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The Life of the Preacher - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Pastoral Theology and Expository Preaching Articles

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The holy life and focus of ever true minister of the Gospel.

There is no more daunting task than to be a true minister of the Gospel. Before the witness of Christ Jesus, before the gaze of the world, and before the never dying souls in a given congregation, life and death are held out, and the minister is either a savor of life or a savor of death to his hearers. In such an office, in being given to such a task as this, the minister should have a determination to live in accordance with the Master he professes and the Gospel he proclaims. Yes, such an office requires sober reflection. The life of the preacher should be a constant meditation of the one taking up such an important task. We will consider it briefly here and spark the mind onto desiring good works in the preacher’s life.

Thomas Murphy alluded to the fact that the nature of the office of the Gospel ministry is so important that the duties of that office can never be thought about too much. The preacher can never think about the duties of his office in such a degree as to be fully satisfied. Even after preaching a sermon that had been studied for a week, there is much to mull over concerning its delivery, its inadequacy, its helps, its determents, and the like. Sunday evenings become a time of homiletical self-instruction in such cases. But this is not the case with just the sermon. No, the entire life of the preacher should be kept watch under close scrutiny lest preachers disqualify themselves from their office.

It is no doubt that the preacher should think of his office as minister in regards to the divine appointment of his calling. What a blessed privilege it is that God has commissioned mere men (like you and I?) to herald His Word. Such a task requires sober reflection. In reflecting on the life of the preacher, though, I am not able to give you a comprehensive overview of this office in such a short article; but I do want to wet your appetite to desire to seek out what needs to be accomplished in the personal life of the preacher.

We begin by looking at 1 Timothy 4:16. It is one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible. I actually have made the verse into a stamp in which I stamp all of my books. Every book that I open commands me in the front cover to “take heed.” William Perkins did something similar where he had written a note (or was it a plaque? – I cannot remember!) to keep above his desk that told him to be mindful about his business as a minister. “Thou art a minister; be mindful about thy business.” Preachers should be thinking in this way constantly. This is the command of the text. The literal rendering of the text says this: “Be in a constant state of watchfulness concerning yourself and the teaching [or doctrine]. Continue in them [an imperative]; [Why so?] for in doing this you will preserve from harm [save] yourself and your hearers.” (ἔπεχε σεαυτῷ καὶ τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ. ἐπίμενε αὐτοῖς· τοῦτο γὰρ ποιῶν καὶ σεαυτὸν σώσεις καὶ τοὺς ἀκούοντάς σου. (1Tim. 4:16).) Now, this does not teach that Timothy, or any other preacher, is a savior. Rather, Timothy, as with all true preachers, is one of the essential means that God uses to preserve the souls of His people. How does God do this? He does this through the Word, and through the life and teachings that come from a faithful preacher of that Word. Now if that does not cause preachers to shake a shudder a bit at the office of a minister, they may have a low view of what a preacher is all about.

The greater context given here is to Timothy the preacher, not just the average Christian. That does not mean that Christians cannot glean good things from this passage, but it does mean Paul had a specific intent for Timothy in these words. The Apostle Paul had such a high view of the preacher, as does the Holy Spirit, that he wrote three inspired New Testament letters for the preacher’s instruction. 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus are particularly aimed at the preacher. Preachers have much to think about in those 3 letters, but in our passage Paul gives Timothy 5 things to perform in the overall context here: 1) Timothy is to be an example to the flock (μηδείς σου τῆς νεότητος καταφρονείτω, (1Tim. 4:12).), 2) he is to publicly read the Word, exhort the hearers and explain it ( ἕως ἔρχομαι, πρόσεχε τῇ ἀναγνώσει, τῇ παρακλήσει, τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ. (1Ti. 4:13).), 3) he is not to be careless or neglectful of the office (μὴ ἀμέλει τοῦ ἐν σοὶ χαρίσματος (1Ti. 4:14).), 4) he is to meditate and think through all this, giving himself wholly to them (ταῦτα μελέτα, ἐν τούτοις ἴσθι (1Ti. 4:15).), 5) And he is to “take heed” (ἔπεχε σεαυτῷ (1Ti. 4:16).), None of this should ever fall to the ground. The whole chapter stirs with urgency and ends with this exhortation to “take heed.” What is Paul commanding young Timothy? He commanding him to be watchful over his life as a preacher. It is a life of earnest discipline before Jesus Christ, that God may be glorified in all the preacher does for His Kingdom.

In seeing that overall context, and the need to be watchful, I want to look at “Taking Heed” of the preacher’s life in four main areas. First: The Life of the Preacher in Relation to Jesus Christ. We should contemplate the relationship of the preacher to the Lord since each and every preacher is owned by the Lord. I tis Christ who made him a preacher. There are five areas to consider here. First, preachers are gifts given to the church by the Sovereign choice of God. Jesus Christ is head of His church. No one else is head of the church though some preachers think they may be. No, Jesus Christ has been given all authority in heaven and in earth. He gives men to the church for the edification of the church. A classic passage on this point is Ephesians 4:11, “And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some pastors and teachers…”Did you know that preachers are gifts from God to His church? I hope you do, and I hope your congregation realizes this as well. Jesus alone has all authority to make ministers and send them into the harvest. Only God can make a minister of the Word. What does God say in Jeremiah 3:15? “And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” God is the one who gives “feeders to feed.” So we ought always to remember our relationship in terms of the Lord who gave us to the church.

Secondly, a preacher must be converted, born again. Is this too much to ask? I think not. It is far too often the case that in the modern church we are making men ministers before they are Christians. How could a natural man possibly lead a spiritual organism? 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” If a preacher is not born again, regenerate or born from above, how would he possibly be able to feed the flock of God and be spiritually discerning in the process? Unfortunately too many people entering the pulpit today (both men and women) think that the pulpit is an exercise class for emotional lecturing. Qualifications of such people usually revolve around “being nice, cordial, friendly and “a people person”.” The eminency of the pulpit is not a thing to be trifled with for those who believe they can make themselves into a minister. To them it is just another job; a job where they are esteemed. They miss the point entirely. The preacher’s calling is one of love to Christ, not one of power, position or prestige.

Thirdly, a preacher must be called by God. Charles Bridges says that the main cause of failure in the Christian Ministry for the preacher is the lack of a true divine call. This is certainly the case. This is not the audible baritone voice shouting down from the clouds; no, not at all. It is the inner desire to glorify Christ in suffering, a desire to minister to lost souls, as well as having a formal call from a church body. I once knew a man who became a pastor because his weekly bible study, who was about as ignorant as he was about the things of God, thought he should be a pastor because he had good social qualities and seemed to be able to teach. Unfortunate for them, they “got what hey deserved.” The ignorant bible teacher became the ignorant pastor of the still ignorant church. But they do have such wonderful Wednesday night suppers! Desiring the office of a bishop does not mean one has the qualifications of that office, or is justly called by a church for that office. There was a man who farmed corn. He was out in his field one day and looked up and saw the clouds floating by in the shapes of letter: “G” “P” “C,” and he was immediately overtaken with joy. He ran into the house to his wife and said, “I believe the Lord desires to me preach!” “Why so?” asked the wife. “Because I saw in the sky a “G” “P” “C” made out of the clouds – Go Preach Christ!” The wife grinned, “How do you know God was not telling you to “Go Pick Corn?” Subjective calling does not give any man the right to place himself in an office. Subjective desire is not always true to the giftedness of the man.

Fourthly, a preacher must have the gifts and graces to minister Jesus Christ to the chosen people of God. These are the non-negotiable qualifications of the preacher outlined in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1. It is quite interesting to note that the qualification mainly revolve around character traits. Any Christian could also take this list and follow it and it would do them a world of good – and they should. But the preacher must continually be given over to the truthfulness of this list. He should be a living example of those passages. Jesus Christ will always gift his preachers with the necessary skills to minister in His name. He has given them as gifts to the church and empowered them for ministry. But as said previously, desire does not mean that one is necessarily gifted. For instance, a man may be excited about his college football team. He may attend every game and know the statistics as intimately as any coach. He loves the game of football with all his heart. He watches as they make some poor plays and knows exactly what he would have done to correct the problem and bring the team to victory. Though he has a desire, it does not mean he is fitted for the task of playing football. As it turns out, he is 95 pounds and as skinny as a toothpick. The desire is there, but the giftedness is lacking. Those who desire the office do desire a noble task. But do not think that desire is the ticket in. The character of the preacher must pass the test as well as having the language skills (how can you interpret the text without having the tools to do so in Greek and Hebrew?), having a knowledge of Biblical theology, Historical Theology, Systematic theology, pastoral counseling, and the list goes on. He must be able to edify the saints, meeting their needs spiritually by the Word, to convert the sinner – as much as a preacher is a good preacher and knows how to preach, and is able to silence the gainsayer. All of this is done in the stead of Jesus Christ as the herald of the Word of God. Yes, it is true; this is a daunting task.

Fifthly, and this is something to develop in a moment, a preacher must continually desire an intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no substitute for this. If a man is gifted to be a minister, he will have an extraordinary personal relationship with the Lord of Glory. If this seems far fetched, and it seems too much to have such an extraordinary relationship in this way, you may want to reread the non-negotiable qualifications of the minister and then retrace our passage in 1 Timothy 4. If such a relationship is not appealing, or seemingly too difficult, you have already disqualified yourself from the task. If you cannot live up to the non-negotiables, how could you say you are gifted for the task?

How does a preacher cultivate a deep personal relationship with Christ that remains extraordinary? Here we turn to the life of the preacher in relation to personal godliness. There should be a solid life of disciplined holiness. The real power of the preacher is earnest godliness. Paul is telling Timothy to “Take heed of your life…” Hebrews 12:14 says that “…holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” What is holiness? For our purposes it will be defined as non-conformity to the world. The preacher is in the world but he is preserved from its influences. The world philosophy and its system of thought is not something he is given over to. He keeps himself from the world; he is separate and it is noticeable. Here is a good test as to whether or not a preacher is worldly: is the world delighted with him? The world does not run after a holy and respectable preacher. To pursue friendship with the world is to be an enemy of God. Jesus said the world would hate us as preachers. What does the world think of you as a preacher? Preachers, cannot rest with simply saying Jesus Christ has made me holy by his blood and “that’s enough for me,” and then live like the world. “I will show you my faith by my works.” James says. Paul is telling this to Timothy, the preacher: Take heed!

Also, preachers should not be satisfied with reaching a general standard of spirituality. God is not interested in mediocre ministers. They are those, like Laodicea, who are spewed from His mouth. According to Job 33:23, the preacher is “one in a thousand.” Gather up a thousand ministers of the Gospel, and yes, you have but one. Take heed!

The extraordinary aspects of the life of the preacher in terms of godliness should be so evident that simply by the holy life of the preacher alone unbelievers should be won to Christ. Preachers are to be a living example of the Gospel they preach; a living sermon. Unbelievers should say “Look at the way that Preacher lives. I want that kind of life!” Preachers should say, “This is no ordinary profession that I hold; it is something more sacred, more heavenly, more Christ-like than the common callings of men, and therefore I must be more holy.” Preachers ought to take earnest heed to their life. But how do they do this?

We need to look at the life of the preacher in terms of prayer. Here is the life of the preacher in relation to disciplined prayer, godly prayer. Preachers should pray as much as Christians pray, or else they become hypocrites. Yet, preachers should pray more than Christians pray because they are given to that work. Ask this question and reflect on it: Why don’t preachers have a certain number of hours a week to work like other jobs? The answer is quite simple, Acts 6:4, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” The precedence is given here. The apostles chose others to take up a legitimate need in ministering to widows in order to fulfill their role as preachers of the Word who pray continually. Charles Bridges said, “Prayer is one half of our ministry; and it gives to the other half all its power and success.” Prayer is not something extra to our work, it is our work.

Preachers should be laboring in prayer like Jesus labored in the garden. They should sweat in their prayers. They are given to the work of tendering up prayers to God that their preaching ministry would be successful before Him. Even as a basic Christian we are to follow the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing…” Think about it, what can a preacher do without the help of Christ? What can he accomplish without spiritual empowerment to a spiritual vocation such as the herald of God’s Word? Epaphras should be an example to every minister. In Colossians 4:12 Paul writes that he was, “always laboring fervently in prayers.” Why is Epaphras recorded in Scripture? In Colossians 1:7 he said to be a “faithful minister.” Faithful ministers give themselves to prayer. The minister who does not pray over his work must surely be a vain and conceited man.

There is no other point on the whole subject of the life of the preacher than for preachers to be impressed with the need for daily personal prayer. Psalm 5:3 states, “My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up.” Psalm 55:1 says, “ Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, And He shall hear my voice.” Philippians 1:4, “… always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy…” All-prayer is a weapon. It is the weapon of the minister’s power directly extending from Jesus Christ. Satan and his minions rage against you and you do not pray enough? Why?

What should the preacher do then? Let the first hour of the day be filled with sacred prayer. Before you eat, before you sit down with the family, before you do any work: pray.

And I am not only talking about prayer for church members, for world leaders, or even for your own family. The minister should certainly pray for all those things and more, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, (1 Timothy 2:1).” What I also mean is prayer for the preacher: power, ability, grace, and help as a preacher. Preachers need to be consistently praying for spiritual power for godliness and grace to minister Jesus Christ in every capacity. Luke 11:13 says, “how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” For Preachers to neglect prayer is for them to say that they do not need God, and that they do not need to humble themselves before Him. Daily. Every day. Do you have need of the Holy Spirit? Take Heed!

Not only does the preacher have a need of daily prayer, or breathing his soul into the bosom of his Heavenly Father, but he has a need to hear from God. Here we see the life of the preacher in relation to disciplined bible reading, bible devotions and bible study. There is a great danger of crossing over church studies with personal studies. This should never happen, but frequently does. The Preacher does not attain personal godliness when he neglects his own devotions and substitutes church work for that quality personal time with Christ. He is not seeing and savoring Jesus Christ for himself, but for others. He needs to do this for himself in and through the Word. “I’m so busy!” the frantic preacher says. No, you are undisciplined. Martin Luther said, “I must rise and hour early tomorrow, for, given all that I need to do, I must spend more time in prayer.” The Preacher should not confuse pastoral work, sermon preparation and study, with the non-negotiable need of personal study. Psalm 119:38 states, “Establish Your Word to Your servant…” How is this done? There is a need for personal devotion to Christ in reading, devotions and personal study. This is not on top of everything else; this is first. Everything else is on top of it.

The Preacher must have a daily strategy of personal study in the Bible for his own edification and godliness. Strategies are important. Preachers should not sit down for personal study and say, “What shall I study today?” Imagine if our country did that during a war but after we already landed on foreign soil? “Okay, now what should we do?” It would be the epitome of stupidity. Unfortunately, many preachers take this on themselves. Yet, they should have an incessant study of the Bible as something daily and ingrained in their habits. It is their means of sanctification. John 17:17, “Sanctify them by Your Word; Your Word is truth.” How well do you know His Word? Not well enough? Then take heed!

How shall they become incessant students of the Bible in this regard? First, daily general reading is important. Read through the Bible in a year, every year. Three chapters a day will get you there with having to read a few extra chapters the last day of the year. Unless he was sick, one puritan preacher by the name of William Gouge read through 16 chapters of the Bible every day, after his 6:00 A.M. morning prayers, every morning. Do not be foolish. Forget the one-minute Bible – shame on you as a preacher for owning one. Use it as a doorstop, not for personal holiness. You need a comprehensive overview of the Bible. Reading through the Bible answers the question: What is God saying? What is the overall message? You should know this.

Then comes daily devotional reading. Here is where the preacher marks a specific passage or chapter and reads some kind of help to the text. This is where a passage may have some kind of impression on the preacher as he read, something that stands out. It is the internal testimony to the heart by the Spirit working here. The Spirit of God speaks to the preacher through the Word of God. Do you believe this? Maybe your lack of devotions is the reason you do not believe this. Yet here, the Spirit speaks to our heart. In some cases helps may be used like Daily Devotionals or Commentaries. It is here that you want to know something more about the passage you marked and that has “jumped like a lion from the thicket” as Spurgeon said.

After the daily devotional it is always a good idea to have some memorization verses going from the reading you are doing. Memorize the verses and hide them in your heart. They are the key to keep from sinning against God. (Psalm 119:11 and 111)

Next, we have the preacher’s daily study. No, this is not sermon preparation; this is his daily study of the Word. He is to study the specific texts. In essence, he is studying a passage for himself. As he would hermeneutically and exegetically study something to give in a lesson or sermon, he does this for his own personal walk with Christ. Is this too much? If it is, then you may not be disciplined enough to take on the office of the preacher. For the preacher this is a blessed time. It is a time where Christ reveals riches to him as His adopted Son and presses them into his soul. He mines gems kept locked up in his heart for all time.

First the preacher extensively reads the bible each year having a good reading strategy. Then in that reading he marks off a particular group of verses or a chapter he is impressed with that day. Then marking the particular verse that seems to be striking, the preacher devotes time to it, meditation on it, memorizes it, and uses some reading helps or commentaries to quicken his thoughts about the passage. Then there is a verse or two that strike him and grasp his heart. On those verse(s) he takes extra time and extra lengths to study it exegetically. It could be a single text over the course of a week or even a month. It does not have to be a new text every day. Take heed!

Paul tells Timothy to take heed of his life. We are not worried, at this point, about his doctrine; that will come later when we talk about interpretation. For now we have briefly viewed the preacher in relation to Jesus Christ, a disciplined life of godliness, to prayer, and to bible reading, devotions and study. In all of these the preacher is to “take heed.” Do you?

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