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P Is for Plagiarism (Part 2) :: Warren Wiersbe

Let's begin with the fact that honesty and ministry go together, and what God has brought together must not be torn asunder. Another name for this is "integrity." How can anybody claim to preach God's truth when the message was pilfered from somebody else? How can ministers exhort us to love the Lord when they don't love Him enough themselves to work hard at preparing nourishing meals for the lambs and sheep?

The way to be original is to be yourself, because God made you an original. "Insist on yourself, never imitation," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay "Self-Reliance." "Be yourself by all means," said Phillips Brooks in the first of his Lectures on Preaching, "but let that good result come not by cultivating merely superficial peculiarities and oddities. Let it be by winning a true self full of your own faith and your own love. The deep originality is noble, but the surface originality is miserable." That's what the pulpit needs: deep originality.

When we pass off somebody else's work as our own, we begin the deterioration of our own character. The church doesn't need cookie cutter copycat preachers who build their sermons out of stolen inter-changing parts. When we lose our character and start pretending, we lose the very foundation for ministry. In his essay, "Quotation and Originality," Emerson wrote, "Originals never lose their value," but Jesus said that imitators always do. "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot' (Matthew 5:13).

But behind this preaching charade may be a much more serious problem, namely, an unbiblical view of what preaching really is. A sermon isn't a religious essay or speech, fashioned to fill in an assigned time in a weekly program. Rather, preaching is a witness from God, what He is saying to and through His dedicated servant. Phillips Brooks defined preaching as the communicating of divine truth through human personality. If all a congregation needs is the divine truth, why not play recorded sermons from "the greats" and give the people the best? Because truth must not be divorced from life! The Word becomes flesh! A biblical sermon has both intent and content, otherwise it is only a lecture (content) or a motivational speech (intent).

If pastors are walking with God, spending quality time in meditation and prayer, studying the Word and seeking to obey God, and if they are in contact with their people and know their needs, then they will never lack for something helpful to share from the pulpit. Plagiarizing preachers bear witness to only one thing: they aren't taking time to be with their people and learn their needs, or with hte Lord in the Word to find answers to those needs. Generic preaching on popular themes gets old after a few weeks. Preaching must be a witness that flows through a life devoted to God and to the church; otherwise the sermon is only religious speech that the Holy Spirit of God cannot bless. The preacher who has a high view of preaching will never stoop to give the church stolen substitutes. Eight times in Jeremiah 23, the prophet refers to rpreaching as "the burden [oracle] of the Lord." If God's servants are burdened with the Word of the Lord, and burdened for their people, they will give their very best to the Lord and the church.

But perhaps the basic problem behind plagiarism is poor management of time or just plain laziness. Preparing messages from God's Word is hard work! If the sermon "comes easy" in the study, it will "preach hard" and hardly be heard in the sanctuary. Godly Robert Murray McCheyne used to refer to his sermons as "oil, beaten oil for the sanctuary," referring to Exodus 27:20-21 (KJV). Charles Spurgeon advised his pastoral students not to throw the grain at the people, but to grind it up into flour, bake it into loaves, slice the loaves and hand out the bread in an orderly manner, "and" (he added) "it wouldn't hurt to put a little honey on it."

There is no place for laziness in ministry. I was lunching in a restaurant with a pastor who had invited me to conduct a Bible conference for his people. "See that man coming in?" he asked. "He's a popular preacher here in the city. He spends all week playing golf, watching homiletical commentary, finds a sermon, adds a few personal items and preaches it on Sunday morning." Seeming my friend in the dining room, the man came over and introduced himself to me. "You'll have to come ot our church and preach," he said to me with a smile. After he left, my friend said, "My guess is you have preached to his congregation many times! He reads your books."

Godly Alexander Whyte said years ago, "I would have all lazy students drummed out of the college, and all lazy ministers out of the Assmebly. I would have laziness held to be the one unpardonable sin in all our students and in all our ministers" (Life of Alexander Whyte by G. F. Barbour, p. 282). We have all eternity to rest, but we have only a brief lifetime to do the work of the Lord faithfully. It's impossible to read Paul's pastoral letters and miss his emphasis on faithful work. "Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil" (eph. 5:15-16).

We can spend our time, waste our time or invest our time, and if we're going to invest our time, we must plan ahead, follow a sane schedule, and, most of all, obey priorities. My first priority has always been my personal daily devotional life. If I'm not walking with the Lord and letting Him feed me day by day, how can I be a good husband, father, pastor or preacher? Jesus said, "{A]part from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Zero.

My second priority is my wife and family, for there are people who can preach in my pulpit or teach my class, but they cannot be the husband and father in my home. Some responsibilities can be delegated, but not that one. When I was in the pastorate, my third priority was preaching the Word, and I devoted my mornings to study and sermon preparation. Of course, I was always preparing, because the Sunday sermons were heavy on my mind and heart.

My fourth priority was pastoral work, which among other things would include visiting the sick and afflicted, encouraging the elderly, contacting new people who visited the church, encouraging new Christians, and so on. I found I had to be with people duirng the week if I was to take a compassionate heart into the pulpit on the Lord's Day. My last priority was the administrative burden of the church--answering mail, attending committee and board meetings and seeing to it that all of us on staff and in leadership were in step with the Lord and with one another.

Paul wrote to Timothy, "Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress" (2 Tim. 4:15). The word translated "progress" is prokope, and it means "pioneer advance, progress into fresh territory." I heard a preacher say he had enjoyed twelve years' experience in ministry, and I wanted to reply, "No, brother, you've had three years' experience four times." He never took time to grow, to move into fresh new territory in preaching and in personal ministry. It was easier for him just to relocate and turn over the sermon barrel. Alan Redpath often used the river in Ezekiel 47 to illustrate maturity in the ministry: first the water was ankle deep (v. 3), then knee-deep and up to the waist (v. 4), and then "deep enough to swim in" (v. 5). As servants of God, are we "wading" in teh shallows or "swimming" in the depths?

But progress isn't automatic; it requires sacrifice and hard work. John Henry Jowett said, "Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing," and he was right. Growing ministers are up early in the morning, God's Word open before them on the desk, and they are seeking the blessing of the Lord. Why should we lie in bed when our parishoners are already heading for their workplaces? Before going to bed the night before, good leaders make a list of the assignments for the next day and do their utmost to accomplish them. They have time to get things done because they don't waste time on the wrong things and going on detours. I can affirm that planning your days and sticking to the plan will give you more free time than you will get stumbling blindly from one task to another; and I promise that interruptions will prove to be opportunities and not obstacles.

To me, it's an awesome thought that one day I shall stand before the Lord wehre the quality of my ministry will be tested by fire (1 Cor. 3:10-17). Did I build churches or destroy them? Did I use the best materials and mine the truths of God's Word, or did I just pick up whatever was lying on the surface? Did I trust the word of God or the clever ideas in the latest books, the truth of God or the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 3:16-23)? I say, it's an awesome thought.

Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest prophet ever born (Matt. 11:7-11), and John was a voice, not an echo (John 1:21-23). He was unique; he dared to obey God and just be himself and preach his own message. It cost him his life.

David was a ruler, a soldier, a poet, and a hymn writer, so he understood from many different angles what it meant to serve and trust the Lord. When Araunah offered to give David a piece of property that the king wanted to purchase, the king replied: "No, I insist on paying what it is worth. I cannot take what is yours and give it to the Lord. I will not offer a burnt offering that has cost me nothing" (1 Chron. 21:24 NLT).

The priests described in Malachi 1 were offering God sacrifices that cost nothing, and He refused to accept them. Preaching is an act of worship and the Lord is the most important listener. He is evaluating our sermons. Are we offering Him that which has cost us nothing?

(Copyright 2008, Warren W. Wiersbe)

 

Author:Warren Wiersbe

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