Preaching that Exegetes the Word and the People


**This post was written by Dave Zuleger** 

Shepherd the Flock of God Among You

One of the things that keeps me praying and thinking is the call that pastors have to their people:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

Pastors are called to “give an account” for the people they serve. That means pastors must seek to know their people – where are their joys, sorrows, and sins? How can we, as undershepherds point them to the Chief Shepherd – Jesus?

The call of pastors is to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2). Who should we shepherd? Those among us. A shepherd is found “among” the sheep entrusted to his care. This means a shepherd spends time among the sheep – in the joys and sorrows of life.

In fact, the New Testament portrays local churches with local groups of elders (1 Peter 5:1, Acts 14:23, Acts 15:2, Acts 20:17, Titus 1:5, James 5:14), which makes sense with the call to shepherd the flock of God among them. Elders need to know the people and be near the people to exercise oversight, pray with them when they’re sick, and equip them for the work of ministry (Eph 4:11–12).

Be Men of the Word and Prayer

Certainly, a pastor’s main tools in the toolbelt to shepherd the people among him are the word of God and prayer (Acts 6:4).

So, as elders seek to know and care for their people they will give themselves to knowing their people so that they can know how to pray for and apply the word of God for their people in a way that is timely, exhorting, and encouraging.

The word of God is active, living, and piercing to the depths of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). As Paul exhorts a young elder, Timothy, his advice is to keep going deep into the word of God because of how it works to shape a people for salvation, correction, and equipping:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Therefore, it is wise for a pastor to give himself to knowing his people and give himself to knowing the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) that puts to death the deeds of the body and brings new life (Romans 8:13).

And any wise shepherd will often go to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-16) on behalf of the sheep that are in their care in order to plead for help that the word of God would sink in and change hearts. An undershepherd, an elder in the blood-bought family of God, knows that apart from the work of the Chief Shepherd by the power of the Spirit, he can do nothing.

Exegeting the Word and Exegeting the People in the Power of the Spirit

It is necessary for a faithful pastor to seek to know the word of God deeply and exegete it carefully. The hard work to find the authorial intent of a passage of Scripture is a work that is good for the soul of the elders and good for the people under their care (i.e. among them).

In addition to faithfully exegeting a passage, it is also necessary for a faithful pastor to carefully exegete his people. The hard and happy work to know a people is a work that helps an elder to know how to better apply the Word to those among him. As the pastor spends time with his people, he is aware of the particular areas of growth that are ripe for exhortation and encouragement.

Furthermore, as a pastor dives deep into the word and does it while diving deep into his blood-bought family among him, he should certainly hit his knees in prayer and plead with God for the deep truths that point to our great sin and an even greater Savior (John 5:39) in order to saturate and change all the saints under his charge (Ephesians 6:18).

Simply stated, the Spirit sets aside men to be shepherds of the blood-bought family of God that pay careful attention to the flock (Acts 20:28). These shepherds are to give attention to the Spirit-inspired word of God, which the Spirit uses to sovereignly transform the people of God (2 Corinthians 3:18). As shepherds give themseles to the Word, so too they spend time in Spirit-empowered prayer on behalf of their flock (cf. Ephesians 6:18).

The Family of God

Paul exhorts Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2). We can assume he means the kind of preaching that is built on faithful efforts to understand the word of God, the people of God, and is radically dependent on the Spirit of God. And Timothy, we can also assume, gives himself to this labor of preaching while he petitions the throne of God for grace, mercy, and well-timed help.

How do you reprove, rebuke, and exhort those you don’t know? Why would you need patience for people you weren’t walking through life with?

The picture of the church in the Bible is one of a family. A place to know and be known and then exhort one another every day towards Jesus. The faithful elder should be one who wants to found often in the Word and regularly among the people in the family of God.

I’m grateful to be on a staff and with a group of elders that sincerely aims at faithfulness to the word and really wants to know the people we serve. And as elders give themselves to this, the Spirit of God will make the church more and more into what it really is – the blood-bought family of God.

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