Advice for Preachers and Teachers (13)
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God. Matthew 5.7, 8
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4.6
“Here he eagerly exercises the love of his neighbor and perfects himself in it; and now, filled with hope and fortified in strength, when he arrives at the love of his enemy he ascends to the sixth step, where he cleanses that eye through which God may be seen, in so far as He can be seen by those who die to the world as much as they are able.”
- Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
No greater joy
The apostle John declared that he had no greater joy than to know that his children were walking in the truth (3 Jn. 1.4). I think probably every one of us will say “Amen!” to that. It is exciting to see God’s people growing in Christlikeness, to hear them talk about Jesus freely and excitedly; to listen as they share what they’re learning from the Word; to see them reaching out to one another in creative ways, to minister, encourage, share, and edify; and to hear from them that they have been talking to others about the Lord.
The ministry of the Word is an equipping ministry, as Augustine is trying to get us to see. When we see the Lord’s people living in a Christlike manner, showing mercy to one another, and sharing the Good News with their neighbors, it should encourage us in our own work, since this is evidence that the Spirit of God is blessing our labors.
But we need to be clear with the people of God, that living for Jesus is a fragrance of life to life for some, but of death to death for others (2 Cor. 2.15, 16). Not everyone will be happy about our talking to them about Jesus. And some can be downright mean. Those who are enemies of the cross will be our enemies as well; and we need to make sure the Lord’s people are prepared to deal with any opposition or oppression that may come their way in the process of living for Jesus.
For this, we need to help the people we serve nurture a clear, constant, and readily accessible vision of the face of Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul reported on the power that comes from seeing Jesus and the glory that is in his face. When troubles, trials, and opposition threatened to discourage and defeat him, Paul knew where to turn: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4.16-18).
Paul wrote that all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus – lives of repentance, righteousness, mercy, and good works of love – can expect to know persecution (2 Tim. 3.12). As he showed from his own life, the way to stay on top of persecution, and to keep growing and serving the Lord, is to focus on the unseen things of Christ.
Paul commanded the Colossians to set their minds on Christ, seated in the heavenly places. Like mariners, fixed on the North Star to keep their bearings, believers must set the Lord always before them, so that they see Him seeing them, and draw on His example and strength for all their daily challenges (Col. 3.1-3; Ps. 16.8; Ps. 33.13-15). Paul prayed for the believers in Ephesus, that they might learn how to see with the eye of the heart, beyond the veil that separates time from eternity, into the very throne room of the Lord, and be encouraged (Eph. 1.15-21). He knew from his own experience that focusing on the unseen things of the heavenly realm can be a source of great strength.
We must not neglect to exercise the people we serve in seeing the vision of Jesus Christ. This, after all, is the end toward which we as believers are moving (1 Jn. 3.1-3). We should prepare for that arrival by becoming increasingly familiar with Jesus, exalted in glory, as He reveals Himself in various places throughout the Scriptures. By inculcating a mindset that looks to Jesus at all times, we ensure that the people we serve can always connect with Jesus in a deeply intimate and truly powerful manner, so that they may continue to hunger and thirst for righteousness, even in the face of opposition.
Seeing Jesus begins with having a pure heart, both one that harbors no sin, and one that delights above all else to know the Lord. When we delight to know the Lord, our prayers will be guided by the desire to know more of Him. And this is a desire the Lord will never fail to supply (cf. Ps. 37.4).
Nurturing believers in the vision of Christ
Let’s remember some of the very practical ways that we can help the people of God grow in the vision of Christ, so that they behold the glory in His face, and are increasingly transformed into His image (2 Cor. 3.12-18).
First, of course, the vision of Christ must become our own vision, that which guides every aspect of our lives, fills all our conscious moments, sustains us through the tight squeezes and hard places of life, and can be seen in the way Jesus lives His life through us. This is the work of daily prayer and meditation on the Word of God, as well as of praying with thanksgiving at all times and in every situation (Phil. 4.6, 7).
Second, we can lead the people we serve more consistently into the vision of Christ if that vision comes to expression in our prayers with them. We pray to Jesus, seated at the right hand of God, served by myriad angels and countless adoring saints, robed in splendor and majesty, and ever living to intercede for us. By keeping this vision before God’s people when we pray with them, we can help them nurture a vision of Christ to sustain them throughout their days.
Similarly, we should make sure that Jesus is the focus of all public worship – all hymns and prayers, all preaching and meditating, all giving and testifying, and especially as we come to the table of the Lord. It’s only through Jesus that we may know God and increase in eternal life (Jn. 14.6; Jn. 17.3). Public worship is the place for all God’s people to have their vision refreshed and their souls renewed in the glory that emanates from the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, remember to keep Jesus central in all the various facets of your ministry – preaching, teaching, leading, counseling, shepherding, and all the rest. He has promised to be with us always (Matt. 28.20), and part of our duty as shepherds is to help the Lord’s sheep realize His presence by keeping Him constantly before them.
By holding the vision of Christ before the people of God, and leading them to maintain purity of heart, God will keep them on the course of sanctification and of increasing in Jesus. And when they bear fruit for Him, as they most certainly will, then we can look to Jesus and give Him the thanks and praise for the work He is doing in the people God calls us to serve (Phil. 2.13).
To behold God is the end and purpose of all our loving activity. But it is the end by which we are to be perfected, not the end by which we come to nothing.
- Augustine, Sermon 53.6
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).
Through Mercy to Clarity of Vision
- T.M. Moore
- April 9, 2020
Exercise your people in the vision of Christ.
Advice for Preachers and Teachers (13)