Written by: Ray C. Stedman
Recently, I was looking through my file on “Preaching” and found an article written by the late Dr. Ray Stedman. It was dated December, 1985 but I could not find any other information on it. I know it was originally published in the ‘Congress on Biblical Exposition’ newsletter. It was something I tucked away for a later date. I want to share it with you in this issue of 2 PROPHET U. You can find much of Dr. Stedman’s material on the web site www.pbc.org which we have featured in a previous issue. You can also purchase his books from that website.
Michael Catt, Editor
The Need of the Hour
By Ray C. Stedman
Much of the church is spiritually undernourished and ill-equipped. We can respond by returning to biblical exposition that consistently teaches God’s truth Failure to distinguish between the wisdom of men and the wisdom of God is the major cause for weakness in the church today. Paul describes the distinction in his first letter to the church at Corinth.
Wisdom, of course, is not the same as knowledge. The Bible encourages the pursuit of human knowledge in any and every direction. But wisdom is the proper use of knowledge.
Here is where Scripture throws down the gauntlet. The use of human knowledge is terribly flawed by the blind spots in human wisdom. Thus high technology, scientific method, and data analysis, good and proper as they may seem and useful as they are, result in increased pollution, depersonalization, nuclear threat, class polarization, and secularized amorality. Life on earth grows less attractive and more regimented and despairing.
What is missing is the total understanding of human nature and the purposes and actions of God that can be found only in biblical revelation. This wisdom, what Paul calls the word of the cross, is what Corinth desperately lacked, despite its commerce, philosophy, erudition, and culture. And this word of the cross is largely missing in today’s world and today’s church. It is missing in the world because it is missing in the church.
One obvious reason for this situation is that the people of God are not well fed, that is biblically taught. There is a serious lack of biblical exposition from pulpits and a failure of the people to grasp the counterculture challenges inherent in biblical truth. Thus the local church falters, and the body designed by God to be a potent force in the world presents a sad commentary on its high calling.
God’s people need to hear from Him through exposition of the Bible. Let us give back God’s voice – in the pulpit and wherever His Word is taught.
Most Christians today do not understand the difference between the flesh and the spirit. The cross is forever God’s symbol of His unswerving rejection of the flesh as being capable of accomplishing anything enduring in His sight. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).
In Scripture, the flesh is a synonym for the natural man and human wisdom. Failure to make this identity is why Christians do not appear to live any differently from non-Christians in their daily habits and reactions. They do not think any differently. They are ignorantly following the “mind of the flesh” that is approved by society and that feels “right” to the individual.
The true cause of this condition is the failure of pastors to expound Scripture in ways that open the minds of the congregation to the thinking of God. Rarely does one find a congregation that understands what Paul calls “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” (1 Cor. 2:7 NIV).
Because Scripture is not so taught, the people of God are deprived of the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” Instead they lead spiritually impoverished and often appallingly dull lives.
Failing to grasp the resources of the Spirit, the church turns to dependence on the arm of the flesh, relying on money, numbers, charismatic personalities, showmanship, self-promotion, and popular support. Or the church accepts weakness, rejection, dinginess, and despair as its lot in life.
God’s answer to ecclesiastical sickness is always His living Word: “He sent His word and healed them” (Psalm 107:20 NASB). Hope for the church today lies in the recovery of great biblical preaching.
True expository preaching has these characteristics and goals:
Our problem in the church today is that much of our preaching exhibits a strange contradiction. On one hand, we acknowledge the need for this type of great preaching, which we usually define as expository preaching.
On the other hand, good expository preaching has seldom been more lacking. Evangelical seminaries exhort their young men, “Be faithful in preaching; spend many hours pouring over the Bible; be sure you give the people God’s Word and not merely your own opinions.”
But in practice, these admonitions are usually not heeded. Often ministers who emerge from the seminaries – whether because of poor instruction, lack of focus, a low view of the Bible’s authority, or some other undiagnosed cause – fail in this primary area of responsibility.
Pulpit committees know this. So do the people who sit in the pews Sunday by Sunday. Many know what they want – a minister who will make his primary aim to teach the Bible faithfully week after week and embody what he teaches.
But ministers like this are hard to find, and they are getting harder and harder to find all the time. Consequently, the sheep are not fed and the kingdom of God limps forward.
©Ray Stedman, Congress on Biblical Exposition, December 1985
2ProphetU is an online magazine/website, started by Warren Wiersbe and Michael Catt, to build up the church, seek revival, and encourage pastors.