Advice to Preachers and Teachers (14)
Get wisdom! Get understanding!
Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
Love her, and she will keep you.
Wisdom is the principal thing;
Therefore get wisdom.
And in all your getting, get understanding. Proverbs 4.5-7
“Therefore this holy one will be of such simple and clean heart that he will not turn away from the Truth either in a desire to please men or for the sake of avoiding any kind of adversities to himself which arise in this life. Such a son ascends to wisdom, which is the seventh and last step, where he enjoys peace and tranquility. ‘For the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ From fear to wisdom the way extends through these steps.”
- Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
Steps to wisdom
In his great work on hermeneutics, On Christian Doctrine, Augustine traced seven steps by which the man of God can gain wisdom from the study of His Word: fear leads to humility, humility leads to lamentation, then to hungering for righteousness and pleading for mercy, then purity of love and, finally, wisdom.
The end of all ministry of the Word of God, therefore, is that the people of God increase in wisdom, which is to say, that they increase in Christ (cf. Prov. 8; 1 Cor. 1.24; Col. 2.1-3). Wisdom is sometimes described as skill in living according to the righteousness of God. Who was ever more skillful at this than Jesus? The wise person – the person who fills his time with Jesus – makes the most of every moment, refusing to squander any opportunity for glorifying God, and redeeming the time to fill the spaces of his life with Jesus (Eph. 4.8-10).
But that doesn’t just happen. The work of pastors and teachers is to equip the saints of God for works of ministry (Eph. 4.11, 12). Ministry flows from believers, like rivers of living water (Jn. 7.37-39), to refresh the people in their Personal Mission Fields), as the Spirit empowers them for good works of love. Ministry is wisdom and righteousness at work, bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and bringing the goodness of God to light in the land of the living (Acts 1.8; Ps. 27.13). Wisdom is character shaped for beauty, goodness, and truth, which shines like a light in a dark world, and leavens the dough of a sinful world with transforming grace (Matt. 5.13-16).
It is this wisdom – this Christlikeness – that all our preaching and teaching must aim to realize in those we are called to serve.
Aim for Jesus
To reinforce this understanding, let’s review why aiming for Jesus must be the defining objective of all our ministry of the Word.
First, of course, is that Jesus calls us to come to Him and learn from Him (Matt. 11.28, 29). The thrust of Jesus’ teaching is to orient us to life in the Kingdom of God, over which He is King, and by which He fills the world with Himself (Eph. 4.8-10). As followers of Christ, we are called disciples – learners – and the main goal of all our learning must be to hear Jesus instructing us from and of Himself. We must not allow the path of learning – from fear to wisdom – to become cluttered with potholes of pet doctrines, clever insights, theological hobby horses, or personal preferences and priorities. All our learning is a journey toward Jesus, to increase in the knowledge of Christ and God, and thus to blossom more completely in the fruit of eternal life.
To this end, all of Scripture points to Jesus, prophecies Jesus, expounds on Jesus, typifies or symbolizes Jesus, and calls us to see Jesus everywhere in His Word (Jn. 5.39). Any teaching or preaching, and any study or meditation on Scripture, that fails to reinforce and enlarge our vision of Christ falls short of the reason God has given us His Word. As we prepare to preach or teach, our prayer must be, “I would see Jesus.” And then our ministry of the Word must aim carefully at making Him known.
Seeing Jesus in His glory, and being transformed into His image and likeness, is the work God has sent His Spirit to do in our souls (2 Cor. 3.12-18). We will actually be striving against the Spirit if our teaching aims at anything less or other. Of course, there are many sub-headings and bricks of insight that build us up in the knowledge of Christ. But these must always be treated as means to the end of showing Jesus, and never as ends in themselves. We can fill the minds of those we teach with formulas for faith, how-tos for happiness, and doctrines to dazzle, and in so doing, we may cause them to miss the most important thing of all: “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings…” (Phil. 3.10).
The local church itself is to become more the living expression of Christ in its community (Eph. 4.13-16). We must not neglect to teach what this means, to guide our congregations in the unity and maturity that mark us together as true incarnations of the Savior. As we aim our preaching and teaching, therefore, we must have as the target we hope to realize a clear, compelling, and transforming vision of our Lord Jesus Christ. We aim at that target by lining up two sights along the barrel of the ministry of the Word. The sight closest to our eye represents the individual believer; that at the end of the barrel is the congregation as a whole. As we squeeze the trigger of instruction – gently and lovingly – our aim is that the power unleashed will bring each – believers and the church – into greater conformity to Christ and the wisdom of God.
Christ to the world
The wisdom of God – which is our Lord Jesus, manifested in all the quotidian activities and situations of our lives – is revealed to the world as believers and their churches are formed more consistently into the image of Christ. All believers are called to seek this in their own lives; and all preachers and teachers must have no other ultimate aim than to see Jesus formed in those entrusted to their care.
The true measure of growth, therefore – both for believers and their churches – is wisdom, displayed in all their relationships, roles, and responsibilities, through every moment of their lives, and in whatsoever they are doing at any moment (Eph. 5.15-17; 1 Cor. 10.31-11.1). If we aim our preaching and teaching at these ends, we may expect the Spirit to help ensure that our labors in the Lord will not be in vain (1 Cor. 15.58).
May God bless and guide and hold us to this course as we carry out the ministry He has appointed to us.
Open up the treasury door for us, Lord, at the prayers of our supplications; let our prayers serve as our ambassador, reconciling us with your Divinity. Listen, all who are wise, pay attention, all who are learned, acquire understanding and knowledge, seeing that you are instructed and wise.
- Ephrem the Syrian (306-373), Hymns Preserved in Armenian 1.1
T. M. Moore
We are pleased to offer Worship Guides for use in your families or small groups. Each guide includes a complete service of worship, and they are free to download and share by clicking here.
Please prayerfully consider sharing with The Fellowship of Ailbe through your giving. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
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).