There is an ever present need to take heed to ourselves. Our lips are always a few steps ahead of our feet. There, we must be resolute in guarding against the multitude of temptations that Satan will seek to use against us.
This past Tuesday, I had the privilege of giving a pastoral charge to two men coming to be licensed to preach within the bounds of our Presbytery. The charge to those being licensed or ordained is a solemn event, happening only once in a man’s life and ministry. The charge was built largely on the ministry of the Apostle Paul and some of his charges to Timothy and Titus in the pastoral epistles. Though one can only say so much in a three to four minute charge, I carved out five practical points for these men as they enter in on a preaching ministry. Here is the essence of that charge:
1. Prioritize first preaching to yourself whatever you plan on preaching to others.
John Owen once famously declared, “Truly no man preaches that sermon well to others that doth not first preach it to his own heart”…Unless “he finds the power of it in his own heart, he cannot have any ground of confidence that it will have power in the hearts of others.” We never want to step into the pulpit without having seriously and soberingly preached first to ourselves whatever passage we are preaching to the congregation. When a man does not preach the Scriptures to himself, first and foremost, he will deliver hyper-intellectual, experientially theoretical, or dry and lifeless sermons to the people of God.
In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon explained the dire need a minister of the word must have to be so affected by God’s word that he has a burning fire for the proclamation of it within. This will only come as we preach God’s word consistently to our own hearts, the Holy Spirit fanning the flame of love for the triune God and the ministry of His word. Spurgeon wrote,
“I have such a profound respect for this ‘fire in the bones,’ that if I did not feel it myself, I must leave the ministry at once. If you do not feel the consecrated glow, I beseech you return to your homes and serve God in your proper spheres; but if assuredly the coals of juniper blaze within, do not stifle them, unless, indeed, other considerations of great moment should prove to you that the desire is not a fire of heavenly origin.”
2. Keep Christ and Him crucified and risen central in all your preaching.
The Apostle Paul said, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Nearly every man I have known began his ministry of preaching starts it off his ministry with this commitment. However, as the years roll on, so many deviate from this and allow themselves to be sidetracked by subjects and emphases that–while they may have roots in the teaching of Scripture–supplant the central focus of Scripture on Christ and the salvation that is in Him alone. As Geerhardus Vos explained,
“It is possible, Sabbath after Sabbath and year after year, to preach things of which none can say that they are untrue and none can deny that in their proper place and time they may be important, and yet to forego telling people plainly and to forego giving them the distinct impression that they need forgiveness and salvation from sin through the cross of Christ…there ought not to be in your whole repertoire a single sermon in which from beginning to end you do not convey to your hearers the impression that what you want to impart to them, you do not think it possible to impart to them in any other way than as a correlate and consequence of the eternal salvation of their souls through the blood of Christ.”