When I was a pastor, I noticed that my visits with people occasionally made them nervous. Maybe it was my personality. Perhaps I didn’t make enough small talk. But I think the cause lay elsewhere. I think they were sometimes uncomfortable because they saw me as a symbol of something else. Or, perhaps I should say, I was a symbol of someone else. One woman told me that she spent the whole day cleaning before I arrived. Then she said, “When the pastor visits, it’s almost like having God come to your house.” My wife, Jane, who had come with me, answered her with a laugh. “The difference is that God already knows what your closets look like.”
The Bible teaches that God has revealed Himself to us through creation and by His word. But what does that revelation tell us about the nature of God? Theologians have traditionally divided God’s attributes into two main categories. Some are attributes that have no analogy in human experience. These attributes, often called God’s incommunicable attributes, display the uniqueness of the divine nature. Others, called communicable attributes, are characteristics that have some analogy in human experience. God’s incommunicable attributes show how the divine nature is unlike our own. They display God’s transcendence and reveal the great gulf that exists between the Creator and His creatures. God’s communicable attributes remind us that we have been created in the image of God and, in some small measure, were designed to be like Him.
In The Preacher, His Life and Work, John Henry Jowett warns that one of the great pitfalls of ministry is that of over familiarity. “You will not have been long in the ministry before you discover that it is possible to be fussily busy about the Holy Place and yet to lose the wondering sense of the Holy Lord.”
The fact that we have been given the privilege of dispensing God’s word week after week can result in a kind of over familiarity that causes us to take undue liberty with it. Not in doctrine so much as in our disposition. “Our share in the table provisions may be that of analysts rather than guests” Jowett warns. “We may become so absorbed in words that we forget to eat the Word.”
The responsibility of exegesis makes us especially vulnerable to this. Instead of being hearers of God’s word we easily become handlers of it. We mistakenly conclude that effectiveness in the pulpit is evidence of personal holiness. Jowett warns of the danger of assuming that “fine talk is fine living, that expository skill is piety.” A good sermon does not necessarily guarantee a good life and outward success is no sure sign of God’s favor. Mastery of the word will never make us masters over it. Those who proclaim God’s word to others must themselves remain under it.