Advice to Preachers and Teachers (1)
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16.11
“The things which are to be enjoyed are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a single Trinity, a certain supreme thing common to all who enjoy it, if, indeed, it is a thing and not rather the cause of all things, or both a thing and a cause.”
- Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
To enjoy the Lord
The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains that the chief end of human life is “to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” We rightly emphasize the first element of that purpose, insisting that in whatever we do, whether we are eating or drinking, or whatever we may be doing, our desire must to be to glorify God (1 Cor. 10.31). That is, we want to honor Him, acknowledge His primacy in every aspect of our lives, bear witness to Him, point others to Him, and raise thanksgiving to His Name.
In everything we do – including all our preaching and teaching – we must seek the glory of God, and none for ourselves, for this is our chief end in life (Ps. 115.1).
But in emphasizing this chief end, we can sometimes succeed in splitting it, and thus fail to realize its full intent. For our chief end in life – and in all the work of preaching and teaching – is not merely to glorify God, but to enjoy Him, now and forever.
God intends that, whatever our calling in life, we should honor and enjoy Him. As we honor the Lord, consciously submitting ourselves to Him, and referring all our worthy endeavors to His praise and glory, we acknowledge His Presence with us, and we enter that Presence. This fills us with joy and provokes us to praise, thereby intensifying the sense of His Presence and joy, for He inhabits the praises of His people (Ps. 22.3). As we praise Him, we rejoice in the satisfaction of knowing that our labors are not in vain in the Lord, that everything in our lives is being done to honor and glorify Him. And this brings us into His Presence, into the fellowship of the divine Persons, and into the joy of participating in the very life of God.
For those entrusted with the ministry of the Word – preachers and teachers at all levels of the Church – knowing the joy of the Lord should be a primary fruit of our labors. For in those labors we are intensely, consciously, and prayerfully focused on seeking the Lord, as we prepare for and do the work of preaching and teaching.
Effective ministry of the Word begins in our relationship with the Lord, where the wonder and joy of knowing Him leads us into His Word, and where the life-giving power of His Word fills us with His joy, and equips us for our peculiar good work.
Preaching and teaching the Word of God is difficult, requiring long hours, careful preparation, constant prayer, and great care in the transmission of the message of Scripture, whether by speaking or writing. Such a calling should fill us with fear and trembling.
But it should also lead us deeply into the joy of the Lord.
Knowing the joy of the Lord
I asked Dr. Stan Gale, a member of the Board of Overseers of The Fellowship of Ailbe, for some thoughts on knowing the joy of the Lord:
“By design, joy is self-serving. Even in areas of sacrifice and service, we gain a certain joy in the doing. While it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the cross, He would have had a peculiar joy in the cross itself, out of love for the Bride He was redeeming, and savor of the sustaining bread of doing the Father’s will. In this sense, joy leavens trial and travail. We count it all joy when we face hardships of various kinds, because we know Him. We realize that joy through maintaining the perspective given us in wisdom from above, that not only gives us joy in the Lord, but also makes the Lord Himself our joy.”
There is joy in doing the work of preaching and teaching – everything that goes into this calling. There is joy in anticipating the outcome of our work – how it might benefit the Bride of Christ. There is joy in feeding on the bread of the Lord in Scripture, as we are preparing and as we preach and teach. And there is joy in the hardship and sacrifice that must be endured to handle the Scriptures as God intends. All this joy in ministering the Word “not only gives us joy in the Lord, but also makes the Lord Himself our joy.” What a privilege to be called to such a joyful work!
We should expect our labors in the work of preaching and teaching to be a source of great joy, because they bring us more deeply and consistently into the Presence of the Lord, and prepare us to go from there to serve others in His joy.
Joy, Stan explains, “leavens trial and travail.” The more we know the joy of the Lord, the more the burdens of our ministry – and the burdens they must endure who are entrusted to our care – become bearable, even occasions for joy.
Bring the joy to others
Those who minister the Word are committed to transmitting the joy of the Lord to His people. Recalling Stan’s comments about joy as leaven for trials, Pastor Jamie Cupschalk asks, “What if we really believed what Paul wrote in Romans 8.18 and 2 Corinthians 4.17, 18?” What if the people we serve knew such joy, that it sustained and increased them in grace through all the difficulties of their lives? Jamie invites us to pray for the people we teach, that through the joy of the Lord, they might have “that eternal perspective and hope”. As we lead them into the joy of the Lord in our preaching and teaching, that will certainly be more the case.
Pastor Chuck Huckaby reminds us, “When considering the joy of our hearers in preaching, it is wise to remember that, while our preaching should be searching and convicting, without a proclamation of Christ and the Gospel to accompany it, we cast our listeners upon their own resources, leading them to pride or despair but never discipleship and salvation.” The Scriptures are the Word of Christ, and Christ is their primary theme. He is our joy, and the reason for all our rejoicing.
As you meet the Lord in your studies and preparation, let His joy wash over you; and let it shape the direction of your preaching and teaching, so that your teaching ends on a note of hope, anticipation, and deep spiritual satisfaction, focused on and lodged in Jesus, our great joy. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is our Joy, and Joy itself.
In the ministry of the Word, let us remember that God is to be glorified at every step and in every stage of the work. But He is also, as Augustine reminds us, to be enjoyed. And the greater the joy we know in this work, the more that joy will show up in our preaching and teaching, thus drawing the saints of God deeper and deeper into the love of God in Christ Jesus.
David testifies that true and solid joy in which the minds of men may rest will never be found anywhere else but in God; and that, therefore, none but the faithful, who are contented with his grace alone, can be truly and perfectly happy.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 16.11
1. Would you say that you find joy in all aspects of the ministry of the Word? How might you know increased joy in your work?
2. How can you tell when the people you serve know the joy of the Lord? How does knowing His joy affect them?
3. Do you need to bring more focus on the joy of the Lord in your preaching and teaching? What’s one way you might begin to sharpen that focus?
T. M. Moore
For a cogent review and handbook for preparing to preach and teach, order a copy of our book, Text to Transformation, by clicking here. Our book, The Joy and Rejoicing of My Heart, provides an overview of the whys, hows, and results of the ministry of the Word (click here). You can find books by Dr. Stan Gale at his online bookstore (click here).
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).
All quotations in this series are from Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, D. W. Robertson, Jr., tr. (New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1958).