The Ministry Of The Word
GOD "made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:26-28a). God created man that he should seek after Him. Since without faith no man can be well-pleasing to God (Heb. 11:6), and since "belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17), it becomes necessary that the Word be preached to men in order that they might have faith in God, turn, and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour and Master of their lives.
Spiritual values are eternal; material things are only temporal. The universe, with all its systems, shall pass away. Man is destined to spend eternity somewhere. We are travelers through time to eternity. We pass this way but once. If we miss the way now, when life is over, it will be too late; for "it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment" (Heb. 9:27). In view of these solemn facts one can see the importance of the ministry of the Word. There is nothing therefore that is comparable to the giving forth of the Word of God to men now in order that they might make the necessary preparation for eternity in bliss with God.
THROUGHOUT the Old Testament we see that men were called from the various walks of life to proclaim the Word of God. For instance, when Samuel was but a child, associated with Eli at the Tabernacle, the Lord gave him his definite call to the ministry (I Sam. 3:1-21). Never was there a more faithful servant of God than was Samuel. Though he lived in turbulent, uncertain times, he performed his work faithfully and was used of God in a mighty way. In the prosperous days of Uzziah, king of Judah, God called Isaiah to the ministry. The record of his call is found in Isaiah 6. This prophet was not conscripted into divine service; but, when the Lord gave him a vision of Christ in His millennial glory and asked who would go for them (the Holy Trinity), Isaiah volunteered for full-time service and was accepted. The Lord was very specific and told him the difficulties which he would meet and how scanty would be the visible results of his ministry. This prophet was engaged for approximately half a century in doing the will of God, proclaiming faithfully the message in the face of most unreasonable opposition.
During the decadent times of the last kings of Judah, spirituality and loyalty to God were at a very low ebb. God called Jeremiah, the man with a soul and a sympathy for suffering humanity, to meet one of the most difficult situations that has ever confronted a prophet (see Jeremiah 1:4-19). Outwardly his ministry was a failure; but, whenever one preaches faithfully the Word of God, let him remember that there is no such thing as failure. The Word is a savor of life unto life and death unto death (II Cor. 2:15,16).
The Lord called Ezekiel and gave him a definite, specific assignment. (See Ezekiel 1, 2, and 18.) It seems that his call was more specific than that of any of the other prophets and that in a most accurate manner God defined the limits of his ministry, warning him that He would hold him personally responsible for the accomplishment of the task. It is a mistake, however, for one to take the language spoken to Ezekiel and to apply it to one who is not given a definite and specific commission as was that prophet. From the general trend of the teaching of the Scriptures and from my own personal experience, I am convinced that God calls men into the ministry today just as definitely as He did in ancient times. It is true that He does not give them a miraculous vision, nor speak to them out of the blue as He did to the Apostle Paul. He does not have to do that. He can lay upon them a burden for the work of the ministry in a way similar to that in which He put "the same earnest care for you [the Corinthians] into the heart of Titus" (II Cor. 8:16). The very day that I accepted Christ as my personal Saviour, God put a longing and an earnest desire in my heart to preach His Word. I lost all interest in other things, and the desire to learn the Scriptures in order to give them out to the people became the absorbing, dominating thought of my life. I remember the very time and place together with the circumstances when God in answer to prayer laid upon my heart the burden of giving the truth of the gospel to Israel. This was as definite a call to this special type of ministry as the call which God gave to Isaiah or to any of the other prophets. My advice to anyone is that, unless God lays definitely the burden of souls and the preaching of the Word upon a man's heart, he should never enter the ministry. Furthermore, it is a conviction of my very soul that the ministry has been prostituted to a professionalism by many who have not had a definite call of the Lord to serve Him in proclaiming the truth. Whenever one enters the ministry as one does a professional career, the cause of Christ will suffer.
Man should look upon the ministry as a high, holy, and sacred calling. Let each minister realize that he is a spokesman for God and that he shall have to give an account to the Almighty for the way in which he has conducted himself and likewise the manner in which he has preached God's Word. Jesus says that men shall give an account in the day of judgment for every idle word which they speak. Since this is a fact, how much greater is the responsibility resting upon every minister of the Word to let his speech and preaching be seasoned with salt that they might minister grace to those who hear. James warned his brethren that many of them should not be teachers, knowing that they would receive the greater condemnation (Jas. 3:1). My appeal, therefore, to my fellow-ministers of the Word is that they constantly recognize the fact that they shall have to give an account for the way in which they have served the Lord.
IF men are to preach the Word of God, they must be thoroughly prepared to do so. The Lord Jesus set an excellent example on this point. He called the twelve apostles to be His representatives after His departure, who should go forth into the world to proclaim the glorious gospel. He called His early disciples (John 1) immediately after His temptation. Others followed Him besides these, for the requirement of an apostle to fill the place of Judas (Acts 1) was that the candidate for this office was to be selected from those who had followed Jesus from the baptism of John to His ascension. These early disciples whom He called accompanied with and assisted Jesus on His first great tour of Galilee. Near the beginning of His second tour, the Lord completed His selection of the Twelve. Finally, on the third tour He sent the Twelve out two by two to go before Him into the cities which He intended to visit. During the six months of retirement from the Holy Land, Jesus gave special training to His disciples. They were indeed students in His school from the time of the beginning of His ministry to His resurrection.
The facts just stated are most stupendous and should be considered by everyone who feels led to enter the Christian ministry. Jesus first taught the apostles for three and one-half years. Let us remember that there was no vacation as in our systems of schooling today. The apostles were with Jesus all the time and listened to His teaching. Furthermore, after having this special training, Jesus would not allow them to go forth to preach without the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The preaching of the Word is the most important work that anyone can possibly perform, since it deals with eternal issues. Jesus, therefore, trained the Twelve for three and one-half years and commanded them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, which thing they did. The Spirit was to refresh their memories in regard to the things which Jesus had taught and to show them things to come (John 16).
The one who is to minister the Word should likewise be filled with the Spirit. It is only by the assistance of the Spirit of God that men can understand spiritual things. Paul declared that spiritual matters are spiritually discerned. The first qualification of the minister of the Word therefore is that he be a regenerated soul and be filled with the Spirit. How may a person know that he is filled with the Spirit? If the Spirit of God dwells in a man, he will bear the fruit of the Spirit in his life (Gal. 5:22,23).
WHEN one studies the history of preaching, one will be impressed with the way in which God has used many men whose education has been limited but who have been taught of the Spirit. All of these men whom God has used in a marked way in the past have been men who have studied faithfully and loyally the Bookthe Holy Scriptures. They have grown in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. The discernment which is given to one by the Spirit is no substitute for honest, hard study of the Scriptures.
The Apostle Paul was a diligent student of the Old Testament Scriptures. During his last imprisonment, he wrote to Timothy his final letter, in which he instructed him saying, "The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, bring when thou comest, and the books, especially the parchments" (II Tim. 4:13). Let us remember that Paul, when he was facing death, wanted his books and especially the parchments. Without doubt we may conclude that he wanted to study them. In the same letter (2:15) he urged the young preacher Timothy to "give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth." Furthermore, he urged him to give himself to reading. These facts show us that the minister of the Word, who is used of God, is the one who is diligent in his study, especially of the Word.
WE are living in an age when education is more nearly universal than ever before and when it has developed to a higher point than ever before in the history of the world. These facts demand that the minister today have an education, all things being equalif he is to command the attention of the masses. If possible, every minister should have at least a college education, but he should be careful in selecting the institution where he is to receive his training. Professors in many colleges and universities no longer believe that the Bible is infallibly inspired of the Lord God Almighty. They consider it simply as a human book, on a par with others written by men, though they do grant that the Hebrews had "a genius for religion." The truth about the matter is that "men spake from God, being moved [or borne along] by the Holy Spirit" (II Pet. 1:21). Many a young minister has had his faith shaken and in some instances wrecked by attending a college, a university, or a seminary, the professors of which no longer hold to "the faith of our fathers." My advice, therefore, to a young minister is that he know absolutely without question the attitude of the professors in an institution which he contemplates attending. If they are not out and out for Jesus Christ and for the infallibility of the Scriptures, with no uncertain sound, he should never attend such a school but should choose one about which there can be absolutely no doubt. (I think that I am in a position to know, because I have attended one college, three universities, and one seminary, besides having done special research work in the leading libraries of Europe and Palestine.)
The young minister should get his college education in an institution about which there can be no question as to its loyalty to Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. If possible, he should attend a good Bible institute after he has finished his college work, or before doing so. The training which one receives in a Bible institute is of inestimable value. The spiritual life and the missionary zeal which one receives in such institutions cannot from the nature of the case, as a rule, be gotten in the average college. Whenever it is possible, a young man should go on and acquire a seminary education, taking the regular master's course, and, if circumstances permit, his doctor's degree.
As anyone pursues his studies, he should be very diligent and not allow his spiritual life to lapse in his efforts to acquire knowledge. If he finds himself slipping spiritually, then is the time to halt, to take an inventory of his spiritual stock, and, by the grace of God, to get back to his first love. Having done this, he should go forward in his efforts to acquire all the education that he can in order to prepare himself for more efficient work.
The training which anyone receives in schools only prepares him to begin to study in earnest. In such institutions he is simply getting his tools ready so that he can do some real studying of the Word. As noted above, the Apostle Paul continued to study even until death. My advice to all brother-ministers is that they continue investigation of the Word in order that they might know the Scriptures. Ezra was a mighty man in the Scriptures. Of him it is said that he "had set his heart to seek the law of Jehovah, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances" (Ezra 7:10). He set his heart to seek the law of Jehovah; that is, to understand its meaning with the purpose in view of obeying it himself and then of giving it to the people of God. It is evident that he was not a timeserver, but that he had the glory of God and the welfare of his brethren at heart.
There are three types of preaching, all of which are good. In my judgment no one of these should be adopted to the exclusion of the others. They are the topical, the textual, and the expository methods. Without question, topical preaching is necessary; for there are certain subjects which must be understood by the Christian in order for him to give forth the testimony that he should in his daily contacts. Thus, the minister, in preparing a topical sermon, after having decided upon a subject, gathers all that the Scriptures have to say on the theme chosen. He then develops it in a logical manner and delivers his message in the power of the Spirit of God. Blessing alone can come from such consecrated preparation and delivery of messages dealing with subjects taught in the Word of God. On other occasions, it is wise to do textual preaching; that is, to select a text and develop it. Of course, the minister must study the context in which it appears and get its exact meaning in its proper setting, giving a full and adequate discussion to the various elements found therein. This type of preaching is also to be commended. Last, but not least, is the expository method, which, in my judgment, should figure very largely in the ministry of every true servant of God. By this method he expounds, explains, and gives the meaning of the exact text of Scripture. It was this method that was adopted by Ezra and Nehemiah in their great revival in Israel. Concerning it we read: "And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading" (Neh. 8:8). God gave His message exactly as He wanted the people to have it. Otherwise He would have given it in a different form. God has singularly blessed the expounding of the Scriptures, book by book. The minister of the Word should study each of the books of the Bible to ascertain the exact meaning which God intended to convey. Of course, he should use any legitimate helps to assist him in understanding the text. Then he should give forth the message to his people. God has promised to honor such a procedure. The people of God will grow under such teaching. Only blessings can flow from such an exposition and the giving forth of God's Word.
Brethren in the ministry, let us remember that the Word of God is a love-message to us. It vibrates with compassion and sympathy for all. At the same time there are warnings against those things that are injurious to man. God in His great concern for us has given us this message, and He expects us to pass it on to the people.
Again, let us remember that the Word is settled in heaven. It is therefore for us to seek the exact message and not try to force upon any passage a meaning which the words of a given context will not permit. Our distorting the Word will not in the least change it in heaven.
It is verbally inspired. God gave the very thought and then led the sacred writers to choose the exact words to convey the correct idea to the people. One can depend upon any and everything that the Lord has said to us in His Word.
It meets the needs of man's soul. It is the only thing that does satisfy. The philosophies of men leave the soul empty. Countless myriads of people in all generations testify to the all sufficiency of the Word of God.
MEN must preach the Word. The minister has no right to use the sacred office of the pulpit for all purposes. It is no place for the discussion of politics, economics, philosophy, or anything else other than the preaching of the Word. Experts in the various fields of thought are constantly giving lectures which are by far superior to anything that the minister can give. Why should the true servant of God leave his divinely-given field and, descending to a lower plane, consume his and the people's time in a discussion of secular subjects? There is no room in the pulpit for book reviews and the like. Preach the Word. Be instant in season and out of season.
God warned the prophets that those who had a dream should tell it as a dream, but those who had His Word should preach it faithfully (Jer. 23:28). Again, the same prophet (26:2) was urged not to diminish anything but to speak all the words which God had said. The Apostle Paul (II Tim. 4:1f) urged that Timothy should preach the Word.
May each of us, brethren, realize our responsibility to God and to men as we enter our pulpits and give forth the message of God. We should do it without fear or favor; that is, without fearing what men might say or without attempting to obtain the favor of any man. May God enable us to fulfill our ministries so that we shall not be ashamed at His coming!