The Expository Files

We Do Not Preach Ourselves!"

2 Corinthians 4:5,6

Paul and his associates went forth to make known the Lord Jesus Christ. Avoiding all dishonest arts and cunning devices, they renounced the hidden things of shame and did not handle the word of God deceitfully. They were not preaching themselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord. He said, "For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." Let's think in terms of applications:

Preachers are in danger of preaching themselves when ..

1. Their preaching has primary reference to their own interests. Naturally, as we study the Bible, read, think and experience life, we will develop areas of special interests. Some may have a special enthusiasm for "first principles," while other have concerns relating to the refutation of false doctrines, or some other category of teaching. The temptation is, to spend an disproportional amount of time preaching on themes we are interested in. Self-interests eventually becomes the priority factor in topic decisions, and the problem is two-fold: (1) Self is getting in the way of sober decisions for all listeners, and (2) Vast areas of needed teaching is neglected. {See, Acts 20:27; Eph. 4:15; Col. 1:10}. Again, preachers can begin preaching themselves when . .

2. They engage in it to advance their reputation. At the time Paul wrote to the Philippians, some were preaching Christ "from selfish ambition," (Phil. 1:16). While we do not have the ability to peek into the heart with supernatural discernment, there is little doubt that some today are empowered by the same motivation. When men preach "from selfish ambition" and to enhance themselves in the eyes of men, the ugly symptoms usually come to the surface. The message may be correct, but the messenger is contaminated by impure motive. Often, these men eventually discredit themselves and faithful brethren mark and avoid them (Rom. 16:17,18). Pray for men who are impressed by "the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus," and who are willing to suffer "the loss of all things," (Phil. 3:8). Encourage men who have no personal ends to gain. And it should be said, controversy and militance is a necessary part of preaching the Word, but some have the wrong aim; there are pre-occupied with showing themselves to be "strong" and "sound" to please men. Our first aim is not to save our hides, wound our opponents, or vindicate our reputation. Preaches can be guilty of preaching self when they preach to . .

3. To secure their own advantage. Similar to the former, some may undertake full-time preaching to secure their own advantage. I fear there are a few men who abuse full-time preaching. They develop the ability to meet the minimum requirements; they constantly "borrow" sermon outlines, and may be busy near the end of the week trying to throw something together to put in their time on Sunday. Of course, the rest of the week there is a lot to do: day-time TV, errands, work around the house, golf, fishing, selling something, a hobby or just drinking coffee. These men only hold home Bible studies when they have to; their class work is characteristic of laziness, and they may try to maneuver meeting invitations for a nice week-long recess with plenty of food, social contact and some extra income. I must say - A basic dimension of this problem is, the brethren who tolerate it!

4. When they aim to exalt themselves, and extend their own influence; or, promote their own welfare, men preach themselves. All of us know or have observed a few preachers, who are not ashamed to engage in the vulgar scramble for the best places; the "chief seats." These egotistical climbers actively seek to promote themselves, and may justify this as a necessary part of their "position" or "influence." Some preachers may entertain this thought {in essence}: "If I can just get my name before the brethren .. If I can advance myself just enough so the brethren will see what ability I have, then I'll be so busy in the work of the Lord, good will be accomplished and I'll no longer need to promote myself!" Men who are inclined to think in this direction need a strong dose of Divine medicine; here are the first four spoonfuls: Luke 14:7-11; 1 Thess. 2:1-12; 2 Cor. 4:5,6; 1 Cor. 15:10 & Rom. 12:3-8. There must be, in every Christian, the mentality and disposition of a servant! "For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." {See also, Matt. 20:27}.

5. When they preach their own opinions, and not gospel truth. The issue, in regard to individual opinions, has never been, "Do we have a right to have them?" The point is, while we have a right to maintain our own individual preferences and opinions, we have no liberty to bind them on others. When human opinions, preferences and individually-determined policy is made into divine law, we are preaching ourselves. When compared to the saving acts of God, the cross of Christ and the revelation of the Holy Spirit, our opinions amount to futility.

6. When they derive their doctrines from their own reasoning, and not the Bible.
A preacher's wife recently said to me, "I think some preachers get so 'smart,' they study themselves away from the truth!" I know what she meant. And I'm afraid some men - instead of telling people what the Bible says, are telling people how they think, how they reason, how they arrive at their conclusions.

In all these cases there is a single danger we should recognize: Gradually allowing self to become primary, and the gospel secondary! Will someone argue that this never happens? Will some bothered reader aver that there is no such danger? I am wholly convinced that this is one of the problems preachers and brethren need to be aware of and watchful about in our times. Let us go forth together, to make known the Lord Jesus Christ, avoiding all dishonest arts, cunning devices, selfish ambitions and lazy attitudes. Preacher! Your task is to close the gap between what people need, and what God's Word offers!

By Warren E. Berkley
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From Expository Files 10.7; July 2003