Derek Thomas on preaching

Here’s a great blog entry

I can’t help but wonder if Thomas heard the Dabney Lectures I did last spring. He points out,

Elsewhere, he makes the astonishing claim to the Ephesian church that Jesus came “and preached peace” to them (Eph. 2:17)! How? Jesus was never in Ephesus! The answer lies in the claim that through Paul’s preaching, Jesus Himself spoke! No greater significance to preaching can be given than that!

And here’s me On the centrality of preaching:

The work of Christ results in us being drawn together and built up as a new Temple. According to Paul, Christ did this for his readers and he did it in the past. Just as he died and rose again in the past so also, as a matter or history, Jesus “came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (2.17). Not only did Jesus make peace by the cross (2.15), not only has he becomeour peace” by virtue of his death, resurrection, and ascension (2.14), but he himself “preached peace” both to those near and far. Now, it is obvious in context, that the ones who are near are the Jews. So we can imagine that Paul might be referring to Jesus’ actual preaching in Palestine. But when did Jesus ever pack his bags and find a caravan to take him to the region of Ephesus to preach there?

He didn’t. Jesus never came and preached peace to the people to whom Paul is writing. He never reached them in a locally present or corporeal way. The body that died on the cross ascended into heaven and never went to Ephesus.

No, rather than Jesus other people went to the region of Ephesus. Christians went to Ephesus. Apostles and prophets went to Ephesus. Pastors and teachers came to Ephesus. In and through them Christ came and preached peace.

Remember, that Christ died in order to bring together the Church (see 2.18-22 above). That “being built together” is a purpose of the cross. It is true, in a certain polemical context, in arguing with Arminians, and related errorists, we can and must say that salvation is fully accomplished on the cross of Christ. But Paul quite commonly refers to Christ’s work as starting something that has not yet been accomplished. He would emphatically agree that Christ’s work guarantees that God’s purposes will be fulfilled, but he is equally emphatic that that purpose has not yet been accomplished. Just to show you how strongly Paul can express this, and the importance he attributes to ministers of the Word, consider what Paul says in his letter to the Colossians (1.21-26):

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.

I read all of that so you could see how Paul sandwiched his breathtaking claim to fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions by his own sufferings with references on either side to his own calling as a minister of the Gospel. And central to this is the preaching of the Word of God. In verse 23 we read Paul’s reference to “the hope of the Gospel which you have heard, which has been proclaimed.” In Verse 25, we read of Paul’s calling “to make the word of God fully known.

As Christ’s minister, Paul both preaches and suffers to bring about that for which Christ both suffered and taught. While Christ’s propitiation is completely satisfactory, the purpose for which he suffered has not yet been completed. To bring about that goal, Christ must be preached by ambassadors, not only through their words, but also through their wounds.

And when Christ’s ministers thus preach, they are not simply preaching themselves, but Christ himself is preaching through them. Consider Ephesians 4.17-24:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!–assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Now I just read you a passage that exhorts the listeners to sanctification. And in the middle of this section Paul appeals to what they have learned, to what they have heard, to what they have been taught. V. 21: “assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.

But that’s not what Paul wrote. Let me try again: “assuming that you have heard him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.

The Ephesians have not heard of Jesus. No! They have heard Jesus’ own voice! What else could we expect? Didn’t we already hear Paul assure us that Christ himself came to us who are far off and preached peace to us?

The Preaching of the Word of God Is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe the the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good. (2nd Helvetic Confesion, ch. 1)

Is this confession true? Dare we call our preaching, in any sense, the Word of God? If we survey the term, “Word of God,” in Acts and the Epistles, we will find that it often refers, not only to someone either quoting or reading from the Scriptures, nor to someone inspired and kept free from all possible error, but to the ordinary faithful preaching of the Gospel message.

Acts 4.29-31: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Acts 6.2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.

Acts 6.7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Acts 8.14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John

Acts 8.25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

Acts 2.41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Acts 4.4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

Acts 11.1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.

Hebr 13.7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.

1 Thess 2.9-13: For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

Col 1.25 which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known.

1 Pet 1.23 you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God

How can ordinary preaching be declared “the word of God”? If it is not inspired in a way that guarantees that it is entirely inerrant and infallible, how can it be given that name? We know why the text of Scripture is uniquely the Word of God. But what about the use of the same term to describe the result of men preaching the Gospel?

The answer is that God works and even speaks through fallible messengers who, despite their fallibility are appointed and empowered as his ambassadors. Jesus is the preacher of the Gospel. Jesus is the one whom you both learn about and whom you learn from so that you know you must “no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds,” etc. Rather, you must “put off your old self/Adam, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self/Adam, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” It is for this purpose that it is so important that you not simply receive new information about Christ, but that he himself encourage, exhort, and when necessary admonish you to continue to remain and grow in what you have been so graciously given.

Remember, Paul says in Ephesians that “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The first creation came about through the word of God’s power. We do not sustain ourselves. In the same way we cannot “put off the old Adam” or “put on the new Adam” unless that new creation is made and sustained by the powerful Word of God which speaks a second and better time in the preaching of the Gospel. Unless we are reminded to “no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” we will never be able to “walk in” those “good works, which God prepared beforehand.” And Christ brings this about by preaching peace—by preaching himself because he himself is our peace. And he does this through ministers of the Gospel.

It would not have been enough for Christ to simply die and rise again for himself. The new creation is supposed to encompass the nations. For worldwide salvation to be possible, many must hear the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believe in him, and thus be sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (c.f.Ephesians 1.13ff). God wants to encompass millions in that new creation so he continues to speak the word through the Church.

(Remember, by the way, in Isaiah 49.1ff, that after declaring himself have a sword for a tongue and to be a sharp arrow in God’s quiver, the Messianic servant complains that God has forgotten him and what he is suffering. God replies in verse 6 in language that should remind us of the boundary defying love that God holds for the world: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” If Jesus was limited to speaking through his own mouth, resurrected and united to deity though it be, it could never reach the ends of the earth as effectively as he does when his people take up that sharp sword of the Word of God, put on, as shoes for their feet, the readiness given by the gospel of peace, along with the rest of the armor which boils down to being clothed in Christ, the armor of light [c.f. Rom 13.12, 14].) [Read the Rest]

Anyway, it is a great post. I heartily agree that it is a detriment to the Church that we typically only hear preaching once or (hopefully) twice a week.

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