I truly believe that “Preaching the Word of God is the primary and supreme means of creating, feeding and maintaining Christ's Church. Preaching Christ crucified, in season and out of season, whether eloquently or as a stutterer, is the most important means God uses to pour his saving grace going into the world”[i]. Why is it so important? The most important thing we do? Because preaching is facilitating an encounter with God that is word based, it’s using the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17), while being carried along and empowered by Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:11) to do his work.
I believe this because of what God’s word says about preaching. It tells us that preaching, the proclamation of the gospel which the world defines as foolishness, the proclamation of the gospel which many in the church decry as passé and see as something to be kept short, or minimized, or retired, “has the power to save”. Paul writes “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe (1Corinthains 1:17-18, 21). God saves through preaching.
But not only is just the power to save, it’s also a means by which God speaks. Scripture makes clear that God speaks through preaching. In Titus Paul writes that God “at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior (Titus 1:3) In 1 Thessalonians, 2, Paul writes “we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1Thesalonians 2:13). In Romans 10, we read “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" (Romans 10:14-15). What comes through in all these verses is that God sends His word through preaching and teaching. Amazingly, even Jesus ministry was primarily a preaching and teaching ministry. He did miracles, but these were signs that backed up his words. John preached and taught. Paul, and Peter, and the apostles all preached and taught, and they equipped and sent out people like Timothy, Silvanus, and Silas, who preached and taught. They did this because God speaks through preaching.
Furthermore, it is through the faithful preaching of the word that the church grows. I would go so far as to say that preaching is the primary means by which the church of God grows. This is seen most clearly throughout the book of Acts. When you look through Acts (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 8:14ff; 10:36ff; 12:24; 13:49; 19:20). What do you see? The word is preached. Allot. And this changes lives, and grows the church. We get snippets and summaries of the preaching throughout Acts, as aproximatly twenty-five percent of the book is sermons. Right from the start, we see that the believers gathered, and “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (1:42), and “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (2:46). Notice that. They broke bread at homes. At the temple, they met. Why? Because that’s where they gathered to hear the Apostles preach and teach. It ties back to devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. Later, in Acts 10, peter recounts that “he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophet’s bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles (Act 10:41-45).
The church grows through preaching, through serious feeding on the word of God. Consider this; many Scholars think that Hebrews was probably a sermon. Paul preached till midnight one night. Peter and the disciples taught for extended sessions at the temple (Acts 3). Furthermore, we see that in addition to the word preaching, the bible uses many words that fit under what we call preaching. Herald (2 Pet. 2:5; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11; Rom. 10:14-15; 1 Cor. 2:21; 2:4). Exhort (2 Tim. 4:2; John 14). Witnessing (Acts 26:5; 23:11). Announce (1 John 1:3; Acts 20:20; 1 Peter 1:12; Luke 9:60). Teaching (Acts 4:2; 5:25; 13:12; 2 John 9). Evangelize (Luke 16:16; Gal. 1:11; Acts 21:8; 2 Tim. 4:5).Paul writes that he was “appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher (2Ti 1:11-12). All of that is included in what we call preaching today.
So who is to preach and teach? Pastors, Elders, (who must be able to teach), those core leaders that are the spiritual heads of the church are commanded to preach, to teach, to explain, to apply the bible. In Matthew were told “Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Mat 28:18-20). In 2 Timothy, we see a command to a young pastor to preach, as Paul tells timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
What’s amazing here is that we see in this passage that there is a strong connection between the authority of the word of God, the bible, and preaching. In chapter 3, Paul writes, “as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2Ti 3:14-17). Then, in the next lines, Paul then tells timothy, and all pastors and church leaders, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2Ti 4:1-5)
All of this is to say, the ministry of the church starts with the preaching of the word. And as I preach, I’m preaching the word. Not my thoughts. Not my opinion, everything that I say, begins and ends with the word of God, and that passage. The ideas of the sermon should come from that passage; the point of the sermon should come from that passage. And as a result of the preaching of the word, God speaks to us. We encounter God more fully, and lives are changed, because God’s word does not return empty. God says it will accomplish it’s purposes, declaring, “as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isa 55:10-11).
Here is where the rubber meets the road with all this. Scripture throughout makes preaching the second-to-none means by which God communicates himself, his promises and his grace to his children and to all of humankind. I truly believe that healthy churches have a high theology of preaching, because this is how Gods community grows. Someone once said, “You show me a church which is growing spiritually, and you'll invariably take me to a church focused on powerful preaching” [ii]. I believe he’s right. Here’s something that’s interesting and worth noting. Look around at most of the thriving ministries. The pastor preaches. Really preaches. Usually in the 30-50 range. Mark Driscoll, pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in the country, regularly goes an hour plus. I don’t think that the connection between preaching and growth is a coincidence, because “Preaching is facilitating an encounter with God that is word based”[iii]. When people encounter God, they keep wanting to encounter God, and the church grows.
Ajith Fernando, a Sri Lankan pastor, who has ministered in the middle of hostility and persecution, observed that “the desire for teaching is an evidence of conversion. Openness to being fed by the word is a key evidence that one is truly regenerated. Many people come to Christ and have a felt the need met because they hear that the god of the Christians is a prayer answering God. In their eagerness to be blessed by this god, they go to the motions of making a decision. Since the possibilities of prayer attracted to Christ, they may give a high place to prayer. But how do we know that the seed of eternal life is germinating in them? If there is such a seed, it will hunger for the nurse meat of the word [iv]. Peter states this principle by using a metaphor from human life. Like new born babies crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation (1 Peter 2:2).
What’s amazing is that if you go many places in the world, people will study Gods word for hours. They will listen for hours. Read David Platt’s book Radical, he tells of teaching all day long, and people being hungry for more. Why? Because they realize it’s a privilege to be cherished. We don’t. Our puritan forefathers did, we don’t it. Once, Mark Dever (pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist church in DC) had a woman who reacted with incredulity when He mentioned that the Puritan preachers occasionally sermonized for 2 or 3 hours (at the behest of their congregations), and she said, "Dr. Dever, if they preached for 2 or 3 hours, . . . what time was left for worship?" His response was something like, "Ma'am, understand that from the Puritan's standpoint, the sermon was the apex of worship, because the conscionable hearing of God's word from the mouth of God's servant was the ultimate act of worship. Because you are hearing, you are sitting under the searching judgment and the comforting promise of God's word spoken into your heart. It's the greatest act of worship as the people of God gather together . . . It is the culmination of worship. Remember, that many of (them) would have been able to remember the smell of burning flesh in their nostrils, for the people who had died at the stake so that they could hear the Word of God read to them and preached to them in their own language. They knew the great cost, so they didn't care how long their preacher preached” [v].
I think one reason that our people are oftentimes so lackadaisical about the privilege of preaching is that they don't understand the cost that has been born for the word of God to be brought to them in their own language, and they don't understand the magnitude of what it is to have an encounter with the living God which is word-based, facilitated by the servant of God preaching the word of God to their hearts, speaking that truth into their lives.
Here’s how this all comes together. The preaching of the Word of God is a word based encounter with God; it changes lives and causes church to come alive and grow. It’s the gateway through which God speaks to us as a community. At no other point do we all meet and hear from God together. This is the thing that opens the door for everything else. G. Cambel Morgan is credited with saying, "Sermonettes breed Christianettes, little sermons, little Christians" P.T. Forsyth put it this way, “Brevity may be the soul of wit, but the preacher is not a wit… A Christianity of short sermons is a Christianity of short fibre.”[vi]. I think that’s true. I thought so last fall, I believe it more than ever today. Therefor, how can we ever sit there and say, God you are on the clock… In this last year, I have seen God move, and begin to generate something awesome. People hungry for the word, and getting hungrier, and I see a depth starting to develop in people that did not have depth. Ultimately, I believe that this is happening not because I am gifted or eloquent (because I’m not), but because they are being fed the only food that will satisfy- the life-giving word of God through which the gospel flows.
Now, in light of this, here is how we should approach the sermon.
A) Recognize true biblical preaching for what it is – God speaking to your heart! God is telling you something!B) Come with an attentive heart. In order for the Word to be effective in your life, you must be attentive with diligence (Prov. 8:34; I Peter 2:1-2; Luke 8:18; Ps. 119:18; Eph. 6:18-19)C) You must prepare to hear and receive God’s Word when it comes (1 Pet. 2:1). You do this by putting away sinful things and desiring His good news.D) Pray, pray, pray. Pray for your open heart. Pray for the preacher to preach from the Scripture, by the power of the Spirit (Psalm 119:18, etc.)E) Hearers of the preached Word are to receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind (Heb. 4:2; 2 Thess. 2:10; James 1:21; Acts 17:11)F) Hearers of the preached Word are to meditate and confer concerning it (Luke 9:44; Heb. 2:1; Luke 24:14; Deut. 6:6-7; Mal. 3:16).G) Learn to love God and His Word preached and to hide it in your heart (Psalm 119:11; Prov. 2:1).H) Then, afterward, practice it immediately. Tell it, teach it, recite it, meditate upon it, do it (Luke. 8:15; James 1:25)!
Now, that is a very basic theology of preaching primer, it is in no way complete, but it lays out some grounding thoughts. There is much that could be said. For more study, I would recommend something like Dennis Johnson's Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures, Brian Chapell’s “Christ Centered Preaching”, and John Stott’s Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today, as well as anything by my old professor Haddon Robinson.
I would like to summarize today's thoughts this way. There is no alternative to preaching. Yes, preaching can be and necessarily must be improved. Every pastor should working hard to improve constantly. It is an imperative. To not work with every ounce to improve, given the significance of the task, would be incredibly sinful. I am light years ahead of where I was when I began; I pray that I will be 1000 times better than I am now before I retire. I believe that boring preaching is an insult to Christ himself. But I also believe that preaching has no substitute as the supreme means God uses to communicate, be it yesterday, today or forever.
[i] van Garderen, Rev. Dirk J, Faith in Focus, Preaching, The Supreme Means of Grace, I loved this phrase so much I’ve all but appropriated it. Faith in Focus is the denominational magazine of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand.
[ii] van Garderen, Rev. Dirk J, Faith in Focus, Preaching, The Supreme Means of Grace.
[v] Duncan, Ligon, Gospel coalition workshop: Preaching Q&A with Ligon Duncan and Crawford Lottis.
[vi]. Forsyth, P. T, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind (pp.68-69).