Advice to Preachers and Teachers (2)
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6.5
Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith… 1 Timothy 1.5
“Thus all your thoughts and all your understanding should be turned toward Him from whom you receive these powers…He did not leave any part of life which should be free and find room to desire the enjoyment of anything else. But whatever appeals to the mind as being lovable should be directed into that channel into which the whole current of love flows. Whoever, therefore, justly loves his neighbor should so act toward him that he also loves God with his whole heart, with his whole soul, and with his whole mind.”
- Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
Joy to love via prayer
The great fruit that issues from enjoying God is that we love Him more. The joy we know in Him – which buoys and sustains us above all adversity, keeps and comforts us in times of uncertainty, and gives us a foretaste of the eternal rest we will know with the Lord – increases our joy in Him, and with that joy, increasing love. We want to love Him more, and to be more often in His Presence, to contemplate His beauty, meditate on His majesty, rehearse His many glorious works, praise His holiness and love, and be filled with His fullness.
Joy leads to greater love for God, and love for God, Augustine argued, spills over into loving and enjoying our neighbors. As we read and study Scripture to know and enjoy the Lord first of all, we will find that we have more love for and enjoyment of the members of our congregation, which can only make our preaching more effective.
But we have to give ourselves diligently to loving our neighbors, and this work begins in prayer. For the love of God to overflow from us to those we serve, we’ll need to seek Him for it, as Pastor Jamie Cupschalk reports: “One of the prayers that God granted in the midst of my asking was, ‘Lord, help me to love Your people.’ As I prayed this, a flood of God’s love for those who are His welled up within my heart. I continue to ask for this blessing.”
The link between prayer and preparation for preaching or teaching must not be severed. Instead, we must strengthen it day by day, pleading with God to bring us into His joy, that we may delight in and love Him more, and that He may grant us greater love for the people we are called to serve.
Loving those we serve
“Loving God”, Jamie continues, “includes loving all who bear His image, and doing all that we can to bring Kingdom reality to areas of injustice. This includes protection of those who are vulnerable (e.g., the unborn, the elderly, poor, and immigrants), healing for our society – especially its racial, cultural, and political divisions – and provision and sanctuary for all who are in need.”
As our love and enjoyment of God increase, we will want the same for all those whom God has entrusted to our care; and we will do whatever love requires to help them realize more of the presence, promise, and power of the Lord and His Kingdom.
The greatest love
We must especially take care to make sure that our preaching and teaching is focused on love. We love those we serve when our goal in serving them lines up with God’s. He insists that the end of all instruction must be love (1 Tim. 1.5). We love the people we teach when we take our thoughts captive to obey the Lord in all matters, and bend all our efforts in preaching and teaching at communicating and nurturing love.
Pastor Chuck Huckaby puts it this way: “Take every thought captive”, St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10.5. He says this in the context of spiritual warfare, toward the end that our captive thoughts produce obedience to Christ. As Christ summarizes the obedience owed in the ‘summary of the Law’ – which Augustine quotes – loving God and loving neighbor are the telos of spiritual warfare won. ‘Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you’ (Lk. 1020); though that is part of spiritual warfare, it is not what is to be sought. Instead, we are to rejoice that our ‘names are written in heaven.’ To have names inscribed there implies nothing less than that the spiritual battle has been won and the vertical and horizontal love established. Jesus warns about this in Revelation 3, in His letter to the Church at Sardis. In conducting spiritual warfare, the goal of that war has not been met unless this two-fold love ensues. But just as true, this two-fold love cannot ensue without our engaging in spiritual warfare. The two-fold love cannot come until hell and its powers are beaten back through Christ.”
It is our calling as ministers of the Word to equip God’s saints for this two-fold love. Augustine wants us to take this challenge seriously. Whatever we find intellectually stimulating or even mildly interesting in the text we are preparing to preach or teach, it must all “be directed into that channel into which the whole current of love flows.”
Pray for yourself, and for all the preachers and teachers you know, that we will take all our thoughts captive to be obedient to Jesus for loving God and our neighbors as He intends. May our preparation for preaching and teaching lead us into the joy of the Lord, and increased love for Him. There, as we are filled with His fullness, we will grow in the grace needed to love those we serve, and to teach and urge them to love and good works in their daily lives.
The commandment to love our neighbors, he tells us, is like the first, because it depends upon it. For, since every man is devoted to himself, there will never be true charity towards neighbors, unless where the love of God reigns…
- John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew 22.39
1. What does it mean to make love the two-fold aim of our preparation for preaching and teaching?
2. How can preaching and teaching be effective to stimulate believers to love and good works?
3. To achieve this two-fold love as the outcome of our preaching and teaching, we must speak to the minds, hearts, and consciences of those who hear us (1 Tim. 1.5). Explain.
T. M. Moore
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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).