(In commemoration of the Reformation of the 16th century, we continue to publish portions of Pastor Koshy’s message, “Defence of the Word by the Church”, based on Jeremiah 23:16-22. It was preached in the 4th Missionary Conference of Gethsemane B-P Church [June 23-27, 2014]. May His Word be faithfully preached in our church.)
Be Steadfast in His Counsels
In verse 18, the Lord probed the Israelites with these searching questions: “For who hath stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it?” What an incriminating interrogation! The Lord was challenging the Israelites to prove to Him if they had firmly followed His counsel. But they had exhibited nothing whatsoever to show their unwavering commitment to His counsels.
Those questions will not go down well with churchgoers of our time. They would retort, “Wait a minute! Do we not boldly confess that the Word of God is inspired, inerrant and infallible? Haven’t we affirmed that God has preserved His Word? If we haven’t, then who have stood in the counsel of the LORD? Why question us then? We stand for the Bible, and have perceived that it is His Word. We affirm that not even a jot or tittle shall pass away. Why ask us, ‘who hath marked his word, and heard it?’ Take a look at our Bibles – we have underlined His commandments and promises.
We have taken down notes. Why mock us, even though we love His Word?” Similarly, one who is a preacher might say, “I have been trained in a biblical, reformed, fundamental Bible college. I am known as a preacher of God’s Word. I take pains to expound the Bible according to the historical, grammatical contexts of its passages.” Nevertheless, the LORD’s question needs to be answered – “who hath stood in His counsel”? Having heard and known God’s counsel, have you remained true to it?
To be honest, many of us in this congregation ought to mourn over our transgressions of His counsels – “O LORD, we heard your voice and yet we didn’t stand in Thy counsel. We have so often veered from Thy ways. You told us to watch and pray, but we had not obeyed, and had fallen into temptations. Against Thy instructions, we held on tightly to our possessions and refused to give in support of Thy work. You told us to go and evangelise, but we ignored Thy commission. You told us to be a pattern of godliness to Christians around us, but we stubbornly walked in the ways of the world. You asked us to separate from ungodly relationships, but we still continued in them.”
Have you stood in the counsel of the LORD? Have you marked His Word? God is not asking if you have underlined certain verses in your Bible, but rather if you have kept and not forgotten His Word to you. If you were all required to stand up and declare truthfully whether you have kept your pledges made upon your joining the church, what would you say? I daresay hardly anyone among us would be able to say, “I have marked all His words and kept them all.” We have not marked or obeyed all His words. We have not kept our pledges made in accordance to His will concerning us. We have previously said, perhaps with great fervour, in response to His Word: ‘LORD, this will we do.’ So today, God searches our hearts with His piercing questions, “Did you stand in My counsel? Did you mark My Word? Will you defend My Word with your life?”
Be Not Pretenders
In the next 2 verses, we note how intensely God expressed His anger to the unfaithful prophets and people: “Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly” (vv. 19-20). Indeed, who could withstand such fury of the LORD? Before such consuming wrath, we can only plead, “O Lord, have mercy, hide Thy face against our sins.” The LORD again reiterated His strong displeasure of the prophets of Israel in verse 21, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.” The LORD was upset with the prophets for taking the office without being called and appointed by Him, hence His damning denunciation: “I have not sent these prophets”!
A similar phenomenon of an increasing number of false teachers and pastors is seen in Christendom today. Is there a preacher or missionary in this conference who is not sent by God? Is there a preacher who has come by his own will? Is there one sent by the devil? Is there a man here who is considering the office of the church without having a clear calling from the LORD? You might think me to be uncharitable, ill-natured and hurtful in raising these questions. But recall how Jeremiah had to proclaim the LORD’s scathing pronouncement that “I have not sent these prophets”. It was Jeremiah versus the entire association of prophets! It is imperative for all of us to understand that a divine call is indispensable to be a preacher of God’s Word. God must first beckon him, equip him with the necessary gifts and qualities, and then train him in His Word to be a preacher. No one should try to become a preacher, without the LORD’s clear appointment. No one can say, “Trust me, I am confident that I will make it.”
One who is called by the LORD will not only have an inner conviction of God’s call, but also the external evidence of spiritual qualities (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9) and the necessary spiritual gifts (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). Bible colleges cannot make one a preacher. Rather, Bible colleges can only aid those who are called to gain knowledge through godly and faithful teachers. In this respect, pastors are to be careful not to lay hands upon a man who has not proven his calling. “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22), so wrote Paul to Timothy. I dread the possibility of unwittingly ordaining a person whom God didn’t ordain. Beware of men who rush to become pastors, men who quickly want to put on the “clergy cloak”, even though there is little to prove that they are called. None should pretend that he is called.
Dear Gethsemane churches, let us not delight in the number of preachers we have, but pray that they are called and equipped by God. I would ask all the preachers and missionaries present, to examine whether they are truly in the ministry in obedience to God’s call. Is it because the Lord has called you that you are a preacher? Is your heart led by the Spirit? Or is it your own carnal and materialistic thoughts that teach you what to do? If your heart is not guided by the Blessed Spirit and Truth, you had better step down from your post. Let us also pray that God will prevent us from ordaining a man who is not called by Him. May our “sweat and blood” not go into supporting a man who is not called by God. Do not rush to ordain men into the ministry. Your heart will be broken, and you will be dragged into places and situations that you should never be in. Pretentious, ungodly men cannot lead you into righteousness and truth. They will corrupt you; you will then cry and weep, and howl in great misery. May God be merciful to protect our churches. Let His Word defend us!