I can answer anyone who taunts me, for I trust in your word. (Psalm 119:42)
Preparing People for Eternity
Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) was a German pastor who served during World War II. In Hilter’s last days, Allied bombs rained down on Stuttgart. Thielicke preached sermons on the Lord’s Prayer in these times of uncertainty and death. His ministry seemed to be over, his listeners were scattered, and church buildings lay in rubble and ashes.
Thielicke visited a woman from his congregation. From the street, they looked down into the pit of a cellar. It was all that remained from a building shattered by bombs. The woman said, “My husband died down there. The clean-up squad was unable to find a trace of him. All that was left was his cap.” Thieleke didn’t know what to say, but the woman was grateful. She said, “We were there the last time you preached in the church. And here before this pit, I thank you for preparing my husband for eternity.”1
Our teaching and preaching the Bible must not be aimless, but must help to prepare people for serving Christ in this life and for our future life with Jesus. When we pray “Thy kingdom come,” we pray that Satan’s kingdom be destroyed, that Christ’s kingdom of grace be advanced, with ourselves and others brought into it and kept in it, and that Christ’s kingdom of glory may come quickly.
This post continues some guidelines for teaching and preaching God’s word that I used at Belhaven University in Houston, TX. I have also used them with men at Jester III prison and other pastors and Christian workers. I apply them to all who teach the Christian Scriptures, men and women.
Our Teaching and Preaching Must Aim to Glorify God
Scriptures: Psalms 34:3, 63:3, 115:1 Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together….Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you….Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. 1 Thess 2:4 We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. John 7:18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the One who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.
Comments: Glorifying God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) means thinking, being, and living in ways that reflect His perfect being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. It means acknowledging that God has exalted Christ to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at Jesus’ name every knee should bow and every tongue acknowledge that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.2 Our ministry should praise and honor God and help people do the same because He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything, including us! He alone deserves the glory for all the good things we see, experience, and accomplish.3 Glorifying God is the ultimate, absolute, all-pervasive reason for being everything we are, and doing everything we do, so surely we must focus on the Lord’s greatness, honor, majesty, and supremacy in our preaching and teaching.4
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and 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 human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Cor 2:2-5)
Our Teaching and Preaching Must Aim to Convert, Edify, and Save the Lord’s People
Scripture: 1 Cor 9:19,22 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible….I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 2 Cor 12:19 We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening (spiritual upbuilding and benefit). Eph 4:11-12 Pastors and teachers equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up in unity and maturity. 2 Tim 2:10 I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the (final) salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
Comments: Again, we can’t be aimless, but must help people in at least these three ways:
|Being born again by the Holy Spirit (repenting + believing)
|Being sanctified by the Holy Spirit (trusting + obeying)
|Being glorified by the Holy Spirit in Heaven
|Beginning of life with Christ
|Ongoing life with Christ
|Final dwelling with Christ
Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was an English pastor and poet. He was plagued by his own poor health and people dying all around him. He was gripped by the urgency of Jesus’ good news and the fleeting opportunity he had to teach it to people. He wrote:
Still thinking I had little time to live,
My fervent heart to win people’s souls did strive.
I preached, as never sure to preach again,
And as a dying man to dying men!5
We want to help people come to Jesus, continue with Jesus through this life, and go home to be with Jesus when they die. Near the end of his life, the Apostle Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”6 We want to help people we serve to say the same.
Christ’s words to Paul apply to us also in a secondary way. The Lord Jesus said:
I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26:16-18)
Prayer: Lord, we live in wicked times. Your blessed people are persecuted because of righteousness, and you warned us that this would happen. So we run back to you and to your word. We rejoice in your promises like people who find great riches. Help us to share your good news with others. Help us to hate falsehood and love your Scriptures because we love you. Help us to follow your commands so that nothing can make us stumble. Preserve us as we watch and wait for Jesus’ certain return. We pray in His name. Amen.7
Notes (various Bible translations): 1 John Koessler, “Helmut Thielicke: Preaching Amidst the Rubble,” (6-24-10). 2 Phil 2:9-11. 3 Isaiah 42:5-8. 4 Some of this section was helped by John Piper. 5 from The Reformed Pastor. 6 2 Tim 4:7. 7 Prayer based on Psalm 119:161-168.