All through the Scriptures we see shepherding analogies. We find the relationship between God and his people described in such terms. As it pertains to the church, the people of God are called God’s flock. It is Christ who is described as the good Shepherd who actually lays down his life for the sheep.
Building on this analogy, pastors are called to shepherd God’s flock. The office of elder in the local church is a spiritual leadership office designed to shepherd souls by faithfully leading and overseeing them through God’s Word. God’s people, like sheep in the field, need faithful shepherds to lead and guide them.
So, what about the pastor’s preaching? Should it be funny? Is the pastor to be looking for the ultra-relevant sermon style in order to connect with his modern audience? Is it his job to entertain people—causing them to leave feeling good each week as they have been presented with a helpful moralistic speech filled with relevant stories for application? Actually, none of these approaches to the pulpit accomplish what God has in mind for the church of Jesus. God’s will is for preaching to have an authoritative tone.
In Titus 2:15, we find these words from the apostle Paul to Titus:
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Authoritative Preaching Defined
We live in a world filled with privacy fences. People in our culture enjoy a rugged individualistic approach to life—especially in the American culture where I live. Many people are resistant to authority and do not appreciate other people speaking into their lives. Yet, God knows the human heart and the propensity to sin far better than the most skilled theologian. That’s why he designed preaching to be authoritative.
The word translated authority in Titus 2:15 is the Greek term, “ἐπιταγή” which has in mind an authoritative directive, command, order, or injunction. Out of the seven times this term is used in the NT, it’s translated “command” or “commandment” six of the seven times. Only here in Titus 2:15 do we see it rendered as authority. The idea is that the pastor should be preaching with a commanding authority.
This term is connected to another Greek term which is common in the NT—“ὑποτάσσω” which is often translated “submit.” It’s often used in connection to wives being subject to their own husbands or the church of Jesus submitting to Christ.
All true biblical preaching is authoritative. When the crowds heard Jesus’ preaching—they were astonished. He preached as one who had authority (Matt. 7:28-29). You cannot preach the Bible without preaching with authority. This is why Paul does not permit women to teach or preach in the context of the church because she would be exercising authority over a man which is a violation of God’s design for the hierarchical structure of authority in the life of the local church (see 1 Tim. 2:12).
Authoritative preaching is not centered on the office of the pastor. The pastor does not have any ecclesiastical authority due to his position. The Roman Catholic Church has made this error throughout history. They have developed an ecclesiastical power system that includes the papacy and papal Infallibility among many other structural power grabs. This is not the authority that God has in mind when it comes to his church.
There have been many other grievous errors as it pertains to authority within evangelicalism. One common approach is visible within the charismatic circles where personal authority is built by a person claiming to have direct communication with God. For instance, when someone claims to receive direct revelation from God their popularity soars and people want to hear what they have to say on social media, in books, or in conference settings. Why? It’s directly connected to a perceived authority—due to the mysterious channel of communication that the person has with God. This is certainly not what God has in mind when it comes to authority.
Another error that we see often in evangelical circles is the heavy handed dictatorial leadership that is very prevalent within legalistic circles. The pastor serves as the CEO of the church where he commands, directs, and demands obedience out of the entire church—often majoring on cultural additives rather than the Word of God. This is extremely common within the KJV Only circles. This is not the form of authority that God designed for the church and for pastors.
To be clear, the authority of a pastor begins and ends with the Scriptures. If a pastor is merely commanding people to obey him and his ideas apart from chapter and verse of holy Scripture—he is guilty of overreach. The faithful pastor commands and thunders “Thus says the Lord”—expecting that people will hear the Word of God and obey. Listen to Paul’s commendation of the church in Thessalonica as he writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:13:
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
As the Word of God is proclaimed, the pastor serves as a herald who announces to the people a message from the King, and the people are to receive it as a message from the King rather than a message from the herald. Just as a herald’s message was to be received as if the king himself were present delivering the message—so the church should receive the faithful preaching of God’s Word as if Jesus himself is standing in the pulpit preaching.
Authoritative Preaching Is Positive and Negative
Paul directs Titus to exhort and rebuke the people. This involves both positive and negative aspects of preaching. The pastor is to encourage as he calls people alongside him and seeks to lift them up and comfort them in the faith. He is likewise to engage in rebuke in order to lead them away from sin and toward holiness.
The trend of our culture today is positivity. Everyone wants to be nice and positive. Any negativity is viewed as culturally unacceptable—unless it’s a major political season and then the gloves come off. When it comes to preaching, within the local church setting, many people are looking for a really nice guy to give really nice speeches about really helpful morality without being negative. That is simply not biblical preaching. Sheep wander off and walk straight toward predators. Sheep have a tendency to walk away from good water and good food into desolate, dry, and dangerous land. Sheep need to be rebuked.
That’s why Paul instructed Titus to rebuke the church. That’s likewise why Paul instructed Timothy to rebuke the church in his preaching (see 2 Tim. 4:1-5). The Greek term translated rebuke is “ἐλέγχω” which has in mind the idea of bringing a person to the point of recognizing wrongdoing. The focus is upon convicting or convincing someone of wrongdoing. That is the role of a pastor.
Faithful preaching involves commanding with authority from God’s Word in such a way that both encourages and rebukes as is necessary for everyone in the church.
Authoritative Preaching Demands Obedience
Paul gave Titus a clear command regarding his preaching ministry on the island of Crete—“Let no one disregard you.” The island of Crete was filled with lawless rebels and raging heretics who were teaching a works based salvation by circumcision. Both of these groups of people were impacting the churches on the island of Crete.
As the rogue mentality of lawlessness made its way into the church, it would be very common to have people who resist bold authoritative preaching. It would not be uncommon at all to have people who wanted to reject the pastor’s preaching based on their own private interpretations. That’s why Paul commanded Titus to be persistent in his preaching ministry.
The term used by Paul which is translated disregard is unique. It’s the Greek term, “περιφρονέω” which means to have disdain for, disregard, look down on, despise, or to evade. This is a compound Greek term. Phroneō means “to think,” while peri means “around.” The point Paul is driving home to Titus is that he must not allow people in the church to “think around” him as he preaches the Word and shepherds souls.
It’s common to have people rationalize their sin based on what they believe or what they have always heard. Paul’s charge to Titus was that they were not to be allowed to avoid or evade the clear teaching of Scripture. Titus was to be persistent in his preaching and he was to disciple the other pastors on the island to Crete to do the same thing in their approach to the pulpit.
Think about God’s design of authority and his calling of pastors to preach and teach holy Scripture in the life of the local church. Shallow preaching that avoids a tone of authority and seeks to please people will be disastrous for the health and vitality of the church.
It was Martin Luther who once said, “Always preach in such a way that if the people listening do not come to hate their sin, they will instead hate you.”
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