The Glory of the Office Of the Preaching of the Gospel–Trinity 12 (Walther)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
2 Corinthians 3:4-11
August 18, 2013 (Rally Day, Installation of Teachers)
“The Glory of the Office of the Preaching of the Gospel”
(abridged and adapted from C. F. W. Walther, “Sermon on the 12th Sunday after the Festival of the Holy Trinity”, Brosamen, Concordia: St. Louis, 1876. Pp. 172-183)
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This morning we consider the Epistle taken from 2nd Corinthians. In it Paul praises his office, the office of the preaching of the Gospel. Oftentimes when a pastor has someone else preach for him, he will ask the guest preacher to preach on a topic that his congregation needs to hear about but will be better able to hear from someone else. Because of this I decided to borrow from a sermon preached on this text by Carl Friedrich Walther, the founding father of our synod. Today he will be our guest preacher.
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus! he begins.
In the Epistle, the Apostle Paul praises his office as one of overflowing glory. He does this because false teachers had come into the midst of the Corinthians, who tried to belittle Paul’s office. They intended to hinder the blessing that comes through the office of preaching the Gospel by doing this.
Now in our day too, especially here in America, the office of the preaching of the Gospel is nearly everywhere an object of scorn. Because of this the blessing of the Word of God both inside and outside the Church is hindered more than one can imagine. Permit me today to follow in the footsteps of the apostle and praise my office before you. I speak to you today
Concerning the exaltation and glory of the office of the preaching of the Gospel,
- 1. Of its exalted purpose and goal, and
- 2. Of the glorious means which have been given to it in order to accomplish this goal.
The holy apostle Paul gives in our epistle the following introduction: But such a confidence we have through Christ toward God; not that we are sufficient in ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves. Rather, that we are sufficient is from God, Who has also made us sufficient to carry out the office of the New Testament…”
Now if Paul the apostle explains that he was of himself completely insufficient to carry out the preaching office, then this office must truly have an exalted aim and purpose. It must be a tremendous thing indeed that this office is set up to do.
And so it is. Through the office of the preaching of the Gospel He intends that greater miracles should happen than when Christ healed the lame, blind, deaf, and leprous, and raised the dead.
Through the office of preaching the gospel, Christ wants to bring in the harvest raised from the seeds of His bloody agony. He wants to bring the human race, which He redeemed at great cost, to the enjoyment of this redemption, so that all people might be delivered from their sins, and from their spiritual and bodily miseries, and be saved forever.
Don’t think that I am getting carried away with this. The Word of God describes the work of a preacher in no other way. St. Paul writes to Timothy that if he rightly discharges his office he will save himself and those who hear him. Jesus went even further when He called Paul into the ministry. He sent him to people to “open their eyes, so that they are converted from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, to receive forgiveness of sins and a portion with those who are sanctified through faith in Him.”
From this you can clearly see that a preacher has the mission to fight against the devil, to deliver and convert all to whom he has been called to preach out of the devil’s power, to bring each one to faith. And once one has come to faith, the preacher has the mission to watch over him so that he does not fall away again.
And if a preacher has done this, if he has snatched away from hell its prize, the souls of his hearers–even if every soul that has been entrusted to him has been brought to Christ—still he has by no means fulfilled the work he has been assigned.
Now, as a watchman on the walls, he must daily watch to see whether the danger of backsliding and being seduced back into the world threatens the souls that have been delivered. As a spiritual father he must seek thereafter to nourish, strengthen, and bring up his spiritual children to maturity…
A preacher must faithfully take care that no one in his congregation goes astray in life or doctrine. If false teachers come near, he must expose and chastise their false doctrine, and thus fight against them, meanwhile earnestly defending the pure doctrine, and not relaxing it even in a jot or tittle.
If sins, offenses, dangerous customs, becoming unequally yoked with the world, or other such things enter the congregation, he must quickly set himself against them, chastising, threatening, admonishing, and putting an end to them, whether it is in season or out of season, whether it pleases his hearers or grieves them, whether it makes him friends or enemies, whether it brings him honor or shame.
If he sees a little weak sheep in his flock, he must strengthen it. If one is sick, he must wait on it, if one is fallen, he must help it to stand. If he sees one lost, he must go after it and not rest until it is found and he can carry it home on his shoulders to the flock of the faithful.
He must place himself in the gap in the wall, and make up its breaches himself against the onrushing doom and the punishment and judgment of God breaking in.
In a word, he must be the good shepherd, who rightly feeds and fights, teaches and defends, and in no danger runs away like a hireling, but instead is prepared to lay down his life for his sheep. Thus he shall be able at last to say to God, “See, here I am, and all the children which you have given to me. Count them, Lord—see, I have lost none of them.”
See there, my dear ones, what an office is the office of a preacher of the Gospel, though which the kingdom of darkness is destroyed and heaven opened, through which immortal souls, paid for dearly with the blood of God are torn from the jaws of hell, delivered from eternal ruin, led back to God and given salvation?
Still, at this one must exclaim: Who is sufficient for this? Who must not, if he should receive such an office, be terrified, when he hears that the Apostle not only said, “Obey your teachers and follow them, because they watch over your souls,” but instead also added to this: “as those who shall give an account for it”?
This hard answering for the souls entrusted to him, which hereafter God will impose on his servants concerning their ministry, would admittedly terrify each one who has received the office, if God hadn’t already given the means by which they might accomplish the high purpose of their ministry.
After the Apostle in our text had said that God had made him sufficient to carry out the office of the New Testament, then he adds to this: “Not of the letter, but of the Spirit. Because the letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive…”
In these words Paul compares his office, which he calls the Office of the New Testament and the Office of the Spirit, with another office, which he calls “the office of the letter which was inscribed on stone.” He was referring to the office of the old Testament, or the Office of the Law, which had been written on two stone tablets.
Why, my hearers, does the Apostle here praise and boast about his office, namely the office of the New Testament, so much more than the Office of the Old Testament? For this reason, because this office of the letter or of the law was opposed to his office, the office of the Spirit or of the Gospel. It was the Gospel, which Paul was called to preach, that gave his office its superabundant glory. And it is the Gospel that even today makes the office of preaching glorious.
It is true, my beloved, that a preacher of the Gospel must also preach the law.
From it he has to show to his hearers what God demands of all men, and with what He threatens transgressors of the law, that they might recognize that they are sinners and become terrified over themselves, despair of themselves, and become hungry and thirsty for the grace of God.
But if we preachers had no other teaching than the law, then it would be most pitiful for us. Then we could not accomplish the exalted purpose of our office for a single soul—which is that it might be delivered from sin and death.
The law says well what a person is obligated to do, but it does not show how it is possible for him to do it.
The law says well, “Keep the commandments in their entirety, and you shall be saved;” but it does not say how one might keep them; it cries in all ten commandments: “You shall, you shall!” But it gives no power to accomplish what we ought to do.
The law shows well what a person lacks, but it cannot give him what is lacking; it can reveal very well the sickness of his soul, but cannot heal it. It makes known to all men very well God’s wrath and damnation, but the law knows nothing of how a sinner and transgressor of the law can still receive grace and be saved.
If the law is rightly understood, if it is understood that the law is spiritual and must be fulfilled with the whole heart, then the law only plunges a person into doubt, death, hell, and damnation. Thus the apostle says in our text: “The letter kills.” The Law is only strikes us down.
Woe therefore to us preachers, if we didn’t have anything to preach except the law! Then we would elicit from our hearers the fearful question, “What should we do, that we might be saved?” But we would have no answer for them. Even if we proclaimed the law of God earnestly until the last day, we would through it still not make anyone’s heart alive. No one would really be converted to God in truth.
But it is well with us! To us a means has been given, that is so glorious, so costly, so mighty, so full of God’s effectual working, that it does every miracle to all of them who are struck down and killed by the law, every miracle which the preacher of the Gospel is assigned to carry out.
And this glorious, costly, mighty, means by which God accomplishes His work is—the Gospel, namely the joyful message, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”;
the glad tidings: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-born Son, that all who believe on Him, would not perish, but have eternal life”;
the joyful message: “Jesus receives sinners; he is a doctor for the sick and weak and not for the sound and strong.”
See, this preaching of justification by grace makes the office of the preaching of the Gospel into an office of the Spirit, who makes alive; this gives to it the overflowing glory which far outshines the office of the Law.
O glorious office! If it falls hard on the heart of a man, that he must keep God’s commandments, but he cannot keep them, and if he asks us: What shall I do, that I may become righteous? Then we should and may answer him: “Christ is the end of the law; believe in him, and you are righteous.”
O glorious office! If a man has come to a living realization of sin and he now asks: What should I do, that I might become free of my guilt? Then we may and should answer: “The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, makes you pure from all of your sin.”
O Glorious office! If a man realizes that even once he is pardoned, still without holiness he cannot see the Lord, and if he now asks: “Where can I receive strength to live a new life?” Then we may answer him: Only by faith dwell in Christ. without him you can do nothing, but through Him Who makes you mighty, you can do all things.
O Glorious office! If a man comes to us and says: “Oh, I was at one time a believing Christian. But I have let myself be beguiled by sin: I have fallen, deeply, deeply fallen: is there any help for me?” Then we may answer: Yes, there is still help even for you; only do not seek to help yourself; give yourself over to Jesus, because He has ascended on high, and has led captivity captive, and received gifts for men, even for the apostate!
O glorious office! A person may be sunk ever so deep in the corruption of sin, but through the gospel we can tear him out; a man may be ever so afflicted, but through the gospel we can comfort him; yes, in whatever condition a man may be found, even if he thinks that he is finished and will be lost; we can counter him with comfort and say, No, as truly as God lives, God does not will the death of the sinner, and also not your death; you shall not be lost. Even you shall be blessed; only turn to Jesus. He can evermore save those who come to God through him.
And if a sinner cries out at first when dying, “My God, what have I done? Woe to me! Now it is too late! I am lost!” then we can and and should call to him, No, no, it is not too late! You are not lost! Commend your departing soul to Jesus, and you shall be with Him today in Paradise!
O glorious, exalted office, too exalted for an angel! Let us ever hold the preaching office in high esteem, not looking on the persons who carry out the office, and despising it because they are sinful and weak; let us much more look upon the founder of this office, recognizing and faithfully making use of His overflowing goodness. Then we will also experience the blessing of this office of preaching and finally be gathered together through the same as a full, ripe sheaf into the storehouse of heaven.