Last night I was reading in the book of Ezra and came to this verse:
"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." (Ezra 7v10).
I found that I had written this in the margin: "15/12/96. Induction as elder."
That was something of a shock! 11 years ago today, I was appointed as an elder in the church, hands were laid on me and I was given this verse. As I meditated on it last night, I had to ask the question - have I kept that charge? It's a high calling, and I have fallen short in many regards. Yet, as His child, under grace, an anniversary is not a time for condemnation at the failings of the past, but an opportunity for recommissioning for the future. I have fallen short, but today is the start of a new year of eldership, and it is time to stand again on the truths that God spoke over me 11 years ago and to move on.
So what does this verse hold for me, and my fellow elders - in my own church and any who happen to stumble across this blog?
A prepared heart
In an age where so much store in put on scholarship, on reading commentaries, in having exactly the right exegesis before preaching, there is such a danger that the ministry becomes cerebral only. Of course, right exegesis is very important, but simply applying our minds to God's Word, without seeking to find Him, and hear Him, is a fatal danger. We must come to God, and to His Word, with our hearts yielded (not perfect, but yielded).
Ezra took time to be in the presence of God, to set His heart to pursue the Author of the Word. What an important thing! There is no substitute for His presence. No amount of learning, study and sound doctrine can substitute the sweet presence of the Lord.
Mining the truth
As new covenant saints, we can be put off by the term "law of the Lord." But that was a general term for the scriptures that Ezra would have had. We have the whole canon, Old and New Testaments. For us, then, our call is to study His Word - diligently. The NKJV translators use the term "seek the law of the Lord", but in the margin they have the alternative translation "study".
This seeming ambiguity is important, because, while we are called to study and to find what the Bible says and to understand it, there is also a pursuit of God in studying His Word. Studying scripture is about revelation. God speaks. He teaches, and reveals Himself. Time in His Word, means we can plumb the depths, we can meditate upon the text, upon the truth revealed, upon the outworkings of the truth in our lives, and above all, upon the Author of truth and in worshipping Him.
I don't simply want to reguritate quotes from past preachers (however great they may be), but to bring truth fresh from His Word out of His presence. As Jesus said, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old." (Matt 13v52)
Obedient to the truth
Perhaps this is the greatest challenge of all! Ezra didn't only set his heart to study, but set his heart to obey. His study impacted, not only his sermons, but his life.
I don't believe the Lord expects us to be perfect in a particular area before we preach on it (otherwise would we preach on anything!), but we are not simply channels of truth. We are vessels whom the Lord has called to pass His Word on. We must allow ourselves to be washed by the water that passes through us and to be nourished by the food that we prepare for others.
I want to allow the Lord to impact me before I preach a particular message; even if I am still "work in progress", I want the process of being changed from glory to glory to be moving forward.
Teaching the truth
It is only at this point that we read about Ezra's teaching. The terms "statutes and ordinances" again go back to the scriptures that Ezra would have had at the time. We have far more, but the terms also suggest Ezra was diligent in his teaching. He applied himself to explaining the whole truth. Paul puts it slightly differently: "For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20v27).
We must make sure that we avoid simply banging on about our favourite doctrines. We must also make sure we preach the Word! Not the systematic theology, not the latest opinion from the internet, but what God's Word says, so that we lay a solid foundation of grace and truth in the lives of hearers so that they grow and bear much fruit.
Praise God for His amazing grace
I was speaking with a friend yesterday morning who is responsible for leading a small group. He shared that he had made a number of mistakes, but that God still kept the people! God is so good! When we fall short - even in this high calling - we are not under wrath, but under grace. We are to shepherd the church of God and seek to do it well, but Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and He is able to still carry the churches when we get it wrong.
And the supply of His grace is such that He is still at work in us. As I look forward to my twelfth year of eldership, I go forward freshly commissioned, hungry for His presence, wanting to do the people good, and still learning day by day.