A PULPIT OF WOOD
By: A.L. Clanton
“And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood” (Nehemiah 8:4)
This is the only place in the Bible where the word pulpit occurs. The original word is migdal and means “high place.” It is because of this literal meaning of the word, and for this reason alone, that the text is used today.
This pulpit, this “high place” signifies the high place or position of the Pentecostal ministry. There is no higher position among men. The true Pentecostal minister holds a higher office than the President of the United States, or any other notable throughout the earth. The world does not think so, but in the eyes of God it is true, and it is His judgment that counts.
Being a high place, the ministry is a place of authority. In Nehemiah 8:5 we read that Ezra was “above all the people.” And this portrays the position of the ministry. The ministry is above (over) the laity. Ministers are not lords over God’s heritage, and they are not to be dictators to exert undue pressure upon the laity. If a minister tells his hearers to do certain things, it should be for some other reason than just to impress them with his authority.
God help us if the time ever comes that laymen rise up and are over the ministry. God help any preacher who will allow the laity to tell him what to preach, the standard to set, and the stand that he should take on various issues. The laity should always stay in their place. If the sheep lead the shepherd, both shepherd and sheep will be lost.
It is also stated in Nehemiah 8:5 that Ezra was “in the sight of all the people.” The ministry is then, also a place of influence. There were perhaps thousands present on that memorable day. Many were friends and relatives. But because the congregation was so large, not everyone saw everyone else.
Today I met a minister whom I had not seen during this conference, yet he and I both have been here from the beginning. It was this way in the time of our text. But everyone saw Ezra because he was above and in the sight of all the people. Being in plain sight, everybody saw him.
Have you ever had someone come up to you, shake your hand, and say, “I’m so glad to see you again,” while all the time you are trying to remember who he is? When he realizes that you do not remember him, he seems amazed. Perhaps he says, “I heard you preach at…” (and mentions the name of a church). He feels that because he saw you, you should have seen him.
But the preacher is in sight of all the people. And as they watch him while he preaches, so they watch his daily life. This being true, the ministry is a high place of influence. God help us to live in a way that our influence will be for good.
If a minister has a good character, that is wonderful. But if he wants to wield an influence for right, he must also have a good reputation. One’s influence does not depend only upon what he is but upon what others think he is. For this reason he should shun the very appearance of evil.
Ezra’s simple pulpit was perhaps made of the roughest lumber. There stood the man of God in the pulpit. And when the sermon was over and the day was done, what happened to the pulpit? Perhaps it remained in the desert sun until its boards were warped. The termites could have eaten it. Or perhaps the hot sands blew against it until it dissolved into dust. At any rate, it is gone. But what the man of God said behind it that day rings down through the centuries and comes to us today.
So this pulpit speaks to us of the fact that our physical ministry is a temporary thing. We are here to minister for just a short time. Our dear Brother Fauss began preaching the year that I was born. Forty-eight years have since gone swiftly by. It seems only a few days ago that I was ordained, although a quarter of a century has passed.
All too soon the years will fly by, and we shall close our Bibles upon our pulpits. Then younger ministers shall stand where our feet have stood and proclaim this wonderful message. But though our actual ministry passes, what we say will live on and on in the hearts and minds of those who hear us.
Ezra is long since dead and his pulpit has vanished, but his words will ever live. May God help us that, when we come to the end of the way and look back over the years of our ministry, we shall be able to see at least a small measure of good that we accomplished.
The high place of the ministry is a place of peril. High places are usually dangerous. One does not need to worry much about falling as he walks along a sidewalk, but if he is walking upon the top of a steep mountain, let him not walk as if he were on a sidewalk. One in a high place should be careful how he walks. It is dangerous up there.
There are dangers in the high place of the ministry that the laity do not have to face. We who minister the Word of God will be judged with special strictness. The layman must answer to God for his life and his testimony; the minister must, in addition to this, answer to God for the gospel he preaches and the way he handles the Word of God.
Once a minister, led by a guide, was climbing a mountain. When they reached the top, the minister was anxious to stand upon the summit. In his haste, he clambered up. But the guide pulled him back, saying. “Down, sir! It’s windy up here, and you’re safe only when you’re on your knees.” If we want to be safe in this high place of the ministry, let’s stay on our knees. There is no other way. The true minister of God is never proud. The more God does for him. the more humble he becomes. There is no place in the ministry for pride and self-exaltation.
Satan desperately pursues the minister. He especially wants the preacher. This is exemplified in Luke 22:31-32, where Jesus said to Peter,
Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”
I used to read those verses and not get the real meaning out of it, but then I found that the word desired comes from the original exaiteo, which does not mean to merely want but it means to ask for. And it means even more than that. It means to ask excessively – to ask over and over and over again. So Satan had not merely wanted Peter in his power; he had asked God repeatedly, over and over, to give him Peter.
But why did the devil want Peter? Simply because he had seen Jesus give this disciple the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Satan did not like this. He envisioned Peter’s opening the prison door of sin and letting loose some of his prisoners. As he had asked for Job, he now asked for Peter with the idea of causing his downfall so that he could not use the keys which Jesus had given him.
The devil has not changed his tactics. He looks at some fine preacher today. He looks at our leaders, he looks at the pastors and evangelists, and says, “O, God, give me a chance at them.” He would like nothing better than a chance to get at all of us. He would like to make all the ministry fail, for he knows that when ministers fall others will also fall.
So, minister friend, when it seems that you are having more than your share of trouble, just look up. Perhaps Jesus is allowing Satan to try you. Remember that Jesus has prayed for all of us. He will give us strength to live for Him in spite of all the troubles Satan brings.
Since the ministry is a high place, we should hold up a high standard of spirituality. A minister should be filled with the Spirit. The fact that received the Holy Spirit more than thirty years ago means nothing unless I am filled with the Spirit today. We are to be filled with all the fullness of God.
If I take my car to a mechanic, it is immaterial to me so far as his work is concerned whether or not he has received the Holy Ghost. I have never said to any mechanic, “Before you work on my car, I want to know your spiritual standing.” I would rather have an atheist who is a proficient mechanic work on my car than to trust it in the hands of a Holy Ghost-filled man who does not know the difference between a spark plug and a distributor cap.
Again. if I were to go to a dentist, I would not say to him, “Sir, before you drill on this tooth, I want to know whether you are filled with the Holy Ghost.” I would want to know that he was a good dentist. But when it comes to the work of God, we are not talking about spark plugs and filling teeth – we are talking about eternal souls. And I believe that anyone who ministers the Word of God should be filled with the Holy Ghost and should live a Spirit-filled life.
To do God’s work successfully, we must be filled with the Spirit. Education is fine. But unless we are filled with the Spirit, our learning will do us no good so far as winning souls is concerned. One can fill his entire yard with wood, and even carry some of it inside and put it in the fireplace, but he must stick a match to it before it will burn. Let us gather knowledge, but as we do gather it, we should keep in mind that unless our knowledge is touched by the fire of God’s Spirit. it will accomplish little.
We are at the place where other denominations have gone astray. It seems a tragedy that so many of God’s people have, when they began to learn a few things, depended upon their knowledge and largely forgotten God. But a minister can be a college graduate and still be full of the Holy Ghost. He can have degrees from a university and still preach under the anointing of God’s Spirit. It is up to us not to allow education to get in the way. Paul was an educated man, but he did not wrongly use his education.
Closely akin to a high standard of spirituality is a high standard of morality. In this world there are preachers who do not live even as Christians should, much less as ministers. At a certain denominational gathering, a preacher walked into the room puffing a big cigar, and said, “Brethren, we are fulfilling one verse of Scripture. the one in Isaiah which declares that the house was filled with smoke.” The room was so filled with tobacco smoke that it looked like the back room at a political convention. But no true minister of the gospel will smoke or use tobacco in any form. He will be a clean man of God.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch editorialized about alcoholics in St. Louis. Ranking high among professions beset by alcoholism was that of clergymen, the paper stated. What a terrible thing that there are ministers who have allowed alcohol to overpower them. May God have mercy upon such. And may He give Pentecostals a clean ministry that can be respected.
Let us live in God’s high place. We should live in such a place that many of the things which bother others will never touch us.
When the settlers of New England first colonized that area, they built their houses, schools, and churches in the lowlands. But when they went to church, snakes crawled into the buildings. Finally they learned that on the hills there was a certain height above which the snakes would not go. They called this the snake line. They built their schools, churches, and as many homes as possible above the snake line. I want to live above the “snake line.”
One cannot climb so high that he will not be tempted and tried, but he can live in the heights so that a lot of the things of the lowlands will not bother him. He will be above them. and they cannot reach him.
In the ministry we should hold a high standard of ministerial etiquette and ethics. I cannot understand some things. I cannot understand how a minister could be dishonest. I cannot comprehend how a preacher could callously and coldly tell a lie. I cannot understand how a preacher could mistreat his brother, and coldheartedly do him wrong, without a noticeable qualm of conscience. I’ll tell you how I feel. If I feel that anyone has anything against me. I want to make it right, and the quicker, the better.
The man who really loves God will treat his brother right. He will pay his bills. He will not spend his money for something else, and let his bills go.
Yes, there is a standard of ethics. The Bible teaches not only baptism in Jesus’ name but also that we should be kind one to another. The Bible further teaches that we should be courteous to one another. That means we should show good manners in our relation to one another. This world would be a lot more enjoyable if everyone would be kind and courteous.
If one is in the high place of the ministry, his motives and methods should be high and lofty. God is so unlike men. Men place a traffic light at a certain intersection and demand only that it be obeyed. Those who made the laws governing the light care not one particle if a motorist grits his teeth and rages against the red light, just so long as he stops until the light turns green. He may stop because he fears not to, but this makes them no difference.
But when one is serving God, it is not like this. One’s motives and methods count with God fully as much as what he does. With God it is not only what a person does, but why and how he does it. One can obey God and still not please Him. Isaiah wrote, “If ye be willing and obedient. ye shall eat the good of the land.” The minister must be motivated by love.
This was said once to a preacher: “You love to preach, but do you love those to whom you preach?” There is a vast difference. Some just naturally seem to enjoy preaching. But do we deeply love those people to whom we preach? Do we love their souls? Why are we preaching? Surely we all started for a worthwhile reason, but what is our reason today? Is it to make a living? Is it because we have done it so long that it has become our second nature, and we hardly know anything else to do? Our motives had better be right and pure in the eyes of God, for He will judge us not only for what we do but why we do it.
Brother S.G. Norris once declared that the preacher’s purpose was to put men and women out into space. The evangelist comes and, by God’s help, “launches” them. After he leaves, the pastor keeps them in their proper sphere until they reach heaven.
We hear much about interstellar flight and that man shall soon flit from star to star and go to the moon at will. I care nothing for such things. I want to stay on this earth until the Lord calls us all to heaven. But while I am here I want to help “launch” a few more people and send them on their way to heaven. That is the desire of my heart. I want to take somebody with me when I go. That should ever be the motive of our ministry. If that is what we are interested in, then we are laborers together with God.
In the pulpit the minister should preach the Word of God. As the preacher stands in the pulpit, it is what God speaks through him that counts. We are God’s instruments. We are called to stand before people and give them the Word of God. That being true, then we should preach the Word of God. We should proclaim the truth.
Once I received a letter requesting that I speak on Social Security in my next Sunday morning service. But I did not. I don’t know where one would even find a biblical text for such a subject. Social Security is all right, but I have no time to waste preaching about it.
Too many denominational preachers today have largely turned from the old-time gospel to the social welfare gospel. All they can see is social betterment. They dabble here and they dabble there, and accomplish nothing. They accuse us of being “pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die” preachers. They say that we have nothing to offer people in this present world. This is a false accusation. We have a blessed old gospel in the Bible that will lift men up and give them a reason to live, making them happy right in this present
Ministers should preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Paul once claimed, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” Witnesses are asked, “Do you solemnly swear before God that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” This question contains no needless repetition. One is to be sure that what he says is the truth. Then tell all the truth, holding nothing back. And finally, tell nothing but the truth, adding nothing to it. This is the duty of every minister.
A locomotive, pulling a long line of freight cars, hurtled down the track. Suddenly there was a terrible crash. Rescuers pulled the engineer from the cab of his locomotive, fatally scalded by the escaping steam. As he lay dying, he held up a sheaf of damp, crumpled papers and said, “Somebody gave me the wrong orders.” Many people will at last be lost, and it will be for no other reason than that some minister “gave them the wrong orders.” As he stood in the pulpit, he did not preach the truth of the Word of God. He neglected the receiving of the Holy Ghost to the past, and told his hearers that they did not need the Spirit.
By God’s help, I want to so preach His Word that when I lay my Bible down for the last time, never to preach another sermon, I shall be able to say, “I have humbly declared all the counsel of God, passing on to men what God gave me.”
The gospel should be preached in love. If the preacher proclaims God’s Word in love, and the congregation senses that he is so doing, there is something that draws people to obey.
And just a word to lay members. When your pastor preaches straight and in love tells you how to live, encourage him to continue such preaching by telling him you appreciated the message. Too many saints are prone to congratulate the pastor on his sermon only when it makes them shout. Personally, I like the kind of preaching that tells me how to live and how to get closer to God.
The Word of God should be preached with holy boldness God will grant us holy boldness. When God sent Jeremiah to preach, He said (of the prophet’s congregation), “Be not afraid of their faces.” Faces? He said nothing about fists or feet. He gave no warning against swords. He did not say, “Beware of the dungeon.” But He said for Jeremiah not to be afraid of their faces.
I recall all the different kinds of faces I have looked into for twenty-five years. I see the bored faces, the sneering faces, the faces with the skeptic looks and others. But we are not to fear such faces.
The minister should preach with reverence. Cornelius told Peter, who had come down to preach the gospel to him and his house, “Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (Acts 10:33). Notice that he said, “We are here present before God….”
Ministers should preach as if God Himself were sitting on the platform. How would I feel if I looked up now and saw a strange man, the apostle Paul, coming down the aisle? I would say, “Paul, will you please take the pulpit and do what you can with this poor sermon or preach another one.”
I tremble sometimes to preach in the presence of our own great ministers. But to think of Jesus Christ Himself sitting of this platform! To tell you the truth, He is here! He cannot be seen, but He is here. And I have been preaching with the consciousness of the fact that he is in this auditorium.
Since He is here, I must preach with reverence. I could not preach any other way, because He is here and it is His gospel. Not only is the Lord here but He is also in your church when you meet. Therefore, let every minister preach with reverence.
Irreverence sometimes stems from a lack of prayer on the part of the preacher. He is not fully in touch with God. Not being able to get something real from God, he attempts to substitute something to tickle people’s ears. God help us preachers to get in a corner somewhere, get hold of Him, and stay there until He gives us a message that the people need.
Finally, the minister should be annointed when he preaches. Annointing is more than loudness and demonstration. It has been said, “Nonsense does not improve by being bellowed.” The minister’s loud shouting will do nothing really to strengthen a weak point or to cover up a lack of consecration or real feeling. We do sometimes get loud because we are moved by spiritual emotion when God blesses us, and the message grips us and sets our hearts afire.
There is a time for loudness and a time for quietness, but never a time to speak without being anointed. Paul before Agrippa surely did not speak loudly, but who would question that he was anointed? Jesus was anointed when He spoke to the woman at Jacob’s well, but He probably kept his voice at a conversational level. Yes, we do sometimes get loud, but let it always be because we feel something burning down in our hearts. Some preachers never preach loudly because their message does not move them. And a message that does not first move the preacher will certainly not move those who hear him.
Our dear Brother Dan Hayes used to make this statement: “Head speaks to head, and heart speaks to heart.” If a man has a head full of Scriptures and knowledge, and these things come only from his head when he is preaching, he will accomplish no more than cramming people’s heads with knowledge. But if the preacher has a heart full of the love of God for souls, and God’s message is burning within, when he preaches his message will burn its way down into somebody’s heart. May God give us burning hearts.
Yes, the ministry is a high place. It is the highest calling of God upon this earth. May God help us to so occupy this high position that we shall in no way bring dishonor to Him or to His cause.
(The above material appeared in the May 1992 issue of Pentecostal Herald).
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