Editor’s note: This is an eight part series by Charlie on expository preaching.
- In his first post Charlie looked at the essential element of good preaching.
- In his second post Charlie looked at preaching to glorify God and transform lives.
- In his third post, he looks at how the Word of God effects transformation.
- In his fourth post, he looked at preaching the actual words of God.
- In his fifth post, he looked at prayer and communion with God.
- In his sixth post, he looked at pursuing a life of holiness.
- Today he writes on developing a genuine love for God’s people.
Truth matters. Therefore, the exaltation of truth in preaching matters. To know God as He is, we must know the truth about Him as He sees it. In fact, to know anything as it is—birds or beasts or human beings or politics or ethics or play—we must know the truth about it as God sees it. Historically, when the body of Christ has devalued biblical truth in the life and teaching of the church, it has drifted into one form of liberalism or another, and this is a very real danger against which we must protect.
However, the Bible issues stern warnings against the exaltation of truth as an end in itself. For example, Paul cautioned the Corinthian church that “knowledge puffs up but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). He was concerned that some of them were using their God-given insight as a weapon over others rather than as a gift for the good of others.
This was such a significant issue for Paul that he penned 1 Corinthians 13 and placed it right in the middle of a conversation on spiritual gifts in the life of the church. He arranged his thoughts in this manner because he wanted the church to understand that love is the gift that causes all other spiritual gifts to fulfill their God-given purpose, namely, to manifest the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). Love is the heartbeat that gives life to all other spiritual gifts because it “does not seek the things of itself” (1 Corinthians 13:5, my translation). Love knows that its primary obligation is to glorify God by using whatever is at its disposal to build others up (Romans 15:1-2).
Paul learned this law of love, not from a book or a classroom, but in the fires of life and ministry. You’ll remember that he was a Pharisee before he was a Christian and, therefore, he understood well the temptation to exalt knowledge above the place God has assigned it. Along with other Pharisees, he was liable to the righteous rebuke of Jesus that condemned their lot for using knowledge to tie up burdens on people’s shoulders that they were unwilling to bear (Matthew 23:1-36). Even after he became a Christian, Paul was shown exceedingly great revelations and had to be given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from being puffed up because of it (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Paul knew the high place God has granted truth, and he knew the high place God has given love, and he plead with the Corinthians to hold both in high esteem and to keep them in proper balance. We preachers would do well to learn the law of love from Paul, specifically, that the knowledge God desires is biblical truth saturated with love for God and others. Our Father values accurate information wedded with sincere affection. Indeed, truth gives love its substance, but love gives truth its life. The Truth is prior to love, but the aim of our instruction is love (1 Timothy 1:5).
The Word of God is the seed of truth that penetrates the soul. The love of God is the “Miracle Grow” that both kills the weeds and nourishes the seed. As the seed of the Word is protected and nourished by love, it takes root and sprouts and grows and brings forth all the fruit God designed it to produce. The calling, then, on every preacher is to exalt truth in love for this is what gives rise to preaching that glorifies God and transforms lives
How Shall We Love God’s People?
After many years of leading and feeding the flock of God, the Apostle Peter was moved by the Holy Spirit to write his first letter. Having touched on the stunning beauty and unfading glory of our life in Christ, as well as on several practical matters and the reality of suffering, he turned his attention to the elders of the church in chapter 5:1-4 and wrote this:
So I exhort the elders [or pastors] 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.
Peter received this instruction from the Lord and learned the depths of it in the fires of life and ministry. In his letter, then, he was simply teaching as he had been taught. He was beckoning pastors to imitate him even as he imitated Christ. And since he was so familiar with the intricacies and difficulties of loving God’s people over time, he offered three bits of wisdom to guide us along the way.
First, Peter says pastors must shepherd the flock of God willingly, not under compulsion. Peter wants us to know and rejoice in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wants us to understand and celebrate the fact that God in Christ is forming us into “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). God’s purpose in the church is to make us one as He is one, that we might gladly proclaim His love and grace to the nations. To the extent pastors are gripped by this vision, we will shepherd the flock out of a sense of awe and privilege rather than reluctance and duty. As our vision aligns with God’s vision, our motives will align with God’s motives and we will love the flock of God as we ought.
Second, Peter says that pastors must shepherd eagerly, not for shameful gain. Peter wants us to be consumed with a passion for serving the flock of God whether we get a paycheck or not. He wants us to serve as elders because that’s our calling, not because we see in it as a way to make a living. He is not saying that we may not be paid, for that would contradict other Scriptures (e.g., 1 Timothy 5:17-18), but he is saying that our hearts and ministries should be free from the greed that corrupts our love and keeps us from laying down our lives for others.
Third, Peter says that pastors must shepherd by setting an example for the flock, not by domineering them. As one of the pillars of the church, Peter knew the Lord has appointed shepherds over the church and vested them with authority commensurate with their calling (e.g., see Ephesians 4:11-6 and Hebrews 13:17). However, he also knew that the Lord calls His shepherds to serve others to the glory of God rather than to be served by others to the glory of self. He knew the Lord made us overseers not to hold the people under thumb but to lift them up to new heights in Christ. Indeed, our calling is to preach Christ and him crucified with our lips and lives and to encourage the flock to do the same. Our calling is to love as Jesus loved, not to domineer as the world domineers.
The overarching point of Peter’s pastoral wisdom is that shepherds are called to live for the glory of God and the good of the sheep. We are called to imitate Jesus. We are called to die to ourselves, live to Christ, and lay down our lives for the flock, even to the point of death. And the great hope embedded in our calling is that, if we submit to Jesus, He will bestow upon us an unfading crown of glory when He appears. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I do know this: as we enter into His suffering, we enter into His glory. As we share in His sorrow, we share in His joy. As we join in His self-sacrificial love, we join in His reward.
So, my fellow pastors, let us embrace our calling with all of our hearts and learn to love as Jesus loved us. Let us lead and feed the flock with biblical truth and Christ-exalting love. In our preaching, let us wed accurate information about God with sincere affection for God and His people. Let us embody the axiom that truth gives love its substance but love gives truth its life. Freely we have received, let us freely give.
In my next blog post (the final one in this series), I will address the relationship between hard work and good preaching. For now, though, let me set several questions before you: Do you have a biblical understanding of the relationship between truth and love? If yes, does this show in your life and preaching? Do you understand the importance of the connection between love for the flock and preaching that glorifies God and transforms lives? What aspects of Peter’s wisdom impacted you most and why? What practical steps might the Lord be calling you to take right now to grow in love for His people?