Testifying in a court of law is a sobering experience as you stand before a judge to take an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. You are careful with every word so there is not a hint of misinformation in your testimony, lest you be found guilty of perjury.
When a pastor considers his task as a preacher in handling the Word of God, it should be a sobering experience. He has the responsibility to stand before God’s people to declare to them, “Thus says the Lord.” Every pastor should shudder at the thought of putting words into the mouth of God that do not derive from Scripture.
Paul’s Command to Timothy
In 2 Timothy 4, Paul issued this charge to young pastor Timothy: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom; preach the word.” Every time a pastor preaches, he ultimately stands before the eyes of God who holds him accountable. Therefore, he should be careful with every word to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Preachers must resist the temptation to add to or subtract from the teaching of Scripture. This requires the expositor to be committed to faithfully communicating what a particular biblical text says – no more and no less. He must handle God’s word in a way that makes it clear that he is not the authority, but is one under authority. The preacher’s words are only authoritative in so far as they are evidenced to come from the biblical text, and not simply his own ideas. As John Newton declared, “If I venture beyond the pole of the Bible, I am on enchanted ground and subject to illusions and distortions.”
We must not to add to God’s word because we have no right to bind anyone’s conscience beyond what Scripture says. We are not to subtract from it, because we do not have the right to withhold any command of Scripture. It all boils down to whether we truly believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. If the word of God is what does the work of God in this world, any tampering we do with it is dangerous and potentially destructive.
Jesus’ Rebuke of the Pharisees
The Pharisees were notorious for adding to and subtracting from God’s word. Jesus confronted them in Mark 7:9, 13 saying, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition… thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”
Simply put, Jesus’ words indicate that when we add to or subtract from Scripture, we actually replace the word of God. We do not merely stray from it, we leave it all together. What a grievous analysis by Christ Jesus, the final judge.
God’s Timeless Warning
Both near the beginning and the end of Scripture, God gives a similar warning. In Deuteronomy 4:2 Moses declares, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commands of the Lord your God which I command you.” The only way in which we can rightly “keep” God’s commands is to not add or subtract from his word.
Then in Revelation 22:18-19 John warns, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”
How we preachers handle the word of God is a most serious matter. If we take it lightly, we do so to our own detriment. Therefore, every time the preacher opens Scripture to declare a word from God, may he tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but truth… so help him God!