Clarity: More Than Thinking

Yesterday I offered three implications of the doctrine of Biblical clarity for us as preachers.  Since the Bible is written by a master communicator who made sure it could be understood, therefore we need to work hard at understanding, we should help others know it can be understood, and we should strive to be clear in our own preaching.

There’s one more issue that I wanted to add to the list.  This might be the one we need to ponder more than the others.  Clarity is not really about intellectual capacity.  The brightest scholars can make the biggest mess with interpreting Biblical texts.  The simplest Christian can profoundly understand God’s Word.

Intellect is a blessing, but it is not a requirement.  Formal training is a privilege, but it is not the definitive necessity.  Reference resources are helps, but they are not preconditions for understanding.  We have to grasp the fact that understanding communication is not an exclusively brain-defined exercise – our brain, or anyone else’s.

Dr B may be a very intelligent individual.  Mr S may never have finished school and struggle to read.  But which of these two is most likely to understand the nuances of Mrs S’s communication?  Probably the husband who loves her.

4. Preachers have to both recognize and model that understanding is not primarily a matter of intellectual capacity or formal training, but alignment of heart by the Spirit.  We can so easily purvey the notion that scholarship and intellect are pre-eminent distinctives of effective biblical study.  The Word of God makes wise the simple.  But there is a profound spiritual and relational aspect to understanding the Bible.

Notice how Jesus speaks of the role of the soil in the parable of the good soils (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8).  In his explanation the repeated issue is their hearing.  He continues on in Mark and Luke to speak of a lamp under a jar, then returning immediately to the issue of hearing.  He warns them, “Take care then how you hear, for the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”  

So how is the good soil defined?  In Matthew it is the one who hears and understands.  In Mark, it is those who hear and accept. In Luke, it is those who hear the word, holding it fast in an honest and good heart.

As preachers we can easily give the impression that the issue is intellect.  It isn’t.  The real issue is the alignment of the heart, its responsiveness to the God whose word is being spoken.  It is more about Spirit enlivened relational capacity than genetically transferred intellectual capacity.  As preachers of God’s Word, we must both recognize and model that.

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Preaching and the Great Commandment

My post today is not here, but you can get there from here. It’s a guest post on a blog I appreciate very much – It is a blog by Dr Ron Frost. I commend the blog to you, and I’m not just saying that because Ron has kindly invited me to post on his site!

For today’s post, please click here.

Preaching and Affective Hermeneutics

I don’t spend much time going from blog to blog.  However, one blog that I do read and appreciate is A Spreading Goodness by a good friend and major influence on my life – Dr Ron Frost. He kindly asked me to write a guest post for his site which I was delighted to do. It’s a little longer than my typical post on this site, but I hope it’s worth taking the time to read. I won’t re-post it here as I’d like to redirect you to A Spreading Goodness – you might enjoy the earlier content on there and become a regular (I particularly recommend “I’m a Sinner…” posted on December 15th).

So for today’s post, please click here:

Dealing With Deadened Motivation – II

What does it look like to address an issue of the affections by exposure to the attractiveness of our Lord, rather than by effort of the flesh?

Perhaps the marriage analogy can help here.  If I am growing cold in my affections toward my wife (which, if she reads this, I am not!), then the solution is not to “do the right thing.”  I can go and buy flowers and give them to her and even say “I love you” through clenched teeth.  That doesn’t do much for me, and does even less for her.  I am much better off simply being with her, allowing her attractiveness to draw my affections to her again. That is what I’m suggesting spiritually – allow the love of God to draw you to Him.

One last suggestion that has helped me was given to me by a good friend several years ago.  I pass it on to you gladly.  If I don’t feel like reading the Bible and being exposed to the attractive beauty of God’s grace, I don’t pretend otherwise and force myself, I tell him so.  “Lord, I don’t feel like reading your Word today.  Other things are far more interesting and attractive to me…”  Praying honestly (and out loud!) tends to bring conviction and brokenness as the Spirit of God works in my heart.  Before long I am broken at the foot of the cross, overwhelmed by the grace of God to a sinner like me.  Before long I want to be in His Word, not as an external duty, but with a captured heart, strangely warmed, but never proud of my own effort!

Dealing With Deadened Motivation

How are we to deal with a cold heart when we find one sitting in our own chest?  How should we respond to a lack of spiritual motivation?  I believe we need to think biblically and theologically about this very real challenge in our lives.

Effort of the flesh does not work. It is common advice.  Do the right thing and don’t worry about your feelings.  Your feelings must not drive you, choose by determination of the will to do what is right.  This is all very well, but it doesn’t hold up theologically.  The will is not an independent faculty of the soul that can switch on and take charge when our hearts are cold.  The will is in bondage to the affections, so what are we to do when there is a problem in our affections, a coldness of heart?  Forcing ourselves to do the right thing with a wrong heart is unwise.  Effort of the flesh leads either to sin (the fruit of the flesh in Galatians 5), or pseudo-success (external righteousness with a dead heart is the hypocrisy of Pharisaism).  Paul argues strongly in Galatians 3:1-3 against the notion that we can mature or increase in sanctification by the power of the flesh.

Deadened motivation is an issue of the affections. What does Paul contrast with flesh effort?  It is response to the Spirit, a faith response.  Our affections cannot be fixed by an effort of the will, that is getting it backwards.  Affection is only overcome by affection.  To put it another way, why do we love God?  We love God because He first loved us.  So when I sense the temperature dropping in my heart, my response cannot be to look to myself (flesh effort).  I have to look to Him (faith response).  I need response, not greater responsibility.  I need to delight again, not diligently stir up duty within.  So how do I address motivational issues in my own heart?  I simply lay myself open to the attractive power of the love of God.  What does that look like practically?  Well, typically it means spending time in His Word, perhaps listening to worship music, pondering creation or praying.  Isn’t that just “doing the right thing and letting feelings follow?”  Not really.  It may look similar on the outside, but it’s about being responsive to the love of God, not responsible to achieve my own spiritual motivation.

Tomorrow I will add a couple of thoughts to further clarify what I’ve described here.