not” (Jeremiah 20:9). Talk about motivation!
God’s words to Ezekiel contain wisdom for preachers today (see Ezekiel 2:5, 7). His charge to Ezekiel in essence is no different from His charge to all faithful gospel preachers today (Ezekiel 3:17-21). We too are watchmen. We too must warn the wicked of the consequences of their lifestyle. To his credit, before Ezekiel began his ministry “he sat where they sat” (3:15). Preachers today need to “sit where their hearers sit” and understand the things their hearers experience. It is called empathy, identifying with our hearers.
God’s charge to Jonah was to go to Nineveh “and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee” (Jonah 3:2, KJV) – wise words on preaching if such were every spoken!
Haggai’s preaching was to urge God’s people to “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 5:1).
Perhaps the crowning piece of wisdom found in the Old Testament for preachers is this: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
The above is but “the hem of the garment” of what the Old Testament has to offer in the way of divine wisdom and counsel for faithful and effective preaching and ministry today. May we who preach heed the words of Haggai to Judah: “Consider your ways!”
June 15, 2021