Ministering the Word Effectively
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Mar 18
We live in a day when the Word of God is being assaulted by many from within as well as from without the church. The inerrancy, infallibility, authority, sufficiency, and efficiency, of Scripture are issues not to be taken lightly or brushed off as mere loaded terms in theological debate. These words describe the character and nature of Scripture and must be embraced by all true Christians.
At the same time, there are many Christians, pastors in particular, who embrace these dynamics theoretically while dismissing them practically. For example, when we embrace man-centered and manipulative techniques in evangelism, we deny the efficiency or the effectual nature of Scripture (Rom. 1:16). When we integrate our counsel with psychology, we undermine the sufficiency of Scripture. When we appeal to experience or other things as opposed to the Scriptures, we deny Scripture's authority. When we play games with the doctrine of Christ's return or accept as true things that contradict the Scriptures including extra-biblical revelations whether from the founder of a new cult, the supposed head of the church, or a self-proclaimed television prophet, we deny its infallibility. When we question the historicity of Genesis 1-11, call Paul a male-chauvinist or a product of his culture, or toy with evolution among other things, we deny its inerrancy.
More specifically, in conservative evangelical circles, when we preach or teach without extracting our message from Scripture, we do not preach the Word. If we come to a text and then launch into something unrelated to the text, we do not preach the Word. What we say may be biblical, but if it is not grounded in the text under consideration, we are not being biblical in our teaching. We are violating the text of Scripture and abusing the people of God. The truth of the matter is that sometimes we are simply not ministering the Word. We are telling stories unrelated to the text or a truth from the text; we are psychologizing; we are making experience our authority; or we are engaged in a number of other dynamics that have nothing to do with true ministry of the Word. In Christian bookstores for example, we find bible studies related to Andy Griffith or the Beverly Hillbillies. What a travesty.
The question is, "how can we minister the Word effectively?" Fortunately, in two verses of Scripture, Paul gives us enough information to answer that question. While we could bring in much more from other texts, Col. 1:28-29 will serve as a sufficient word to us for the purpose of this short exhortation. There are ten dynamics we must embrace if we are to minister the Word aright.
In v. 28, there is a sense in which Paul transitions slightly from his preceding comments, though he still speaks of Christ in us as the hope of glory (see v. 27). He moves to say that it is Christ we preach. He is our message because He is the only hope of glory. Paul expands upon this message in terms of method or elements with regard to the ministry of the word. He says, "Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." In this short verse, he gives a number of dynamics related to the overall ministry of the Word of God.
First, we can minister the Word effectively if we center our message upon Christ. The ministry of the Word is centered upon a person, not a philosophy. That person, as noted, is the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Colossian context, heretics had indeed infiltrated the church bringing various philosophies with them, all contrary to the Word of God. In contrast, Paul makes it clear that the Word of God is about a person: Christ. In contrast to philosophy, our message is Christ Himself.
Second, we can minister the Word effectively if we announce the Lord with authority. The ministry of the Word is accomplished through preaching. The root word for "preach" in this text is not kerusso (to herald), but kataggello. This word means to announce. We announce Christ. We announce His person, His arrival, His life, His work, His coming, His Lordship, etc. Far and wide we announce the message of Christ that all may hear. Announcing is indeed akin to heralding. The idea is that something of grave importance is being announced and all should listen.
In announcing Christ, it is not bare announcement. It is proclamation. In such a dynamic, one explicates and applies Scripture as the words of Scripture are the source and content of preaching. Proclamation is instruction in the will of God and focuses on Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:1-5). In summary, Christian proclamation is the explication and application of Scripture, particularly as it conveys the message of Christ crucified, with a view toward instructing persons in the will of God that they might glorify Him by finding satisfaction in Him.
This activity is critical in that the minister, or the one ministering the Word, is participating in God’s activity when he preaches. Paul wrote: "For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor. 1:21). Jesus said: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk. 4:18-19). If God saves and Christ sets the captives free, then the minister finds that Christ is at work when he preaches.
Third, we can minister the Word effectively if we warn, admonish, encourage, and counsel. The verb noutheteo refers to imparting understanding, setting right, or laying on the heart. The emphasis lies in not only influencing the intellect but in moving the will at the same time. The word is often translated admonish, warn, remind, correct, etc. No concept of punishment is found in its usage. Rather, the idea is that of moral appeal that leads to change, amendment, or correction. The idea is not punishment but discipline. The noun carries the same concept of admonition or instruction with a view toward warning or correcting without punishment or provocation. The word literally means to put in mind, particularly referring to training by the word through encouragement or reproof. This is the word from which we get our concept of biblical or nouthetic counseling.
Let us take a liberty here and expand upon the idea of biblical counseling by way of application. It is the private proclamation of the word. In a very real sense, public proclamation may be termed "preventative counseling" while private proclamation may be termed "corrective counseling." In the biblical sense, counseling is taking the Word of God and applying it to an individual's heart. The Scriptures seem to indicate that the private ministry of the Word goes together with the public ministry of the Word. When leaving the Ephesian elders Paul said: "...and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:20-21). Participating in the activity of God through the ministry of the Word both publicly and privately seems to be the heart of pastoral ministry.
When the minister seeks to participate in God's ministry through counseling, a number of goals are sought including change, comfort, encouragement, etc. All counselors recognize that persons need to change, utilize means to bring about change, and believe that change is beneficial to those involved in the counseling process. Biblical counseling is the discipline of bringing about change in persons through the application of the Scriptures to their lives. The discipline has been called nouthetic counseling as nouthesia, the Greek word for "admonish," has been transliterated to describe this model of counseling from the Scriptures. "The Bible itself provides the principles for understanding and for engaging in nouthetic counseling and directs Christian ministers to do such counseling as a part of their life calling in the ministry of the word (other Christians also should counsel as God gives opportunity [Jay Adams])."
The basis for a Christian's counseling is the Bible itself. Scripture deals with the same issues with which all counselors deal. The purpose of the Bible is to change lives primarily through declaring abundant life through Jesus Christ. The Bible claims for itself the necessary tools for equipping the counselor for every good work. The Bible is the basis for counseling because the Bible is about change in every area of life including behavior, attitudes, relationships, beliefs, and values. For the Christian, no other source can provide such a standard for change particularly in a way that pleases God.
Counseling is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the One who transforms the human heart. Christian counseling is carried on with the understanding that the Spirit is the one who effects regeneration and sanctification. He produces His fruit in the life of the counselee. He effects His work. The minister may involve himself in God's work through prayer, fellowship among God's people, and the ministry of the Word.
Biblical counseling is a system of truth that brings people with problems together with God. It is a system that holds Scripture as its authority, the local church as the primary context in which counseling is to be done, and the belief that God's people can be trained to counsel from the Scriptures in an effective manner. God is at the center of counseling and all other sources of knowledge must be submitted to the authority of Scripture. The basic problem that human beings wrestle with is sin and the answer to that problem is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The goal of counseling is progressive sanctification. Counseling is a pastoral activity and as such is essentially church-based. In summary, counseling is taking the Word of God and applying it to the hearts of individuals that they might be progressively sanctified and thereby glorify God by the very testimony of their lives as they exude their joy in Him.
Fourth, we can minister the Word effectively if we speak the gospel to all. We minister the word to "every man." Obviously, Paul does not mean that each one of us specifically ministers the word to every person on earth. He means that we minister the word to every man without distinction; to everyone who comes our way; to everyone who needs Christ. Whether lost or saved, every person needs the Word of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses this phrase to contrast the universal message of Christ with the intellectual exclusiveness of the false teachers. The Gnostic tendencies of the false teachers led them to embrace an elitist and secret knowledge. It was a message for some who were deemed intellectually worthy. It was not for all. In contrast, while not all receive the message of Christ, it is nevertheless to be proclaimed to all.
Fifth, we can minister the Word effectively if we engage in teaching and instruction. The word didasko refers to teaching in general. Teaching may involve proclamation and announcement among other things. It includes doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction. Teaching requires the explanation, illustration, argumentation, and application of the Word of God.
Teaching is closely related to proclamation. Teaching has to do with theology and specific application of that theology to the hearts of individuals. Teaching may be synonymous with corporate discipleship. Jesus commanded His church to make disciples of the nations by baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything He commanded. Teaching to obey involves the application of doctrine and Scriptural exhortation to the heart. Paul wrote: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Teaching involves equipping the saints for every good work. In summary, teaching is the application of doctrine and biblical exhortation to the heart with a view toward equipping the saints for every good work that they might glorify God by being filled with joy in engaging in the works which God ordained before hand for them to walk in having been created in Christ.
Let us take a further liberty here and discuss the dynamics of preaching and teaching together by way of practical application. In many circles, the proclamation of the Word has taken on a character that seems divorced from teaching the Word of God to the people. Persons will invariably criticize the pastor for engaging in too much teaching and not enough preaching, as if the two dynamics did not go together, or, as if preaching were somehow divorced from theology. If one is not rightly dividing the Word of Truth in his preaching, then he is not truly preaching in the Christian sense. Paul wrote to young Timothy: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2). The word "doctrine" refers to teaching.
The Scriptures indicate that it is the Word of God which sanctifies sinners. James wrote: "Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (Jas. 1:21). If the only "information" a congregation ever receives is the first principles of the gospel, or a mere application of those principles time and again, that congregation will never grow. The members of that congregation will be in spiritual danger. Many are and will remain unconverted. The Scriptures issue a strong warning in this regard. The writer to the Hebrews exhorted: "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame (Heb. 6:1-6)." Teaching is of critical importance.
Sixth, we can minister the Word effectively if we teach and instruct with wisdom. We take the wisdom of God and implement it in our teaching. Wisdom is necessary in regard to the maturity level of the students or the disposition of individuals whom one must teach. It takes wisdom to know when to warn and when to comfort for example. Moreover, God's wisdom is that which enables true teaching to occur. We are not to appeal to worldly wisdom or philosophy. Paul is speaking of true wisdom here, not the pseudo-wisdom of the ancient Gnostics or the so-called wisdom of contemporary pundits.
Seventh, we can minister the Word effectively if we work with purpose in mind. Paul says that we minister the word to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. A further word about the phrase "every man" is warranted here. While the goal of ministry is every man in the sense of every man without distinction, or the ministry of the word indiscriminately, or to minister to all whom God places in our path, here, in the context of presenting every man perfect, Paul refers to every believer. To present someone perfect is to present someone mature or sanctified. While Paul always had an eye toward gospel advance via evangelism, he always had an eye toward the church. We preach and teach and admonish to present men/women before the throne of God as mature men/women in Christ.
Eighth, we can minister the Word effectively if we view our ministry as worship. The ministry of the word, in one sense, is a gift to God. Not that we have anything that God could need. Not that we could supply God with something He lacks, for He lacks nothing and we have nothing to offer. Yet, it is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. He works it in us to minister. We work out that which He has worked in and we minister. As we do so, our goal is to present the fruit of our labor to Him as a gift recognizing that it came from Him anyway. In one sense, this presentation is an act of worship and praise to the Lord for what He has done in and through us as well as in and through those to whom we minister.
By way of context, the Gnostic heretics used the language of maturity or perfection of those fully initiated into their mysteries. Paul here combats that concept with true maturity and perfection in Christ. Only those in spiritual union with Christ Jesus have life.
Ninth, we can minister the Word effectively if we labor and strive in ministry. In v. 29, Paul actually says what is implied in the last phrase of the preceding verse. He affirms his goal: "to this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily." Paul says that he labors. The word labor refers to toiling to the point of weariness. Paul toils to present men perfect in Christ. He uses another word: striving. The Greek word here is agonizomai from which we get our word agonize. The word is used in reference to athletic competition. The athlete agonizes to win the prize. Paul refers to agonizing ministry to present men to Christ. Paul had fightings within and fightings without. He fought his flesh, Satan, men who tried to kill him, and so much more. He suffered persecution, shipwreck, disappointment, and temptation. He prayed and preached in the face of discouragement and opposition. He did so for the sake of the gospel. How did Paul do such? How do we do such? The answer is found in our last point.
Tenth, we can minister the Word effectively if we draw our power from God. In ministry, we toil to the point of weariness and agonize as if in an athletic competition by the working of God which He works in us mightily. Paul uses a nice word picture here. The verb root of working comes from the Greek word energeo from which we get our word energy. The word mightily is dunamis from which we get our word dynamite. Paul says that it is God who puts in us an energy that He energizes with explosive power. If God is energizing energy in us that leads to dynamite ministry, then we have the ability to labor and strive, to toil and agonize.
At the same time, as we toil and agonize, it is God who gets the glory as it is His energy energized that enables us to do so. Moreover, as we present every man mature in Christ Jesus, it is thus a gift and an act of worship. It is akin to us casting our crowns at the feet of Christ. He gives us crowns of life, righteousness, rejoicing, etc. Yet, we cast them at His feet in worship because they indeed came from Him by grace. All that we are and all that we have and all that we do and all that we accomplish are owing to the Lord Jesus Christ. May God grant us grace to minister the word for His glory and praise. May He cause us to be faithful. May our labor bear fruit in eternity. May we be effective in the ministry of the Word.