Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Lesson for Preachers

This morning, among other things, I read Nehemiah chapter 8. The book of Nehemiah, as you probably know, tells the story of the exiles who returned from Babylon to Palestine to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, the temple of God, and the Jewish society. Chapter 8 tells the story of of Ezra, one of the leading religious figures of that time, reading the books of the Law to the people.

The text says that he read "from early morning until midday," and that "the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law" (v. 3). And then near the end of the chapter it says this: "Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading."

As a preacher, this is one of my favorite texts in all the Bible. So many today are trying to make the Bible more palatable for people by preaching topically on subjects they think the people will care about. So many are trying to make the Bible more marketable. But the main problem I have with this approach is that it causes the preacher to skip over difficult and important things that God means to communicate to his people. It is a preacher-centered way of preaching, rather than a God-centered way of preaching, in that it puts the ingenuity of the preacher above the wisdom of the Word of God.

Our job as preachers is two-fold: (1) to read the Word of God clearly for the people, and (2) to explain what has been read so that the people understand what it means and how it applies to their lives. That's it!

The Word of God, clearly read and helpfully explained, has great power to change people's lives, including the preacher's life. We should trust in God and his Word and not in our own ingenuity and that of others. God makes no promises about our ingenuity, but about his Word he says things like this:

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:12-13).

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