Teaching and Preaching: What’s the Difference?

The Scriptures say that both preaching and teaching are good and right. I don’t believe one is more important than the other. Both have a place and a purpose in the church and in this lost world.

The Place of Preaching In General

“When a man has been in the fire, and has the smell of it still upon him, he is the one to warn others not to meddle with fire.”

Spurgeon

Spurgeon helps us see what is one functional difference between preaching and teaching in a general sense. Spurgeon likely had the pulpit in mind here, so he mentions men only, but we can broaden that out into a larger Christian context too. We, both men and women who bear the name of Christ have been called to preach the gospel of Jesus. Preaching, historically, has carried a sense of fire with it. The fire and brimstone preaching that is void of grace and gives Christianity a bad name is not what we need. But speaking forth truth in a manner that causes one to listen up, sit up, wake up and straighten up, because the person speaking has a passion and pain in his or her voice that cannot be ignored; now that, we need. Preaching is a heralding the good news.

Jesus did it. Paul did it. Peter did it. Even Mary Magdalene did it when she brought the news to the disciples that “Jesus is alive!” In that moment, she did not teach, but preached. Brothers and sisters, preach the gospel as though you’ve been in the fires yourself. Preach truth to your own heart, your neighbors, your church, your co-workers and your family. Be a herald of the grace you received, through which God declared you righteous by faith in His Son, Jesus.

The Place of Teaching in General

The Spirit graces both men and women with the gift to teach. I’m not advocating a position that places a woman in teaching authority over a local body. The church I have the privilege of helping lead sees this position reserved in Scripture for qualified and called men. I’m making the case, here, that teaching the Scriptures in general is necessary, and that both men and women of God should take up this torch, and the local church should see that this happens.

The best picture of teaching comes from Jesus. Consider this scene.

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:.. ” Matthew 5:1-2

What was Jesus doing at this famous scene that began with the beatitudes? Was he teaching or preaching? He was teaching. It was slow, methodical, clear, rich with examples and metaphors to help His hearers learn and apply the principles of the Kingdom that had come, and the way of the King that sat before them. He wasn’t heralding, but explaining.

All Christians are called to preach the gospel. All Christians are called to teach, in the sense that we’re all called to make disciples. This is not a vocational calling I speak of, but a universal calling to the entire body of Christ to carry on the work of teaching that Jesus began. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Teaching and Preaching in the Local Church

When it comes to the gathering of the local church, under local leaders, and the function of preaching and teaching, we are not left to wonder. The Scriptures give us guidance here too.

In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul tells Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” His instruction to this young pastor seems to combine preaching and teaching into one necessary and cooperative function for the shaping of a people into Christ-likeness and maturity. Preaching generally aims to awaken the sleeping and apathetic heart and calls believers to gospel attention, while teaching generally seeks to explain truth in such a way as to form and mold that very same heart. Preaching calls sinners and saints to repentance and faith, while teaching explains the details and implications of such a faith. And if expository preaching is the primary diet of a churches intake of God’s Word, as I believe it should be, the Holy Spirit will take a congregation through a healthy balance of both.

The blog scene has exploded in recent months with the topic of women preaching from the pulpit, and women’s role in teaching in general. I will not address that here, but instead share a few links for those interested.

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/pastors-need-women-teachers-and-vice-versa/

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/where-can-women-teach

The Real Hero of the Bible

The Bible is full of stories about people whom God used to do incredible things. It’s really easy to look up to them. But where did they get their strength to do the great things they did? Who is it that is really at the center of the Scriptural narrative? While we often hold up famous biblical characters as heroes, the truth is that God is the real hero of the Bible.

Some might look at the man, Noah, and consider him a hero. After all, he did build the biggest ship the world had ever seen, one that would rescue his family and every kind of animal from total extinction. But where did his strength to do this come from? It was God who commanded Him to this task. It was God who controlled the timing of the rain so that the Ark would be completed at just the right time. And perhaps the most significant proof that Noah’s strength and heroism was truly God’s is the fact that God, himself, shut the door to the Ark before the floodgates opened. It’s as if God was saying, “Noah, your obedience honors me, now get in and rest in my strength.” What does all of this tell us? The heroic acts of even the most famous biblical characters are attributed to the strength of God.

Another point to consider is that Bible characters, as strong as they might seem at times are still sinful and in need of a hero themselves. Look at David. As a young boy he watched his flocks with diligence developing the skills to slay lions, bears and even giants. But later in life we see grievous mistakes being made. As king over Israel, with great power and authority given to him by God, he fell into sexual sin with Bathsheba and found himself in need of saving. The chosen king over God’s elect was as flawed as you and I. Thankfully, God’s grace was greater. David later found himself experiencing God’s mercy and resting in the heroic plan of God, His Hero, His rescuer and Redeemer.

Finally, when we look at the Scriptural narrative from beginning to end, we see one unified story of God’s redemptive plan for His creation, and Jesus is at the center of it all. He’s the thread that holds it all together. He was foreseen in Genesis in the lamb which God killed to make clothes that covered the shame of Adam and Eve. Later in the law, every priest who entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sacrifice foreshadowed Jesus, our perfect High Priest. The kings, prophets, and mighty men and women who acted in faith all point us to a better man, the God man, Jesus Christ. Upon entering the world all eyes were on Him, and rightfully so. Later, God the Father would say, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.” Biblical characters like Noah and David did wonderful things for God. Their stories serve a greater purpose, though, to point us to Jesus our perfect Prophet, Priest and King. He died in our place to save us. He is the true Hero!

So, the next time you read the Bible and discover a story of faithfulness, courage, and strength from a well-known character, remember who gave them that strength in the first place.  Remember that they, too, were sinners like you and me. You may look up to them, appreciate their stories, and seek to model some of their heroic behavior, but in the end it is God, and ultimately Jesus Christ, who deserves the title, Hero.

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What Bible character do you look up to, but now see that their story exists to point you to the real here, Jesus?

Would love to see some feedback in the comments too!

Home Groups and the Sunday Gathering

Most Christians believe in some sort of discipleship strategy. This is the process of growing in maturity and becoming more like Christ daily. But how is this best accomplished in the church? Christians are supposed to be a family that share life together and live on mission to make more disciples for Jesus. So, although Sunday gatherings are crucial, and must not be neglected in the slightest, engaging regularly in a home group or missional community will provide a level of discipleship for the believer that Sundays alone never could.

First, let us consider how the Church is called to be a close and loving family. Jeff Vanderstelt said, “We have to get close. We have to be seen and known. This is what we call life-on-life discipleship—life that is lived up close so that we are visible and accessible to one another, so that others can gently peel back the layers and join us in our restoration.” Such things could never be achieved by Christians limiting their exposure to other Christians to Sundays alone. We need a context for family life to happen. Believers can be honest, close, real, visible and accessible in that sort of setting. When Christians gather on Sundays it is easy to come and go without ever seeing the uglier side of anyone’s life. It is easy to hide the parts of life that make us human and needy for the Gospel. Home groups and missional community models of discipleship push the church beyond surface level relationships and into a space where closeness and growth can happen.

In addition to helping the church to live as a family, home groups and missional communities promote a life of sharing. Acts 4:32 says that “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (NIV). As a family grows in togetherness their willingness to share struggles and practical needs will grow, along with opportunities for those needs to be met. Practically speaking, this could be a car problem one learns about, meals that are needed during a time of sickness, or after a baby is born, or a financial struggle that is hindering a college student. No matter the case, sharing done in the context of a close family is a testimony to the Gospel’s influence.  As we learn to share with one another we learn the heart of Jesus more deeply. He shared His life with us. When we share we grow into better disciples.

And that brings me to my final point on this topic. Home groups and missional communities lead to living on mission for the sake of making more disciples through reproducible patterns. That is our commission. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Discipleship is all about reproducible patterns that bring us closer to Jesus. For example, when a young mom struggles with trusting Jesus through the difficulties of parenting her 2-year-old, how will she best learn principles that build her faith in Jesus? When a married couple wrestles though a season of unbelief as they transition through serious financial difficulty, how will they develop biblical and practical patterns to follow that can later be passed on to others? When unmarried Christians struggle with being alone, who will be an example of purity and patience that helps them guard their heart against sin while pointing them to satisfaction in Jesus? Who will be a family to them? Home groups and missional communities are an excellent place to learn to apply the gospel and to set reproducible patterns of faithfulness that point others to Jesus. When this happens, doors open for relationships to flourish.  Reproducible life examples can begin to be seen and imitated by others. As maturity within the group increases, the life on life examples that are set forth and imitated will become an influence for non believers as well.  

In conclusion, it is important to remember that home groups and missional communities are not the only way to effectively make disciples and live out our faith as Christians. Other models can succeed as well. But the Church of Jesus Christ is undoubtedly a family. As a family we are called to be vulnerable with one another, to share our lives with each other, and to be close enough with other believers that our faith becomes an example for others to follow and reproduce. Folks who limit Christian fellowship to Sunday gatherings only will be hard pressed to live out any one of these biblical imperatives.

Afraid of Your Own Clarity

Every day there seems to be a new major report on a heavy issue that concerns the Church one way or another. For instance, last week it was the fall of James McDonald, a pastor I’ve greatly respected through the years. Yesterday the Methodist Church voted to “Tighten the ban on same sex marriage and gay clergy”, bringing the issue front and center once again. Of course, I agree with that particular vote, but many in my community do not, so like it or not, it affects me as a follower of Christ. Then there’s the daily social media coverage of everything from a drag queen story hour to the prosperity “gospel”. With all of this going on, not to mention the issues within the local church that weigh on the heart every pastor, the thought crosses my mind, what’s next? What scandal, fallen pastor, persecuted Christian, or liberal anti-Christ social agenda will come up next and force my heart to sink once again? And what will we all do when it happens?

The way forward is actually clear to me, but that’s part of the problem. I think that clarity scares people today, even some professing Christians. They may not admit it, but it does. Think about the clarity of the Apostles and their mission in the 1st century, and the amount of opposition their clear vision brought them in the end.

“Go into all the world and make disciples” Matthew 28:18

“If you love me, keep my commandments” John 14:15

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28

“preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  Matthew 10:16-20

With every opposition the early disciples faced, every sin they addressed, every interaction with local government that wanted their mouths stopped or even killed, they marched on with great clarity for the sake of the eternal life of those who would believe. When we, as Christians today, march on with clarity proclaiming the Gospel with both zeal and love, there’s always someone to say, “You’re going to offend someone!”, “You’re just intolerant and bigoted”, “You’re behind the times, Christian!” But didn’t the first followers of Christ hear the same things, and even worse, and yet they persevered?

My question is this: Have we forgotten who we serve? Have we forgotten that Christ is King of the world and that the spread of the Gospel was His idea and his mandate to us, first in person and now in His Word? I think many have, the result of which is a church and a people that fail to speak the truth when truth is what’s needed to confront the sins of the age. What do I mean by truth? I mean the truth that is in Jesus, the truth embodied in His eternal nature as God, and what he manifested to us in His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and his unalterable commission to His disciples. The fact that the question, “What is Truth?” is now just an argument between groups who call themselves Christians is sad to say the least. God’s truth, the truth that is in Jesus, is by nature unifying to Christians. It’s meant to be surrendered to, not arranged and rearranged to our liking.

As you already know, the major issues on the stage today are human sexuality, equality, parental rights, and immigration. With all of these, the Christian does not have to scramble about trying to figure out where he or she want to stand on the issues. We have the Word of God. We always have. But today it’s nearly disregarded, while opinions and a so-called “truth” relative to what suits the individual has taken precedent.

Again, the way forward is clear, not because I or anyone else sees better than the next guy, but because God’s Word gives the clarity, by His grace, where it’s needed. Notice that issues being debated are not things like the age of the earth, or the exact events surrounding the end of the world, or whether aliens in outer space exist. This is because at the end of the day these things remain foggy. God didn’t see it necessary to clarify any further than He did. These things don’t generally detract from the Gospel, the theology of God, or man made in God’s image, sin, salvation, repentance and so on. The fight is over issues that true Christians should never have to compromise on, things that the Scripture has made plain. Until we grasp that it’s ok to be clear in what we believe about God and orthodox Christian faith, and the words and actions that stem from those beliefs, even if we’re hated for it, the line between true believer and skeptic, and even atheist will become thinner and thinner. And that’s just what Satan wants!

We need to be a people that isn’t afraid to stand for truth, and to be clear when the Scripture is clear. We need to do it lovingly, persuasively (as Paul did), with passion and compassion for all people, for this is also clear in Scripture.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6

And remember that we, as Christians, ultimately serve Jesus, and not any man. Why does this matter? Because doing what suits our desires and likes and dislikes here on earth, and here only, is to disregard eternity and the life that comes only through trusting Christ who died for sinners.

How Was Your Christmas, Really?

So, how was your Christmas? Was it all tinsel and holly? Was it nothing but cookies, presents, perfect family photos and eggnog?

For many it comes and goes like a freight train leaving a mess of emotions, some really grand, some very ugly and some a mix of both.

Family drama can ruin good intentions and the kids who never got the memo to behave perfectly on Christmas day can frustrate parents to no end. Now that that’s over, what’s next?

It’s time to just breathe. Breathe and remember that whether your holiday celebrations turned out exactly the way you planned or not (it probably didn’t) God is still faithful.

Don’t blame Him for the messed up and broken lives around you, including yours. Let these moments of mixed emotions remind you once again of exactly why He came in to the world and why we have Christmas in the first place. Remember the stability the Gospel brought to your broken heart when you first trusted in Jesus, and how you knew your life was in His hands forever. Remember the family drama, frustration and turmoil happening in the world at the first Christmas. God brought His Son into that world to be the light and hope we needed at exactly the right time.

He’s well aware of the messiness, the struggle and the heartache that remains since that day. He’s not forgotten about you.

As you transition this week to the new year, focus on this; God has a plan that can never, no matter what, be thwarted or changed.

For those who love Him, who love Christ as King and Savior and Lord, you can rest assured that He is working all things together for your good and His glory! Keep pressing on towards Christ and remembering that you’re living for eternal things, not the things of this world. The success of your life, your kids lives, the lives of your family, distant relatives and friends is not in your hands.  He has a sovereign will for you and them.

Perhaps next Christmas will go better. But maybe not. That’s not really the point. What matters is that you trust Him with persevering faith, a faith that He brought forth in you because of His faithful love for you.

When It’s Hard To Be a Patient Parent

There are many challenges to parenting. Some of the challenges are innate. What I mean is that it just comes with the territory. Every parent knows there will be days of exhaustion in the battle to teach our offspring the rights and wrongs of this life. Even just the common decency of pleases and thank yous, chewing with one’s mouth closed, and not interrupting one another is often like trying to teach a little puppy to use the bathroom outside instead of on living room floor. The repetitive lessons and talks are happening, and in fine fashion I’m sure, but still, there’s “pee on the carpet” just about every day. “How many times do I have to tell you…” Ever said that? Every parent has. And unfortunately only God knows that number.

That brings me to the point of this blog. The issue of repetitive parental discipline is real and will always be a part of daily life until the day our sweet, wonderful, gifts from God are matured and moved out. I’m convinced that the greater lesson in this issue, though, is not their obedience, but our patience with them. Here’s the crazy part. I know that you agree. The reason I know is because you feel it in your heart of hearts every time you have to say the same thing for the zillionth time and lose it. I know because I’ve done it. I, just like you, have raised my voice in frustration, got angry and said things I wish I hadn’t. I’ve had to repent, say sorry and come clean with the fact that my attitude was the issue more than their disobedience, or at least equally the issue.

Be patient, fellow parents. It’s the heart of Jesus. The principle is at the root of the gospel. If we’re to be gospel-filled homes then we need to pray harder for this that most things. When we pray for patience, though it sounds very specific, it’s also very broad. Think about it. Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. And if patience can be mastered in us through our submission to Christ and His word, then imagine what else will flow from this.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” Galatians 5:22-23a

There it is, folks. That word, patience, stands out like a sore thumb doesn’t it? Even those best at it will admit he or she needs more if it. Our patience in the Spirit, flowing from us in the most unlikely and often maddening situations, putting out fires of wrath and laying the groundwork for God’s Spirit teach our children through us. I imagine we would all like to see these fruits.

So the next time you give a repeated lesson to your teenager or say the same thing you just said 2 seconds ago to your kindergartner, remember to preach this to yourself. Remember the patience of Christ through the years and years of your just not getting it. Even this very day He is showing patience toward you and absolutely never does he show unnecessary anger. What do we do when we fail? And we will fail. We remember that Jesus, who never rudely interrupted His mother, never back-talked His Father and never so much as thought a sinful thought, died in your place to make you righteous in Him. You are covered by His grace, the very grace that you and I have been called to walk in and that supplies us strength today.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Stop comparing yourself to others. God has made you as you are. No, you can’t blame God for your faults, but when it comes to whether you see yourself as valued, loved, successful or useful, God has designed you to reflect Him with your gifts, your personality and your life. God has given you sufficient strength through His Spirit and through the truth of His Word for these things. So, here are three dangers of comparing your life with other people.

ONE: It divides the body

You may not want to hear this, but comparing yourself to others could actually make you the cause of divisions and factions. Paul instructed the Church of Corinth not to act like a dismembered body but to see every part of the body as one that is necessary, no matter its function. When you compare yourself to someone it’s like building up a brick wall between you and that person, a person you’re supposed to function with and for, for a common goal. It would be as silly as if the foot could say to the head, “Because I’m not like you and can’t do what you can do I’m not important.” It’s absurd. But if that could actually happen, imagine the chaos that would ensue in your body. A depressed foot. A puffed up head. Other members suffering as each member loses track of its true function.

Internalized comparisons start by eating away at your own peace and then turn into bitterness that spreads through the church causing even more division and destruction. As a part of Christ’s body through faith you don’t have to compare yourself to anyone. You are a unique, intentionally designed and crucial member of Christ’s body.

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.” – 1 Corinthians 12:14-16

TWO: It Distracts You from Christ

In Ephesians 2 Christ is described as being the Head of the Church, His body. Later in chapter 4 Paul describes the body as a network of joints and ligaments all connected together and joined to their supply, which is Christ, the Head. It’s such a wonderful picture of order and growth as we imagine each part of the Church living and breathing for one common goal, maturity in Jesus. That’s the focus. Learn from the Head, grow up in Him, receive life, worth, value, direction and purpose from Him.

But if we go back to Paul’s analogy of the Church in 1 Corinthians and see that it’s possible for the members to start comparing and dividing, what’s happening is we’re, in a sense anyway, disconnecting from the Head. We’re getting distracted. And there’s probably not much the Devil enjoys more than a Christian who is distracted from Christ and His mission. Measuring our level of success in ministry, life, marriage, parenting and so on, by comparing ourselves to others is counterproductive. It stunts growth because we’re not looking to the source anymore. We’re not looking to Christ. Remember Paul’s words to the Ephesians and put your efforts towards “growing up in every way to Him who is the Head”, rather than comparing yourself to someone you weren’t designed to be.

Ephesians 4:15-15 “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

 THREE: It’s Not the Gospel

Sinners who cannot save themselves or do enough good to earn their forgiveness are condemned already and will spend eternity apart from God. But God, long ago in eternity past, chose to save His people who had sinned against Him by one day becoming a human in the person of Jesus to suffer and die in their place and become the only sufficient payment for their sins. That payment, received by grace alone and through faith alone is the only basis on which a person is justified before God and made righteous in His sight. All those redeemed by the sacrifice of the Lamb will forever be with God. It’s all because of Jesus. That’s the Gospel, or at least one way of describing it anyway.

In light of that truth, picture one of the redeemed living a life that finds its worth in whether he or she stands up to the successes of others or not. Imagine a man or woman who has been justified before God and accepted fully on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice then believing that he or she is not valuable because they’re not as busy, talented, outgoing, smart, funny, hospitable or musically inclined as the next person. What does that say about the Gospel? It cheapens it.

Preach the beauty of this Gospel to your heart and rest in the finished work of Christ. You are accepted, loved, valued and commissioned for His glory and uniquely gifted for that end. Find freedom in not having to perform for God, or anyone else. That’s not the Gospel. Let everything you do, every motivation to serve your family, your neighbors and your church, flow from the unearned and unconditional love of God.

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