Thus says the Lord: "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord." ~~ Jeremiah 9:23-24

The life of the preacher is a life of study, and it has been so from the very beginning. The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to study so that he could present himself to God as an approved worker, "a worker who has no need to be ashamed" [2 Timothy 2:15]. This instruction came within the context of Timothy's call as a preacher and teacher of God's Word, and Paul's instruction to Timothy is our Lord's instruction to all who would preach and teach the Word of God.

A word of honesty is necessary at this point. Any honest assessment of the contemporary church would indicate that vast numbers of ministers serving Christ's church are derelict in this duty. They are intellectually lazy, biblically illiterate, slothful in their study habits, and they often steal the learning of others in order to hide their own disobedience. This is a scandal that robs the congregation of the learned and faithful ministry the people of God so desperately need and deserve.

The preacher's lifetime of study begins with the moment of his call and properly ends only when the preacher breathes his last breath. Between the call and the grave lies a long and rewarding journey of learning--learning that will be put at the disposal of the congregation until we see our Lord face to face. On that day, we dare not be ashamed of our lack of study.

Thomas Murphy, once of the great faithful pastors of the nineteenth century, described the minister's calling of study with these words: "The pastor must study, study, study, or he will not grow, or even live, as a true workman for Christ." The minister's life is "one of incessant study," Murphy explained, and "mere genius" will not suffice--this is a life of constant and rewarding study.

Knowing God

The preacher's first task is to know God--personally. The Bible has no conception of an unconverted ministry. The preacher is first of all a man who has come to know God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and who find his greatest fulfillment in knowing God personally and redemptively.

God told the prophet Jeremiah, "let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me" [Jeremiah 9:24]. Our fundamental knowledge is a knowledge of God, and this is the central goal of all true theological education and ministry preparation. The preacher must be one who sets his sight on a vibrant personal knowledge of God. Otherwise, theological knowledge becomes a ground for personal pride and intellectual pretentiousness.

As J. I. Packer reminds us, "To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it."

Furthermore, Packer correctly reminds us that we are indeed to be urgently concerned for theological orthodoxy and biblical truth, but "not as ends in themselves, but as a means to the further ends of life and godliness." In other words: "Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God's attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are."