On the Anthill

“Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:15,16).
One of the more memorable preaching experiences I have had in almost forty years of ministry occurred one night in a tent meeting in Crabwood Creek, Guyana. I had just begun the lesson when I began to feel a burning on my legs, which quickly spread. I looked down and discovered that I was preaching from on top of an ant hill, and the resident insects were not at all happy with that situation. I began moving back and forth in the area of the “pulpit” until I found a clear safe spot, continuing to preach as I moved.
We often speak of the preacher “making it hot” for the audience. Hellfire and damnation sermons may not be quite as popular as previously, but there are those who still think that is what preaching is all about. “Give it to them; make them sweat” seems to be their desire. How often, however, do those so inclined see fit to make the preacher himself uncomfortable?
I was impressed with the concept early in my ministry that a preacher has no right to preach a lesson to others until he has first come to grips with it himself. This is more than just learning the words, the texts to be used, and the body language he plans to employ. Until the preacher has directly applied his sermon to himself, deals with its challenges, what right does he have to ask others to do the same? Would that not be hypocrisy of the exact type of which Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23?
There are far greater things than ants in our pulpits to make us uncomfortable. Those who would teach others must come face to face with the same will of God which they would commend to their audience. Just as one would move off an anthill to escape discomfort, so the preacher is tempted to careful selection of his text and subject to evade uncomfortable “pricks” of its “goad” (Acts 9:5). Avoiding hypocrisy, he also avoids dealing with the subject which causes his own discomfort. At best, he fails to teach and instruct his audience of “the whole counsel of God.” At worst, he ignores his own sin and remains unrepentant.
Some would argue that only the perfect man has the right to preach. That argument would eliminate Peter, Paul, Barnabas and all save Jesus himself. David was “a man after God’s own heart” in spite of truly awful sins. He knew humility and penitence. That is what is required of us all. James warns, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). This is not to restrict the pulpit to only perfect men, but to ensure that only those who are serious about obeying God’s word themselves presume to teach it to others.

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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