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The Pulpit: Its Powers and Pitfalls (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
October 26, 2021 4:00 am

The Pulpit: Its Powers and Pitfalls (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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October 26, 2021 4:00 am

Hazard signs are posted for our protection, warning of potential dangers and encouraging us to proceed with caution. The pulpit has its own unique pitfalls—and pastors need to be on the alert! Learn more as Alistair Begg sounds the alarm on Truth For Life.


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On the highway there are hazard signs posted for our particular protection.

They're there to warn us of potential danger or to encourage us to proceed with caution. The same holds true for the pulpit. It has its own set of pitfalls and pastors are wise to be alert to the warnings found in Scripture and to learn from the experience of others. We're in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 18 today on Truth for Life.

Here's Alistair Begg. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar?

Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

Jews demand miraculous signs, and Greeks look for wisdom. But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential, not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.

God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God, that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, let him who boasts boast in the Lord. When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom, as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

I came to you in weakness and fear and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom but on God's power. Thanks be to God for his Word. Father, with our Bibles on our laps and with our minds tuned to hear your voice, we pray that the Spirit of God will be our teacher. For Jesus' sake.

Amen. Now, my subject this morning is the pulpit, its pitfalls, and its power. We're using the pulpit as a metaphor, of course.

We're not suggesting that a block of wood has in itself power or faces pitfalls. But we're seeing the pulpit as the place at which the opening up of the Scriptures takes place. And our conviction is that from the pulpits of our country, we are supposed to hear not the bright ideas of men, not their rambling thoughts, not their theorizing or their speculation. We assume that the pulpit is not a place for sloganeering or for manipulation, that it's not the place for tall stories and emotionalism, but it is the place for Spirit-filled, Christ-exalting, Bible-based, life-impacting instruction and direction from God through the words of a spokesman, which impresses upon the listeners the power of text and not the performance of the preacher. And much of what I'm going to share this morning, especially initially, is largely without biblical warrant in the sense that I'm going to share with you first some pitfalls that may actually be my own peculiar propensities, and therefore it gives you an insight into where I'm coming from.

It may be that you can find a point of identification with them also. And then we'll turn to finish with the Scriptures by looking at the nature of the power of the pulpit. Bruce Thielman expresses what many preachers have felt when he says there is no special honor in being called to the preaching ministry.

There is only special pain. The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailors, and like the sea it batters and bruises and does not rest. To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know each time you do it that you must do it again.

Lloyd-Jones was mentioned, and I quote him in the opening address that he gave to the students at Theological Seminary Westminster in 1969 in the city of Philadelphia, explaining why it was that he'd been prepared to come and give these lectures on preaching. He said, ultimately, my reasons for being very ready to give these lectures is that to me the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called. If you want something in addition to that, I would say without hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching.

And as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the church, it is obviously the greatest need in the world also. That is a quite staggering statement from a man who had been trained as a medical doctor, who was assistant to Lord Hoarder, who was actually the physician to the queen. And he had a life before him of great prominence and opportunity, not only in the practice of medicine, but also in the high echelons of English society.

And he turned from that to a small Welsh Calvinistic Methodist chapel, and burying himself in the obscurity of the hills of Wales, he began to fulfill what he says here was for him the highest and the greatest calling that anyone can ever face. Certainly when we read of those who have been used of God in the preaching of the word, and when we listen to what they have said, the immensity of the challenge that is before us is heightened. John Owen noted in his writings a number of qualifications, which he referred to as being necessary for the effective performance of the primary pastoral duty.

And I'm just going to tell you what they are for the record. His number one was spiritual wisdom and understanding of the mysteries of the gospel. Secondly, an experience of the power of the truth in our own souls. Owen said of the scriptures, or of the message, if it does not dwell in power in us, it cannot pass with power from us.

No amount of effervescence or personality or ingenuity will be able to compensate for that divine transaction, which is, in the words of Brooks, truth through human personality. Thirdly, and obviously, he said that the pastor would need skill in dividing the word of God correctly. Fourthly, that he would require spiritual discernment of the condition of his congregation.

And fifthly, that he would need to be marked by a zeal for the glory of God and a compassion for the souls of men. Now, to the degree that Owen articulates for us there, the high standard of gospel preaching, small wonder that many of us would find ourselves shrinking from it rather than seeking to press ourselves forward. Let me give to you then just some random observations out of my own experience that relate to peculiar pitfalls that attach to pulpit ministry. First of all is prayerlessness. Surely the devil laughs at prayerless preaching. He surely doesn't care about preaching that is not backed by and sourced in prayer. I have a little booklet in my files published by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship about prayer, and the front cover bears this quotation.

If our prayer is meager, it is because we regard it as supplemental and not fundamental. As I walked from the session yesterday, someone asked me, number one, how long do you think it is necessary to spend in preparation for preaching in terms of the study of the word? And then the second and harder question was, on how long do you spend in prayer in the prospect of preaching? I don't think there's any doubt at all that since the devil knows that the greatest effectiveness is in the soul of the man who is bathed in prayer, who is dependent upon God for everything, then he will seek to do everything in his power, limited as it is, to prevent us from that one thing, so that we will find turning to our commentaries, even turning to our Bibles, doing all kinds of things, able to squeeze them into our days. And then somehow or another scrambling at the last minute to try and put in a little bit of prayer. In Acts chapter 6, in the spiritual reorganization that takes place in the early days of the church, you will remember that the apostles, in determining that the waiting upon the tables needs to be given over to others who have peculiar gifts in practical ministry, they said, we will not leave aside the preaching of the word to wait on tables, we will pass this on to someone else, and we will give ourselves to prayer and the preaching of the word.

I don't think there is any question, dear friends, that our preaching would be 100% more effective if we were to pray far more and if our congregations were to undergird our proclamations with their prayers. It is a great pitfall to become increasingly prayerless. Secondly, the pitfall of allowing an ever-widening gap between my life and the things I say.

Allowing an ever-widening gap between my life and the things I say. Now that's essentially 1 Timothy 4.16, watch your life and your doctrine closely. There's a peculiar pitfall in preaching, and it is this—that we think that because we have preached it, we have lived it. But after we have preached it, we have only preached it. Unless, of course, we have lived it before we preached it. But it has to be both lived and proclaimed. And that's where, incidentally, our wives come in, and our children too. One of my friends, an elderly gentleman who was not actually married, said, Every pastor needs a wife if for no other reason than to keep him humble. And to be there to say, you know, honey, there's a brittleness about your tone.

There's something here that just doesn't meld in the way that it once did. Not easy to take, but vital to hear. That's where accountability comes in amongst our colleagues. Because we can deceive ourselves and become those whom James warns against, who are merely the hearers of the word, albeit the hearers of our own words, proclaiming the word, and we are not doers, and we deceive ourselves.

That's what he says. To be merely hearers of the word and so deceive yourselves, do what it says. And there is a great challenge in this, I'm sure.

C.S. Lewis ends his book, The Four Loves, and it is actually on the final page, at least of my copy, with this striking statement. He says, Those like myself, whose imagination far exceeds their obedience, are subject to a just penalty. We easily imagine conditions far higher than we have actually reached.

If we describe what we have imagined, we may make others and make ourselves believe that we have really been there and so fool both them and ourselves. It's a peculiar challenge to anyone involved in teaching. Surely James says, Let not many of you become teachers, for he who teaches will be judged with greater strictness. Third pitfall, I refer to as the danger of excessive popularity.

Now, I put this down here. Frankly, many of us as pastors, we like a little dose of this for once in a while, and it may not be a major problem for you at this point in your ministry, but it may come. And every so often it will come, and with it comes the danger of thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought, beginning actually to believe that what people say about us is true, when in point of fact they don't even know us, so why would they even say these things? When I was a small boy, my father used to take me to a number of events that I didn't want to go to, not least of all the singing of male voice choirs. And it always seemed to happen on a Saturday afternoon, and as part of a sop to my reluctance, he would allow me to go into a confectionary store and purchase sweets or candies, as you would say. And those were the days when they still had them in the big jars, and they meted them out in two ounces or four ounces or whatever it was, and so you point it up, and the lady got it down, and she poured it in the tray, and she weighed it, and she put it in a bag, and she gave it to you. And so there was a transaction involved, and I remember particularly one place on a Saturday afternoon, I must have been all shined up and ready for action, bro cream on the hair, shaved up the back of my head, looked like I was ready for the army, and there were, I remember, a number of people in the store, and I don't know what happened in the shop, but it must have been that somebody said complementary things about this shiny-faced wee chap that was waiting for his sweets.

And when the shop cleared and there was just the lady and myself, this lady whom I don't know, I met her once in my life, and she handed me the bag of candy. She leant over the counter, and she said this, Sunny, flattery is like perfume. Sniff it.

Don't swallow it. And I've learned in the course of pastoral ministry to discount the high end and to discount the low end. There are people who just, for all the best reasons, will tell you you're fantastic.

You know it isn't true. And therefore you have to learn not to listen to that, to walk around metaphorically with your fingers in your ears. Isaiah was gloriously helped until he became strong, and when he became strong, he grew proud to his own destruction. I probably, at this point in my life, faced the greatest dangers that I have ever faced in relation to this particular pitfall. Being aware of it is one thing. Being helped in it is another.

Fourth pitfall is the other side, and that is the danger of crippling despondency. The pulpit can lift you up and make you think you're terrific. It can bring you down and make you think you're the worst person that ever lived.

To live with an almost paralyzing sense of uselessness attaches itself to the work of the pulpit. I've not lived with this a lot, but I have lived with it routinely. I'm not talking now about clinical depression. I'm not talking about manic bouts.

I'm just talking about the blues. I'm talking about ending a Sunday and wanting to run as far as you possibly can from every responsibility in pastoral ministry that you have ever known. The spirit of Elijah—it's wrong, but it's real. I'm the only one that's left around here that cares. I'm the only one that really believes this. I'm the only one that really owns this. I'm the only one that really understands this.

No, you're not. I'm going to find a broom tree. I'm going to sit under it. And the Lord sent the angel, said, Have a drink of water, have a muffin, and go to sleep. Sent the angel a second time, said, Have a drink of water, have a muffin, go to sleep.

Luther had a great strategy in relationship to this because his wife one morning came down dressed completely in the black of formalized mourning. She took her place opposite him at the breakfast table, and he was staggered by her appearance. He said, My dear, what has happened?

Has someone died that I didn't know? Yes, she said, God has died. Come now, said Luther, that is a dreadful thing to say. Then she said, Well, why, my dear Martin, do you live as you live if God is still alive? God moves in a mysterious way, was written by Cowper out of the experience of a psychiatric hospital. Judge not the Lord by feeble strength, nor try his works in vain. God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain. I don't know that anybody has ever truly preached unless they have felt the burden of crippling despondency.

For when you read the prophets, it says the Oracle of Amos or it says the Oracle of Elijah, the word there is the burden, the burden of this man, this immense burden that you have the responsibility now to stand and deliver. It's not just giving a talk. It's not just unfolding your wisdom.

It's not just sharing your ideas. It is that God has put you in this place. And I don't know what it's like to have a baby, but I can imagine that it's pretty awesome. And I would imagine that to truly preach is the closest a man will ever come to the travail of childbirth. All the joy and all the sorrow, all the pain and all the expectation and all the emotion that is wrapped up in it. Therefore, this pitfall is a real pitfall. Remember that when you're glad-handing your pastor. Remember that when you're making your superficial comments and the dangling conversation and the superficial sighs on the borders of our minds. As you speak the things that matter with words that must be said, you know, can analysis be worthwhile?

Is the theater really dead? So much twaddle. Now, what do you do?

What do I do? Well, my wife, she hugs me and then she kicks me and kicks me back into action, hugs me back into life. And Luther's antidote, incidentally, when someone came to him with despondency was, he said, harness the horses and spread manure on the fields. Can you imagine going for pastoral counseling? With a sense of crippling despondency and you go in and you start to unfold your long story and Martin interrupts, he says, my dear, my dear soul, let me tell you in a phrase what to do. Just go harness your horses and spread manure on your fields.

There'll be something about that smell of your nostrils that will transform everything for all time. An interesting solution for a despondent pastor. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg, part one of a message titled The Pulpit, Its Powers and Pitfalls. This is a message Alistair originally preached to an audience of pastors. And Lord willing, we'll have an audience of pastors joining us again next year at the Basics 2022 conference. This is a conference for men in church leadership. It's scheduled May 2nd through the 4th at Parkside Church, just outside Cleveland, Ohio.

Alistair will be joined this year by special guests Tony Morita and John Woodhouse. Registration is open now online at If you are in pastoral ministry, I want to encourage you to check this out. Also for pastors or anyone who is involved in church leadership, you'll want to request a copy of a book we're recommending titled Faithful Leaders and the Things That Matter Most. It's written by Pastor Rico Tice. There are four short chapters in this book. You'll learn how to define success, how to fight your own sin, how to lead yourself, and then how to serve your church.

All of that is easier said than done, right? This is a perfect book to use with a church leadership team, whether you pastor a congregation or lead a youth group or serve as the director of children's ministry. You can request your copy of the book Faithful Leaders when you donate online at slash donate, where you can tap the image in the app. I'm Bob Lapine. Join us again tomorrow as Alistair continues talking about the power and pitfalls of the pulpit. He'll look at the other side of pastoral ministry, the side that makes the pitfalls worth the risk. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-31 03:27:38 / 2023-07-31 03:36:05 / 8

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