Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Be Diligent to Show Yourself Approved

Written to me by my beloved brother, Rev. Francois Verschelden, Pastor Living Rock Baptist Church, St-Felix de Valois, Quebec, Canada on October 21, 2002 [I have not edited so that you might receive his “tiny” little French accent]:

“To ‘Happy Memories’ add the study of the Word of God. Combine two together and you will always be able to know that you are still in God’s plan for your life and make a difference in the life of other.

2 Ti 2:15
Love you. Your Friend forever”

Francois wrote this to me during our first trip and subsequent first good-bye (of two that trip) to Montreal and the surrounding areas. At the time, I was a little miffed by what he wrote. Honestly, I was shocked that he would write to me – me of all people! – and tell me that I need to study more and that I should “be diligent to present [myself] approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Although I did not know this at the time, Francois hit me dead on, but his message fell on a hard heart. I thought that I was studying and reading “enough.” I had my quiet times, my accountability group, my Bible study group, my various ministries that I was a part of, etc, etc. But Franco (as I affectionately call him) knew that I needed to be encouraged to study more and to not be satisfied with minute niblets of the truth. He exhorted me to feast upon the Bread of Life and to get fat from it.

I recalled this admonition from my past as it has thankfully haunted me ever since. I come to realize that as one who likes to study and will make a lifetime of doing so; I have the opportunity of becoming calloused to any passage of Scripture because I have “read that one before.” Dr. Howard Hendricks reminds us,

“The genius of the Word of God is that it has staying power; it can stand up to repeated exposure. In fact, that’s why it is unlike any other book. You may be an expert in a given field. If you read a book in that field two or three times, you’ve got it. You can put it on the shelf and move on to something else. But that’s never true of the Bible. Read it over and over again, and you’ll still see thing that you’ve never seen before” (1).

It is quite simple to get caught up in thinking that a particular passage has already been mastered, or at least thoroughly examined. The only thing true about that statement is that it has been mastered, but only by the author – never the reader. I would probably even venture to say that the human authors who were “moved by the Holy Spirit [who] spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21) did not completely comprehend the message that the Lord was giving each of them to proclaim but only the source of the message – The Trinity – could understand. Peter spoke of Paul’s writings in such a way to indicate that he may have wrestled with them as well: “Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand” (2 Peter 3 15-16). I am thankful for this statement of truth to affirm that in the times when I do not fully understand Scripture’s intent, that I am not a blundering idiot immediately cast out of the Presence of the Lord.

All this as an introduction to say, if there ever was one who was diligent to show himself approved, his name was Martin Luther, the Augustinian Monk from Erfurt, Germany (2). In regards to Luther’s diligence to pursue the truth behind Romans 1:17 (“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’”) which brought about the face of the Reformation and much of the Protestant Church as we know it today, he says, “I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted” (3). His passion for the truth and his utmost desire to truly divide the Word down to its marrow and to drink deeply from the riches of its well was his driving force, and thankfully, he was not content to allow his studies to be consumed with the commentaries of his contemporaries.

“It is a sin and shame not to know our own book or to understand the speech and words of our God; it is still a greater sin and loss that we do not study languages, especially in these days when God is offering and giving us men and books and every facility and inducement to this study, and desires his Bible to be an open book. O how happy the dear fathers would have been if they had our opportunity to study the languages and come thus prepared to the Holy Scriptures! What great toil and effort it cost them to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor – yes, almost without any labor at all – can acquire the whole loaf! O how their effort puts our indolence to shame!” (4)

As Luther penned these words in the 1500’s, John Piper adds “With computer programs for instruction and use of the languages, how much more true is this today than when it was written!” (5)

Luther’s charge to any student of the word, and probably more ardently toward the teacher:

“The call is: watch, study, attend to reading. In truth you cannot read too much in Scripture; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well” (6).

And concerning his understanding of the laborious work of the student of the Word:

“Ask…a preacher…how much work it is to speak and preach…The pen is very light, that is true…[In other types of work] the person can sing happily or make jokes freely which a sermon writer cannot do. Three fingers do it all…but the whole body and soul have to work at it” (7).

A true teacher, who understands the power, the weight, and his accountability before the Father, will do his due diligence to make sure that he accurately handles the word of truth. For one who is fully submitted to the Biblical text and has submerged himself into it, the proclamation of this timeless truth demands the totality of his being; his mind, his heart, his tongue, his hands, his eyes, his ears, and the rest of his members. The true teacher does not achieve this thirty minutes before he is to preach or even one hour prior. As A.W. Tozer comments, “It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table” (8). The true teacher understands this and is haunted by this very reality and therefore, makes it his aim to faithfully study so that he might declare the excellencies of his Maker.

Dr. Albert Mohler, one who believes fully in the centrality of preaching as worship says

“The church has never been faithful when it has lacked fidelity in the pulpit…Those who are called to preach bear a heavy duty. As Martin Luther confessed “If I could come down with a good conscience, I would rather be stretched out on a wheel and carry stones than preach one sermon"…True preaching is not an exhibition of the brilliance or intellect of the preacher, but an exposition of the wisdom and power of God…This occasion itself represents the divine initiative, for it is God Himself, and not the preacher, who controls His Word” (9).

If you teach, study to show yourself approved. If you are a hearer, pray for your pastor, your teacher, your Bible study leader, whoever is responsible to faithfully declare what God has already revealed. As with the Gospel, the duty comes with great reward but at great sacrifice.

1 Howard Hendricks. Living By The Book. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1991. 81.
2 John Piper. The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Trumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000. 84.
3 John Dillenberger, ed. Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1961. xvii. As quoted by John Piper. The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Trumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000. 91.
4 Fred W. Meuser. Luther the Preacher. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983. 39. As quoted by John Piper ibid. 99-100.
5 ibid. 100.
6 Meuser ibid 40-41. Piper ibid 101.
7 ibid 44-45. ibid 101-102
8 A.W. Tozer. The Pursuit of God. reprinted, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, INC, 1993. 8. (originally written in 1948)
9 Albert Mohler. “Why Do We Preach? A Foundation for Christian Preachin, Part One” click here for article

** UPDATED 2/13/06 **:
Another much more learned scholar than I, J. Ligon Duncan, has commented on the need for maturing Christians to study. He quotes C.H. Spurgeon who is commenting on 2 Tim 4:13, "[Paul] is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books!...The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. YOU need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying." Read Duncan's article, posted on the Together For the Gospel Blog here.

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