PREACHING MORE THAN YOU KNOW
January 1, 1998 Issue
by Jerry Dickinson
"I have heard what the prophets have said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies even the prophets of the deceit of their own heart? That think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor as their fathers forget my name for Baal. The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the straw to the wheat? saith Jehovah."
Those strikingly memorable words were spoken by the prophet Jeremiah in Jer.23:25-28 (ASV). The false prophets of Jeremiah's day were equating what they had dreamed with the revealed Word of God. They were exclaiming, "I have dreamed! I have dreamed!", and were preaching their dreams as if they had been inspired by God. But their dreams, as Jeremiah so pointedly and poetically puts it, were like the chaff to the wheat when placed along side the revealed Word of God. "If a man has a dream," concludes the Lord through Jeremiah, "Let him tell it as a dream." Tell your dream if you must, but if you preach it as something inspired from God you are going beyond what you know.
It is true, of course, in Biblical times that God did inspire the dreams of some, however in every case they knew the Lord had inspired their dreams because God gave them the interpretation and meaning of the dreams Himself. This is clear in the cases of Joseph and Daniel. The same is not true today. I have had folks tell me that they have dreamed about people dying and then shortly thereafter the person did die. Is that an inspired dream? It could just be coincidence or it could be the dreamer had his chronology confused - I mean he could have dreamed the dream shortly after the death and then, in the passing of time, think the dream preceded the death. The point is, nonetheless, if you have a dream tell it as a dream and do not venture beyond what is written and beyond what you know of a certainty.
But there is a much more important point to be made. It is one thing to have a dream or an unusual experience and tell about it as just that. It is quite another thing to get into the pulpit and preach more than you know. This is true whether we are talking about dreams or any thing else. I certainly believe, for instance, the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian (I Cor 6:19) but when a preacher declares that he feels led of the Spirit to preach a certain thing - or to make a certain point he is preaching more than he knows.
The problem is with that word feels. If you have a warm feeling of some sort come over you before you are preaching (or while you are preaching) keep it to yourself. Don't preach it in the pulpit! You have stepped beyond the Word of God - and beyond what you know for certain.
Do not give us your feelings - give us the scripture! If you have had some unusually unique experience which you feel was due to God's providence keep that between you and the Lord; I mean, do not include such experiences in your preaching. When you do you are preaching more than what you know and you detract from, not add to, your sermon. I certainly do believe, for instance, in angels and I do believe they minister for us according to God's providence (Hebrews 1:14). If you feel, however, that an angel has attended and aided you in some difficult situation keep it to yourself. When you include such incidents in your sermon you are preaching more than you know. Rather than making your point, your illustration is a detrimental distraction.
There has recently been a groundswell of interest and curiosity about the unseen spirit world. There is an explosion of books written about angels, spirits, demons, etc. I have had several people recommend some of these books to me as good reading. However, after reading some of them the thing that stands out is that these authors are going beyond what is written, and beyond what they know. In one of these books, written by a church of Christ preacher, the author states his belief that angels still bring messages from God today as they did in Biblical times. He goes to great lengths to affirm that they will not bring a message that goes beyond the written Word, but he claims they do bring messages (he never really states precisely how) to Christians today.
Not only that, but he states further in the book that he believes that the spirits of our dead loved ones are watching us here on earth, and even pray for us over yonder in the glory world. How does he know all of this is the question. The answer is, of course, he does not know all of this at all. He even says, now and again, in his book that he cannot be certain of all he says about angels and departed spirits, however he believes what he is saying is true and ought to bring comfort and strength to Christians.
The problem is that not only is he going beyond what is written in the scriptures he is going beyond what he or any human knows. While traveling to a meeting recently I heard a preacher on the radio declare his conviction that demons still possess people today. He even played a portion of a tape where he has a conversation with a woman who he claims was possessed. The demon (he asserts) spoke to him and he proceeded to exorcize the evil spirit. The exorcism took seven days, hut he claims he finally cast the demon out in the name of the Lord Jesus. I thought what you are thinking I'm sure - why did it take seven days? Jesus and the apostles were able to cast them out instantaneously. At any rate, there seems to be a mania afoot with regards to the spirit world - angelmania, spiritmania, demonmania, etc. It is commendable that folks are interested in the eternal unseen world, but let us not get so carried away that we start believing and preaching - may I say it again - more than we know.
Let us just preach the word and hold to sound doctrine (II Tim 4:2,3). If you have had a dream, or some unusual experience that you feel the Lord had a hand in, or some moment of enlightenment when something that had been darkly vague became suddenly and brilliantly clear and lucid to your mind, keep it between you and the Lord. Make of it what you will - it may be perfectly explainable, or perhaps beyond explanation. In your teaching and preaching, however, stick to the scriptures. Stay on solid ground. To preach and teach anything else is to teach and preach more than you know.
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