Preaching and teaching the Bible is more than an academic exercise. It must be more. Teaching the Bible can be done academically, but “academic” is not a sufficient description for the Christian teacher as a whole, and especially not for the Christian pastor as a whole. William Still summarizes the pastoral office with beautiful concision:
The pastor by definition is a shepherd, the under-shepherd of the flock of God. His primary task is to feed the flock by leading them to green pastures. He also has to care for them when they are sick or hurt, and seek them when they go astray…
The first faculty member of “Old Princeton,” Archibald Alexander, once penned a chapter on “The Pastoral Office” from a previous sermon. His opening was a simple quote from John 21:16: “Feed my sheep.”
Much can and should be said of the singular focus of this task of shepherding, of feeding the sheep. It is far too easy to be distracted in pastoral ministry. Pastors are people, and it happens. Thus, it is good to remind oneself of the simplicity of this central task from Jesus: “feed my sheep.” And food with which one feeds Christ’s sheep is the Word of God which reveals him.
The best feeders of sheep understand and convey the nature of this food.
This requires a pre-requisite to feeding others on the Word. Pastor Still is helpful here again, saying that “this written Word, summed up in the incarnate Word, not only expresses what God is like, but is and becomes by the operation of the Spirit of God, the nourishment by which we become like Him also. To be a pastor of the sheep, a feeder of the Word to others, you must be fed yourself.”
Food for the Under-Shepherds
Listen to the many faithful pastors who have gone before you. If you are one who would teach the Bible, one who would pastor, the message of the Bible should have a growing richness to you which deepens your affection for Jesus Christ. To know Christ, to trust in what he accomplished, and to see the great wonder of it all is to grasp his covenantal faithfulness and display his love.
Let’s look at an example sentence from Scripture that carries some serious covenantal weight, that has richness which expands in each layer of comprehension. In his letter to the Colossians, after exclaiming Jesus’ divine identity, Paul writes this in Colossians 1:19–20:
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
It is worth meditating on that sentence and its preceding context. It is worth meditating on all that these words mean. For the Colossians, it means that no false teaching compares with the “fullness” to be found in Christ. But for Paul, who had been a “Jew’s Jew”—well, I cannot help but wish to know what Paul felt the first time he grasped the covenantal weight of this truth. Paul had been a Pharisee. It is an understatement to say that Paul knew the history of the people of Israel. Paul says he was “extremely zealous” for the traditions of his fathers (Galatians 1:14). Paul was also a witness and apostle of Jesus Christ himself (Acts 9:3–7; Gal. 1:11–18). He had encountered the incarnate God. The presence of Yahweh is terrifying to sinners, fatal to sinners. This much Paul knew before the road to Damascus. And yet Paul, the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), had encountered the incarnate God and lived.
I do wonder how Christ’s invasion of his soul and mind gripped his emotions. Paul’s initial blinding view of Christ proceeded from immediate fear to ultimate and deepening affection. Evident in his letters and ministry, Paul came to realize that the Almighty God of his fathers was pleased—He chose—to dwell among men, to reconcile them to himself in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The “completeness of God’s self-revelation,” writes James Dunn, “was focused in Christ, that the wholeness of God’s interaction with the universe is summed up in Christ.” Paul understood that true Christian reflection on the work of Christ “could not rest content short of assessing him in the highest possible terms, of God’s self-expression in and through him.”
This is God dwelling among men. God dwelling among men! Or as Murray Harris writes, “It was by God the Father’s choice and at his good pleasure that all divine attributes and powers resided in the person of Jesus.” This is what God had always promised!
There is historic, covenantal weight here that would floor a Jew who knows his history. But this is not only true for Paul or other 1st century Jewish Christians who knew the God of the Old Testament and the sin of His people. This covenantal weight is real for each of us today, as inheritors of the covenantal blessing which comes through Jesus, the true Israel.
How can one who believes this, whose hope depends on this, teach this truth stale and unfeeling?
Are you stirred by the power of God’s shocking grace in dwelling among sinful man? Do you see Christ’s ministry of reconciliation for what it is? Teaching this verse and its surrounding passage is more than an academic exercise. Teaching this is to call our people to yearn for the fullness of God, to yearn for the completion of our dwelling with God. Do those who know you see that yearning in you? Teaching this is to exemplify joy-filled gratitude in our lives for what Christ has done in making peace between the sinner and the Creator. Does gratitude to God season your speech, behavior, and thought?
Pastors and the Astounding Gift of God’s Word
For those who would teach the Bible in the local church: we must see the astonishing nature of “Immanuel.” It is astonishing that the revelation of God has been given to man at all, let alone that the revelation is one of reconciliation. From the Word we must gather that utter awe and worship and fear are appropriate with regard to the presence and revelation of God. Awe and worship and fear do not—must not—diminish simply because you teach about this God all the time. Convey awe and worship and fear in your teaching. Sinners have no place in His presence and have no inherent right to His revelation. Perhaps the Lord transformed your heart and made you His decades ago, but is it not still among the greatest of wonders that you can hold God’s Word in your hands? The shocking truth of His grace and mercy and revelation only grows as you come to know your sin more and more. A wretch like you! A wretch like me! But God (Eph. 2:4), not satisfied to leave His chosen people under wrath, loved us. From the Word we must also gather that this God has, in His overwhelming love, given His presence to us. He was pleased to dwell in His fullness in Jesus Christ, to come and die in our place and take death to its grave, bursting forth from the tomb resurrected and exalted. The Spirit of this God dwells in those who believe.
Yes, the gospel—the message of the Bible. Yes, you know the gospel. Are you not still amazed by the gospel? Awake, O sleeping teacher! How can you be one who would teach the church of Jesus and not be filled with affection for Christ and his glorious gospel? To the adopted of God, the beauty of redemption and reconciliation never runs dry. It only deepens and widens, rushing over us and through us to others.
Those who know the Word best display the heart of Christ most faithfully. I fear you may misunderstand my meaning: one can memorize an astonishing amount of Bible references and fail to truly know the Word, that is to know the heart of God revealed in His Word. Like Pharisees, we can lose the seed of Christ’s heart, trampled on the path of our intellectual acumen. But a posture of humility and gratitude birthed and sustained by his grace keeps us abiding in his love.
What do you feel when you open the Bible, teacher? What do you feel when you hold it in your hands, when you read what is written? Relax…I’m not being weird or amorphously mystical. But I am serious. Do you feel anything? How about gratitude? How about awe? How about worship? How about unbridled joy? How about hope in spite of terrible circumstances? A thirst for more of God? Is your affection for Christ growing?
The presence and revelation of God is astounding. If we teach the Bible as an academic exercise, with no sense of being astounded ourselves, with no worship in our own hearts, that’s a confusing message to someone who is young in the faith and learning to cherish the gospel. Feed them! Light the way of the sheep with the Word, as the Word lights your own. Quoting from William Still one last time, “The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed.” They may not feel sustained by it or delight in it in each moment. But keep feeding. The Word surprises each of us in God’s time, it sustains and delights when He chooses. So keep feeding. Ground yourself, your family, your ministry in the Word of God.
No privilege or adventure exceeds that of walking another human being into the arms of Jesus Christ. No arduous task is as worthwhile as the long, narrow path of discipling others with the Word of God lighting the way. The Word of God is food for the sheep. It is food for you who feed them. And the Word never ceases to surprise and sustain and delight those who give themselves to the feast.
 William Still, The Work of the Pastor, revised ed. (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2010), 17.
 Archibald Alexander, “The Pastoral Office,” in The Pastor: His Call, Character, and Work (Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2020), 89.
 James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 101.
 Murray J. Harris, Colossians and Philemon, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 45–46.
 William Still, The Work of the Pastor, 23.