By Bobby L. Graham
Surely all Bible students acknowledge that “practicing what we preach” more accurately conveys New Testament teaching than the idea of “preaching what we practice.” Even so, there is something to be said for preaching what we are practicing. In terms of the standard of teaching (New Testament Scriptures), there should be a genuine effort to proclaim it and to conform our lives to it. While practice will probably never reach the high standard of God’s will in every detail, there must be a wholehearted effort to embrace God’s will in life.
To Timothy, a preacher, instruction was given: “Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching. Continue in these things; for in doing this, thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16). No preacher who disregards truth’s application to himself has any business trying to direct others in spiritual matters. It was for this very reason that the apostle directed Timothy to live in such a manner as to remove all opportunity for any detractor to disparage his youthfulness, as he stressed the well rounded example that a proclaimer of God’s word ought to exhibit. “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an ensample to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Paul’s initial charge to the young preacher in 1 Timothy 1:18-20 emphasized the holding of faith and a good conscience, both of which depend upon practicing what one preaches. Several times in his farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, the apostle referred to his manner of life among those in Ephesus, and in verse 35 he summarized, “In all things I gave you an example.” Who can deny, or would even want to deny, the divine imperative to every proclaimer of truth, “Practice what you preach!”
Preacher, whoever you are, whatever your background, regardless of your level of learning and the amount of time you dedicate to preaching, if you would be effective in helping others, you must-give particular attention to your own life. Then it can be said of you as it was said of the village preachers in Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village,” “Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway, And fools, who came to scoff remained to pray.” If you value the message that you convey, the souls that you can influence, and your own eternal welfare, you must learn to deny self and to crucify self as others must do. To fail to do this is to fail in life’s greatest objective, the saving of oneself and all others possible. Truth is truth regardless of whether the proclaimer practices it himself, and each hearer is accountable to Christ for his/her own conduct in relation to truth. It is undeniable, however, that poor portrayal of the gospel in life often hinders its reception by others.
His Relations With Family
How a preacher or any other person relates to his kinsmen is the product of the influence he has allowed God’s will to have on his own life. Thereby he provides insight into his own attitude toward God’s word. If he is unwilling to accept it, it is highly unlikely he will persuade others knowing of his own sins to conform to such matters, especially those young in faith or not Christians.
If he treats his wife unkindly, abuses her, fails to value her and appreciate her, denigrates her to others, or in other ways fails to be the kind of husband taught in the New Testament, he will have little force in urging others to obey God. A hypocrite in this area of biblical teaching has little potential.
Deserving special emphasis here is the need to remain faithful to one’s wife and to avoid risky situations and entanglements with other females that could lead to unfaithfulness, or at least questionable activities. A preacher should be keenly aware of the potential for evil in his life, that of the woman (or man, God forbid), those family members affected by his sin, and observers in the church and in the world. He can be the example directing precious souls to either heaven or hell. Because King David gave “great occasion to the enemies of Jehovah to blaspheme,” the Lord announced the effects of sin in his life and in his family (2 Sam. 12). Continuing strife, rebellion from within the family -Absalom, and the death of the child conceived would all attend his way. The rest of 2 Samuel’s account of David’s life depicts the erosion of his kingdom and the destruction of his family. The lesson is clear: lost influence has devastating results, even among those closest to the sin causing such loss, for they are the ones most strongly influenced and then disappointed.
Be careful about those influences to which you subject yourself, for they often make you what you become and your family what they become. The lascivious environment, contributed to by television, music, pornography, other forms of entertainment, indecent attire, and the general laxity existing in morals, encourage the very lifestyle that God disapproves. Preacher, guard your heart, because issuing from it are the fruits of your thinking and deliberation (Prov. 4:23).
His Dealings With Elders
A preacher does not occupy a special position in God’s systematic arrangement for a local church except as to unction. He is just as much one overseen and tended by local elders as any other part of the congregation. Likewise, he has no more right to reject the spiritual counsel of elders and to rebuff their righteous influence than any other person. It is just as wrong for a preacher to become a Diotrephes as it was for Diotrephes to love the pre-eminence (3 Jn. 9). Preachers who have long accepted elders but then turn against them because of their reproof or legitimate opposition to some pet idea or project of the preacher show themselves suspect in motives and methods. It is just as wrong for a preacher to resort to selfish demands, pressure campaigns, petition drives, fanning up opposition, secret meetings with ulterior motives, and similar weapons as it is for elders, Christians, or anybody else to do so. All self-willed men are not found among elders, though the apostle did warn against such a trait in elders.
Egotistical, antagonistic, lazy, self-serving preachers should be no longer tolerated than the immoral. Their attitudes and methods of operation always lead to problems. These problems become manifest in dealings with elders and with others in the church. The root of such problems is the preacher’s failure to deny self and to crucify self. The fruit of the problems is divided churches, estranged relationships, a scoffing world, lost souls, and Satan’s glee. In just a few years some preachers can destroy more good influence than it took several decades to build. Such preachers are preaching the wrong message in their lives; in fact, they would do the Lord, brethren, and themselves a favor if they would quit preaching.
The world needs the gospel and consecrated men practicing and proclaiming it. More preachers of the right kind are needed, but the wrong kind are not needed. Only an undivided heart can establish an undiminished influence.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 3, pp. 91-92
February 6, 1992