Jonathan Edwards on the Ministry (14)
Preach the word! Be ready in season andout of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 2 Timothy 4.2
“They should imitate the faithfulness of Christ in his ministry, in speaking whatsoever God had commanded him, and declaring the whole counsel of God. They should imitate him in the manner of his preaching; who taught not as the scribes, but with authority, boldly, zealously, and fervently; insisting chiefly on the most important things in religion, being much in warning men of the danger of damnation, setting forth the greatness of the future misery of the ungodly; insisting not only on the outward, but also the inward and spiritual, duties of religion; being much in declaring the great provocation and danger of spiritual pride, and a self-righteous disposition; yet much insisting on the necessity and importance of inherent holiness, and the practice of piety.”
- Jonathan Edwards, Christ the Example of Ministers
An example or the example
Of course, we would expect Jonathan Edwards to have something to say about the ministry of the Word. The records of Jesus’ preaching and teaching are sufficient to offer important insights into God’s expectations for this work. And the example of the apostles, especially Paul, builds on the foundation Jesus laid to guide those who are entrusted with this ministry in how they ought to conduct it.
If we are to follow the agenda of Christ and do our work as He taught and demonstrated, then we must conduct our own ministry of the Word in the light of His, and that of His apostles.
These days, however, preachers do not always feel constrained to follow Biblical patterns for preaching, or for worship, or disciple-making, or for much else that has to do with shepherding the flock of God. In all such areas of ministry, we tend to regard Christ and His Word as an example of how to carry out our calling. For Edwards, however, Christ was the example for ministers, and in this section of his sermon we may observe four areas in particular where we should check ourselves against the Master and His Word with respect to our preaching and teaching.
All the Word
First, ministers of the Word “should imitate the faithfulness of Christ in his ministry, in speaking whatsoever God had commanded him, and declaring the whole counsel of God.” We are faithful in our calling to the extent that our preaching and teaching guide the people of God through the entirety of divine revelation in Scripture.
The ministry of the Word should not be carried out as the wind blows, following this or that trend or perceived need; nor by bringing our preaching and teaching into line with what promises to scratch whatever may be the current itch.
Pastors are responsible to ground their hearers in all the counsel of God. Only thus can they have confidence that they have not short-changed the people in any way, or left them vulnerable to the wiles of the devil and the contrary spirits of the age (Acts 20.26, 27; Eph. 4.14). Preachers should follow a plan for preaching and teaching according to all that God has revealed about Himself and His will throughout all His Word, and not simply one that changes with whatever we think the people want to hear.
“They should imitate him in the manner of his preaching; who taught not as the scribes, but with authority, boldly, zealously, and fervently…” Preachers should have the utmost confidence in the Word of God as such, without needing to dress it up in any contemporary garb; and they must preach that authoritative Word to pierce the hearts of their hearers, and not merely to leave them with good feelings.
The temptation is great to cast our preaching and teaching in some psychological, cultural, or even linguistical mode which resonates with the temper of the times. We want to be seen to be relevant. We want to speak to contemporary issues and concerns. And we want people to come away from our preaching glad they were there and committed to returning next week. If these are the guideposts that illuminate the mode of our preaching, we will fail to preach as Jesus did.
Preaching is boldwhen it stands squarely on the Scripture – “Thus saith the LORD” – and when it challenges settled convictions, invades comfort zones, and strikes a blow at the values, priorities, and loves of hearers. It is zealouswhen it adopts a cohortative aspect, challenging and inviting all who hear to unite with the one who preaches in picking up the pace of our journey into Christlikeness. And preaching is fervent when it throws down a gauntlet against sin, demands repentance, points with eagerness to the highway of holiness, and calls all who hear to lay aside their old selves and be ever clothed anew in Christ.
Jesus never sought to be admired as a preacher. He sought to be obeyed. People followed Him to the death because they yielded to the authority of His Word and followed His boldness, zeal, and fervor in pursuit of their Kingdom-and-glory callings (1 Thess. 2.12).
All the Gospel
The Gospel of the Kingdom calls people to an entirely new way of life, in every area of life. When we preach or teach, as Edwards insisted, we must be thorough, “warning men of the danger of damnation, setting forth the greatness of the future misery of the ungodly; insisting not only on the outward, but also the inward and spiritual, duties of religion.” The themes of judgment, whole-life obedience, and spiritual renewal must be present in all our preaching.
This is but to bring the whole Gospel to the whole person for the whole of life for filling the whole world with Jesus and His Kingdom. The Gospel is not merely about being forgiven, or healed of some brokenness, or assured of going to heaven when we die. The Gospel is a call to a new dimension of life, a spiritual dimension where God dwells and from which He is ruling to make His glory known, reclaim His world, and make all things new. The Gospel speaks to all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities, and it promises to renew us in all aspects of our being, soul and life. It warns us against neglecting our salvation or falling into sinful patterns of life, and points continuously toward the coming judgment of God, demanding that we prepare for that now by living according the Law and all the Word of God (Jms. 2.12).
The Good News of the Kingdom is that the power of King Jesus makes all things new – how we see the world, work in it, relate to others, interact with our environment, and work to bring the goodness and glory of God to light in every nook and cranny of the land of the living (Ps. 27.13). If we are not preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, then we’re preaching another Gospel, one other than what Jesus and His apostles proclaimed.
All the duties of discipleship
Thus in our preaching and teaching we must call the people of God to embrace and improve all the duties of their discipleship, “insisting on the necessity and importance of inherent holiness, and the practice of piety.”
Discipleship is not an option for those who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Nor is it some category of church membership reserved for those who are so inclined or who have the time to spare. All true believers are disciples, and all disciples must be nurtured into that role, acquiring the disciplines and disposition for bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God and living their witness for Jesus in their own spheres of influence (2 Cor. 7.1; Acts 1.8). Preachers should not apologize for pushing or stretching their people, or for calling them to examine themselves and to seek accountability for growing in grace and improving in their work for the Lord, or for urging the saints of God not to grow weary in prayer or doing good works (Lk. 18.1; Gal. 6.9).
Prayer, personal example, and the Word of God: these are the minister’s primary resources for the work and business of making disciples and building the Church. We must follow Christ in each of these areas. It would pay dividends to our ministry to follow the example of Jesus in our preaching and teaching of Jesus. We are not faithful to the Example if our preaching and teaching falls short in any way which Jesus demonstrated and His apostles emulated.
In his teaching the abbot is ever to observe this rule of the apostle: “Reprove, beseech, correct.” This consists in a judicious timing: to mix gentleness with sternness—at one time to show the severity of a master, at another the tenderness of a father. Use rigor with the irregular and the turbulent, but win to better things the obedient, mild and patient.
- Benedict of Nursia (480-547 AD),Rule of St. Benedict 2.23-25
Shepherding God’s Flock at The Ailbe Seminary
We’re pleased to announce that our course, Shepherding God’s Flock, is now open for registration at The Ailbe Seminary. Whether you are a pastor, elder, or church leader in some other capacity, this course can show you how to make disciples, build the Lord’s church, and advance His Kingdom according to His example and teaching. Watch this brief introductory video, then register at the website (upper middle of the website), download the Course Introduction and Overview, and seek the Lord about enrolling in this course.
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Quotations from Jonathan Edwards, “Christ the Example to Ministers,” are from Edward Hickman, ed.,The Works of Jonathan Edwards(Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834, 1995). Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).