Speaking for God
“If any one speak,” says the apostle Peter, “as oracles of God; if any one minister as of strength which God supplies.” (1 Peter 4: 11) Carefully observe that it is not merely speaking according to Scripture though that, is of course, essential and important. It is more. A man may rise and address his fellows for an hour, and from the beginning of his discourse he may not utter so much as a single unscriptural sentence; and all the while, he may not have been God’s oracle at the time, he may not have been God’s mouthpiece, or the present exponent of His mind to the souls before him.
This is peculiarly solemn, and demands the grave consideration of all who are called to open their lips in the midst of God’s people. It is one thing to utter a certain amount of true sentiment, and quite another to be the living channel of communication between the very heart of God and the souls of God’s people. It is this latter, and this alone, that constitutes true ministry. A man who speaks as an oracle of God will bring the conscience of the hearer so into the very light of the divine presence that every chamber of the heart is laid open, and every moral spring touched. This is true ministry. All else is powerless, valueless, fruitless. Nothing is more deplorable and humiliating than to listen to a man who is evidently drawing from his own poor and scanty resources, or trafficking in second–hand truth, in borrowed thoughts. Better far for such to be silent, better for their hearers, better for themselves. Nor this only. We may often hear a man giving forth to his fellows that on which his own mind has been dwelling in private with much interest and profit. He may utter truth, and important truth; but it is not the truth for the souls of the people, the truth for the moment. He has spoken according to Scripture so far as his matter is concerned, but he has not spoken as an oracle of God.
In a similar vein look at the story of Ahimaaz (2 Sam. 18: v19–30). The important features to note in this incident are as follows:
1. There was one who sent a message (Joab)
2. There was somebody waiting to hear a message (David)
3. A messenger was sent (The Cushite)
4. Someone else insisted on running, despite the fact there was no message suitable for him (Ahimaaz)
Sure it is that Ahimaaz was a messenger, but he had been given no message—he was not sent. Despite this, he insisted on running (and Joab allowed it, though he did not supply him with any message.) Of course he had something to say, but this is not the point—he had no message to deliver. It is no good if your words are merely scriptural, you must be sent of God, you must be “Jehovah’s messenger, in Jehovah’s message” (Hag. 1: 13). Significant it is as well that whilst Ahimaaz did not bow to Joab, the truly sent messenger did. Ahimaaz would bow to David, he would impress those to whom his message was to be delivered, but he did not bow to the sender. The point of all preaching and exhortation is not the satisfaction of the audience, impressed though they may be, but the delivering of a real message from God. As a point of fact, Ahimaaz’s expedition accomplished nothing, whilst that of the Cushite secured deep and profound effects.
The man who stands to speak, whether to his fellow Christians, or whether to the unsaved, must be sent of God. I cannot emphasise this enough. What value can there be in any message that does not come from God? None whatsoever! (Of course God cannot be limited, he could use any preaching for blessing, however dry, but this does not sanction the disobedience on our part.) The ambassador for Christ (2 Cor 5: 20), brings his message fresh from the presence of the king, preaching “in demonstration of [the] Spirit and of power” (1 Cor 2: 4). His object is not to “fill the hour”, but to deliver that with which he has been entrusted. Similarly with the teacher, and with the one with a word of exhortation to the Assembly, all, without exception must be sent of God.
What more striking confirmation of this can we have than Rom. 10: 15? “How shall they preach, unless they have been sent?” Indeed, how shall they! The words may be right, the scriptures quoted, the correct applications made, BUT IF THE PREACHER IS NOT SENT OF GOD, THEN IT IS NOT GOD’S PREACHING! Again, the man who stands up with a word of ministry, if it be not a message from God, if he be not sent, then it is not ministry at all! The time may indeed be used, the embarrassing pauses filled, but all is worthless, mere straw that will not endure the fire (1 Cor 3: 12, 13). I repeat, the man who stands up with a “word”, whomsoever it is addressed to, must be sent from God. He who truly has a word from God obtains it from the presence of God Himself, not from the workings of his own (or another’s ) mind.
Now ask yourself, when you preach (if you do), do you preach because you were sent, or because you were asked? You may reply that it comes to the same thing. I say there is a world of difference! You may be asked, but unless God has sent you, you cannot preach. If you have not been sent then you have no message to deliver. There is a worthless habit of ‘preaching’ for preaching’s sake, without any attention being paid to the matter of being sent—such can hardly call themselves God’s bondmen! Again, I repeat HOW SHALL THEY PREACH, UNLESS THEY HAVE BEEN SENT?
On the other hand, if you are sent somewhere by God, you must go, God cannot be disobeyed! To ignore God’s sending is to be a rebel, (Jonah being a prime example). It will not do to say “well, I have not been invited”, God is to be obeyed! The scripture is not “How shall they preach, unless they have been asked”, but “How shall they preach, unless they have been sent!” The vital issue is the sending—Philip was sent to a barren desert, yet he did not quibble with God’s choice of destination. He was sent, so he went (Acts 8: 26).
As a point of interest, nowhere in the NT do we read of preachers being invited. (On examination, both Acts 10: 22 and 16: 9, 10 are about God’s sending). Preachers were never invited, they were sent. In contrast, it is common practise in many Christian companies for the preaching of God’s word in their meeting places to be restricted to those invited to do so. If one is not invited one cannot preach, whether sent or not. (Christ clearly could not preach in Laodecia—the door was shut!).
The question is, is the preacher to wait until he may perchance be invited to a locality to preach (which might be never), or does he go in view of the fact that God has sent him? On the face of it this suggestion does not seem very conducive to maintaining peace amongst the saints, but we must first ask ourselves what would cause the disorder, the preacher or a system lacking Scriptural support! You say “what if the preacher is mistaken, and he is not after all sent of God?” I answer, what if the one who invites the preachers asks one who has not got a message from God? Because we are poor failing creatures we can all make mistakes, and imagine the Lord’s leading when it is nothing of the kind, but individual errors can never render a whole system of practise wrong! Of course, the man who is sent to preach in a particular place might also be invited and all the better if this is so, but that is not really the issue. The issue is: is my going to preach governed by people asking me, or by God sending me? The O.T. prophets were certainly not invited to preach, and their messages were hardly popular, but they were without doubt sent of God! Some say that they take being asked as a sign of God’s sending, but while this may be so in some cases, we can hardly make it an absolute rule! In Acts 10 for instance, Peter was asked to visit Cornelius by his three servants, but not before God had prepared him! He was in fact sent before he was asked (v 19, 20).
It is, of course, essential that if we publicly announce a preaching, then for the sake of any who receive that invitation we should have one. The danger here is that the regularity of the preaching tends to dull one’s faith and the event can become a thing of routine and tradition. What then should be an occasion marked by earnest expectation and desire for God’s Word becomes simply an item on the calendar. We then become more worried about getting a preacher when a vacancy arises, than the actual preaching of God’s Word itself. Hence every week we must have a preacher booked; the gap on the preacher list must be filled before the time of the preaching arrives. Yet must this be so? Must we always know at the deadline time who is going to preach? We may be sure that if there is a genuine desire and concern for God’s Word to be preached, and that if the announcement that there was to be such a preaching was given out in real faith, then God would indeed supply a messenger! The fact is we are too anxious for something to be said, whereas the point is what is said: is it a fresh and living message from God Himself?
Isaiah 61 had no doubt been recited countless times over the years in the synagogue at Nazareth, the words would be well known. But when the Lord Jesus preached from that familiar passage the audience was electrified (Luke 4: 16–22). He had a real message from God! And is not this the question we must all ask ourselves, whether we stand up to preach the good news to the unsaved or whether to minister God’s Word to the saints, HAVE WE A MESSAGE TO DELIVER FROM GOD?