Leave It to the Holy Spirit?

As you know, I lead a pretty hectic life. I was in Oklahoma City and Dallas this week, and then arrived back home in Indiana late Thursday afternoon – just in time for Bible study this evening. Good thing that I stayed up until 12:30 Sunday night completing my lesson as I walked in just before people arrived and didn’t have time to prepare today. On top of it all, I just looked at my calendar and realized that this Sunday is the day that I have been asked to guest preach at a church about 30 minutes north of Carmel. I have done that many times there before and really enjoy the people in the church. Honestly, it has been some time since I have been to visit them, and so I have to go through my sermons and see what I have already preached in that church.

Now, I must admit that I don’t maintain a list of old sermons that I recycle to different places I visit. In a way, I kind of think that is “cheating” and that God wants me to do the work of preparation. But one of the booming trends on the Internet today is the proliferation of recycled sermons that people download and preach in the churches as their own material. And this is far more common that you might think.

One of the people that I mentored through seminary attends a church near our home and for more than six weeks, his pastor preached a series of messages that he downloaded and used, word for word, from the Internet. He never so much as mentioned to the congregation that it was not his own work. Now some pastors have gone so far as to say that this was divine intervention and God doesn’t mind when we use someone else’s work. I have a hard time with that one in this instance…

Likewise,there are many pastors who believe that the Holy Spirit will give them the right words to say when they stand in the pulpit and so they don’t do any prep at all. And while I wholeheartedly believe in the Holy Spirit, it would feel totally wrong to stand up in the pulpit and not do any preparation. Just plain wrong. To be sure, it takes about twenty hours of work to prepare a message from the ground up – from scratch, if you will. But many of us have several topics that are particularly close to our hearts and we can prepare a succinct, cogent message from the text in a matter of hours.

But why do some pastors steal the work of others or don’t do any of their own work in advance? Well, the answer is rather simple, but it hinges on a legitimate passage of Scripture that is wrongly interpreted. And therein lies the problem…

The controversial verse appears in Matthew, the first Gospel of the New Testament. In order to understand the verse, it must be put in context. Jesus was instructing the apostles, those men who had been taught by Him and followed Him for His entire ministry, that they should go out to areas of Israel and preach the Good News. He told them in Matt. 10:5-8, “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” In other words, they had 4 specific things to do and they all had to do with performing miracles. And the apostles weren’t supposed to charge for their services, either.

Knowing that they would be welcome some places and most likely arrested in other towns, Jesus implored them not to worry about what they would say in front of the judge when they were detained. In fact, Jesus tells them in Matt. 10:19-20, “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” And therein lies the rub… Jesus was speaking about a unique circumstance in their ministries when the Holy Spirit would prompt the apostles as to what they should say.

This doesn’t mean that pastors shouldn’t ever prepare – that’s not what Jesus said. But, unfortunately, that’s the way that lazy pastors interpret it. And that’s a shame… Nowhere in the Scripture are pastors told to preach without being prepared, but this verse has produced a ton of controversy throughout the years. My encouragement this evening is that if you teach a Bible study or deliver God’s word to others, God wants you to study and prepare, being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, but taking the steps necessary to deliver a biblical message based on sound doctrine. My prayer is that you will heed the urgings of the Holy Spirit, and will do the body of believers proud by making sure that we all benefit from the fruit of your own labor. Have a great day in the Lord – grace and peace…

 
 
 
 

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