First published: Klaas Runia, ‘Preaching and the work of the Holy Spirit Part 2’, The Reformed Theological Review 60, no. 1 (April 2001), 30–41.

It goes without saying that we also have to give serious attention to the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the preacher. The preacher is not a neutral, lifeless channel in the transmission of the Gospel to the congregation gathered in worship, but he is a vital element in this transmission and leaves his marks on the message in all kinds of ways.

The importance of his role and his relationship to the Spirit becomes even more obvious when we consider the fact that today’s preacher has become very unsure about his own role. Already twenty years ago Hans Martin Müller opened his article on ‘The authority of the preacher from the perspective of pastoral theology’ with the statement: ‘Today the preacher has become very unsure’.1H.M. Müller, ‘Die Autorität des Predigers in pastoraltheologiseher Sicht’, in Homiletisches Lesebuch. Texte zur heutigen Predigtlehre (eds. A. Beutel, V. Drehsen and H.M. Müller, 1986), p.177. In the first decades after World War II this problem hardly existed. Barth’s view of the three forms of the Word of God was dominant in homiletics. According to Barth the only task of the preacher was to repeat (German: nachsagen) what he had heard in the text of Scripture. This act of repeating the message of the text accorded an almost natural authority to the preacher and to the words he spoke. But when under the impact of Ernst Lange and like-minded people the so-called ‘empirical turn’ occurred in homiletics and the emphasis was put on the preacher’s own responsibility to reach the hearer with the message, homiletical publications (in particular in Germany) showed a new interest in the person of the preacher and his contribution to the event of preaching. The term ‘competence’ became one of the key-words in homiletics. It implied a whole range of ideas. The preacher has to be aware of his own feelings of ambivalence and also of similar feelings in his hearers. He must try to overcome them in a permanent dialogue with his hearers, who are his equals. He must be able to create possibilities of interaction with his hearers, to explain the reality of the text and of the lives of his hearers as a reality of God, and to relate these two realities from this perspective. It is not surprising that in the framework of this task the preacher became very unsure of himself. The main burden now seemed to rest squarely upon his shoulders.

In those years competence and authority almost seemed to coincide. But in German literature of the eighties the emphasis began to shift again. To be sure, competence was still a major term, but it was increasingly realised that the ultimate competence does not reside in man, but in God. Spirituality is a constitutive presupposition of true authority in preaching. The preacher himself has to have a personal involvement in the message he proclaims. And such an involvement is possible only when the Holy Spirit is at work in his own heart and in the work he does in the preparation and delivery of the sermon.

The preacher himself has to have a personal involvement in the message he proclaims.

A theologian who from the very start emphasised the necessity of the operation of the Spirit in the entire event of preaching (including its preparation) was Rudolf Bohren. He soon discovered that the relationship of pneumatology and preaching is an area in which very little research has been done.2Rudolf Bohren, Predigtlehre, 1971, p.71. In one of his first publications in the early sixties he already discussed this relationship.3Rudolf Bohren, Dem Worte folgen, 1963. He realised full well that we cannot entrap God in our methods, neither exegetically nor homiletically, but he also points out that we should perform our exegesis in ‘adoring obedience’, knowing that the Holy Spirit has to vivify the letters of Scripture (92). Such an adoring obedience is not a gamble, for the preacher himself belongs to the congregation that has received the promise of the Spirit. What is more, the Christian congregation is a ‘charismatic’ congregation in which the Spirit is at work. We may even say that the very existence of the Christian congregation is the answer to the living Word (93).

In his Predigtlehre of 1971 Bohren endeavours to make the pneumatology the starting point and basis of homiletics. In the first part he notes that the congregation has become ‘speechless’ (38ff.). The second part of the book opens with the thesis: ‘The speechlessness can be overcome only by the coming of the Spirit’ (65). It is not enough to give our homiletics a christological foundation, as Barth did with his three forms of the Word of God. However foundational and true this may be, we cannot stop here. We have to add the pneumatological dimension. The Word which we preach will be effective only when the Spirit fills it (i.e. the Word) and us (i.e. the preachers) with his power. Bohren appeals to an article of A.A. van Ruler on the structural differences between christology and pneumatology. Van Ruler mentions the following differences:


– God enters into man;

– the human person is involved;

– the central category is reciprocity: together with us;

– fragmentary;

– the word is poly-phonous.


(a) God becomes man

(b) the human nature is assumed

(c) the central category is: substitution: for us and without us;

(d) complete

(e) the word is uni-vocal

Bohren agrees with Van Ruler when the latter characterises the relation Spirit-man by the words ‘theonomous reciprocity’. Man is a co-worker of the Spirit (reciprocity), but the initiative remains with the Spirit (theonomous). This distinction clearly indicates that a christological basis of homiletics is not enough. If that were all, man would be a mere instrument in the hands of the Spirit. But the Spirit wants to use us with all our potentialities and abilities, and in his sovereign way (theonomous!) He takes us into his service. In no way can we force the Spirit to do his work, but we can open ourselves to his dynamics.

In a third book, called That God May be Beautiful, Bohren applies this same line of thought to practical theology as a whole.4R. Bohren, Dasz Gott schön werde, 1975. Again he appeals to the distinction made by Van Ruler. In and through the work of the Spirit God becomes a partner of man and man becomes a partner of God. In this partnership God remans God and man remains man, but God and man are at work together. Man becomes a partner without whom nothing happens. God becomes practical in the work of man. Bohren summarises it in a very short sentence: ‘Gott braucht den Menschen.’ The German verb ‘brauchen’ has two meanings: God ‘makes use’ of man as his assistant, and God ‘needs’ man (71). He involves praying people in his own work. ‘He destines human beings to be praying persons, in order that they may destine Him, God Himself’ (74). As an example he mentions Joseph, to whom Mary was betrothed. In the whole Christmas story Joseph is not more than an ‘extra’, a nonentity. But at the moment that he dreams of an angel telling him that that which is conceived in Mary is of the Holy Spirit, the salvation of the world hangs on this nonentity.

1. The Holy Spirit is no ‘methodus’

In 1984 Bohren is strongly criticised by another German theologian, Jörg Rothermundt.5J. Rothermundt, Der Heilige Geist und die Rhetorik, 1984. He blames Bohren for trying to ‘methodise’ the Holy Spirit. To clarify his point he discusses the relationship between Luther and the ‘enthusiasts’ of his day, the so-called Schwärmer (26ff.). Both parties agreed that the human conscience is free. But how is it regulated? To answer this question the enthusiasts appealed to the Spirit and Luther to the Word of God in Scripture. At first glance the difference seems to be rather evident, but in actual fact the matter was fairly intricate. Münzer, too, was of the opinion that the Bible is the test for the authenticity of revelations and visions. But he added two other elements: (a) only people filled with the Spirit can perform this test; (b) in their contents the revelations may go beyond Scripture (27).

To Luther Spirit and Word belong together. He not only ties the Word to the Spirit, but-and here we have the big difference with the enthusiasts-he also ties the Spirit to the Word. This double ‘linking’ of Word and Spirit is due to the central place the incarnation has in Luther’s theology. Through the operation of the Spirit Christ is as much present in the external Word as he was present in the flesh of Jesus. The enthusiasts have a different view. The Spirit is not so much tied to the Word, but rather to particular preparation to which a human has to subject him/herself in order to receive the Spirit. In order to become a Christian one has to take certain steps. Firstly, one has to fear God, i.e., to become terrified by his inaccessibility. To arrive at a living faith one has to go through temptation and suffering. Next, the sinner has to crucify his old nature. He has to pull the thorns and thistles, i.e., the lusts, out of the field of his soul. Only then he will discover that his heart has become the dwelling place of the Spirit (28). In the Latin version of his Prague Manifesto Münzer calls this a ‘methodus’.

Luther strongly objects to this view. To him this is a new form of legalism. The gift of the Spirit who brings the Word into the heart is a matter of pure grace. There is no method whatsoever of preparation. ‘Without any preparation and assistance on my side the Word of God comes to me… There is only one thing I can do: I go and hear the Word or I read and preach it, in order that it may enter into my heart too. This is the proper preparation. It is not dependent on human powers and capabilities, but on the power of God’ (28).6Martin Luther, Weimar Ausgabe, 12, 497. If there were a method for receiving the Spirit, God’s grace and freedom would be violated. In other words, Luther wants to maintain the sovereignty of the work of the Spirit. Of course, the enthusiasts also know that we cannot dispose of the Spirit. They, too, recognize his free dynamics, but at the same time they believe that they themselves can play a part in bringing this dynamics about.

The reason why Rothermundt makes this long digression on Luther and the enthusiasts is, as far as I can see, his fear that in a pneumatological approach to homiletics we might be inclined to subject the Spirit to our methods and techniques. The Spirit undoubtedly allows us to make use of various methods and techniques and at times he may even use them in his own dynamics, but he will never submit to such methods and techniques, for he is and remains the sovereign Spirit of God. To use the phrase of Van Ruler: it is always a matter of ‘theonomous reciprocity’.

The Spirit allows us to make use of various methods and techniques, but he will never submit to such methods and techniques.

I am sure that Bohren would agree with this. His concern is quite different. He does not want to ‘methodise’ the Spirit, but his question is: what is our task within a pneumatological framework? If we are partners of the Spirit in his ongoing work of revelation through Scripture and through the preaching of the Word, should we not prepare ourselves and subject ourselves to a ‘spirit’- ual method? That will never mean that we can force the Spirit to fill us and our sermons with his power. It only means that we open our hearts and mind to him, expecting him to do his work in his own good time.

2. The work of the Spirit and our work

It may be helpful to give more attention to this relationship, because it is decisive for a pneumatological foundation of preaching. I truly believe that only a pneumatological approach can really help us to overcome the speechlessness of our preaching. This does not negate the value of the christological approach, advocated so strongly by Karl Barth. The christological approach teaches us what the nature of preaching is. Preaching is a witness to Jesus Christ, based on the witness to Him by prophets (OT) and apostles (NT). But this is not all that is to be said. We have to add one more word: preaching is a human witness to Jesus Christ. Moreover, it is a human witness that takes place after Pentecost. On that day the Spirit himself came down to witness to Christ as the self-revelation of God. We may never forget that the Spirit is the first and primary witness. But as the first and primary witness he immediately calls and takes human beings into his service. Jesus had already said this in his last conversation with his disciples before his crucifixion, as recorded in the Gospel of John, chapters 14-16: ‘When the Counsellor (the Paraclete) comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness to Me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with Me from the beginning’ (15:26, 27).

Although there is a certain parallelism between these two statements, there is not a trace of ‘competition’. The Spirit works through the human witnesses. A beautiful example of co-operation of the Spirit and the human witness is the story about Cornelius in Acts 10. The Spirit does not himself proclaim the Gospel to Cornelius. Not even the angel that appears to him does it, but the angel instructs Cornelius to send men to Joppe to collect Peter and to bring him to Caesarea. This, too, is in full agreement with what Jesus had said to his disciples before his ascension: ‘You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). The Spirit uses the disciples as intermediaries and so reaches people with the Gospel. Here we may indeed use the term ‘co-operation’, as long as we keep in mind that it is not a co-operation of equals, but that it always is a matter of ‘theonomous reciprocity’. The initiative is always with the Spirit. But even so man is privileged to be a fellow-worker for the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9). The extent of this co-operation is seen in Acts 15, where we read about the letter that the Council of Jerusalem sent to the congregation of Antioch. This letter conveys the decision made by the council, using the remarkable words: ‘It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…’(15:28; cf. also 1 Cor. 12:3).

Can we say more about the relationship between the activity of the Spirit and of the people He takes into his service? The Reformed tradition has always given much thought to this question. We already notice this in the theology of John Calvin, whom B.B. Warfield called ‘the theologian of the Holy Spirit’ and of whom he said: ‘The doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit is a gift from John Calvin to the Church of Christ.’7B.B. Warfield in the introductory note to the English translation of A. Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 1946, p.xxxiii. Abraham Kuyper pointed out that the proper work of the Spirit is ‘to lead the creature to its destiny, to cause it to develop according to its nature, to make it perfect.’8Op.cit., p.21. In his doctoral thesis J. Firet devoted a separate section to this question: ‘The Holy Spirit and pastoral role-fulfilment’.9Jacob Firet, Dynamics in Pastoring, E.T. 1986, pp. 116-138. He rejects two possible solutions. The first one he calls instrumentalism. Here man is no more than an instrument in the hands of the Spirit. One cannot speak here of ‘an active and creative participation of human beings in the work of God’ (128),10Firet takes Calvin’s view as an example here. I believe that he does not do justice to the fullness of Calvin’s view. There are statements in which Calvin makes a sharp distinction between the ‘minister extemus’ and the Spirit, the ‘doctor internus’ and he also speaks of the human minister as a tool that is used by the Spirit, just as a workman uses his tools (Institutes, IV, iii, 1), but there are also places where he clearly states that the Spirit works through man and man works with the Spirit. At times Abraham Kuyper also used ‘instrumentar language, for example, when he used the metaphor of the Aeolian harp which can be stirred into music only by the soft breezes of the wind. but man is totally passive. In arithmetical terminology one could say: the Spirit does 100%, man 0%. The second solution Firet calls synergism. He is well aware of the fact that Van Ruler, who rejects every form of synergism in christology, at times uses the expression in his pneumatology. He uses it when he speaks of reciprocity as characteristic of the work of the Spirit. Firet himself does not want to use this term, because it so easily leads to serious misunderstandings (just as in christology). In a synergistic conception man’s work is a preparation for or an addition to the 90% work of the Spirit. In arithmetical terms one can speak of 50%-50% or 10% or 99%-1% or even 99.9%-0.1%. But however carefully and sparingly we may formulate this co-operation between the Spirit and man, the result is always that man has to add something to the work of the Spirit and to play his own independent and indispensable role.

What then is the relationship? It is not correct to see it as a simple identification either, as if the two activities actually and fully coincide. We are allowed to use the word ‘we’, but we may never forget that this ‘we’ always consists of an ‘I’ and a ‘You’, who together form the ‘we’. As Firet puts is: ‘The Spirit’s way of working is by authorising and empowering people as human beings to serve God in his coming. The Spirit does not make human deliberation and action superfluous; he makes it possible by conferring freedom 100% and responsibility to that end’ (134). In other words, the Spirit does and the person he takes into his service does 100% as well. And yet we cannot speak of a sum total of 200%. No, when the Spirit works through man and man is authorised by the Spirit, the unity is so deep that all our arithmetic 100% fails. Here 100% + 100% appears not to be 200% but it remains Bohren applies this relationship also to preaching. ‘Preaching, totally enclosed in God’s possibility, becomes in the Spirit and through the Spirit totally the affair of the preacher and of the hearer; it becomes in and through the Spirit totally a human possibility in art and technique. The pneumatological approach makes it possible—without denying the theological primacy—to do justice to the anthropological aspect… Within the horizon of the pneumatology preacher and hearer gain new honour’.11Bohren, Predigtlehre, p. 37.

The word ‘reciprocity’ is quite fitting here. The Holy Spirit works through human beings. Human beings do their work in the service of the Holy Spirit. But throughout the entire event it remains a ‘theonomous’ reciprocity. No human being can ever have control of the Spirit. Human work always remains work in the service of the Spirit and it also remains dependent on the sovereign activity of the Spirit.

This applies to both preacher and hearer. Each of them has his/her own vital task. Not as if the effect of preaching depends ultimately on preacher or hearer or on both of them in combination. Even when both preacher and hearer fail in their task, the Spirit can still make the preaching effective. In his letter to the Philippians Paul described the mystery we are dealing with here in the following words: ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (2:12, 13). The deepest secret of the mystery is indicated by the little word ‘for’, which in turn has its own deepest ground in the last words of the statement: ‘for his good pleasure’. We can also say: the deepest secret of preaching is of a predestinarían nature. The word ‘theonomous’ may therefore never be aban- doned. But the idea of ‘reciprocity’ may not be abandoned either.

In another publication Van Ruler says that the Spirit does not exclude, but intentionally and emphatically includes the creature.12A.A. van Ruler, Reformatorische opmerkingen, 1965, p.76. This is the reason why we may never say that it does not matter what we do or how we do it. However true it may be that we do not know whether and why and how the Spirit works, we do know, as K.H. Miskotte puts it, that ‘when certain things are denied or neglected, it is not to be expected that anything of consequence will happen.’13K.H. Miskotte, When the Gods Are Silent, E.T. 1967, p. 103. The apostle Paul warns the Thessalonians that they should not quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). Apparently we can by a negative and sinful attitude hinder the Spirit in his work and even make it impossible for him to do anything at all (cf. Mark 6:5, where it is said of Jesus that in Nazareth he could do no mighty work, because of the unbelief of the people).

3. Can We Operationalise the Spirit?

But can we also turn it around and ‘promote’ the work of the Spirit? Here we face again the question whether we can ‘operationalise’ or ‘methodise’ the Spirit. Was Luther in his debate with Münzer not fully right when he said: the Holy Spirit is not a ‘methodus’? Indeed, we cannot compel the Spirit in any way or exact anything from him. This was one of the serious mistakes in some strands of Pietism. Firstly, the effect of preaching was made dependent on the piety of the preacher. Secondly, some held the theory that a preacher was subservient to the Spirit only when he was entirely passive. Some even maintained that a good preacher should do no preparation at all, he should not even select a text before mounting the pulpit, for the text ought to be given to him by the Spirit at that very moment. There is an interesting story about the well-known German theologian and preacher Claus Harms. Under the pressure of his surroundings he once tried to do this too. When afterwards people asked him what the Spirit had said to him, his straightforward answer was: ‘The Holy Spirit said: ‘Claus, du bist faul gewesen’ (Claus, you have been lazy)!’

We can never operationalise or methodise the Spirit, neither by our piety nor by our passivity. What we can operationalise, however, is our own attitude to the Spirit. Jörg Rothermundt, who sides with Luther against Münzer: ‘keine Methodus’ (no method) and even believes that he must criticise Bohren on this very point, nevertheless uses an interesting expression when he writes about the possibilities of the psychology of creativity. He says: ‘One cannot make brain waves, but one can open oneself to them’ (144). Here, I believe, we have a good parallel to the way the Spirit works in and through us. In no way we can compel him to do his work in or through us, but we can open ourselves to him. We can surrender ourselves to him. We can conform to his ways. We can lay ourselves open to his activity. We can obey the apostolic instruction Paul gives to the Ephesians: ‘Be filled with the Spirit’ (5:18).

This kind of ‘method’ does not mean that we should aspire after a form of enthusiasm à la Montanism or similar movements. Such enthusiasm always leads to legalism: we must do this or that, for otherwise the Spirit is unable to do anything through us. This is certainly not what Paul had in mind when he wrote: ‘Be filled with the Spirit’. What he means is: allow yourself to be filled with the Spirit, or: welcome the filling and indwelling of the Spirit. Charles Hodge points out that when we do this we are not lording it over the Spirit, but he it is who controls all our thoughts, feelings, words and actions. We are nothing but empty hands which have to be filled. Still, it is not a happy-go-lucky experiment. We do it with expectation and anticipation, because we have been given the promise that he will come, when he ask for him. This, I believe, is the only possibility to overcome the speechlessness that plagues the church in the Western world.

This coming of the Spirit does not mean, however, that all of a sudden and in one go everything will change with the speed of an intercity train. This did not happen in the apostolic church either. No doubt, the preaching of the apostles and of such men as Stephen and Philip was very effective, but apart from the very day of Pentecost, when 3000 people were converted, we do not read of mass conversions. After Paul had worked for a few years in Ephesus, the congregation was still rather small. But the young churches of the apostolic age were growing churches!

4. The process of preparing a sermon

Apart from the very day of Pentecost, we do not read of mass conversions.

Is it possible to operationalise our own attitude during the process of preparing a sermon? Naturally, we have to be very cautious here, for otherwise we may still do what Münzer suggested by speaking of the Holy Spirit as a ‘methodus’. At the same time we should beware of the opposite reaction of being haphazard in our preparations. I am very happy to notice that today there is a new interest in spirituality. Those who favour it rightly point out that spirituality too can be ‘learned’ by ‘exercises’. Such exercises are well- known in the Roman Catholic tradition (e.g. the ‘Spiritual Exercises’ of Igna- tius Loyola, the founder of the order of the Jesuits), but the Protestant tradition also knows about such exercises. In a paper on ‘The spiritual care of the minister himself’, given in 1927, the Rev. K. Femhout mentioned the following aspects: taking time for the edification of one’s own faith, the importance of personal sanctification and self-examination, the necessity of an experiential faith. We can also think of the ‘Preachers’ Seminary founded and led by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the years preceding World War II.14Cf. Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A Biography, E.T., in 1970, pp.314ff., especially pp.379ff. It was a new ‘brotherhood’, with its own vita communis. Bonhoeffer laid down a daily time-table, which started with half an hour’s silent meditation, every morning after breakfast (381). In all honesty Bethge tells us that not all ordinands were really happy with this arrangement. But in the long run they all came around and began to appreciate these exercises. ‘The strongest incentive to the hesitant was Bonhoeffer’s own manner of prayer’ (382). He was of the opinion that prayer has to be taught and can be learned (383). He would most certainly have agreed with the words of the Roman Catholic theologian L. Loosen: ‘Without spirituality our life (and also our church) is like a house with an open fire, where every night we explain how the open fire works, without ever lighting it.’

The same holds true of our preaching. Naturally, we can spend much of our time explaining in our sermons how the open fire of the Spirit works, but should we not begin by asking the Spirit to light the fire in our own lives?

With a view to the preparation of the sermon this means at least two things.

  1. We must open our own hearts and minds to the message. As ‘professionals’ we may be inclined to read the Bible first of all as a message for others. We should first of all to read it as a message for ourselves. As the psalmist says: ‘Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Ps. 119:105). It involves our own existence. How should we be able to pass the message on to others, if it has not touched our own hearts?
  2. This is possible only when we do our preparatory work in the spirit of prayer. A while ago I read that a young minister said to his mentor: ‘I pray for other people only. Personally I never pray.’ I do not call this young minister an unbeliever. Perhaps his whole life is one long prayer. But to be honest, I cannot imagine that even in such a praying existence one never feels the need to have personal talk with God.

I believe that we must intentionally make room for prayer in the preparatory process. And such a prayer fans out in all possible directions. It means that we pray for a right understanding of the message; a right understanding of the hearers with their hope and despair, with their despondency and joy, with their questions, doubt and temptations, their faith and their unbelief; and finding the right words for this particular message to these particular people.

5. Epilogue

Once more I return to the controversy about the ‘methodus’ between Luther and Münzer. We may agree in theory with the view of Luther that we can never ‘methodise’ the Spirit and his work, but are we not, when we try to operationalise our own attitude in the preparatory process, actually siding with Münzer? Are we not in a pious way forcing the Spirit to do his work in us? Indeed, we should not underestimate the risk we are running here. ‘The heart is deceitful above all and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?’ (Jer. 17:9). These words also apply to the heart of the preacher, also to the heart of the pious preacher. Every one who wants to make him/herself subservient to the Spirit and his operations should be conscious of this risk and continually ask himself: What am I really doing?

The bulk of this article has dealt with the event of preaching and the role of the preacher in this event, both seen from the perspective of pneumatology. I conclude with a few remarks about the hearers, seen from the same perspective. The final purpose of preaching is that the hearers are reached and touched by the preached Word. This, too, is possible only when their hearts and minds are opened by the Spirit. Bohren formulates it very succinctly in these words: ‘ Inspiration (German: ‘Begeisterung’) is the goal of preach- ing.’15 Here, too, we have to guard against false enthusiasm. A merely human, a merely psychological emotionalism will not do. What really matters is that through the preaching the Spirit will also dwell in the hearers in order to bestow the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23). To put it in words of Paul: ‘Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God’ (Col. 3:16). To Paul this is not just an internal-personal experience (i.e., within you as individual Christians) or internal-congregational experience (i.e., among you as a Christian community), but it is something that becomes manifest in a truly Christian lifestyle. This is quite evident from the words that immediately follow: ‘Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him’ (3:17).

What this entails is seen in the ethical injunctions Paul mentions next. He addresses wives and husbands, children and fathers, and slaves and masters, all belonging to the congregation. But it is not congregation-centred, as appears from his concluding words: ‘Conduct your lives wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one’ (4:5,6).