“The history of the Church shows clearly that her great and glorious periods, such as during and after the Protestant Reformation, always follow the mighty preaching of doctrine. It is unintelligent to admire great heroes of the faith such as the Covenanters unless you understand them. What made those men the men they were was the fact that they knew the great doctrines of the Christian faith. This is the protein and the iron which give strength. The great doctrines of the faith must be the basis of the Christian diet. Following the doctrine must come the teaching which applies the doctrine.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christian Unity, (Baker Book House, 1987) p. 205
“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” —Acts 6:4
The church has legitimate physical needs that are being neglected. The apostles don’t deny this, but they say they’re not going to give up their time for it, and, this pleases the church. Certainly, they did lead the church so that the seven are chosen to deal with the problem, but the church is pleased by the apostle’s word as a whole.
Protestants have forgotten what they protested; what they should be protesting. The Roman priests devoted themselves to everything but prayer and the ministry of the Word. Much of what they did should have been the responsibility of deacons. John Eck was a defender of Catholicism who squared off against Luther in debate, but he knew this much:
He [the cleric] should focus on the ministry of the Word of God and entrust the worldly things to the deacons, [city] servants and local government, as the apostles did in this passage. Now, however, our own prelates turn the matter upside down. Whatever spiritual matters there are is too much for them. …If they are supposed to preach, then they shove forward some monk. If they are supposed to absolve a distressed sinner, then there is the confessor. However, whatever concerns gold, money and interest, that we must bring to ‘my most merciful lord.’
Many evangelical pastors neglect the ministry of prayer and the Word because they too are more concerned with money and empire building. In contrast, Derek Thomas comments,
It is fascinating to observe that the church agreed on the need for preaching. In an age when Christians desire ‘less preaching and more programs,’ it would be well to observe the opposite in the early church. These Christians felt the need to prioritize a Bible-based instructional ministry to feed their souls and instruct them in the way of truth.
The reason deacons were installed in the church was so that the Word would continue to be proclaimed unhindered. It is good to want deacons because you love the body and want their needs to be provided for. It is better to primarily, though not exclusively, to want deacons so that the Word can go forward without encumbrance to the glory of Christ’s name and the growth of the church. Because deacons were appointed, and the twelve were able to devote themselves to prayer and the Word, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly (Acts 6:7).”
Advising against those who wanted to use physical means, such as smashing alters and destroying images, to advance the Reformation, Luther warned,
Give men time. I took three years of constant study, reflection, and discussion to arrive where I now am, and can the common man, untutored in such matters, be expected to move the same, distance in three months? Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shalt we then prohibit wine and abolish women? The sun, the moon, and stars have been worshiped. Shall we then pluck them out of the sky? Such haste and violence betray a lack of confidence in God. See how much he has been able to accomplish through me, though I did no more than pray and preach. The Word did it all. Had I wished I might have started a conflagration at Worms. But while I sat still and drank beer with Philip and Amsdorf, God dealt the papacy a mighty blow.
Fellow pastors, may this be our uncompromising glory, “I did no more than pray and preach. The Word did it all,” and praise be to God for men of good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom, who for love of the church and God’s Word, free us to do so.
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. —1 Timothy 4:6 (ESV)
Gospel ministers are waiters who eat what they serve. They don’t work at one restaurant and then leave to eat at another. The word used to describe the minister of God’s Word here is the same word translated “deacon,” in 3:8. It originally referenced one who waited tables. Here the good table waiter puts “these things before the brothers.” What are these things? They are “words of faith and of the good doctrine” that they follow. The good servant serves the brothers these things, having feasted on them himself.
The gospel pastor is like one of those TV chefs who must be full by the time they finish cooking because the preparation was filled with “mmm’s” and “that’s so gooood.” What was a recipe meant to serve six is whittled down to four by their “taste testing.” When the plate arrives they apologize that the portions aren’t full—they couldn’t resist themselves. What would be disgusting in any restaurant is what is only acceptable in God’s house, the feast must come to you once eaten. In the preaching of God’s Word the truth comes to you the same way that the worm comes from mommy bird to baby bird.
Unfortunately too many ministers spend too much time concerned with their presentation instead of their digestion. They are obsessed with their flare, not God’s fare. They want people to leave praising them, not the chef. They forget people come to a fine restaurant ultimately to enjoy a fine meal, not fine service. The service should maximize the enjoyment of the meal, not seek to substitute for the lack thereof. Many do long for the saints to enjoy the feast, but fail to see that the brothers will most do so if they themselves have first relished all the courses themselves.
Faithful elders are fat on the Word and fit in godliness. They are men who you can see eat well by their living. They are connoisseurs, lover’s of God’s menu who eschew spiritual junk food. They whet you appetite by their very delight in the Bread of Life and thus movingly declare, “taste and see for the Lord is good.”
A man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us. And no man lives in a more woeful condition than those who really believe not themselves what they persuade others to believe continually. The want of this experience of the power of gospel truth on their own souls is that which gives us so many lifeless, sapless orations, quaint in words and dead as to power, instead of preaching the gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit. —John Owen