A couple of weeks ago, I wrote on why sufficiency matters in preaching. The composition of that blog examined how an element of theology relates to the act or role of preaching. In other words, it’s focus was the “why” rather than the “how” of preaching. Really, any time we study a doctrine’s connection or significance to preaching, our goal is more connected to the foundations for preaching than the “how-to” preach. I gave some rationale for this perspective in that previous article.
Sufficiency and inerrancy (as was addressed by Dr. David Allen) are not the only two doctrines that matter for and in preaching. As a matter of fact, doctrines beyond those that specifically deal with the nature of Scripture itself impact, or at least should contribute to, our commitment to preaching. In some ways, any and all theology must and does affect our homiletic, whether we know so explicitly or not. How can what we believe about God not have bearing on what we say about Him to His people. The answer is it most definitely will.
Therefore, I want to look briefly at the doctrine of the church, or who the Bible purports the church to be, as it relates to the act and role of preaching. I admit upfront, this is not an attempt to be exhaustive. I do not have the time nor space to do so. Rather, I want to pull three truths out of a passage of Scripture that I believe holds relevance for a few reasons. The text in question is 1 Timothy 3:14-16.
“I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, The pillar and support of the truth. By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.”
At first this may seem to be an odd and obscure, at best, or unhelpful and inappropriate, at worst, passage to chose to look at the doctrine of the church. However, for several reasons that relates specifically to our subject of preaching, this text is helpful, obvious, and appropriate. First, this is a letter in which Paul is writing primarily to a pastor. Furthermore, in writing to this pastor, Timothy, he has much to say about the Word of God and his teaching/preaching ministry as it relates to the church. As a matter of fact, it could be argued that the importance of right doctrine, “being mighty in the Scriptures,” is the main point of the epistle.
Second, Paul describes the church here as the “pillar and support of the truth.” Whatever you believe Paul means by this, you must acknowledge that in some capacity it relates to the Word of God. Finally, this passages seems to be Paul’s purpose statement for the entire letter. Isn’t it interesting then that his purpose for writing to this Pastor regards the entire church — “so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God.”
So, below I offer three components of the doctrine of the church from this text. How can what we believe about God, and even more specifically the nature of those He has redeemed in Christ, not have bearing on what we say about Him to these very people. Once again, the answer is it most definitely will. With each one of these characteristics, therefore, I examine briefly how this matters in and impacts preaching.
First, it is the assembly of the redeemed.
Verse 15 identifies this redeemed group of people as “the church of the living God.” The word used for “church” in this passage and all of the New Testament is ecclesia. And, contrary to popular belief and preaching, the word does not mean the “called out one.” This does not mean the word is any less significant. Actually, I believe when one rightly understands what Paul is doing with this term here, it may hold more relevance. The term was used to mean “the assembly” in Greek culture. Paul seems to commandeer the term and give it special relevance in a Christian context. He sanctifies the term, if you will, and uses it specifically to identify the assembly of those who are redeemed by and in Christ.
So, why does this matter or have any relevance to preaching. Allow me to give three reasons. First, if my argument in the paragraph above is correct, then the church is not a building or a location at all. It is people. Second, the church is the assembly of a certain group of people who have covenanted together and are living life together. You cannot have an assembly that does not assemble and if a person does not assemble with the assembly they are not really a part of that assembly. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if the assembly of the redeemed is to assemble for preaching, then this must mean that preaching is more, but certainly not less, than evangelism. In other words, the doctrine of the church demands that preaching have a purpose which takes into consideration those who are already saved. In addition to designing our preaching to evangelize the lost, it must have an edification function as well.
Second, it is God’s household.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of this characteristic of the church is who this phrase clearly communicates it belongs to. The church is God’s household. He is the One who purchased it with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Therefore it belongs to Him. And, since it belongs to Him, He and He alone has authority over it. Furthermore, His Word and His Word only is that which must be heeded and obeyed by it. So, how should this description of the church influence preaching? The answer is simple and straightforward.
The fact that the church is His and that He is the only One who has the rights over it informs the content of a pastor’s message. To say it another way, the only message that I have the authority to give the church, God’s household, is His message. “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God . . .” (Acts 20:28). Borrowing the words my mentor and good friend Steven Smith, all we can and must do is “re-present the text.” The doctrine of the church demands that the content of our preaching be the inspired authoritative Word of God alone.
Finally, by necessity it must be instructed.
Think about it this way. Verses 14-16 of chapter 3 appears to be Paul’s statement for 1 Timothy 3. He clearly says, this right here is why I have written to you Timothy. And what specifically is the purpose statement? It is “so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God . . . .” This implies that those who are saved need to be taught how to be a part of the church. The redeemed need to be instructed concerning what it means to represent Christ and act as one who has been redeemed among others who have been redeemed. This should not surprise us. We know this intuitively. We call this discipleship.
Perhaps for our purposes here more fascinating is who God calls and expects to make sure this instruction occurs. Well, he wrote this letter to a pastor. Let’s be even more explicit. “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Clearly, although they are not to do it all themselves, the expectations is that pastors are responsible for this instruction in and to the church.
So, why does this matter or have any relevance to preaching? The answer, I believe, falls in how or with what pastors are to accomplish this teaching. Again, this entire epistle is set in the context of the centrality of the Word of God in Timothy’ s teaching/preaching ministry, the importance of right doctrine, and “being mighty in the Scriptures.” A couple of passages will have to suffice to make the point. “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines . . .” (1 Timothy 1:3).
“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). And finally, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ — which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20-21). Once more, why does this matter or have any relevance to preaching.
As pastors we must take up the responsibility to instruct our people on how to conduct themselves as a part of the household of faith as a component of our preaching. Our pulpit ministries must be marked by an emphasis on discipleship, Christian growth, Christlikeness, living as the church, and persevering in the faith. And, we must do this by accurately holding to and rightly proclaiming the Word of God. The doctrine of the church demands that one aim of our preaching be instructing the redeemed to act like the redeemed by means of the Lord’s Instruction.
I believe the words of Ephesians 4 are instructive for us here. Allow me to leave you with a short portion of this passage. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; . . .” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
My prayer is that as you gain a clearer understanding of the church and a greater love for who God has called this imperfect but wonderful group of people to be, you have an even deeper commitment and stronger conviction to expository preaching. As always, I hope this brief article has encouraged you to fulfill your calling to “Preach the Word.”