Scripture

Rules For Trusting Your Pastor’s Teaching

Acts 17:11–12

11  Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

12  Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.

As a pastor, it would be nice if everyone who ever hears a sermon, reads a blog post, says, “Wow! Thank you so very much for causing understanding of this topic.” Even though there will always be those who do say that, and those people are a refreshment, there are also those who simply doubt the conclusions that have been reached. That is not to say that I wish no one would question my conclusions. It is simply a statement of praying and wishing for everyone who hears the Word of God, once having been given the evidence of the Word of God on any one subject, to completely believe it themselves, no matter what needs to be changed in their lives. It is not the desire of the true pastor/elder to have a cult following. Although it is popular today to follow a pastor simply because of his persona or style of dress (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1-4), that is a very embarrassing activity to say the least. But, it certainly would be commendable to follow a pastor after having verified his accuracy in doctrine and righteousness of life.

It is very important to speak to this here. One of the most important realities that a pastor faces is this: he never knows if anyone will be convinced of his teaching. You teach after having studied. You know the text and thus God’s mind on any given subject. You examine your own thinking and conform it to the Word. You read other men of God, and listen to their teaching so as to further examine your own. But to do all of that in the minds and hearts of God’s people is, in a word, impossible. No pastor is the Holy Spirit, Who alone teaches and enlightens (1 John 2:27). However, that does not preclude that we should not examine, scrutinize, study, and expound the written Scriptures. They are inspired, objectively fixed for our examination. Thus, we know that when we come to the meaning of the text, that is the heart and mind of God Himself. 

But. how do the people KNOW that a pastor’s teaching is accurate? How can they know that he has done the work to arrive at that level of accuracy for himself and is not simply parroting some other teacher he is fond of? Let me give 5 guidelines to examining a pastor’s teaching in order to verify if he is teaching the truth or not.

First, listen to him.

Second, take extensive notes.

Third, go to the passages of Scripture to which he refers.

Fourth, repeat.

Fifth, once verified that his teaching is exactly what is presented in Scripture, submit to that teaching without fear..

  • Listen to him.

What I mean by that is to listen with a mind to understand exactly what he actually is saying and not what you are afraid he might be saying, or what you want him to say. I will periodically hear of some who listen to me and misunderstand what I mean. Either there is a slant taken that I was not intending, or the entire sense was missed for whatever reason. That’s okay. Once they come to me and ask for clarification, I can then do so and that is wonderful. However, much of that can be alleviated by careful listening. In our day, listening, as well as thinking in general, has become so superficial and shallow. It would seem the church needs to be taught how to listen carefully with a biblically literate frame of reference. So, listen to what he is saying. If possible, find the main point of his teaching and make note of it.

  • Take extensive notes:

Once you have the main point, develop his supporting points as he develops them. Hopefully, that pastor does this. If he does not, it will be hard to be sure of what he means. Some pastors like to be vague so as to avoid accountability. However, a skillful preacher will make his point from the text, substantiate it from the text and other texts, and then repeat it again in sum. It should be fairly easy to track with a preacher. Write down his main passages to which he refers. Highlight them in your notes. Write extensive questions. Star the ones that you really need clarification on. Then go on to the next step.

  • Go to the passages:

Once you have your notes, read and study the passages, at least the main ones, to which he referred. Examine them. Read the passages, and compare them with others by means of cross-referencing. Use a study Bible or books such as The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (R.A. Torrey; Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1983). Examine the passages in their proper contexts and come to a conclusion about the meaning of those passages apart from trying to see if it means what the pastor says. That will be obvious.

  • Repeat:

Take these steps and repeat them where necessary in order to learn good habits of discipline and learning. This is the normal Christian behavior in the life of the church. The only other option is the idea that the saints gather and watch the pastor perform.

  • Submit:

Once you have verified that the pastor is speaking accurately and comprehensively, take what he says as the Word of God. Paul commended the Thessalonian saints this way:

1 Thessalonians 2:13

13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

When a man is proven credible by means of his accuracy and his own obedience (Hebrews 13:7), then it must be concluded by God’s people that he is speaking with the authority of Jesus Christ on that passage and the only option is…submission. Submission to him as God’s man:

Hebrews 13:17

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

Submission to God’s Word as it speaks with divine authority:

2 Peter 1:19–21

19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.

20  But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,

21  for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Humble submission to the authority of Jesus Christ is THE demonstration of a regenerate heart. A willingness to strive toward a maturity that displays submission to God is the desire of every true believer. If that is your desire, the path toward it is given here. It begins with the Word of God. The very Word that is preached by fallible men.

The Work of Interpretation-pt.3

This final piece in this little series is meant to help someone who has done the above steps of word work and sentence (syntax) work to now work on the historical information necessary in order to really understand a verse/passage when everything is pulled together.

Our church just finished studying our Lord’s entrance into the Temple during His first months of ministry. He walked in and, upon seeing the sellers and their wares, makes a rope from other ropes laying around. He then begins to drive people out, threatening them with harm (John 2:13-22). In studying this event, I had to do a lot of historical research. I wanted to understand what Jesus saw as He entered the Temple and why that catalyzed His zeal. I found out, through the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus and a Jewish scholar turned Christian, Alfred Edersheim, that since the Old Testament never taught a person to exchange their blemished animal for an “unblemished” one, then these sellers and money-changers in the Temple, lead by the High Priest Anna himself, were simply running a very deceptive and lucrative scam meant to secure relationship with Rome and fatten Annas’ pocketbook. If found that Annas was known for his extortion and the priests were known for their use of force to gather “tithes” for the Temple. Once having understood all of this, the entire passage came alive. Then, comparing that with God’s original design for the Temple, a place where God would dwell and men could approach Him in fellowship, it even made me upset!

Therefore, since the Scripture was written in real language in real time with real people, we have to understand the historical setting of the passages we are studying. Most sound commentaries make use of extensive historical works. Some don’t. If the Bible is treated as only devotional material meant to simply make you think ‘happy thoughts’ to get you through the day, then a person who does that simply does not understand the Bible, no matter what they say.

When coming to a passage ask yourself:

  • About whom is the passage speaking?
  • Where did he/she live?
  • Were they at war with anyone?
  • What was it like living there?
  • What year(s) are represented in the text?
  • What age is the person being talked about?
  • Is he/she married?
  • Are they believers?

There are many questions that should be asked of a passage. These are  just a few. When you are able to reconstruct the passage historically, you will be able to assess the meaning of the passage better.

For instance, Paul wrote in Colossians 1:15:

 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

 

When did Paul write that? Who were the Colossians? Where did they live? Why would they need to know that Jesus is the invisible God and the firstborn of all creation? Were they a Roman colony?

Many times, questions like these can be answered from reading the book many times over. From the book we learn that Colossae is a location on the map (1:2). The audience of the letter were saints and faithful at that (1:2). However, it would appear that they needed ongoing teaching from the Apostle Paul concerning the person and nature of Jesus Christ, since that takes up the bulk of the letter. It would also appear that they were being taught some erroneous doctrine from somewhere and that may have been what caused Paul to write this letter in the first place (2:8, 18; 3:1-4). It would also appear that Paul wrote this letter from prison (4:10). That would help us to date the letter. If we could learn when Paul was in prison, we could then know when he wrote this letter.

Much of the historical setting can be ascertained from the letter itself. However, the letter will not tell us the location of Colossae nor the population at the time, for example. One of the best places to turn at this point for information like that would be a Bible encyclopedia.

A Bible encyclopedia will give you information about many people, places, events, practices, cities, as well as a myriad of other information from scholars who have done the hard work of research. They will then collect that into a volume in encyclopedia fashion for your access. A Bible dictionary is similar to an encyclopedia as well. However, as you would guess, it deals with words and terms in the Bible that can be ascertained and read for understanding. Again, this is usually the fruit of the labors of able scholars. Having this information is necessary in order to comprehend the situation from which Paul is writing and to whom Paul is writing.

For example, if we look under the heading “prison” in The Harper’s Bible Dictionary (Achtemeier, Paul J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985, p. 824), we find out the condition from which Paul was writing. There is even further reference for more specific information at the end of the article that tells me to look under “Paul.” Also, in the same book, we find out a little more about Colossae (under the heading “Colossae,” p.175).

Conclusion:

Once you have done your “word-work,” “sentence-work,” “historical-work,” you can pull it all together. One note here, though, is that these things can take time and patience. But the discovery is worth it! Simply understanding this text is the goal. Once the text is clear, it is powerful. God works through the understanding of the text. We do not need to add to it, or remove anything from it. It stands on its own.

From all of this information we understand that Paul, the apostle, is writing to the church in Colossae, a Roman town in Asia Minor, near to the towns of Laodicea and Ephesus. The prison in which Paul was at this point, most likely, was during his first imprisonment and it was a more relaxed imprisonment than his second, final, imprisonment. His final imprisonment was final because he was beheaded while there. Thus, he would have been in prison under different, more stringent, circumstances. Paul’s first imprisonment would have ended around 62 AD. Thus, this letter, written while in his 2 year imprisonment, or confinement, would have been written in 61 AD, or so. While in Prison, Paul received word from Epaphras that the church loved the truth and was committed to love (1:3-9). However, it appears that he also heard of the influence of myths, Jewish traditions, and the like promoted by some and distorting the truth about the nature of Jesus Christ. Concerned, Paul writes to them and gives the letter to Epaphras, along with Tychicus and Onesimus (Philemon 1-10). They are to read this letter, and send it on to other churches. In our verse, 1:15, we see that Paul further explains that Jesus Christ is God. In fact, He is the “image,” or “pattern,” of the true God. Thus, Christ represents a God whom no one can see. In fact, Jesus is actually His Son, as the OT speaks of Him (Psalm 2:7). This Son of God is the firstborn of all creation. That is, He, like the OT laws of the firstborn, is preeminent. He is the heir of all things and receives all things from His Father. With this information, we are able to appreciate, even adore, Christ more. This is fantastic, and seemingly incredible, truth. A Man, as He appears, is the heir of all things. And yet, this Heir, died for His inheritance. This assaults the idea that He is an angel, or a created man. He is none other than the eternal Son of God and, as such, He is God. Only God can accurately represent God. 

I realize that this is a simplistic little series that takes time to learn and perfect. However, because of the reality of inerrancy, we are bound by this method of study. We study the Scripture the way it was given-real people, in real time, with real language.

The Pastor’s Home: A Prerequisite For Service-pt.1

A man cannot enter war without first being trained. We would not allow a doctor to perform surgery without extensive experience and training. We would not want a man to lead our nation who is not fully capable to do so. However, for most, the thought of having a pastor without adequate training, equipping, and qualification is okay. Some see training in preparation for ministry as negligible and nonessential. Some even deride those who pursue training in preparation for pastoral ministry saying that they are not filled with the Spirit (insinuating that they are). In the day of the pride of ignorance, many consider learning and exerting mental discipline almost a waste of time. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a person praise his pastor because he doesn’t prepare for his sermons. He simply gets up and lets the spirit speak through him. They say this to me with a very proud grin full of adoration for such a display of godliness. However, in my mind, I know that that man ought to be ashamed of himself. The Apostle Paul wrote,

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”  2 Timothy 2:15

It is a shameful thing to enter into anything unprepared. It is not unlike the proverb that says, “Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool displays folly” (Proverbs 13:16). That is to say, the prudent man learns how to do that for which he is accountable. The fool does not and simply displays to everyone what little he knows.

An often overlooked (and undervalued) side of preparation for ministry is a man’s home. By “home” I think the Scripture primarily means the people who are under his care, and then, secondarily, the house in which they live. His home is the determining factor in his qualification for ministry. Why do I say that? As we will see in 1 Timothy 3, it is the place where the reality of his righteousness is displayed, and verified. It is easy for a man to “flip the switch” in public and act as if everything is fine at home, when in fact it is not. We fear the public disgrace of looking like we do not have control. But, it is altogether different when no one is looking. It is altogether different in the day-in and day-out realities of raising children and our relationship with our wives. Men in general have to learn how to faithfully lead his home. Unfortunately, some men never realize that. They often go from one distraction to another until the children are gone and then wipe their brow and think to themselves, “Whew, I am glad they are gone.” At that point, typically, they rationalize to themselves that the decisions their children make in the lives as they are on their own are not the parent’s responsibility. However, that is not true. The lives our children live in their own marriages and in their own homes demonstrate the capability of our leadership in the home. Or, to say it another way, the fruit of godly leadership in the home does not bear itself out until our children are no longer under our care. We may be able to suppress the rebellion of our children while they are in the home, and get by. But, the real question is, “What do our children do when they are one their own? What decisions do they make? Where is their heart?”

To begin this series, we need to establish the fact that raising children in a godly manner is crucial, necessary, for the qualification of a man to ministry. However, the condition of our home is only the fruit of the man’s leadership, not the definition of it. The sanctification of his wife, the godliness (not worldliness) of his children, his own level of holiness (especially when no one else is looking) all demonstrate the Lord’s qualification of that man.

A New Covenant ministry is unlike anything else that has gone before. One day, Jesus was speaking with the people and some disciples of John came to Jesus and asked Him if He truly was the Messiah (Luke 7:18-23). Jesus gave them instructions as to the proof of His ministry, as outlined in Isaiah 35 and 61. The messengers went back to John. Jesus took the opportunity to commend John before the people (vv.24-30). He spoke of John as the greatest of the prophets (v.28). He was the messenger in the vein of Malachi 3:1 (v.27). However, the Pharisees rejected John’s baptism of repentance and thus demonstrated that they were not interested in God’s purpose for them.

The Lord then gives a parable, that is apropos to us at this point. There were children in the marketplace and one group was calling out to the rest of the children. The first group of children played a flute, but the rest did not dance. They then proceeded to sing a funeral song, and the other children did not mourn. The point is, Jesus and John did not perform their ministries according to the expectations of the Pharisees and lawyers, and they did not like it. But the Lord makes a profound statement that we all need to consider. He said,

"Yet, wisdom is vindicated by all her children” – Luke 7:35

Jesus is speaking of the comparison of wisdom-His and John’s (ultimately, God’s) versus the Pharisees and the lawyers. In order to determine the quality of wisdom, look at what is being produced and compare that against righteousness. Then you will be able to comprehend wisdom. Or, to quote another teaching,

“A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:18–20

The “offspring” of God’s work are those submissive to God’s purposes. Those who reject those purposes, like the Pharisees and lawyers, are not wise. Therefore, look at what people produce in order to determine the quality, or qualification, of the wisdom used. Thus, it is a basic fact of like, a principle for everything-if you want to know the quality of a teaching, ideal, or leader, look at what is produced.

Paul takes that truism and establishes it in the life of the church. In the next post, we will begin to examine 1 Timothy 3:4-5. In the meantime, consider what the author of Hebrews 13:7 wrote,

“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”

If you want to know the viability of a ministry, elder, pastor, or church, do not look at what it boasts, teaches, or claims. Look at what that ministry, elder, pastor, or church produces. Consider (examine, scrutinize) the result of their conduct, and then imitate their faith.

Pastor or elder, how are you doing? What are you producing? What does your home life look like? My attempt here is not to set up an impossible standard built upon a contrived self-righteousness which only I can meet. My goal here is to understand what pleases God in the homes of the men called to lead God’s flock, and expect that from them. As with any job, there are standards, whether it is a sales quota, production quota, or some other standard of qualification for the work. How much more, then, the standards of representing the Lord Jesus Christ before His people (Leviticus 10:3; cf. Exodus 19:22).

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: