Wise Preaching: Applying Oneself To The Abilities Of The Congregation -- By: Michael L. LeFebvre
RPTJ 5:1 (Fall 2018) p. 23
Applying Oneself To The Abilities Of The Congregation
Adjunct Professor of Old Testament Studies
Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Let us begin with a simple question: What is wisdom? What does the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q. 159) have in view when preachers are instructed to “preach sound doctrine ... wisely.” What is wisdom?
“Wisdom” is one of those terms that has developed a different meaning in popular usage than its technical definition. Popular usage treats “wisdom” as roughly synonymous with being smart or being brilliant. It is construed as a measure of intelligence. There is nothing wrong with this popular usage of the word, so long as we carefully distinguish those contexts in which the term is being used for its proper meaning — like in the Westminster Standards and in Scripture.
Employing the term for its proper import, even a poorly educated person may be deemed “wise.” And a brilliant person might be labeled a “fool.” Wisdom is not about how much you have in your head, but how well you use what is in your head. Wisdom is a skill, not a measure of smarts. A mechanical engineer may understand the processes taking place under the hood of your car; but if he cannot tell you what to do about a rattle in your engine, you had better seek the wisdom of the mechanic at the local garage. Wisdom is practical insight for life.
Under the popular notion of “wisdom,” we might suppose that “wise preaching” means erudite or smart preaching. But that is not what we have in mind, here. The Catechism invokes the proper meaning of the term in its definition of wise preaching: “They that are called to labor in the ministry of the word, are to preach sound doctrine … wisely,” which the Catechism expands upon with this definition: “applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers.”
Wise preaching does not require lots of degrees or fluency in the original languages. Wise preaching does not require big words or a background in philosophy. There is nothing wrong — and lots to appreciate — in such gifts of education. But what makes preaching wise is the minister’s capacity to understand his congregation — to know their capacities and their needs, to empathize with their joys and their struggles — and to apply skillfully God’s Word to the experiences they face.
There is one passage in the Scriptures where the exhortation to wise preaching is given particular emphasis. In fact, as will be shown in this article, this narrative is provided in the Bible specifically as a model for wise preaching. The passage concerned is the preaching of Ezra and his model worship service r...
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