Because the Preacher was Wise

Rev G G Hutton

In the Old Testament, there is the unique little book entitled Ecclesiastes — the book of “the Preacher” or, to quote John Gill, “the preacher’s sermon”. Although Solomon’s name does not appear throughout the book, we concur with those who believe that the preacher was Solomon because of the references to the preacher being the son of David, king in Jerusalem, as well as being himself king in Jerusalem (1:1,12). The preacher is the speaker to the Church.

Solomon is the royal preacher addressing the Church in every generation. Being particularly notable for his God-given wisdom (2 Chr 1:7–12) it is not surprising that we read, “And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge: yea, he gave good heed…The preacher sought to find out acceptable words” (Ecc 12:9,10). Every preacher therefore ought to learn from Solomon’s example. He ought to give heed to Solomon’s words of counsel: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Prov 4:7).

In the New Testament Paul wrote, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor 1:21). Preaching is therefore the instrument by which God purposes to save sinners. Yet the activity itself is not to be confused with its results. Noah, Peter reminds us, was “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5) but we know from the biblical record that his ministry was basically one of condemnation, because his exhortations and warnings were rejected by his generation. Paul himself acknowledged that while the preaching of the gospel will be blessed to the salvation of some, others will harden their hearts under it (2 Cor 2:15,16).

It is very natural for men commencing their ministry to preach, pray and look for positive results from their labours, particularly the conversion of sinners. Indeed they ought not to be in the ministry if this is not the case. Nevertheless, they must be willing to be used as it pleases God, for the fulfilment of His own sovereign purposes. While a faithful ministry will always produce results, the nature of the results remains with God alone. Every preacher must therefore humbly acquiesce in what pleases the One who has sent him to his particular field of labour. Some both sow and reap; again some sow and others do the reaping. Some are even sent to labour in conditions that require them to plough and harrow before any real sowing can commence. Every preacher should have a personal conviction about what is required of him in his own particular ministry — speaking wisely and applying words appropriate to his particular situation.

Seeking to learn from Solomon, every minister of the gospel ought to observe the seriousness with which this wise preacher approached his duty. He wrote: “The preacher sought to find out acceptable words” (Ecc 12:10). He thought carefully and wisely about what he would say, in order to deliver the most appropriate message to his hearers. Personal wisdom was essential if his ministry was to be effective. It was “because the preacher was wise,” that he gave so much attention to finding appropriate words (Ecc 12:9). A wise ministry is therefore one with a contemporary, relevant and appropriate message.

Some ministries are distinguished for their intellectual presentation; others for their zeal and enthusiasm; others for their popular appeal; and yet others for their apparent success. The gospel minister, however, who seeks divine approval, will endeavour to his utmost to exercise a ministry marked by God-given wisdom. Yet such a ministry may not always meet with common approval. Wisdom, in the estimation of God and in the eyes of men, may be two different matters. Paul wrote: “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor 3:19); while God pronounced: “Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight!” (Is 5:21). Paul defended his own ministry among the Corinthians: “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom…Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought” (1 Cor 2:4–6). With such a clear distinction between worldly wisdom and spiritual wisdom, where and how does the preacher seek out appropriate words with which to address his fellow sinners?

The first requirement is faith in the One who commissions him. When Jesus sent His disciples to their duty as preachers, He promised them, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist” (Lk 21:15). The ministers of Christ sometimes feel inadequate before the great intellects of this world, who are often “men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth,” or “men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” (1 Tim 6:5; 2 Tim 3:8).

However, it must not be forgotten that the great Head of the Church has “chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” (1 Cor 1:27). Peter informs us that in the days of their ministry, when the people “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Their words, and the authority with which they spoke them, testified to the Saviour’s influence on them. Peter, spoke for the other disciples: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). Like the disciples, the minister of the Word needs to be inseparable from his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. He should go from the presence of his Lord, carrying His words to the people whom he addresses.

The second requirement for every preacher is to be personally intimate with his Saviour. Jesus, during His earthly ministry, condemned His generation: “The Queen of the south shall rise in judgement with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here” (Mt 12:42). The Lord Jesus Christ is indisputably greater in wisdom than even Solomon. Paul wrote of Him as the one “in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). Unless the preacher of the divine Word is intimate with Christ, he cannot draw from this fountain of true wisdom. He may have a very scholarly knowledge of the facts about Christ, and yet have no real intimacy with Him. In the case of the learned Paul, such intimacy caused him to abandon everything “that I may know Him” (Phil 3:10). It is this close relationship between the preacher and the Saviour which is the secret to a spiritually-wise ministry.

Another requisite must be the exercise the prophet Jeremiah described. In the midst of his trials and discouragements, he addressed God thus: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jer 15:16). Not only did the prophet find words, but he inwardly digested them. As the prophet personally experienced the power of the words he found, every preacher needs to feel the power and efficacy of the divine Word before he attempts to declare it to others. His utterances need to be more than fine words from a manuscript or interesting thoughts gleaned from the pen or the experiences of others, but rather God-sent messages coming with conviction from his innermost soul.

When the preacher is preparing for the pulpit, his mind is automatically focused on the spiritual needs of his congregation. He desires their spiritual improvement. However, like the seven churches in Asia, in the Book of Revelation, the spiritual condition and needs of every congregation are varied. Some needs are, of course, essentially the same, for everyone stands in need of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Nevertheless, as the Apostle John reminds us, words need to be addressed specifically to those who spiritually are “little children”, while others need to be addressed to “young men”, and others still to “fathers” (1 Jn 2–3).

As a pastor becomes familiar with his congregation, he becomes acquainted with their differing needs, arising from the varied degrees of knowledge they possess, the variety of experiences they encounter and the many stages of spiritual development they exhibit. He may be required to alarm the careless, encourage the weak, educate the ignorant, stimulate the minds of the more advanced in the faith, confront prejudice, overcome antagonism, and win their hearts and minds. Thus, he must wisely seek out and find “acceptable words”. Such words are found with the One of whom it was said, “Never man spake like this man” (Jn 7:46). The task of the congregational pastor is therefore not one for the faint-hearted or the slothful. As he endeavours to feed his flock wisely, he does so with the burden that Paul expressed to the Philippians: “I have you in my heart…for God is my record how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:7,8).

Reproduced with permission.
Hutton, George G. “Because the Preacher was Wise” The Free Presbyterian Magazine, January 2014: 15–19.