“Warning and Teaching Everyone with All Wisdom”

 

The How of Preaching

Can you imagine Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel or Daniel preaching with all kinds of jokes and the people laughing and giggling while they preached God’s Word? Or Jesus, Peter, John, and Paul preaching full of humor, funny, and lighthearted? Or Jonathan Edwards preaching “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” with jokes so that instead of the congregation weeping and crying out for God’s mercy, they were cracking up?

Colossians 1:28 (text); Proverbs 9:7-12

June 24 & July 1, 2012  Download this sermon (PDF)

 

In an article for Banner of Truth, Dr. David P. Murray, a pastor of Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), tells of his experiences in American churches. He notes that we live in an entertainment culture of sitcoms and of funny talk shows hosted by Jay Leno, David Letterman and Conan O’Brien. In the Philippines as well, commuters in jeepneys and buses are immersed in nonsense radio talk shows where the background is nonstop laughter recordings, even when there is nothing funny!

Dr. Murray says in this article, entitled “Serious Preaching in a Comedy Culture,” that we do not have to look at the world to find this phenomenon. It is also the prevalent culture in the churches. He says that a few times he has been astonished that people laugh at something he has said in his sermon when it was not meant to be funny. He says, “The first time it happened, I froze on the spot. I could hardly go on. I was stunned. In Scotland, I never cracked a joke in the pulpit. It would not even cross my mind to try to make people laugh. That was just not done in most Reformed churches. Yet, now, the same words, said in the same way, create laughter!”

He once heard a well-known preacher address a conference, which he introduced with a confession of his own sinfulness. But then, the audience erupted in laughter, and the speaker was completely surprised. He tried again, but the result was the same, so he abandoned his introduction.

I was a firsthand witness to this comedy culture in our old Presbyterian church in Walnut Creek, California. Shortly after a new pastor was installed, the “seeker-sensitive” culture, including amusing sermons and entertaining talk shows, took over. I noticed that at certain parts of the service, including the sermon, some people would burst out laughing, when there was nothing funny. So, at the end of every service, people file out of the church with smiles and laughter in the air, because all they remember is the feast of jokes fed them all throughout the service.

This comedy culture permeates Filipino churches as well. In 2002, when our family first moved to Manila from Davao, we visited a good-sized megachurch that has a large-screen projection for its songs, announcements, and sermon outline and texts. During the sermon, the screen would progress accordingly from one slide to the next. But in every slide, there was a funny Far Side, Peanuts, or some other cartoons in addition to the text. So, the congregation’s focus was not on the preacher and his preaching, but on the funny cartoons.

Jeremiah Preaching to His Followers by Gustave Dore, 19th century (click to enlarge)

Jeremiah Preaching to His Followers by Gustave Dore, 19th century (click to enlarge)

Can you imagine Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel or Daniel preaching with all kinds of jokes and the people laughing and giggling while they preached God’s Word? Or what about Jesus, Peter, John, and Paul? Was their preaching full of humor, funny, and lighthearted so that the audience was full of uproarious laughter and rolling on the floor? Or were the people “cut to the heart,” wept, confessed and repented of their sins, such as after Peter’s Pentecost sermon? Or Jonathan Edwards preaching “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” with jokes so that instead of the congregation weeping and crying out for God’s mercy, they were cracking up?

The past two Lord’s Days, we have studied the doctrine of preaching from Colossians 1:15-29. First, we looked at the dual purposes of preaching: to make Christ known among unbelievers, and to make all the saints mature in Christ. Second, we studied the content of preaching, which in Paul’s words, “him we proclaim,” that is “we preach Christ crucified.”

Today, we will meditate on the how of preaching: how Christ is preached among both believers and unbelievers. Paul says in our text, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,” which makes for an obvious outline of our preaching today: (1) Warning Everyone; (2) Teaching Everyone; and (3) With All Wisdom.

Warning Everyone
The English translation “warning” (ESV, KJV; “admonishing” in NIV, NASB; also “counseling”) literally means “putting in mind.” A Greek lexicon defines it as “to counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct.” 1

“To admonish” refers mainly to warning or counseling against things or conduct that are wrong. In contrast, “to teach” is “to provide instruction in a formal or informal setting” 2 about positive truth without warning. 3 The truth of the gospel preached demands a response from the congregation. But not just a response to agree with the truths of the gospel. The response demanded by urgent and passionate admonition is change—in behavior, lifestyle, beliefs, values, emotions, and attitudes.

Sometimes “admonition” includes instruction as in Romans 15:14, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” And in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The congregation is encouraged by the preacher to be filled with goodness and knowledge so they may be able to teach one another the words of Christ, whether in worship or in everyday life. This is even more true for mature Christians.

Paul preaching before the Temple of Diana at Ephesus by Adolf Pirsch, 1885

Paul preaching before the Temple of Diana at Ephesus by Adolf Pirsch, 1885 (click to enlarge)

But more frequently, admonition involves warning against wrong conduct. Paul reminds the Ephesian elders how he admonished them with urgency and passion for three years when he was at Ephesus. This is because he knew that false teachers will come to the church to deceive many, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” But he is confident that God’s word of grace is able to build them up to the end (Acts 20:29-32).

Paul knew that his sufferings are known to the believers in Corinth, so he warns them not to lose heart because their leader is in chains, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children” (1Cor 4:14).

But in the church, there will always be those who would become wayward in their doctrine or life. Paul instructs the churches to exercise church discipline among them through the elders. The elders deserve respect because they are the ones “ who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you” (1Thess 5:12-13; cf Heb 13:17). They are to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1Thess 5:14). Paul has a stern warning to the one who does not submit to the elders in the church, but even so, the erring believer should be warned as a brother, not as an enemy (2Thess 3:14, 15). Those who foment division in the church are to be warned twice, but if he is still unrepentant, he is placed under discipline (Tit 3:10).

Even the judgments of God against the Israelites in the desert are to be for us as an example and for our instruction, to warn us against disobedience (1Cor 10:11). When fathers raise their children, both “discipline and instruction of the Lord” are commanded by Paul (Eph 6:4).

So in his preaching, Paul warns, admonishes, counsels and instructs everyone.

Teaching Everyone
In our text, warning or admonition is coupled with teaching. Paul’s preaching always has two components: teaching and admonishing. We can see these two main divisions in his letters to the churches, usually separated by the word, “Therefore…”

In Romans, the first eleven chapters deal with teaching, while beginning with 12:1, he says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” In Ephesians 4:1, the admonition begins with, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you…” In Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” This is also the pattern in most of his other epistles.

What did Paul teach? It is none other than Christ crucified, “We preach Christ crucified.” Christ is the sole object of his proclamation, “Him we proclaim.” In his missionary journeys, Paul went to the Gentiles “teaching and preaching the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:35). Even during his house arrest in Rome, Paul received his visitors, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). The Colossian church were “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” because they were taught by Paul (Col 2:7). Paul urged the Thessalonians to “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2Thess 2:15).

Paul and all the other apostles obeyed Jesus’ Great Commission to all the world, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20). They were to teach nothing else than the commandments of Christ. This is what Jesus did, “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt 4:23).

And Paul commanded Timothy to pass on what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2Tim 2:2).” This is because Jesus warned his disciples about false teachers, such as the Pharisees, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt 15:9). So Paul warned the Galatians about false teachers, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8,9).

In Greek, the verb “to teach” is didasko, from where we get our English word “didactic,” an adjective that describes something that teaches us. A related word is didache, which is usually translated as “doctrine” or “teaching” or “instruction.” In his letters, teaching sound doctrine was very important to Paul. He warns Christians in the churches about those who teach false doctrines, watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom 16:17). The elders are to enforce his command not to teach any different doctrine” (1Tim 1:3). Avoid all evil, whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine“(1Tim 1:10).

He warns them about anyone who teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (1Tim 6:3). Because if they were easily swayed by false teachers, they will be like children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:14).

He instructs Timothy and all pastors and elders who has teaching and preaching respons­ibilities to train themselves in sound doctrine, “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” (1Tim 4:6). “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Tit 1:9). “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Tit 2:1). And this sound doctrine can only be found in Scripture, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” This Word that comes from the Spirit will make the “the man of God… complete, equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16-17).

Why then do most evangelicals today think that doctrine is irrelevant and cause divisions? They say, “I have no creed but Christ.” It is because they hide their ignorance of the doctrines taught in Scriptures by these words. They are too lazy to read, meditate and study God’s Word. They are Biblically illiterate. So if you ask them about the God and Christ they believe in, they would respond with all kinds of unsound beliefs. Ask them what the gospel is, or what justification or imputation means, or what the canon is, or what the difference between law and gospel is, and you get a blank look. Ask them to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, and you will instead get the ancient modalistic heresy!  4

All throughout church history, there will always be false teachers. Jesus warned us about them. All the New Testament writers warned us about them. What is their purpose? They teach false doctrines “for shameful gain” (Tit 1:11). Prosperity gospellers, false prophets, and preachers who try to be popular, relevant and hip. All for fame and fortune.

Just a few days ago, Singaporean authorities arrested the founder of City Harvest Church, one of the largest evangelical churches in the city-state, accusing him of misusing at least $18 million in church funds to finance the career of his pop singer wife. Four other church officers were charged with breach of trust and conspiracy to commit falsification of accounts.

What is their basis for teaching false doctrine? It is earthly wisdom, wisdom that James says is “unspiritual, demonic” (Jas 3:15), and leads to all kinds of covetousness and idolatry. Paul says that he admonishes and teaches “with all wisdom,” “wisdom that comes down from above” (Jas 3:15).

With All Wisdom
Because Paul’s preaching is God-centered and Christ-centered, he preaches “with all wisdom.” What wisdom? It is God’s wisdom and Christ’s wisdom, to be found only in God’s Word.

For the Greco-Roman world, wisdom is from the philosophers of the world always looking out for new ideas, or from the mystery and Gnostic religions who claim exclusive secret knowledge about God. The Greek philosophers in Athens inquired of him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?” (Acts 17:19). Paul says to the Corinthians that the preaching of the cross of Christ is foolishness to the Gentiles and an offense to the Jews (1Cor 1:18-25). So the Gentiles laughed at him, and the Jews scorned and despised him.

The Bible tells us of men and women who had godly wisdom as those who know God’s wisdom and apply it to their lives and work. The skilled artisans involved in building the Tabernacle had been gifted by God with both wisdom and artistry (Exod 35:30-35). The judges of Israel had godly wisdom which they used to judge the people. King Solomon’s greatest request from God was to have wisdom, which he used to make Israel great and prosperous. Later during his reign, Solomon stopped using his god-given wisdom as he rebelled against God and committed gross idolatry and immorality, resulting in the tragic division of his kingdom and the downfall of Israel.

Paul says that he preaches with all wisdom, wisdom that comes only from his Lord and Savior, in whom all the treasures of divine wisdom are hidden (Col 2:2-3). All of this wisdom must be applied to our doctrines, worship and life. So Paul prays for the Colossians: “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:9-10). Wisdom and understanding from God will produce fruits in them.

By preaching to the Gentiles “the unsearchable riches of Christ… the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” through the church, now made up not only of Jews, but now also of Gentiles (Eph 3:8-10).

The psalmist says that the law of the Lord is perfect and exceedingly broad (Psa 119:96). God’s Word is comprehensive in its teaching and instruction to God’s people. Preaching is not only to the mind, but to the heart and soul, to the whole being of the hearers. It challenges us to respond not only with vows, but also with actions.

Therefore, our preaching is not in the form of humor and jokes, and other forms of entertainment. It is not in the form of dramatic performances or touching testimonies. It is in the form of admonitions and teachings, if necessary, with tears and passionate appeals for godly living.

Lastly, admonishing and teaching in the preaching are for “everyone.” The pastor is not to prepare and deliver his sermon with an individual or a group of individuals as targets. But the preaching is to build up and admonition everyone. So Paul says that the whole purpose of preaching in admonitions and teachings is to “present everyone mature in Christ.”


Notes:

  1. BGAD, 679.
  2. BGAD, 241.
  3. W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1981), 31.
  4. From the informal survey in my Doctrine Unites! blog about the Trinity, 41 percent are functional modalists (as of July 4, 2012).
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