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A pulpit of purpose

In the book of Nehemiah, we find an intriguing passage. Chapter 8, verses 1-4 read: When the seventh month came, the children of Israel were in their cities. Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord has commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose.

Although some Bible translations (as seen above) use the word “platform”, there are others which use the familiar word “pulpit”. In Nehemiah’s day, until this point, the people were focusing on the material needs of the city. Now it was time to focus on the spiritual needs of the people within that city. It is a lesson that the leaders of our cities would do well to heed. So much focus (and money) goes into building, maintaining and repairing our cities but very little focus is directed towards promoting the spiritual health of the people who live within those cities. But so far as Ezra and Nehemiah are concerned, they prioritised what we might call “a Bible conference”. They wanted to ensure that the people put the Word of God first in the life of the city. Modern society often believes the lifeblood of a city is its theatres or restaurants or sporting events or nightlife. No, the true lifeblood of a city has to be the Word of God.

It is not unexpected that those who are unsaved reject the importance of God’s Word, but what is becoming increasingly sad is that the church is also doing the same. Yet, as we know, the primary task of the church and its leaders is to preach the Word of God and to preach it with boldness. As if speaking to our time, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote in his book, “Preaching and Preachers” that, “The decadent periods and eras in the history of the church have always been those periods when preaching has declined.”

Much continues to be said about the hope of revival in our time. The Scriptures do not give any indication that there will be a revival prior to the rapture. In fact, it describes the opposite. One thing is for sure – the very Word of God which so many reject is integral to the nature of revival. How can you expect revival when so many reject the source of it? If God is to work in and through His people, then they must respond positively to His Word. However, when the Word of God is replaced in the pulpit with the stories of men or with false teaching, the spiritual life of God’s people suffer immeasurably and the hope of revival with it. But as we see from Nehemiah 8, when the Word of God is proclaimed, He expects His people to respond in three ways: understand the Word (8:1-8); rejoice in the Word (vv 9-12) and obey the Word (vv 13-18). In this way, we see that the whole of the believer must be captive to God’s truth – the mind (understanding); the heart (rejoicing) and the will (obeying). That sums up the purpose of the pulpit – the Spirit of God using the Word of God to reach the heart of the people of God. To repeat Nehemiah 8:4 and emphasise the pulpit and its purpose: So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform [pulpit] of wood which they had made for the purpose.

But should it be the case that just anybody is able to enter a pulpit to preach God’s Word? One of the more famous quotes from John Knox reads, “I have never once feared the devil, but I tremble every time I enter the pulpit.” All preachers who handle the Scriptures seriously have experienced this trembling. Knox trembled because he wanted to make sure he preached the full counsel of God’s Word without adding anything of his own opinion or persuasion. Just as Knox and any other God-ordained preacher prepares himself before entering the pulpit, so too did Ezra. As the old saying goes, the preacher’s first and most important task is to prepare himself, not his sermon. In Ezra 7:10 we read, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Seek….do….teach…the Word of God. When Ezra stood, the people would be hearing the Word of God, not a man speaking his own ideas. It must be said, God’s purpose for preaching has not changed. Yet, it seems that apostate church leaders have substituted the Word of God for words of men which are unbiblical, unholy and unhelpful.

In these last days, God is searching for people who will commit themselves to preaching His truth. To quote Leonard Ravenhill, he once said that if Jesus came back today, He wouldn’t be cleansing the Temple, he would be cleansing the pulpits. You see, Satan’s desire is to control the pulpit and what is spoken from it. Therefore, we have seen in recent times he has worked hard to infiltrate the seminaries and Bible colleges so that they send out men who are not equipped to rightly divide the Word of Truth. The enemy’s goal is to replace the Word of God with another gospel that tickles the ears of men and sadly, the strategy is proving incredibly successful. Many pulpits are occupied by men who set aside the Word of God and simply use their platform to ramble, theorise, speculate and manipulate. If God has truly placed a man in the pulpit, he will deliver a sermon which is Spirit-filled, Christ-exalting and Bible-based. His message, received through the Holy Spirit and the study of the Word, will be one which proves the power of the text and not the performance of the preacher. As English statesman John Bright once quipped, “…God enlists less able souls as pastors to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed…”

You see, many today have distorted the purpose of the pulpit. The primary purpose (as evidenced in our opening passage) is to see men and women put in a right relationship with God. But to the spiritual detriment of the church, men in this age are preaching the vain philosophy of the world. As the saying goes, what the pulpit prioritises, the people will pursue. If you have a pastor who is prioritising worldly philosophy, the church will slowly be conformed to the pastor’s mind, rather than God’s mind. And that is not the purpose of the pulpit.

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