Why Preach? (Part 2)

In my last post, we began looking at preaching. We considered the 1. Purpose of Preaching and the 2. Command to Preach. In this post I want to add three more aspects of preaching: 3. Preaching under Fire, 4. God’s Word has Power and Authority, and 5. Stewardship of Preaching.

3. Preaching Under Fire

In part 1 we looked at the fact that preaching is a command in Scripture. This doesn’t mean that preaching is always received. Preaching has always been under fire. Some of Paul’s final words to Timothy were “preach the word when it’s popular and unpopular”( 2 Timothy 4:1-2, My translation). The apostles experienced this attack when they were commanded not to preach in Jesus’ name. To which Peter and John said they cannot stop preaching (Acts 4:18-20). This then drove the disciples to prayer for boldness to preach and not succumb to outside pressure to desist (Acts 4:29). The pressure to stop preaching continued, but they were resolute in their obedience to God’s command. The religious leaders arrested and beat the Apostles being strictly commanded not to preach in Jesus’ authority, to which they said they must obey God’s command to preach his word and not man’s command to cease from preaching (Acts 5:27-29).

I would argue that the devil wants the word of God to cease being preached; therefore, he will use any means to hinder its going forth. At the outset of Acts 6 as the church began to grow, so did the needs of the young flourishing church. These needs were legitimate financial needs of poor widows in the church. But according to Acts 6:2, the Apostles recognized that “it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” They did not let this great need eclipse their call to preach God’s word. Rather than their preaching of the word being diminished, they quickly mobilized the church to establish ‘deacons’. Acts 6:7 records the result, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly.” You can see why the devil would want to stop the preaching of the word. God’s word preached transforms lives.

4. God’s Word Has Power and Authority

Why is preaching God’s word ordained by God? Why is preaching God’s word commanded? Why is preaching God’s word attacked? God’s word is the source of our power and our authority.

4.1. Power

Before the church preached it’s first sermon, Jesus commanded the church to wait for power to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). This is power to show and proclaim God’s truth. There was power in the word preached that Pentecost Sunday as 3,000 fell under conviction of sin being pierced to the heart. The word preached is the power of God. This is why Paul is so eager to preach to the Romans (Romans 1:15-16). Paul also points to this preached word powerfully changing the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:18). Our longing to see lives changed and transformed is good, but to divorce this longing from the power that accomplishes it is folly. Regardless of our desire to see lives changed, the power is in God’s word not our own.

4.2. Authority

Our preaching must be filled with God’s word because it is authoritative. In Acts 5, the Jewish council attempted to exercise authority over the Apostles when they commanded them not to preach. Yet the Apostles recognized a higher authority and were unmoved by the Jewish council (Acts 5:28-29). God was their authority. Religiously, Jerusalem was under the authority of the council opposing them, but they freely preached in good conscience against this pseudo-authority because they were preaching God’s unchained word (2 Timothy 2:9). Jesus holds all authority in heaven and earth, and he commands his church to preach in that authority everywhere (Matthew 28:18-20). Even Jesus in his earthly ministry when preaching God’s word claimed its authority saying in John 8:28, “I do nothing of my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” We do not get to plot our own course exercising our own authority. All of our authority is derived from God’s commission to steward his word. Preaching this word, we preach with God’s authority.

5. Stewardship of Preaching

When we preach God’s word, we are recognizing its power and authority. Isaiah 66:2 reminds us that we should tremble before such a powerful and authoritative word with humility. We should count it as no small thing, but as an immeasurable privilege. Jesus who was the word of God incarnate (John 1:14), commissions us with stewardship of this great word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). We preach the word with power and authority, giving understanding of God’s good gospel unto salvation and sanctification. We honor God living in obedience to the high imperative to preach the word. We preach it in times when it is attacked, when popular and unpopular. We preach the word of God because it is God’s power and authority. Listen to Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 2:4, “Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.”

Why Preach? (Part 1)

Recently I was speaking with a minister here in London who suggested that preaching is old-fashioned and doesn’t connect to the current generation. I will concede that preaching styles do change over generations as the same message is contextualized into our various contexts. The purpose of this post is to give a biblical defense of preaching. The Greek word for preaching (kerusso) means to proclaim or herald. The idea goes back to antiquity of a town crier who would shout out the relevant news to the townsfolk. The business of the herald was to communicate news. If the herald didn’t speak, the townsfolk didn’t know what was going on.

Scripture teaches us that the content of our preaching is the gospel (good news) delivered to us through Scripture. There are many voices claiming that since the culture in which we live is biblically illiterate, we should make the content of our messages something other than the word of God. And many in our culture consider preaching (the idea of proclaiming with authority) too strong, and we are admonished to tone down our message from delivering the message, to delivering our own personal interpretation of a message that may or may not hold any relevance for the hearer. However, God’s word in preaching can’t be excused. To preach without God’s word is to fill an empty void with more emptiness.

In part 1 of this 2-part post, I want to focus on the Purpose of Preaching and the Command to Preach.

1. Purpose of Preaching

In order to consider this, we must ask the question: what is the purpose of preaching? I would argue that preaching is ordained by God to extend the gospel to both believers and non-believers. This takes place by means of understanding being given, by the means of proclamation, through the power of God’s Spirit, leading to salvation for non-believers and sanctification for believers.

1.1. Giving Gospel Understanding

Scriptural record shows us that gospel understanding is given through preaching. If the Gospel is God’s good news, then the good news necessitates the preaching of God’s word for it to be revealed. At the birth of the church at Pentecost, Peter used Scripture in his message to explain what bystanders were seeing (Acts 2:16). This turns to the gospel being given and 3,000 people being converted (Acts 2:37-41). In the chapter immediately following this, Peter is again preaching, explaining to people the basis for a healing that’s taken place in their midst (Acts 3:12). As he is preaching he calls them to stop acting in ignorance (Acts 3:17), further signifying that understanding is being imparted through preaching. But this understanding isn’t in a general sense, but rather an understanding of God. Later Paul in Athens points out that the Athenians were worshiping God in ignorance and that it was time for them to know who God is (Acts 17:23-31). Paul underlines this great need in 1 Timothy 2:4,  when he says God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In fact, Paul stresses this purpose summing up the entirety of his three years of Ephesian ministry when he tells the elders that he declared the whole counsel of God to them (Acts 20:27), which was to their profit (Acts 20:20). Essentially preaching brings God’s plan to light. Paul speaking again to the Ephesian church (Ephesians 3:8-10) said that he preached to “bring to light… the plan of the mystery.”

1.1.1. Salvation

Understanding the gospel contained in Scripture enlightens the heart of the hearer. As mentioned already, when Peter preached at Pentecost, the understanding that 3,000 souls received caused them to trust in Christ. Paul writing to the Romans rhetorically asks how people will believe without hearing preaching (Romans 10:14-16). The word of God is something that is heard, and by responding to that word, we believe (Acts 4:4). Timothy was a partaker of this great salvation when the Scriptures were delivered to him (2 Timothy 3:15). We see in James 1:21-22, that preaching extends to the hearers the “word, which is able to save your souls.”

1.1.2. Sanctification

The gospel word preached is always relevant, for we need it not only for salvation, but the life-long process of sanctification. It is this word that profits the believer in making him both competent and equipped for Christian living (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul tells Titus to teach the church about the doctrine of God so that the hearer’s sanctification will adorn the doctrine of God (Titus 2:1-10). In Thessalonica, the church was known for its life-change (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10), as a response to hearing the word of God preached (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

1.2. Bringing God’s Judgment

It is also worthy of note, that at times the purpose of preaching is actually a means whereby God brings judgment. The prophet Isaiah’s ministry was defined by this aspect of preaching where God says to him in Isaiah 6:10 that his preaching will, “Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Later, Jesus quotes this passage in Isaiah citing the reason he speaks in parables (Matthew 13:13-15). It isn’t for us to determine how God will use His preached Word, but to trust that God himself will determine its purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11). Thus, we must be faithful to Scripture and seek to be clear in our communication, regardless as to whether people respond positively or not.

2. Command to Preach

Preaching the word is an imperative in Scripture (2 Timothy 4:1). If God’s word is not the substance of our preaching, then our preaching is in disobedience to this Scriptural imperative. Earlier in Paul’s letter to Timothy he commands his disciple to continue the pattern of raising up preachers when he says in 2 Timothy 2:2, “what you heard from me… entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This wasn’t simply a Pauline command as Jesus also made disciples intending them to preach as we see in Mark 3:14, “He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach” (italics mine). Preaching the word isn’t simply good practice, it’s good obedience.

In my next post we will look at Preaching under Fire, the fact that God’s Word has Power and Authority, and the Stewardship of Preaching.

The Weight of Inadequacy

Many people don’t like Monday’s because it marks the end of their weekend and the start of a new work week.  As a teaching pastor, I have discovered that Monday’s are days where discouragement often strikes.  The day to daydream about the 9-5 sort of job.  The jobs pastors daydream about are sort of funny.  I have heard that Driscoll daydreams about being a bread baker, others UPS drivers, and many others that offer clear work and off hours.  Why are Mondays so brutal for preaching pastors? It is a strange thing really.  I am convinced that this is a reality for most pastors…or I hope I am not alone.

I read “Preaching for God’s Glory” by Alistair Begg the other day (and am currently reading “On Being a Pastor“).  I really liked it and suggest that you as a preaching pastor read it!  There was a line in it that resonated with me in light of this post.  He quoted this from Thornwell, “Any man who has had some glimpse of what it is to preach will inevitably feel that he has never preached. But he will go on trying, hoping that by the grace of God one day he may truly preach.”  This quote nails the weight of our strain so clearly.

The weight of the Word.  We have been given this awesome responsibility to communicate God’s Word to the people in our midst.  Who am I to convey this?  I need to hear it more than I need to preach it!

This awesome responsibility drives us to study, meditate, and to pray about the text.  The pastor who understands his task and his responsibility (notice that we “will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17) to  before God for our people’s souls) to effectively communicate His Word is driven to study the text!

The limited ability to transfer your study to the people.  In seminary, yes I support the value of Bible Colleges and Seminary (good ones that are anchored in the Word of God), a professor made an illustration of the importance of individual study.  He said something along the lines that a mother bird can effectively transfer nutrients by chewing up her food and then vomiting it into her chicks mouth.  Unfortunately, the only real way for one to gain nutrients of the Word is to study and digest on their own.   As a preaching pastor you should have so consumed that text that it permeates all of your thoughts and dreams.  So after seven days of study, you only have 45-75 minutes to transfer what God has taught you from the text.  There is no way to transfer everything, therefore you will always feel like you dropped the ball in your teaching.

Seek to please God in your preparation.  I have been preaching week-to-week now for about five years.  In this time I have discovered that I can walk away from the sermon feeling two things that are not mutually independent: 1) I pleased God with my delivery, and/or 2) I delivered in a technically sound way to the people.  I have discovered that I am most satisfied when my prep time and heart are in the right place with God as I deliver the sermon.  In contrast, I am least satisfied when, regardless of the sermon delivery, my heart or prep time were not pleasing to the Lord.  Each week my goal is to prepare in a way that is pleasing to Him.  I don’t always succeed due to life.

Be yourself and relax!  I can’t tell you how encouraged I was to read Charles Swindoll encourage young preachers to be themselves in their preaching.  Too often young pastors try to be someone other than themselves in their preaching.  God created you uniquely and your preaching style will be unique to your personality.  The sooner you realize you are not Rick Warren, Charles Swindoll, Allistair Begg, Chuck Smith, or David Jeremiah the better off you will be!

Connect with other pastors.  One of the greatest blessings in my growth towards maturity as a teaching pastor is the fellowship I have shared with other senior pastors that are further down the road then myself.  They have so much wisdom to share and understand what you are talking about if you are venting.  I highly encourage you to find a “Paul” in your life as it relates to preaching.

Let The Word Do It’s Work

Pastors put in many hours preparing their messages.  We open a text.  We read the text.  We ponder the text, and dissect the text.  We parse verbs, we analyze the passage, and we compare a particular passage with other passages and the Bible as a whole.

We read other pastors’ thoughts.  We meditate on the passage that we will preach.  Finally, after hours of consideration, the passage begins to impact us.  We catch the vision of the intention of the passage.  It begins to open up for us, and we begin to be transformed by it.

Personal insights are gained, and we begin to make application for our own lives, and for the lives that we have oversight of.  We begin to see the power of the passage, and how the lives of our listeners can be transformed if they understand and embrace the eternal truths that we plan to teach.  We get excited, anticipating sharing these glorious discoveries and considerations with our church.  We long for our church family to embrace these truths, and be blessed, convicted, and encouraged.

We enter the pulpit full of excitement and anticipation, but then a different reality hits us: The people are bored, tired, unmotivated, beat down, and apparently unresponsive.  We quickly sense that they do not share the same enthusiasm that has grown in us during our time of study.

At this point in a Sunday message, this is where my well intentioned flesh tries to do the work of the Spirit.  I try to “get them excited” with suggestions and admonitions.  I might even rebuke them a bit for their seeming lack of appreciation for the Word that is before them.

While preaching, I begin to think to myself, “What is wrong with these people?  Why are they so unresponsive to this incredible truth?”  Literally, I sometimes expect some discernable excitement in the first 5 minutes of my preaching.

I want them to be blessed, but I also want to know that they are “getting it”, so I prod, cajole, prompt “amens” etc.  I seek to excite them into believing the power of God’s word.

How wrong I am to do this! My excitement for a particular passage has come after many hours of study and meditation.  It has taken hours for me to get excited about the passage, and now I expect the dear saints in our church to immediately share my excitement.  When I sense that they don’t, I unconsciously try to stimulate them in fleshly ways.

I listen to a fair amount of preachers.  I enjoy listening to sermons.  I have noticed how the preachers that I am impacted by are very methodical in their presentation.  They build a case, and they present the logic of a passage. They anticipate objections to the passage, and they answer those objections in their preaching.  They teach the principles, they make applications, and then they walk away, trusting that God’s word will impact the listeners.

We often do not see any immediate impact that Biblical truth may have upon a person.  Our listeners need time to digest the word.  They need time to consider the word.  They need time to wrestle with it, as we have already done.

I need to learn to not gauge the impact of my preaching by what I see on Sunday morning. I need to learn to not try to excite the people about the word of God.  I need to preach the word of God, and let the Word do it’s work in the hearts of the people.

My efforts to excite and stimulate on the spot are distracting and only serve to clutter the truths that God wants to communicate through me.

May we who preach learn to let God’s Word do it’s work.  May we deliver it well, concisely, clearly, and not worry about needing to gauge the effectiveness of it by what see on Sunday morning.