180621Odds and Ends

Why five smooth stones?

Arrogance is unbecoming in a Christian pastor. That’s the kind of thing that’ll get a man an immovable thorn … in the flesh or worse (2Co 12:7). I’ll never forget the preacher who stopped mid-sermon and said, “I can’t continue. You’re not ready to understand what this passage teaches.” Would someone please lift my jaw from the floor? How did he know no one in the audience had the ears to hear?

More often, though, pastors would rather share their profound insights into the Scriptures than hide them. They beam with excitement as they expound on what they believe to be previously unknown truths. They’ve unlocked yet another mystery of the Bible and are thrilled to show everyone the surpassing greatness of their revelations (2Co 12:7).

For example, I’ve heard more than one sermon where a preacher claimed to know why David took exactly five smooth stones into battle against Goliath (1Sa 17:40). They strung together a series of unlikely verses and offered divine calculations to prove the significance of the number five.

If you were to ask me why David chose not one, not four, not six, not 144,000, but five rocks from the river, I’ll smile and shrug (Rev 7:4; 14:1; 3). For all I know, maybe five was the maximum capacity of his shepherd’s pouch (1Sa 17:40). I don’t have an answer because the Bible doesn’t offer an explicit reason, and I’m fine with that. My job is to declare the whole counsel of God, not satisfy the reader’s every curiosity by exaggerating riddles and proposing theories as sound doctrine (Ac 20:27).

That kind of practice has a way of inflating a preacher’s ego. The church learns to think of him as having special discernment no one else possesses. They can hardly interpret the Bible for themselves, crippled by unwarranted fear. I don’t see what my pastor sees. Maybe I should ask him before I incorrectly decipher the text.

No, we should receive the word with all eagerness from our preachers, but also examine the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so (Ac 17:11). As the Baptist Confession says, “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, depends not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God.” The Bible, not the pastor, is our authority, and the Spirit, not the pastor, is the supreme mediator between us and the truth contained in the Bible. Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit … will teach you all things” (Jn 14:26).

Alistair Begg likes to say, “The plain things are the main things. The main things are the plain things.” Pastors should embrace his pithy mantra. Carve it into your lectern if you have to. We’ll spend a lifetime conveying just those things which Scripture clearly teaches. We don’t have time to waste on trivial mysteries. While they may intrigue people, causing them to marvel at a preacher’s deep perceptions, they do nothing to equip the saints for the work of ministry or build up the body of Christ (Eph 6:12).