volume 17, number 32, August 16, 2018
Four Necessities for Every Believer: 1) The Ministry of the Word
In fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy (Joel 2:28-32), in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise (Luke 24:46-49, Acts 1:8), after ten days of earnest prayer, the Holy Spirt was poured out on the one hundred and twenty gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Peter, the one who only fifty days earlier had been pushed around by a little girl, denying Jesus three times, now, having received the Holy Spirit, preaches with Holy Ghost power. He addresses the mind (Acts 2:14-35), declaring to his hearers the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, their culpability in the crucifixion of Christ, and the fulfillment of David’s prophecy on Christ’s resurrection. Peter then draws the noose tightly around their necks, driving home to their hearts the main point of his sermon-“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-this Jesus whom you crucified,” (Acts 2:36).
And what was the response by those who heard Peter? “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?'”
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Why does so much of the preaching we hear today do so little to transform Christians or to convert the lost? Perhaps first and foremost is the possibility that many to whom the preacher preaches are not truly born again, that they do not possess new life in Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:1-3). The Christian has the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), the heart of Jesus in regeneration (John 3:5-8, Romans 6:4), the righteousness of Jesus in justification (Romans 5:1, 1 Corinthians 1:30), and the holiness of Jesus in sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30, Hebrews 12:14). Therefore a true believer will have a hunger to hear God’s word and apply it to his life. However we all battle indwelling sin and the temptations which come our way from the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are all prone to wander from the faith, to move away from sincere purity and devotion to Christ.
So we daily need the word of God. However the emphasis today is largely misplaced. We live in the information age and we are constantly bombarded with all manner of information, what we might call “information overload.”
On a personal level, we tend to think that as long as we read a portion of Scripture every morning then we are “good to go” for the day. Or we tend to think, as do those who preach to us, that a well researched, well structured, cogently delivered sermon, replete with illustrations and applications is what is required to promote Biblical and spiritual transformation of the person in the pew.
My friends, would you not agree that we have never had more Biblical information than we presently have today? All that is required is to go to the internet and we can find sermons of all the great preachers of all the ages. However, we are generally severely compromised in our pursuit of Biblical holiness.
The word of God is to be boldly preached or proclaimed without equivocation or sophistry, and the word is to be received, grasped in the heart, and personalized to immediate action. Yes, of course the preacher is to address the mind but that is not the telos or final objective.
If one of our grandchildren spends the night with us, and I notice the next morning that he did not make up his bed, then I may ask, “Do you not know how to make up your bed?” Perhaps our grandchild will say, “No, I have not learned how to do that yet.” I say, “Okay, here’s how you do it. Now, let’s practice.” So the grandchild now has the understanding and expertise to make up his bed each time he spends the night with us. However, is this grasp of knowledge enough to move him to action? Of course it is not. He must be moved in his heart to make up his bed. He must desire to do it. I must appeal to his heart, convincing him of the necessity to do what he knows he should do and is equipped to do.
The same is true in preaching, teaching, discipling, counseling, or evangelizing. Whatever we do in the word of God must reach the heart.
However, in most cases preachers simply expound the text, sometimes quite brilliantly and cogently, but the people receive the word, are often entertained and instructed by the sermon, but go home with more information stored in their minds but continue to be bereft of life-changing righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
This all begs the question, doesn’t it? How does the preacher preach to the heart? How can the preacher use the word of God as a razor’s edge to cut us deeply, causing us to bleed repentance (Hebrews 4:12)? And how can you allow the word of God to reach your own heart, resulting in growing gospel holiness? You must have Holy Ghost fire. You must have the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Consider the preaching of the greats of the past, men like George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, Charles Spurgeon and many others. Their preaching and their lives were marked by Holy Ghost fire. What is that? John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord Jesus, said that One was coming who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). Isaiah said that an angel came and touched his depraved mouth with coals of fire from the altar (Isaiah 6:6-7). The men on the road to Emmaus, after hearing Jesus open the Scriptures to them about Himself, said that their hearts burned within them (Luke 24:32). Malachi said that the coming of the Lord would be like a refiners fire (Malachi 3:2-3). Applying the words of the Psalmist, the writer to the Hebrews says that God makes His messengers a flame of fire (Hebrews 1:7, Psalm 104:4) Paul tells us that we will be saved by fire (1 Corinthians 3:15). Hebrews exhorts us to worship the Lord with reverence, for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). And Luke says that one of the manifestations of the coming Holy Spirit was tongues which resembled fire (Acts 2:3). This was the fulfillment of John’s words (Luke 3:16).
What does this mean? Fire in the Bible is symbolic of three things-purity, power, and passion. Isaiah is purified by altar coals. Jesus’ baptism of the Spirit and fire promises the coming power of God. And God’s messengers are a flaming fire, filled with passion to take the gospel to the nations. We must reject the notion that all we need is the receiving of sermonic information, even if it is based on Scripture. We need both the Scripture and the Spirit. We need to take up the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17), but we must also pray with all perseverance and petition in the Spirit for all the saints, that the word may go forth with boldness (Ephesians 6:18-20).
How do we get there? We must have Holy Ghost fire. We must have the unction of the Spirit (1 John 2:20). There is only one way, and that is earnest prayer and supplication, pouring out our hearts to God in repentance, asking for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), seeking His presence and power until we get it (James 4:8). If you are a preacher then make this your highest priority in ministry. If you support your preacher in prayer, and surely you should do so, then pray that the unction, Holy Ghost fire, will come with fullness in purity of motives, power in preaching, and passion in pursuit of ministry. I know-it looks strange, decidedly uncool in our day when hip and laid back is in-but we ought to go to church and watch our pastor burn with Holy Ghost fire as he stands to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. This is not a casual thing. This is not a “maybe you ought to think about it” proposition. This is life and death (2 Corinthians 3-4). Our words are a savor of life unto life or death unto death (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). The preacher is to preach the one main point of the sermon and seek a verdict. What will his hearers do with what they have just heard?
Samuel Chadwick said that when the church talks a lot about its problems, when conferences increase then she is in trouble. She is looking to activities to overcome the lack of true spiritual power. “We are acting as though the only remedy for decline were method, organization, and compromise.” Surely we can do better. Surely we must do better. We must have Holy Ghost fire!
By Dr. Al Baker
Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship
Board Member & Evangelist
PO Box 847
Bristol, TN 37621