(Second in a series.)

When coins were made of gold, thieves trimmed the edges and kept the trimmings, passing off the smaller coin at full value. Pastors do the same. This betrays their calling.

Like the Apostle Paul’s pastoral understudy, Timothy, pastors are called by God to “retain the standard of sound words” and “guard the good deposit which God has entrusted to” them (2Timothy 1:13-14). Everyone knows this is the pastor’s responsibility and most everyone in church Sunday mornings has the sleepy assumption that whatever his pastor preaches, they don’t have to worry about him being faithful to God’s Word.

In Acts, there’s an interesting comparison between the Thessalonians and the Bereans: “These [Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica”. Here we learn concerning the Thessalonians that they were less noble than the Bereans. We also learn generalizations are good and necessary.

In what way were the Bereans more noble than the Thessalonians? The statement continues:

These [Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11)

It is good, then, to be hungry and anticipate the Word of God being fed to us by servants of God each Lord’s Day morning. But receiving that Word from them with readiness of mind is not sufficient. There’s something more we must do, and sloth will lead us away from completing this additional task.

We please God when we search the Scriptures to examine what we have been fed from the pulpit during corporate worship. We should receive our pastor’s words with all readiness of mind and we should go home and, each day, search the Scriptures to see if what we have been fed is faithful to Scripture; is true.

Some might think the two things here commended aren’t normally joined together. Readiness of mind to receive the Word and scrutiny of what we have received seem in some way incompatible. Shouldn’t a congregation be trusting of their pastor when he feeds them God’s Word? Why then does Scripture commend the Bereans for being careful to examine the Apostles’ preaching and teaching?

President Reagan learned the Russian proverb, доверяй, но проверяй, from a Russian scholar and used it frequently in his negotiations with Russia.  In English, the Proverb is, “Trust, but verify.” We are to feed from our pastors trustingly; eagerly, even. We are also to verify their words are according to, are in conformity with, God’s Word.

It is not right for us to feed grudgingly from our shepherd Lord’s Day mornings. It is sin for us to give him our attention with scepticism, and if we think we hide it, we don’t. Our wife and our children know us in and out, and if we despise to be taught, they see our pride and resistance to instruction.

No one needs to be proud and distrusting of his pastor, or pastors in general, in order to examine what his pastor preaches for faithfulness to God’s Word. The man who refuses to feed from his pastor’s sermons is neither wise nor noble. All of Proverbs makes clear such a man is a fool.

If a man were to defend his cynicism about his pastor’s preaching by saying his pastor is a crack addict, or that he meets alone for coffee with other men’s wives—so how can he trust him? The proper response might be to ask that man why on earth he’s in that church? He should leave it and find another church where the pastor is not a crack addict. There are many faithful shepherds of God’s sheep who faithfully preach God’s Word each Lord’s Day, and it’s our privilege to find them, feed from them, and love and support them for their work.

Having found them, though, it is equally important for us to examine their words for faithfulness to God’s Word. And when we examine their preaching and teaching, it’s likely we will discover places and times where they are not accurate and not faithful. Not categorically inaccurate or unfaithful. That’s the church we didn’t join or we just left.

Still, in sermons there will be things said by our shepherd that will set our teeth on edge. Not because they convict us of sin we must repent of, but because we think they pulled their punches or apologized for God’s words or said something wrong. We file it away in our mind for later consideration in the light of our goodwife’s second-guessing of us and the examination of what Scripture says about it.

One example before bringing this second in the series to an end.

Speaking personally, one of the things most constant in preaching today which I find disheartening is pastors apologizing for God’s Word and truth. This is not something that keeps me from sitting under a pastor’s preaching and being thankful for his work and feeding, but as I said, I find it disheartening.

A friend was preaching through 1Timothy and he arrived at 1Timothy 2:11-13:

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.

His sermon was good until he got to the end, when he said something like:

Now we have seen what God’s Word says, here. I don’t know why He has said it. I think my wife would make a better elder than I do. Yet we have to submit to God’s Word.

This is what I mean by pastors apologizing for God’s Word and truth. To proclaim “God hath said” followed by “I wish God hadn’t said” undercuts God’s authority and Words.

Yet this is the habit of even the most conservative pastors today. They do it unconsciously, I think, but they do it relentlessly. Usually it is not as direct as what my friend said above. More typically the pastor will pepper the times he says God’s “no” in his sermon with hedge phrases like, “that’s what it says” and “we all see it” and “this might make you uncomfortable.” There are endless ways of distancing ourselves from God, leaving Him to be the ogre and us simply the bearer of His nasties. But for any servant of God to do this is repulsive.

It is our greatest privilege to preach God’s words to this sinful world, and the fact that His words sound arrogant or authoritarian or out of touch down here in Babylon only highlights what a privilege we have to proclaim His eternal words here in Babylon.

Again, though, this apologetic presentation of God’s words is not the mark of rebellion or unfaithfulness on the part of our shepherd. It’s just weakness, and it would be respectful and helpful for us to share with our shepherd our examination of Scripture for similar apologetic presentations in the preaching and teaching recorded there, explaining to him that Scripture doesn’t commend such hedge words and phrases. Then it might be appropriate to share with him tenderly and humbly that we find such hedge words and phrases disheartening.

Our goal emulating the Bereans is not—absolutely not—to become the pastor’s Great Corrector or “faithful opposition.” Only rarely should we speak to a pastor about what we think he might have done wrong, and when we do so, it should be covered with affection and love which he knows because each time we leave the service, we and our little ones and wife thank him for feeding us. Such a relationship will allow for occasional pushbacks, and the love between congregant and pastor will grow through them.

Every pastor has feet of clay, and this should only lead us to love and care for him more faithfully as he does his work to which he has been called and set apart by God through “the laying on of the hands by the presbytery” (1Timothy 4:4).

But to repeat: it is right for us to strive to be more noble than the Thessalonians by copying the Bereans in:

  1. Receiving the word from our pastors in all readiness of mind.
  2. Examining their words by searching Scripture to see if what they said is true.

Without the second, the first isn’t noble. It’s slothfulness.

Without the first, the second isn’t noble. It’s merely the proud man’s refusal to be taught.

(Second in a series.)

Thankful for this content? Let others know:

Tags: , ,