2 Timothy 2:15 reads, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” This is a biblical text that is applicable to all students of the Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” These selected texts are written by the Apostle Paul in order to pierce the hearts of every person. The question I wish to explore in this article is, “How does one ‘rightly’ handle the Word of Truth?” In order to answer this question, we must first turn to the Scriptures before we look at the example of John Calvin, a great pastor in the history of the church.
Isaiah 66:2 states, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my Word.” A preacher of the gospel must be one who rightly handles the Word of God. Through his preaching, the man of God must show humility, reverence, and awe. John Calvin is a pastor who is a prime example of a man of God who handles the Word of God with great care and skill.
When John Calvin’s name is mentioned, people immediately think of John Calvin the theologian; however, John Calvin was also a pastor.
Calvin’s theological work is indeed life changing, but looking at his skill as a pastor is a teaching tool that demonstrates how he rightly handled the Scriptures. Calvin is an outstanding example on how to rightly handle the Word of God. This can be seen in three ways; Calvin’s view on the authority of Scripture, his intentional proclamation of the Word, and his faithful life.
The Authority of Scripture
Calvin stood before his congregation and proclaimed the Word of God in a thoroughly Christ-centered manner that provided the groundwork for all of his exegesis. When Calvin studied God’s Word, it was to behold the majesty of God. Calvin was not only careful in his handling of Scripture, his exegesis is marked by fear and trembling before the face of God.
Calvin also understood the Scriptures were verbum Dei – the literal words of God – and that these words alone should be the guiding hand of the Church. Calvin identified the Bible as the sole authority of God in His church, and wholeheartedly embraced it. He insisted that the Bible was the authoritative, inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. These truths should must be fully understood and taught by everyone who teaches the Word of God.
The Bold Proclamation
As John Calvin stepped into the pulpit, he sought to faithfully explain the Scriptures. Calvin had one priority, which was the bold proclamation of the Word of God to a lost and dying world. He would preach in an expository manner where he would preach verse by verse manner known as Lectio Continua following other greats in the history of the Church who progressed slowly through entire books of the Bible giving clear exegesis of the Scriptural text then concluding with convicting application. All of Calvin’s sermons were delivered in easy to understand language everyday people could understand. His goal in preaching in this way was to see the Spirit bring conviction. In preaching in this manner, Calvin wanted to be a minister who proclaimed the Truth to the sheep of his flock with the hope that God would unveil His matchless glory and grace to the congregants that came into the sanctuary. Calvin’s style of preaching is an outstanding example of proclamation that not only covers the entire word of God carefully but does so with reverence, and clear application.
The Faithful Life
Calvin did not separate his preaching from the way he lived his life. His life can be summarized by two words “devoted heart.” This language can not only be used in regards to the way Calvin prepared himself for preaching, but also to summarize the entire way Calvin lived his life. Calvin was sincerely a God-fearing man, and this reverential awe of God characterized his devotion to God.
The rejection he experienced during his banishment from Geneva (1538-1541) served only to deepen his drive to know and serve God. When the City Council of Geneva rescinded its ban and called for Calvin’s return, he wrote to William Farel, “Because I know that I am not my own master, I offer my heart as a true sacrifice to the Lord.” This expression of his devotion of his heart to God became the personal motto and emblem of the Genevan Reformer. In his personal seal, the emblem is a pair of human hands holding out a heart to God…the inscription reads, “My heart I give to thee, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.” The words promptly and sincerely aptly describe how Calvin believed his life was to be lived before God, namely, in devotion to Him.
A Few Final Thoughts
To be ministers of the gospel who rightly handle the Word of God, we must understand that our theology is never divorced from our practice. The Word proclaimed from the pulpit must be lived out in the life of the minister. Given the relationship between theology and practice, it is crucial theologians seek to cultivate faithfulness in their lives. If our theology does not first convict and soften our own hearts then we will not be able to minister the Word faithfully. Also if our theology doesn’t convict our own lives then it will harden our hearts, which leads to unbelief, false humility, and feeds our pride, instead of our growth in Christ-like humility and character.
If the Word of God is to be handled correctly, then preachers must not only boldly proclaim God’s Word, but must also strive to live faithfully devoted to God’s Word. Calvin’s character and leadership complemented and reinforced the words that he proclaimed from the pulpit. If this were not the case, he would not have been so influential in his day and in our own today.
The Scriptures are our final authority for faith and practice. This is why they must be handled with great care in order to rightly declare the hope offered through the finished work of Christ. After all it is only by the Scriptures that we can make sure our worship and our lives are pleasing in the sight of God.
Every minister of the gospel must be intentional in remembering Jesus’ words in John 17:17, as He prayed for His people, “Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth.” Through careful study and application of the Word by preachers, God will renew His people’s minds and bring growth into their lives. This is why Pastors and teachers of the Word should follow in the example of Calvin and be careful students of the Scriptures, and preach sermons that aim to be faithful in their exegesis and Christ-centered in their application.