I love the preaching of God’s Word. I love to listen to good preaching, and it is because I love the Gospel of God’s grace. Like any other earnest preacher, I wish I were better in this act of worship toward God. What could be better than hearing from God? Where else can you hear truth? Who else illumines the soul unto salvation? Is there another message or messenger bringing life to spiritually dead men and women?
Preaching is the heralding of God’s revelation to the world (Mt 24:14; Mk 16:15). It is a proclamation of good news for those who believe it (Rom 1:16–17). It is the proclamation of judgment for those who do not believe it. Although the Bible demonstrates the distinction between the two groups of recipients, it makes to no alteration in content, nor delivery method, in order to woo anyone. In fact, the response to the proclamation is either evidence of grace, or no grace, received by a person.
Grace invigorates the preacher, and it saves the listener. Grace is action by God in the lives of people to bring about His will. God does His good pleasure in this economy of preacher and listener. Blessed is the man or woman, who has been given ears to hear what the Lord is saying.
Throughout the history of the church, preaching has had seasons of favor and disfavor. The names of prominent preachers remind us of God’s faithfulness, in every generation, to raise up men of God to proclaim His excellencies (1 Pet 2:9). The same was true for Old Testament Israel.
The call to preach was a fearsome task for the prophets, who were sometimes warned that the people would not hear them. It was common for a prophet to be mistreated by the leaders. Sometimes the Scriptures were lost in some back room of the Temple, so you know the quality of preaching was not good. When preaching was weak the people suffered. In addition, there always seemed to be the scourge of false prophets and teachers throughout every era. Preaching is not some light exercise done by just anyone. One must be called of God to do it.
Preachers are men of great resolve. They must have stamina and must be on guard for their lives. The world does not receive preachers and Gospel preaching with favor. In some cases, these are prohibited by Law.
Why do men of God, an Old Testament title for preachers, risk imprisonment and even their lives to perform this task? Jeremiah would say it was because the Word was like a fire in his bones (Jer 20:9). Isaiah would say it was because God touched his mouth (Is 6:7). Paul lamented, “woe to me if I do not preach (1 Cor 9:16).”
What makes this compulsion worse is the foolishness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:18, 21). Unbelievers ridicule the message and the messengers sent from God. That God is the Creator of all is unthinkable for people. That God is the redeemer of a select group of people is perverse to men of the world. That God sends His Spirit to open the hearts and indwell a chosen people is simply untenable.
The born again preacher has his own testimony of this miracle of God’s grace in his soul. He speaks from the heart because the Spirit of God is there testifying about Jesus Christ. The Spirit allows the recipient of grace to believe the Scriptures (Phil 1:29). It is customary for unbelievers to attack the Bible, but we must give them this ground. Why would they believe the Bible if they do not have the Spirit of God convincing them of its veracity?
Too many Christians manipulate unregenerate unbelievers by trying to get a response from them. This is unnecessary. Dead men do not give much response to wooing, pleading, selling, or begging. A preacher is a proclaimer, not a sales presenter. Ezekiel was not giving the dead bones an offer to respond to when he spoke to them (Ezek 37). Jesus was not offering life to Lazarus (Jn 11). He simply gave him life, by the spoken Word (Jn 6:63). This manipulative error is derived from misunderstood soteriology. Soteriology is the study of God’s salvation.
The preacher heralds a salvation, worked entirely by God’s grace. Some people are objects of God’s grace (Acts 13:48), but they are in no way a causative agency in the process. The preacher who tells men they must do something to make their salvation effectual is a false preacher. All he is doing is tempting men to steal glory from God. Men believe the Gospel because they are given faith by God (Phil 1:29; Heb 12:2; 2 Pet 1:1), in the allotment of God’s choosing (Rom 12:3). Where God sets an imperative command for man to do something, like believe, He gives him the grace to do what is required of him to obey the command.
Someone might argue from Philippians 2:12 that Paul encourages the Christian, “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” In the very next verse, we are told who is actually at work willing and doing His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). It is God, the author and perfecter of one’s faith.
We learn from this how important a preacher’s theology is to the listener. In my own experience, I have been exposed to weak preaching and very strong preaching. This is true in both theological content and delivery. As one would expect, I have found most of it to be in the middle of the extremes. It is grievous to me there are not more strong preaching churches in America. Why is this the case?
I believe it is problematic through the history of the church, as it was for Old Testament Israel. When the world infiltrates the church, strong Gospel preaching is a foreign experience to most church goers. One can sample sermons and find a dearth of doctrine in poor preaching churches. This is usually the result of pastors who are not particularly interested in the Bible, nor in the method of sermon delivery. The spiral downward begins when a poor preacher arrives at a church and starves God’s people with technology, personal anecdotes, psychology, and storytelling.
In good preaching, the Bible is open. A text is carefully selected to address the congregation. The text is read, publicly. The sermon commences with prayer for the preacher, the listeners, and for God to be glorified through the exaltation of Jesus Christ. Words, phrases, and clauses are explained to help the listeners understand the original author’s intent.
The theological lesson, using biblical cross references, is expounded for each segment of the text. The purpose of every sermon is for all people to know the living God. Quotes from worthy pastors and theologians can be employed to support the understanding extracted from the text. Illustrations, preferably from the Bible can be helpful. Finally, the preacher brings application to his hearers for them to respond in a manner pleasing to God.
Preaching is equated with feeding sheep. The food is the Word. The preparation of a tasty meal, like a good sermon, takes time and preparation. It is presented like an attractive plate to be enjoyed by the blessed recipient. Pastors take their flocks to the good places in the Bible to feed on God’s revelation of Himself to people. Because God’s Word is living and active, it has a powerful impact on people. It provokes repentance, as well as hostility. Some are fed and satisfied, while others forage on lies elsewhere in the barren wasteland of this world.
Preaching imparts life. It is a life-giving action where people meet God and receive their daily bread. Preaching is not just for the mind, but it is also for the heart. The heart and mind are what comprise the soul.
The life of God stirs in the soul of the preacher to bring heat and light to his listeners. Light is for the mind. The Spirit of truth illumines and facilitates understanding. Heat warms the heart. It inflames the passions to move the soul to positive action. God’s sovereign will compels our wills to be doers of the Word.
The Spirit-filled listener to Gospel preaching is affirmed. God speaks through the preacher, and God listens through the hearer. Christ in us is at work in both places. How pleasant is the Word of God in season? Who knows the state of the hearer? Only the Spirit within her knows her trials and troubles. She is blessed when the same Spirit prompts the preacher to bring the right Word in season. As God feeds the animals in the field with food fit for them, so He feeds His people with the satisfying Word of life.
Good preaching is a treasure to behold. It is worth the drive. Ironically, with technology we have greater access to more preaching than ever before. From my own experience, I am not moved by audio or video recorded sermons like I am when in the room with the preacher. Teaching and learning may take place through a video sermon, but I must argue for the spiritual blessing of being present where a live preacher ministers God’s Word to a live congregation. This may have more to do with the assembling of God’s people than it does with the preacher preaching.
We need more and better preaching in our churches. We need better preachers. We need one another to want the same thing. People must crave preaching above all else in the church. Pastors must crave the opportunity to preach more than all the alternative opportunities to minister. Churches would do well to employ pastors who only preach God’s Word. There is no better way to ensure you are getting the best God has provided for you.
Lopping alternate tasks upon pastors defeats the purpose of the pastor being the man of God, sent by God, to preach God’s Word. The business of the church can be run by the deacons and trustees. The elders can guide those in spiritual need and guide others in the execution of programs to build up body life.
The preacher should preach God’s Word. It is ideal for him and ideal for the local church. Because most churches look to American corporations to get their leadership models, this may be a remarkably foreign concept to some. Who will break the downward spiral of preaching in America? Will it be the preachers or the churches? One or the other must take a stand for the primacy of preaching.
We must pray for these things. God would surely delight in our renewed interest in what He has to say. We need to ask Him to give us these things. We must keep asking until we receive them. Together, we must share a passion for preaching.
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 20, 2021