Advice for Preachers and Teachers (16)
The works of the LORD are great,
Studied by all who have pleasure in them.
His work is honorable and glorious,
And His righteousness endures forever.
He has made His wonderful works to be remembered;
The LORD is gracious and full of compassion. Psalm 111.2-4
“Just as a knowledge of the nature of serpents illustrates the many similitudes which Scripture frequently makes with that animal, an ignorance of many other animals which are also used for comparisons is a great impediment to understanding. The same thing is true of stones, or of herbs or other things that take root.”
- Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
The goal of preaching and teaching, as Augustine has been arguing, is that people should increase in righteousness, wisdom, and the fear of God. The more of Scripture they read and understand, and the more preachers and teachers lead them into all the counsel of God in Scripture, the greater is the likelihood they will realize their calling to the Kingdom and glory of God, and we will realize our calling to make disciples.
We want people to see Jesus, to know and love Him, to be transformed into His likeness, and to serve Him in every aspect of their lives. Certainly, a broad, steady, hearty diet of the Word of God must be the foundation of this effort.
We don’t have to look far to discover opportunities for increasing in the knowledge of Jesus. We have the Word of God, which is all about Jesus (Jn. 5.39); and we have the world that Jesus has reconciled to the Father, in which His works declare His character and glory (2 Cor. 5.19; Ps. 145.3-10). Augustine wanted his preachers and teachers to make good use of each of these sources of divine revelation, just as Solomon, the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles did. The more we know of the creation, and the more skilled we are at introducing its light into our teaching, the more effective our preaching and teaching will be.
But in making best use of these resources, we need to keep them in proper relationship with one another.
Scripture the foundation
In the revelation God makes of Himself, that which His Word contains has priority of place. The more we understand His precepts, the better able we will be to understand His works. Only God can enable us to understand His Word, so we must look to Him continually for guidance and understanding, not merely of the precepts of Scripture, but of the way of life they commend.
As we increase understanding of the Word of God, and begin to see Jesus more fully there, our ability to understand the revelation of Christ in His many and wonderful works will increase accordingly.
We will not grow in the knowledge of Jesus apart from daily, disciplined, deep consideration of the Scriptures, with a view to discovering all the ways Jesus reveals Himself to us there. This requires faithful reading of all the Word of God, consistent meditation and reflection, comparing Scriptures with one another, and pleading with Jesus to make Himself known to us. It is not enough to know the books of the Bible, nor to grasp the various doctrines Scripture presents. Nor is it enough merely to listen to good preaching, or participate in a Bible study group. These can be helpful, to be sure, but only if we are grounded in the daily disciplines of God’s Word. These, as well as whatever else we may gain from other learning resources, are but means to the larger end of seeing and knowing Jesus. We must search the Scriptures, poring over them, making the critical connections, waiting on the Lord, and following every path of revelation as it leads us into the Person, life, death, resurrection, reign, and soon return of our glorious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
But, as Augustine explained, a knowledge of creation, and the ability to discern the revelation of God and His glory there (Prov. 25.2), is an important aid to effective preaching and teaching.
The world of Christ
Those who are entrusted with the ministry of the Word must be diligent to seek the revelation of Jesus in His works – works of creation, culture, and all the other gracious works that He ordains and upholds throughout the world.
The works of creation and culture are His handiwork, and even though men abuse and misuse His gifts, still, something of His Presence, promise, and power can be discerned wherever we look. As Thomas à Kempis wrote, “From him alone all creation takes its origin, and therefore all creation has but one voice for us; He, Who is its origin, is also its interpreter. Without Him, nobody can understand it, or form a true judgment about it. Until all things become One for you, traced to One source and seen in One act of vision, you cannot find anchorage for the heart, or rest calmly in God.”
We must apply ourselves to both books of divine revelation – Scripture and creation – but the Word in Scripture must be our guide, standard, and touchstone in all things, including how we understand and use the works of God in creation and culture. We must make a daily commitment to know Jesus, and we must follow that commitment each day with the disciplined pursuit of the knowledge of our Lord by every available means.
Imagine, if you can, Jesus teaching without some reference to some aspect of the world – a coin, lilies, birds of the air, farmers in their fields, armies marching, seeds, trees, and more. His constant referencing the world as a way of making His teaching “sticky” had two advantages. First, people could understand the difficult points He was making about the Kingdom because He associated His instruction with ordinary, everyday objects and situations. Second, that teaching would be recalled and pondered in many of those who heard Jesus when they came upon such objects or situations at other times in their lives. Teaching the Word and world of God is thus doubly reinforcing. Those who are entrusted with ministering the Word of God should work hard to improve in reading and using both “books” of divine revelation in all their teaching.
If we delight in the works of our Lord Jesus in creation and culture, we will study them. And if we do, we can make our preaching and teaching more effective for the Kingdom and righteousness of God.
“But, incomprehensible as is the immensity of the wisdom, equity, justice, power, and mercy of God, in his works, the faithful nevertheless acquire as much knowledge of these as qualifies them for manifesting the glory of God; only it becomes us to begin the study of his works with reverence, that we may take delight in them, contemptible though they be in the estimation of the reprobate, who treat them with impious scorn.”
- John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 111.2
T. M. Moore
Delighting in the works of Jesus
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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).