Can an Elder be a Younger? (Principles of Preaching for Young and Old Alike)
by Joseph Franks
Job is being sorely troubled, and his dear friends are gathered about seeking to give him wise counsel. With compassion, they empathize as they sit together with him in the dust for days. They listen well; Job is given numerous opportunities to express his predicament and theology. They counsel much; these three friends are not shy to cry, comfort, correct, and even chastise their suffering brother.
However, there is a fourth friend sitting quietly in the circle. His name is Elihu, and after a long season of silence, he determines it is his time to speak. Here are his opening words:
So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. He burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong. Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were older than he. And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, he burned with anger. And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said: “I am young in years, and you are aged; therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you. I said, ‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right. Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me; let me also declare my opinion.’ “Behold, I waited for your words, I listened for your wise sayings, while you searched out what to say. I gave you my attention, and, behold, there was none among you who refuted Job or who answered his words. Beware lest you say, ‘We have found wisdom; God may vanquish him, not a man.’ He has not directed his words against me, and I will not answer him with your speeches. “They are dismayed; they answer no more; they have not a word to say. And shall I wait, because they do not speak, because they stand there, and answer no more? I also will answer with my share; I also will declare my opinion. For I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me. Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak, that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer. I will not show partiality to any man or use flattery toward any person. For I do not know how to flatter, else my Maker would soon take me away. (Job 32:1-22)
From this text, several notable points should be highlighted. Here are six principles which should be found in the faithful minister — young and old alike.
First, Elihu sees the sin of Job, and this makes him angry. At sometime during Job’s season of grief, he seems to have transitioned from one righteously offering complaint to God, to one unrighteously complaining in the face of God. Job is correct in stressing the fact that unconfessed deliberate sin is not the reason for his suffering and pain. The early chapters of Job prove this point. However, Job is now entering into dangerous territory as he sets himself up as judge and jury and puts God on trial. Elihu, in watching this transition becomes greatly troubled. He sees the self-righteousness of Job, and this makes him burn with anger.
Similarly, those charged with communicating God’s counsel should hotly oppose Satan and his ways. When ministers see sin — that which God hates — and when they encounter that which causes horrendous human consequences, a visceral reaction should grow within their breasts. The world, the flesh, and the devil are ruinous, and they should be hated. Wickedness dishonors God; it destroys those made in God’s image. Yes, the minister should smile and be agreeable. He should greet his congregants with the right hand of fellowship and a holy kiss, but he should also have a high degree of righteous indignation towards Satan and sin. Such is the posture of Elihu; such is also the posture of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, Elihu hears the immense amount of religious babble coming from Job’s counselors, and this too makes him angry. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar do not know the state of Job’s heart. Even less do these men know the secret intent of God’s mind. They have not been privy to the heavenly conversation between God and Satan. They are long on years, full of words, but short on knowledge, and their preaching is not contributing to either the adoration of God or the improvement of Job. Elihu hears the empty words and meaningless preaching surrounding Job, and it causes him to burn with anger.
In like manner, the modern-day minister should be greatly troubled at the nonsense coming from his own lips and from the lips of his contemporaries. Christian homilies and motivational speeches are flowing from numerous plexiglass stands. Theological papers are exegetical word-studies fall from higher wooden pulpits. Every Lord’s Day, many words are uttered forth in the name of Christ, but helpful sermons seem to be rare. May God supply our land with ministers who babble less and bless more. May ministers not be satisfied with merely hearing the loquatious words of their own mouths, but may they be passionate for the glorification of God and the improvement of their hurting brothers and sisters. Profitless preaching can be worse than no preaching at all.
Third, Elihu determines to speak with great caution and humility. Perhaps he waits on his friends to speak because he is gracious, but for sure he waits on his friends to speak because he is humble. Since they are older and more experienced in life than he, Elihu determines to listen more and speak less. He will not utter forth his thoughts until he has adequately listened to the voice of his fathers.
Teachers are a gift from God; aged teachers are an especially valuable gift from God; ancient teachers who have stood the test of time are the best. Therefore, before preaching and counseling, the wise minister should heed to the voice of his elders and forefathers. All men should approach the text and the pulpit with great caution and humility. This is especially true for those with lesser years.
Fourth, Elihu determines to speak in the power of the Holy Spirit. Elihu is correct in concluding that wisdom is most often the companion of years. He is also correct in believing the best of wisdom comes through the filling, gifting, illuminating, and falling of the Holy Spirit. Elihu is even further correct in understanding that the Holy Spirit graciously chooses to use some younger individuals as his mouthpiece. In the Scripture, the “breath of the Almighty” utilizes young Elihu, young Joseph, young Samuel, young David, young Josiah, and young Timothy. The Holy Spirit speaks through Naaman’s servant and Mother Mary. At times, the Spirit of God uses even wicked prophets (Balaam) and wild beasts (Balaam’s Ass). Elihu is confident he can speak God’s words as he is aided and directed by God’s Spirit; he is correct in this assumption. Sometimes youngers can be elders.
Therefore, all ministers ought to be laboring in the Word while falling on their knees. In addition to their own private piety, they deserve to be supported by a congregation seeking to “fan into flame the gift of God” given to their ministers. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the old and young are foolish. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the old and young may be most wise. All ministers and congregations are in desperate need of the work of Christ’s Wonderful Counselor.
Fifth, Elihu speaks with great passion. Now that his time has arrived, he proves to be one with love, compassion, anger, and zeal in his chest. Elihu ministers as a man with a burden that must be removed. If he cannot communicate the truths of God he believes he will explode. Hear his words again:
I also will answer with my share; I also will declare my opinion. For I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me. Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak, that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer. (Job 32:17-20)
Perhaps ministers would do better to sit still until they can sit no longer. Quite often preaching can become a job. It becomes something they professional must do in order to keep the show rolling and the paychecks coming. What a travesty! True biblical words coming forth from God’s ministers are life and death. Through the minister’s presentation of the Word of God, the authority of God convicts, corrects, encourages, instructs, and blesses. If God chooses, individuals can be saved, marriages can be maintained, addictions can be removed, questions can be answered, churches can be built, and societies can be transformed. Ministers, pray for yourselves. Ministers, pray for one another. Congregants, lift your men of the cloth up in prayer. Pray that they might come to the pulpit on Sunday believing that which they are speaking. Inflated balloons must burst; rolling waves must break; heated water must boil; filled lungs must exhale, and Spirit-directed preachers must explode.
Sixth, Elihu speaks truth irregardless of the recipient. He speaks as one disinterested in the praise of men and most interested in the approval of God. Bottom line, he will not show partiality.
Finally, may all God’s ministers forsake ear-tickling and pleasing men. May they not need to be stroked, and may they not pull their punches. May they be willing to loose friends, jobs, or personal liberties. Faithful presenters of God’s Word ought to be equal opportunity offenders; they ought not worry about whose toes they step upon. Pray and encourage your minister to be like Elihu, Samuel, Nathan, and Elijah. Pray that they might be more and more like Jesus Christ and his Apostles. Pray that they might follow in the steps of our Reformed heroes. True preachers stand tall. They do not puff up. They do not flatter. In whatever they say, they dare not alter the message, for they will not displease their Maker.