Hans Walter Wolff is one of my favorite writers. In preparation for writing his commentaries on the Minor Prophets, Wolff preached a series of sermons on several of those prophetical books to serve as the practical application to his detailed and technical commentaries.
Wolff was also a great preacher. Several of his sermons were collected in a book called Old Testament and Christian Preaching (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986). One of my favorite sermons in the book is “For Theologians Only!” This sermon is based on Hosea 4:4-10. Below is an excerpt of Wolff’s sermon:
“Let no one be upbraided and let no one be chastised, for it is you alone, O priest, whom I have to upbraid” (v. 4).”
“God talks in a special way to theologians. This does not mean that, out of academic arrogance, they should have a particularly conceited view of themselves. The reason for God’s address to them is that they have a primary responsibility. It is the lash of God’s word that sets us apart. Do we perhaps imagine that we are specially close to God in some bombproof shelter or that we can shoot down all the others out of the impregnable fortress of a pulpit? We are under fire like no one else.”
“We are not merely under fire from all kinds of snipers. It may well be true that we are surrounded by critics. It is right that people should expect something special of us, because our whole lives are made over to our task. Our critics are altogether more justified in their criticism of us than we are in our criticism of them.”
“But our mandate comes from One who is more dangerous than this bombardment. He doesn’t tackle the others first of all-the politicians and the capitalists, or any of society’s favorite whipping boys. He takes the priests. Just as Jesus first of all takes his disciples, whom he sends out, and who disappoint him.”
“‘Let no one be upbraided and let no one be chastised.’ What will not receive any fresh impetus is our criticism of congregational life and the life of the churches, or our judgment on the state and the economy, or all sectors of civilization and culture. That life is initially exonerated from our indictment. We do well first of all to stand in front of the world quite chastened and quite humbly. God’s reprimand is addressed to us. The watchword is inner mobilization. God does not merely talk to us in words which we have to pass on to other people. Some of these words have us as their final destination.”
“Why are all the others exonerated? Because in the first place they are in a bad way just because God’s messengers have not helped them as they should have done. The people who are guilty in this world are the ones who have despised and hidden the treasure with which they have been entrusted. What treasure? ‘You have rejected God’s word; therefore will I reject you. You have forgotten the law of your God: therefore will I forget your kindred’” (v. 6b).
“The prophet makes it crystal clear that the people who have received God’s charge have to do one thing and one thing only: to live the Word of God which has been entrusted to them: to discern and proclaim God’s acts on Israel’s behalf and God’s will for Israel. In exactly the same way Jesus’ messengers are not asked what they have produced or what they have organized. The people of our generation are not asked, either, what ideas they have of their own or how extensive their activities are.”
“We are simply and solely asked how we have acted towards the message of Jesus that has been entrusted to us. We owe the world no more than this. But this we very certainly do owe it. It is the living Word of God which has come among us in Jesus Christ, and which no one in our world can utter for himself. In the service of the living God there is nothing else to do but to bring the whole of life under his efficacious Word.”
The words of this exhortation should speak to the heart of every minister of Jesus Christ.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary