Loving the Flock as a Shepherd/Teacher

This week I received some admonishment from a minister concerning how a pastor should love his flock. I was told it is more important to love the flock than it is to give them long sermons.  By “loving the flock” he meant that consists of going to the hospital and being in homes. I’ve been thinking about this admonishment for the past few days since I received it.

I absolutely agree it is an act of love and super critical for a pastor to spend time with his sheep. I’ve found that in ministry this is a big part of being a pastor, and this ministry often extends to folks that are beyond your flock to family members and friends. I’ll also be the first to admit that as a young pastor I still have a lot to learn about visiting my church members in their homes and in hospital beds. I fall short in this area and so I take the admonishment seriously. I’m not sure I’ll ever spend as much time as I’d like and perhaps as I need to spend among my folks at church. (PSA: They’re a fantastic group of people to pastor and spend time with.)

Being in the hospitals, nursing homes, and homes is part of being a pastor. I’m not sure how a man call can himself a pastor without spending time with his sheep. The very word for pastor in the New Testament is the word for shepherd. You cannot be a shepherd without spending significant time with sheep. It means spending time with them when they’re born, when they’re sick, when they’re feeding, and when dying. Being a pastor means being a shepherd. As important as it is to be a shepherd, it isn’t mutually exclusive from being a preacher.

I take my admonishment to love my people and my community by spending time with them, but I reject the idea that our churches don’t need pastors who can preach “long sermons.” I think the Apostle Paul would reject it also. When Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-12 about the people and ministry that Christ has given to the church he says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” Paul says God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, then he lists another office: pastors and teachers. He links the two together because as far as the New Testament is concerned the role of a pastor/elder is always that of a pastor/teacher. Christ has given the church pastors and teachers. Pastor, our role is to be a shepherd and a teacher, not one or the other.

It is absolutely essential that pastors shepherd and teach because souls are in danger, Paul continues:

to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:12-16 ESV

I think what our churches need are pastors who will spend time with them and spend time in their study. We need pastors who spend time with their nose in their Bibles and their books and pastors who spend time in hospital waiting room chairs and 1970’s green couches. It isn’t mutually exclusive that pastors need to be “visiting pastors” or “preaching pastors,” God calls us to be both and if we neglect one or the other we will not love our flocks well. May God give us grace to shepherd well in the home, in the study, in the prayer closet, and in the pulpit.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV

 

 

Don’t Skip the Text: A Word on Commentaries and Sermon Preparation

I’m a preacher and in a very real sense being a preacher is a vocation and most vocations have tools. One of the most important tools that a preacher has are his books, in particular his commentaries. I own a lot of books and the majority of my books are Bible commentaries. I love them, I cannot seem to get enough of them. I love them because they are books about the Bible. I’ve made it a habit in my nearly 5 years in pastoral ministry to preach through books of the Bible expositionally.

That being said, I have lots of books on the books that I’ve preached through or I’m currently preaching through. Week after week I’ll pick up commentary after commentary on the book I’m currently preaching through. If it is reading through Logos on my Kindle or a good old fashioned printed book I’ll pick up at least half a dozen commentaries on any given week for my Sunday morning sermon. Every time I prepare I am faced with a temptation. That temptation is to jump into the text of the commentary and skip over the text of the Bible it is commentating on. I almost always have my Bible with me when I’m doing this exercise, it has its own tab on Logos or the Bible I preach from will be laid open on the front porch swing, desk, or kitchen table wherever I’m doing my sermon prep. It’s certainly sufficient in and of itself. I’ve read my passage several times through before I even begin to read Bible commentaries, so it seems natural and okay to skip over the presentation of the text in the commentaries, but don’t do it!

Anytime you have the opportunity to read over the text again as you prepare to peach it is a good thing. I’ve made connections by reading through the passage I’m preaching in a commentary that I’m not sure I would have made otherwise. When you read the Bible in a commentary you are using you have the opportunity to do several things. You will often get a different translation that you preach from. I preach from the ESV but the commentaries I read regularly expose me to the NASB, KJV, NIV, an authors own translation, and of course others that aren’t quite so common. I find exposure to those other translations is often helpful. You also get to see the Bible in a different format. This might sound silly, but sometimes just seeing the Bible laid out differently allows you to see things in the text you might miss where there is a page or paragraph break. And again, you get exposure to the text again. If the point of expository preaching is to proclaim the point of the passage, the more exposure the better. I do not know of anyone who really can say they have read their Bible too often. Read the text and read it often!

Christianity is a Bloody Religion: A Gospel Cordial from R. Kent Hughes

Christianity is a bloody religion—the blood of Christ cleanses us of all sin! This must be primary in our witness and thinking! Yes, Christ came to give abundant life. Yes, Christ worked miracles, and he can work miracles in our lives today. But these are the benefits of the gospel, not the gospel itself. The gospel centers upon Christ as the sin bearer—“the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Most of us understand what John is saying. However, our salvation does not depend on our formulation of the doctrine of the atonement, but on our experience of it! Is he our Lamb? Do we really believe he died for us? If we keep the wonder of the Atonement before us, we will be different people!

-R. Kent Hughes, from John: That You May Believe

Paul’s One Fear: A Gospel Cordial from John MacArthur

In prepping for this coming Lord’s Day sermon I’ve been studying Philippians 1:27-30 and John MacArthur shares this insight on Paul’s sense of fear and really lack thereof when it comes to fear of things in this world:

Paul was not afraid of ridicule, hardship, suffering, or death. His convictions were firm and unwavering, so that he did not compromises divine truth. On such matters he was unshakable. His one fear was that he would be disqualified from ministry. No matter how sound his doctrine remained, Paul understood that the danger of disqualification stemmed in large measure from the misuse of his body. He therefore declared his determination to “discipline his body and make it his slave” (1 Cor. 9:27). The primary, if not the sole, misuse of his body he had in mind was sexual immorality. – from MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians p. 87.

Orthodoxy with out orthopraxy is an ugly and dangerous thing. God help us to, “only conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Resources on James

I love preaching through books of the Bible verse by verse on Sunday mornings. Taking the time to preach expositionally takes quite a bit of time and one often uses resources to aid in their exposition of the Biblical text. I always consult blogs and websites as I decide what books to buy. I also consult friends who have spent time preaching through the same book(s) in the past. Having spent several months preaching through James in this past year, I’d like to share some of the resources I found the most beneficial in preaching through the book of James.

Daniel Doriani’s Reformed Expository Commentary: James – This is one volume I never skipped the pages of when preaching through James. Preaching as a pastor I found this volume to come from very pastoral perspective. It was true to the text and provided great insight that wasn’t just for good preaching but for gospel-centered living. If I were restricted to only buying one volume on James, this would be the one I’d buy. (P&R Books)

Thomas Manton’s James – This was by far the most detailed exposition of James that I used. I distinctly remember hearing a popular evangelical skip over James 1:18 in his preaching of the text on the radio while at the same time preparing to preach the text. Reading Manton’s 11 pages on the one verse made me chuckle a bit to see how James 1:18 didn’t fit into the Arminian preaching of this popular evangelical pastor, but it certainly didn’t stop Manton from giving great detail to the text. That being said, 11 pages on one verse of the text can get quite heavy at times. This is an incredibly beneficial volume, but you can easily get bogged down in it’s reading. I would still commend it’s reading if you have the time. (Banner of Truth)

John MacArthur’s MacArthur New Testament Commentary: James – If you are preaching a book of the New Testament other than Mark’s gospel (because those volumes aren’t published yet) you should invest in MacArthur’s commentaries. This volume on James is no exception. Much like Doriani you see the heart of a pastor and a careful expositor of the text. MacArthur’s use of the language in word study is not word study for the sake of fluff, but is called to attention for the exegesis of the text. (Grace to You)

R. Kent Hughes Preaching the Word: James – I’m sure it isn’t proper to have a list of commentaries and the entirety of the list be homiletical commentaries. But, good theology, is pastoral theology. R. Kent Hughes like the other listed writes with decades of pastoral experience and the heart of one who desires to stay close to the text. I’ve come to grow to love the Preaching the Word series. The point of preaching is to provide careful exposition of the text and the application of the text. This volume is quite helpful in doing both. (Crossway)

David Platt’s Christ-centered Exposition: James – If you are looking for a volume with brevity, this is the volume for you. This short little volume on James is packed with theology. As with the other volumes in the series it does a great job of outlining the book in a way that is very helpful for preaching. The price on this volume is also very hard to beat. The only downfall to this little volume is just that, it is a little volume.There were times in which I wish Platt had given more time and space to the text. That being said, it is still a worthwhile volume and would be especially helpful for someone teaching Sunday School on James. (B&H)

I hope these recommendations/reviews might prove helpful for anyone working through James. The letter called practical is one that is cutting to the heart in it’s practicality. James makes much of the Christian life and these volumes resound with James’ pastoral heart. I’d also like to note, it took me much longer than I expected to work through the short little letter of James. (These books will help you layout your planning in preaching).

Set Your Heart to Study the Bible

“You may find all sorts of things offered to you as more relevant ways to pursue the growth of the church. These programs and strategies may even be offered to you from people teaching at the seminary, in classes taught at the seminary. Set your heart to study the Bible, do the Bible, and teach the Bible. No method, program, or initiative–not even a Great Commission Resurgence–can be more effective than the power of the living and active Word of God. Listen to Psalm 119:118: “You reject all who stray from your statutes, for their deceit is a lie.”

Set your heart to learn the Scriptures. Do not settle for anything else. Do not get distracted from the Scriptures with nifty tricks or culturally savvy insights. People need Jesus. Jesus is revealed in the Bible. The Spirit uses the Bible to open eyes to see Christ. God the Father has been pleased to give us a book, words inked on pages, written by humans inspired by the Spirit. Do not get so lost in books written by the uninspired that you cannot find your way to the Bible.”

– James Hamilton from, Christ-Centered Exposition: Ezra-Nehemiah.

A Review of: Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook

I recently received a copy of Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook by Herbert W. Bateman IV from Kregel Academic for review.

For those who are truly serious about studying the bible they will find Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook by Herbert W. Bateman IV a valuable resource. This is an academic work but will prove itself fruitful for the academic student as well as pastors working their way through preaching Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1,2, and 3 John, as well as Jude. Bateman addresses the nature of the epistles, their background context, and their theology in the first part of the book. This proves fruitful for those wishing to get a complete grasp on the General Epistles. One of the most helpful chapters in this book is the chapter on the theology of the General Letters. The letters and their theology are view from the theology of the whole bible as well as looking at the individual nuances of each letter. From background to exegesis Bateman prepares his readers for dealing with the difficult linguistic problems and textual critical issues of each book. Readers will find his interaction with popular Bible translations and differing manuscripts to be beneficial.

Though Bateman is heavy on Greek throughout this volume readers like myself who do not have a tremendous amount of understanding with Greek will still benefit from this volume. Those who will most benefit from this volume are those who go from exegesis to homiletical exposition. Bateman outlines how to go from forming a careful exegetical outline of the text to a homiletical outline of the text. Those who wish to preach expositionally through the General Letters will appreciate this work and the examples Bateman provides. One of the most helpful chapters that should not be overlooked is the last chapter where Bateman gives an exhaustive list of other resources that deal with the subjects addressed in this volume including preaching and commentaries. I’d commend this book to those who are looking for instruction on interpreting the General Letters both to those who are new to Biblical studies and those who are seasoned.

If you have an interest in this volume you can find it here from Kregel.

I received this copy complimentary from Kregel Academic in exchange for an unbiased review.  

Be Quick To Listen

R. Kent Hughes offers a great word on being “quick to hear” from James 1:19:

Briefly there are at least five things which will help make us “quick to listen.”

1)      We must work at truly listening to others. Listening requires an intense interest in the other person. As Simon Kistemaker says: “Listening is loving the neighbor as oneself; his concerns and problems are sufficiently important to be heard.” This requires eye contact and sensitivity to the other’s gestures and moods and silences.

2)      We must limit our exposure to the visual media. If we do not control our time, the media will! And if they do, they will impair our ability to hear.

3)      We must read God’s Word, and that involved more than advancing a boomark. It means “listening” as we read.

4)      We must slow down and take time to listen, perhaps praying Samuel’s eager words, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10)

5)      We must prepare for worship and the hearing of God’s Word. For many, the time before Sunday church is the most stress-filled time of the week. I may be wrong, but I suspect there are more fights in Christian households on Sunday mornings than any other time. We must prepare not to have this happen, beginning the night before. Ever so practical, Pastor James says we must “be quick to listen.” This is a continuous command (present active imperative) —that is, we are to keep at it. It is the first duty of those who would profit by the word. 

 

– from, Preach the Word: James: Faith that Works.

The Split Screen: A Helpful Word on Reading Old Testament Narratives

As I’ve posted about recently I’m currently preaching through the book of Ruth on Sunday mornings at church. Ruth is an Old Testament narrative and preaching Old Testament narrative has its own unique set of challenges. I shared a couple weeks ago a post on interpreting these sometimes difficult narratives. In my preparation I came across a helpful word from Sinclair Ferguson on reading these sometimes difficult narratives. Ferguson writes:

Ancient storytellers did not have the benefit of italics or underlining. So they found other ways of highlighting the details of their narratives in order to draw their hearers or readers into the emotions of the drama. This explains why biblical narratives, particularly Old Testament ones, sometimes contain details that at first sight may seem redundant. If the author tells you something that you could learn in any case from the story itself, he almost certainly wants you to focus on it, and to ask: Why is this being highlighted? How will this piece of information prove to be significant in the outworking of God’s sovereign providences? Redundancy, at least in biblical narratives, is often repetition for the sake of emphasis.

This is certainly true of Ruth 2:1:

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.

All of this we will learn in the course of the narrative. Why draw attention to it now? The narrator is saying to us: Keep your eye fixed upon Boaz, because it may be (as a good author he does not tell you yet it will be), that he is God’s answer to Naomi’s prayer–possibly in ways you would not expect. After all, the Old Testament God is the New Testament God who ‘is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think’ (Ephesians 3:20).

But why are we told this? Because this narrative proceeds at two different levels.

In order to give us a sense of how God effects his providential purposes, Bible narratives sometimes use the literary equivalent of a movie maker’s or television director’s ‘split screen’ technique. They do with words what modern technology can do visually–splitting the screen so that we can have two different perspectives simultaneously or can compare two different actions or events, and relate them to each other. If you read Scripture narrative with that ‘technique’ in mind, you will notice how often Bible writers use it; not to make a sporting occasion appear more exciting and dramatic, but to give us an important insight into the nature of God’s working.

When this split screen technique is used, we are being encouraged to read the narrative from two different points of view: the human and the divine, the ‘accidents’ of history and the activity of God’s sovereignty. – from Faithful God: An Exposition of the Book of Ruth.

The book of Ruth is a prime example of this as the reader can see the hand of the sovereign God at work in the lives of those involved. These details aren’t mean to be skipped, words matter. As you read it is important to pay attention to the details, but be careful not to get so bogged down in the details you miss the flow of the narrative.

Consider the Good Hand of Providence

I’ve shared already that I’m working my way through Ruth on Sunday mornings at Cheerful Hope. As I’ve studied and preached the past two weeks Ruth is a story of God’s providence. I closed my sermon today on Ruth 1:6-22 with these words from John Flavel. Along with Flavel I would implore you to consider the good hand of God’s providence.

And now let me beg you to consider the good hand of Providence that has provided for, and suitably supplied you and yours all your days, and never failed you hitherto. And labor to walk suitably to your experience of such mercies. That you may do this, let me press a few suitable cautions upon you.

Beware that you do not forget the care and kindness of Providence which your eyes have seen in so many fruits and experiences. It was God’s charge against Israel ‘that they soon forgat his works’ (Ps 106.13.) A bad heart and a slippery memory deprive men of the comfort of many mercies, and defraud God of the glory due for them.
Do not distrust Providence in future exigencies. Thus they did: ‘Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?’ (Ps. 78.20) How unreasonable and absurd are these queries of unbelief, especially after their eyes had seen the power of God in such extraordinary works.

Do not murmur and complain under new straight. This is a vile temper, and yet how natural to us when wants press hard upon us! Ah, did we but rightly understand what the demerit of sin is, we would rather admire the bounty of God than complain of the straighthandedness of Providence. And if we did but consider that there lies upon God no obligation of justice or gratitude to reward any of our duties, it would cure our murmurs (Gen. 32.10)
Do not show the least discontent at the lot and portion Providence carves out for you. O that you would be well pleased and satisfied with all its appointments! Say: ‘The lines heritage’ (Ps 16.6). Surely that is best for you which Providence has appointed, and one day you yourselves will judge it so to be.

Do not neglect prayer when straights befall you. You see it is Providence that dispenses all, you live upon it therefore apply yourseles to God in the times of need. This is evidently included in the promise (Isa 41.17) as well as expressed in the command (Phil. 4.6). Remember God, and He will not forget you.

Do not worry your hearts with sinful cares. ‘Behold the fowls of the air’ (Matt 6.26.), says Christ; not the fowls at the door that are daily fed by hand, but those of the air, that do not know where the next meal is coming from; and yet God provides for them. Remember your relation to Christ, and His engagements by promise to you, and by these things work your hearts to satisfaction and contentment with all the allotments of Providence. – John Flavel, from The Mystery of Providence. pg.88-89.

We would be wise and comforted to take these words from the pen of Flavel. There is great comfort in a good theology of God’s perfect and meticulous providence. This wonderful little volume is worth read and coming to again and again, I’d encourage you as I did the brethren this morning at church to invest in its pages. You can order it from the Banner of Truth for less than $8.00 here.