By Warren E. Berkley
As a young man, I cherished visions of being a preacher. I didn’t think it would ever happen, but there were times when I would envision myself as a preacher. From my father’s library, I often opened the Harris Dark book of sermons, God Hath Spoken. I would lay on my bed and read through his sermons, against the background of my imagination, picturing myself in the pulpit delivering those words. (When I preached my first sermon, at the Valley Station church of Christ in Louisville, in 1969, Harris Dark “prepared” that twenty minute talk!)
In those days, my concepts of preaching were juvenile and shallow. I had no idea of the inner motives, the soberness of mind and sheer labor involved in the work. Twenty years have made a difference. And, as I concern myself with the need for good men to enter preaching, I’m influenced by a different and hopefully deeper set of values. We need men, but what kind do we need?
We need men who are constrained by love. “For, the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died” (2 Cor. 5:14). Since the immediate context has the statement, “One died for all, ” the subjective genitive interpretation seems to be sustained, that Paul is talking about Christ’s love for man (both for the lost, and the particular love for his people). There is the need for men to preach who are influenced by the love which Christ has shown in dying for all men. Men who not only admire that sacrificial love and preach it, but are motivated by it. The redeeming love of Christ for the lost, and the unchanging love of the Savior for his disciples should so influence the gospel preacher, that he is “constrained” (bound or influenced by this love; see same word sunecho in Lk. 12:50). This love of Christ becomes the reason for zeal and extraordinary effort. I speak not of an occasional gush of emotion; but a steady effort and labor that rests on belief in and appreciation for the crucified Christ.
We need men who are vindicated by their sincerity. Regardless of the accusations of scoffers, and the judgments of unkind unbelievers and self-seeking trouble makers, we need men who are vindicated before God by their sincerity. Men who, under pressure, can pass the deepest penetration of divine examination (Heb. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:3). Men with clearness and purity of motive who refuse to preach one way, and live the opposite. We need men who serve “with a pure conscience,” and whose exhortation does not come “from deceit or uncleanness, nor… in guile” (2 Tim. 1:3; 1 Thess. 2:3).
We need men who are filled with determination. Such determination as was exhibited by Paul, reflected in his words to the Colossians: “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to his working which works in me mightily” (Col. 1:28,29). This determination results from a firm decision, and is carried out through strong character, study, prayer and work!
We need men who are graced with purity. Any person (Christian, non-Christian, preacher, non-preacher) can carelessly stumble into situations where it is exceedingly difficult to calculate the consequences of one’s actions. Concerned adults warn teenagers about dates spent in the back seats of automobiles, or unchaperoned evenings, dances, etc. These warnings are based on the wise premise, that one can get himself into situations where the impact of temptations and passion makes it exceedingly difficult (though still possible) to calculate consequences. In like manner, older preachers frequently advise the novice to guard against becoming too familiar with the sisters, or with female non-members he may visit.
A few years ago, editors and writing brethren began in earnest sounding warnings about the “epidemic” of fornicating preachers. Connie Adams said: “The cause of Christ has suffered severe damage in the last few years through this very thing. There seems to be a virtual epidemic of this malady. The scenario is all too familiar. A good brother who is happily married, sets out to ‘counsel’ with a sister who is having marital problems. He lets his guard down, violates his own rule to have either his wife present on such occasions or else one of the elders, or an older sister, so as to ‘provide things honest’ in the sight of God and man, and the rest all too frequently becomes history. He feels sorry for her and in trying to help, imposes confidences from his own life. Additional ‘counseling’ sessions are required and before long compassion merges into infatuation which is reciprocated, and there it goes!” (Connie Adams, Searching the Scriptures, Vol. XXII, Nov. 1982, No. 11)
We need men who recognize the wisdom of discretion in these matters. Men who are ready to provide “honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Cor. 8:21). Paul advised Timothy to treat “the younger” women “as sisters, with all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2).
We need men who have ability! The apostle told Timothy: “The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). The preacher or teacher of the Word (whether part or full-time) functions as a communicator, with the obligation to communicate what the Bible says. This requires some ability! Ability will surely be relative when measured between individuals; personal styles and methods will vary. But there is a basic ability to communicate that is essential to the task: ability to study; ability to think objectively, ability to organize, stay on course and explain things to people; ability to persuade (2 Cor. 5:11); ability to be gentle (1 Thess. 2:7); ability to be bold (Eph. 6:19); ability to speak so as to be understood (1 Cor. 14:19), etc. We need men who are willing to develop and maintain these abilities, and use these abilities while placing the emphasis on the message itself, which is God’s power to save (1 Cor. 2:1-5; Rom. 1:16,17). (Some men spend several years in preaching, without having developed most of these abilities. Robert Benchley said, “It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous!”)
We need men who, in their preaching and teaching, are limited to the Word! The issue need not be complicated! The preacher’s job is to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). His age, good reputation, educational background, number of meetings held, style, methods, charm, eloquence, knowledge and debating skill – these things are all secondary to the basic question: Is he preaching the Word? The gospel preacher is to preach all the Word, and is limited to the Word. Richard Whately said, “Preach, not because you have to say something, but because you have something to say” (Apothegms). I would add to that: say what the Bible says!
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 9, p. 268, 271
May 4, 1989