So tell the Israelites that I say to them, ‘I am the LORD; I will rescue you and set you free from your slavery to the Egyptians. I will raise my mighty arm to bring terrible punishment upon them, and I will save you. I will make you my own people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am the LORD your God when I set you free from slavery in Egypt. I will bring you to the land that I solemnly promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as your own possession. I am the LORD.’ ” Moses told this to the Israelites, but they would not listen to him, because their spirit had been broken by their cruel slavery. Exodus 6:6-9 GNT
Two blind men who were sitting by the road heard that Jesus was passing by, so they began to shout, “Son of David! Take pity on us, sir!” Matthew 20:30, GNT
Therefore, the discourse of the teacher should be adapted to the character of his audience so that it can address the specific needs of each individual and yet never shrink from the art of communal edification.
As the good works which Christ does to you have no name, so your good works are to have no name. They have no name so that there may be no distinction made and they be not divided, else you might do some and leave others undone. You shall give yourself entirely to him with all you have, the same as Christ gave himself wholly to you, with praying, fasting, all works and suffering, so that there is nothing in him that is not yours and was not done for you. Thus it is not your good work that you give alms and pray, but that you offer yourself to your neighbor and serve him, whenever he needs you and in every way you can, be it with alms, prayer, work, counsel, comfort, apologizing, clothing, food, and if need be, with suffering and death.
It is true that man can, by his natural powers, arrive at a natural and imperfect beatitude. This may include within itself a certain knowledge of God, even a kind of seemingly mystical contemplation. Those who are satisfied with the Pelagian solution find this to be quite enough for them. And if that is the case, we are quite willing to admit that they are right as far as they go. For they can, by their own power, reach what they think is the end of the journey. But what they call the end is not even the beginning.
When I first entered the ministry, I was a last second invite to an exclusive seminar on preaching. Last second because I had called a mega-church about a leadership gathering at 4 pm on a Friday, and someone cancelled out of the seminar a few minutes before my call. So I went…. and learned something not taught to me in the 9 classes I have had on preaching.
They all taught how to prepare the sermon, how to work through the passage or the theme. How to draw up the outline and the summary sentence, and even critique by peers on the delivery. All this was good – and faithful, and absolutely necessary.
But it left out something critical to know. We have to study more than the scriptures. We have to know more than theology.
We have to study, to know our people, and where they are at in their journey.
Moses had to realize the people of God could not listen, because their spirit was broken. They could not trust in the wonderful message of being rescued from Egypt. Notice is say – “You will know, I am the LORD-your God-when I set you free. Moses has to realize this, if he is to be patient with the people of God. (he had to learn this – like all pastors!) The two blind men were not ready to hear about the cross, they needed to know God’s pity extended into their lives, were they were at sitting by the side of the road. Merton’s gnostic person, not far from God, still needs to encounter Him, and have his entire life reset, even though he is spiritual and discerns there is a god. These examples, are found over and over–those who minister to others, need to know whom they are ministering to!
This is not new – Gregory the great – a Pope from 1400 years ago, taught this in his book to train pastors. We have to adapt our preaching and teaching to minister to those people we are encountering. This is true about pastors, and their example should lead their people to do the same thing–to know who they are trying to draw closer to Jesus. We have to meet the spiritual needs of the individual and the entire Bible study or congregation. (That this was one of the 4 major lessons from Robert Schuller was, I believe, part of the reason his ministry reached so many that would not give time to other pastors!)
So this brings us to the quote from Luther, the lesson we need to know, if we are to communicate and communicate God’s love to our families, our neighborhoods, our communities. Those words in green sound challenging – to imitate Christ – to love and give of ourselves the way He loves and gives Himself to us. Again – how we communicate this is critical! People (and pastors) need to know how Jesus loves them, and gives Himself to them before they can do the same! Luther notes it rightly, giving ourselves completely looks different with every person, and even day to day.
That’s a lot of sacrifice–but if we are to minister to people – whether 5000, 100, or 2, we have to know them, and that comes from being there for them.. Then we know their struggles, their pains, and where they are with God.
So if you want someone to know Jesus, if you want to see them live in the peace that only Christ can instill in them, love them and dedicate yourself them.
And then, bring them to Jesus- from where they are at… and know He loves you both!
St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 87.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 422–423.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 28.