Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Pastors, the Lord is with Your Mouth (Exodus 4:1-17)

As noted before, Moses gives a couple excuses why he is not eligible for God’s call, but that doesn’t stop God from calling Moses. As if He didn’t already know about Moses’ shortcomings! To God, Moses’ shortcomings were no hindrance. The Lord had already promised, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). With the Lord present, anything is possible. Perhaps Moses didn’t believe these words because he continued to list excuse after excuse, even after God gave him signs to assure him of His presence. Then God says, “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (4:12).

When Moses didn’t believe these words either, God finally grew angry with him and rebuked him, saying once again, “I will be with your mouth and with [Aaron’s] mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him” (4:15-16). To quench Moses’ poor excuses, He promised his brother Aaron would help him speak. God would reveal His Word to Moses, who would relay it to Aaron, who would then communicate it to the people. In this way, Moses would “be as God” to Aaron since Aaron would only speak what Moses speaks from the Lord just as Moses would only speak what the Lord speaks.

Thus, we have another devotion for pastors (which the layperson can also learn from). As noted in a previous devotion, the confirmation of a man’s call to be a pastor is in the call documents he receives from the congregation through the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, my brother pastors, you can be certain that God will be with your mouth when you go to the place God has called you to speak His Word, that is, to speak what the Lord speaks.

This is both an honourable and God-fearing task. To be granted the honour and privilege of speaking God’s Word faithfully in its utmost truth and clarity should instill the fear of God in each of us. Perhaps that is why Moses made his excuses. Maybe it wasn’t so much that he doubted his ability but that he was filled with the fear of the Lord and didn’t want to do this noble task, or a combination of both these things. I’m merely speculating because I cannot know the mind of Moses.

I can think back to numerous times in my own pastoral formation where I have doubted God’s call for both these reasons—I doubted my abilities and that I had the right personality type (I’m introverted and thus expend my energy by being around people), and I was filled with the fear of God many times to faithfully proclaim His Word in the pastoral office as well as administering His holy sacraments without mucking it up. This is why I highly relate to Moses and why I’m using his call as a devotion for pastors, because I believe God’s promise to Moses is the same for His pastors whom He calls today: “I will be with you. I will be with your mouth.”

However, there must be a caution. This does not mean the Lord will be with your mouth in literally whatever you speak because He does not permit or tolerate false teachings. This would be a violation of the 2nd Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God,” which Luther explains, “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks” (emphasis mine). The Lord is with your mouth insofar as you proclaim His Word truthfully in its entirety, what we Lutherans call being a theologian of the cross, that is, saying what a thing is. God Himself would make this quite clear once He gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the Law to pass down to the people of Israel.

You can see how this is a God-fearing thing. To proclaim God’s Word faithfully in its utmost truth and clarity must be done carefully. “How can I be sure I’m proclaiming God’s Word faithfully?” you might ask. Well, this is why you went through seminary. The training you went through gave you the tools to ensure this, particularly the Word of God and our Lutheran Confessions. The Word of God takes precedence. You know you are proclaiming God’s Word faithfully if what you are speaking is actually His Word. As a guide to ensure this, we also have the Lutheran Confessions that function like a magnifying lens of the Scriptures. When you preach the Word in its utmost truth and clarity, you know the Lord is with your mouth.

Even when you preach the Law and it makes a parishioner despise you rather than repentant, the Lord is with you. Or even when you preach the Gospel and a person is still troubled by their sin, the Lord is with you; keep proclaiming the Gospel to them. The Word will do its work, for its work depends not on your ability and understanding but solely on God’s omnipotence. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Even when other pastors proclaim His Word unfaithfully with all sorts of lies and deceptions, the Lord still ensures His Word is proclaimed rightly. He replaces false shepherds with good shepherds, bad teachers with good teachers, and so forth.

It is, therefore, of utmost importance that the pastor daily remains in the Word of God. How would he otherwise know it and, therefore, know that he is proclaiming the Word faithfully in its utmost truth and clarity if he is not diligent and studious in the Word? Read your Bible regularly, read devotions and commentaries, read the Confessions regularly, and be in the Word with your brother pastors to ensure accountability as well. (This is why we have Winkels in our individual circuits. If you have a bad Winkel, take the initiative to make it better!)

It is also critically important that the layperson remains in the Word through their own reading of the Bible, devotions, attending church, and attending Bible studies. As they learn the Word and as it edifies them, they will not only know the Word for themselves but will also be able to help keep their pastor accountable to the Word as the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9). This is why, for example, we have the elders. They not only support the pastor and ensure the congregation supports him and his family; they also hold him accountable to the Word first and the Confessions second. Without such responsible accountability, we would have all sorts of power-crazed pastors running amok who don’t know false doctrines from their own rear end, as it was in Luther’s day that led to his writing the Small and Large Catechisms.

Pastors, the call documents you received is God’s outward sign that He has called you into the Office of Holy Ministry by His Holy Spirit. Trust, therefore, that the Lord is with you in your going out and your coming in as you shepherd His flock (Psalm 121:7-8). Remain in the Word and learn from the wisdom of other pastors, scholars, and those laypeople in your care. The Lord is with you in all these ways—first in His efficacious Word, but also in the saints whom He has given you.

Theology Terms Used

  • Priesthood of All Believers: the Lutheran doctrine, from Luther’s The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, that teaches the fulfilment of Exodus 19:3-6 in 1 Peter 2:9 that Christ’s church is His holy nation of priests whom He has given the keys of the kingdom (John 20:21-22) to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. Any layman can do this, but each congregation calls a man from the wider congregation of Christ’s church to serve as their pastor who preaches the Gospel and administers the sacraments for the sake of good order and practice.
  • Theology of the Cross: Luther created and defined this term in his 1518 Heidelberg Disputation, “The person deserves to be called a theologian, however, who understands the visible and the ‘backside’ of God [Exodus 33:23] seen through suffering and the cross. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls a thing what it actually is” (Wengert, 84; emphasis mine).

Bibliography

Wengert, Timothy J., Hans J. Hillerbrand, and Kirsi I. Stierna. The Annotated Luther: The Roots of Reform. Volume 1. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015.

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