Politics . . . social conditions . . . various injustices from which people suffer in various parts of the world . . . war and peace. . .
All this is at best secondary, very often not even secondary, often not worthy of a place at all, but at best, secondary . . . the primary task of the Church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God.
Our Lord performed miracles, but the interesting thing is that the miracles were not His primary work, they were secondary. John, as you know, refers to them always as ‘signs’, and that is what they were. He did not come into the world to heal the sick, and the lame, and the blind, or to quell storms on the sea. He could do such things and did so frequently; but these are all secondary, they are not primary. What was His primary object? The very terms He uses answer the question. He says He is ‘The Light of the world’. He says, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you’. Those things are legitimate but they are not primary; they are secondary, they are the consequences, they are the effects, they are results. Or take His famous reply to the people who came to Him putting the question whether they should pay tribute money to Caesar or not? ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and [or but] unto God the things that are God’s’. This was His special emphasis. Most people are concerned about the first thing, ‘rendering unto Caesar’; the thing that is forgotten, He suggests, is that you ‘render unto God the things that are God’s’.
Then there are some very interesting side-lights on this whole matter, it seems to me, in what He did. You remember how after the miracle of feeding the five thousand we are told that the people were so impressed that they came and they tried to take Him by force to make Him a King (John 6:15). They felt, ‘Now this is just what we want. He is dealing with a practical problem, hunger, the need of food. This is the one to be made King, He has got the power, He can do this.’ But what we are told is that He pushed them away, as it were, ‘and went up into a mountain Himself alone’. He regarded that as a temptation, as something that would side-track Him. It was precisely the same in the case of the temptations in the wilderness that we read of in Luke 4. The devil offered Him all the kingdoms of this world and so on. He rejects this deliberately, specifically. These are all secondary, they are not the primary function, not the primary task.
Or take another very interesting example of this found in Luke 12:14, where we are told that on one occasion our Lord had been speaking as He was sending out the disciples to preach and to teach, and telling them about their relationship to God and how they were to deal with opposition. He seems to have paused for a moment and immediately a man blurted out a question, saying, ‘Speak to my brother that he divide the inheritance with me.’ Our Lord’s reply to that man surely gives us a great insight into this whole matter. He turned to him and said, ‘Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?’ In other words He made it clear that He had not come into the world to do such things. It is not that these things do not need to be done; they do need to be done; justice and fair play and righteousness have their place; but He had not come to do these things. He said in effect, ‘I have not left heaven and come on earth in order to do something like that, that is not my primary task’. So He rebuked this man. Indeed we find that many times when He had worked some striking and notable miracle and the people were trying to hold Him, hoping He would work still more, He deliberately left them and would go on to another place; and there He would proceed to teach and to preach. He is ‘The light of the world’—this is the primary thing. ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me’. All these other things are secondary. And you notice that when He sent out His disciples, He sent them out ‘to teach, and to cast out devils’. The teaching is the first thing, and He reminded them that the Christian is the light of the world. As He is the light of the world so the Christian becomes the light of the world. ‘A city that is set upon a hill cannot be hid’, and so on. I suggest that in the Gospels, and in the life and ministry of our Lord Himself, you have this clear indication of the primacy of preaching and of teaching.
Then after the Resurrection, and in the remainder of the New Testament, you get exactly the same thing. He tells these chosen men that they are primarily to be ‘witnesses unto Me’. That is to be their first great task. He is going to give them other powers, but their main business is to be witnesses unto Him. And it is therefore interesting to observe that immediately these men are filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost they begin to preach. Peter preaches and expounds and explains the Truth to the people at Jerusalem. What is the phenomenon that had just happened and had produced such a change in the disciples? That question can only be answered by preaching, so you get the sermon recorded in the latter portion of the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
And when you go to the third chapter of Acts you find the same thing again. Peter and John heal this man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, and that creates excitement and interest. The people think these are miracle workers and that they are going to get great benefits out of them; but Peter again preaches and corrects them, and immediately draws their attention, as it were, from the miracle that he and John had just worked to the great truth concerning Christ and His salvation, which is so infinitely more important. The Apostles always bring out this emphasis.
And again in the fourth chapter of Acts – I am taking this in detail because this is the origin of the Church, this was what she actually did at the beginning. She was commissioned, sent out to preach and teach, and this is the thing that she proceeded to do. ‘They spoke with boldness’. What the authorities were anxious to do above everything else was to stop these men teaching and preaching. They always criticize that much more than they do the miracles; it was the preaching and the teaching in this ‘Name’ that annoyed them. And the reply of the Apostles is, ‘We cannot but speak of the things which we have seen and heard’. This was the thing that made them speak, they could not help themselves; they were conscious of the great constraint that was upon them.
But, and in many ways the most interesting statement of all, I sometimes think in this connection, is one that is found in the sixth chapter of the book of the Acts of the Apostles where we are told that a great crisis arose in the life of the early Church. I know of nothing that speaks more directly upon the present state and condition of the Church, and what is her primary task, than this sixth chapter of the book of Acts of the Apostles…
Here is a problem, here are these widows of the Grecians, and they are not only widows but they are in need and in need of good. It was a social problem, perhaps partly a political problem, but certainly a very acute and urgent social problem. Surely the business of the Christian Church, and the leaders particularly, is to deal with this crying need? Why go on preaching when people are in need and are suffering? That was the great temptation that came to the Church immediately; but the Apostles under the leading and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the teaching they had already received, and the commission they had had from their Master, saw the danger and they said, ‘It is not reason that we should leave the Word of God, and serve tables’. This is wrong. We shall be failing in our commission if we do this. We are here to preach the Word, this is the first thing, ‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word’.
Now there the priorities are laid down once and for ever. This is the primary task of the Church, the primary task of the leaders of the Church, the people who are set in this position of authority; and we must not allow anything to deflect us from this, however good the cause, however great the need.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 18-22