It’s been a privilege to serve on staff with the EPT over the last two years. I’ve been encouraged by the efforts of many to feed the sheep week by week and to humbly seek to grow as preachers of God’s life-giving Word. As I finished with the Trust, David asked me to share my convictions about preaching and they follow here. I don’t think anything I write will surprise you or be new to you. I hope not! But I do know how forgetful we can be – so some convictions about preaching that might need to be bumped up in your memory inbox.
Perhaps you’d benefit too as I have from some time given to thinking about what your convictions are about preaching and what God would have them be.
Conviction 1 – we must preach the Word
God said it through Paul to Timothy, well before any of us have echoed it.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 1 Tim 4:1-2 (ESV)
If we have a biblical and robust theology of the Word, we’ll stick to preaching it rather than running after the latest trend, the research that says people need something else.
We’ll be unashamed to bring his word at every turn because there is nothing better than God’s word for what we need most – to know him and be known by him. In His word, God speaks and makes himself known. It’s the definition of foolishness to ignore that and imagine who he is and what he’s like instead. His word is a rich treasure trove that speaks in history, poetry, prophecy, apocalypse and letter to say ‘I am who I am,’ in ways that we can hear.
We’ll be unashamed to bring his word at every turn because God speaks and makes people wise for salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus (2 Tim 3:15). The word is planted and he makes it grow. (1 Cor 3). The word is powerful to bring us to salvation. (Romans 1)
We’ll be unashamed to bring his word at every turn because it is God speaking – not dead words on a page but his living and active voice, that renews our minds, discerns the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, and transforms us to be like Christ. (Hebrews 4, Romans 12). The word of God equips the people of God for every good work by teaching, rebuking, correcting, encouraging and training in righteousness. (2 Tim 3)
We’ll be unashamed to bring his word at every turn because it is true, trustworthy, perfect, sure, pure and righteous. It revives the soul, makes the simple wise, brings joy to the heart, enlightens the eyes and is sweeter than the drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19)
What a privilege to preach it! Preaching anything else will always be less.
When we preach the word, when we echo God, people hear Him. (1 Thess 2:13)
We need to ask, then, ‘What does it mean to preach the Word?’
Preach Jesus Christ as Lord
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. Colossians 1:28-29 (ESV)
Proclaiming Christ is not just what unbelievers need but it brings all of us to maturity in Christ. We need to do more than biblical theology – not just show this is about Jesus but preach him.
Preacher, show me what his life, cross work and resurrection does for us. Tell me who his life, cross work and resurrection shows him to be. Show me this angle and that angle on the diamond. Preach Christ so that more than all he gives, we want him. Gary Millar captured it at a preaching conference in a phrase that has stuck with me – ‘hold Jesus up in all his beauty and sufficiency’. That’s our job.
Preach grace for those yet to believe and for believers. The Bible is under no illusion that we can save ourselves, pull our socks up, that we can do any of its imperatives before God first acts. We’re so wired for earning a wage that we need to be confronted, reminded of God’s gift of grace again and again. Preach the indicative – what God has done, before the imperative.Preach command, yes, and also provision. God’s word asks much but it shows us that God supplies all he commands.
Preach grace for God’s praise. Paul writes to the church in Ephesus: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, … chosen to be holy and blameless before him … loved … predestined for adoption … redeemed … forgiven … given an inheritance, a hope, the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. Why has he given all this? To the praise of his glorious grace, according to the riches of his grace, to the praise of his glory – and Paul repeats it – to the praise of his glory. Preach grace for God’s praise.
Preach with purpose
The word of God calls for a response: repent and believe – with all its different angles and with fresh expression. Our preaching should never be mere information.
We’re not to be hearers only but doers of God’s word. A fool building on sand hears God’s word but doesn’t do it. At the end of Peter’s Pentecost sermon, the people are cut to the heart and ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Give our hearers help. Answer that question. It’s not enough to tell me what’s true. Help me see what I’m to do in response to that truth. How might it work out this week? This year? What must I stop doing?
Correctly handle the word of truth
We must teach the truth. Keep asking, ‘What does the text say?’
There’s hard work to be done to understand it rightly and then to preach it clearly and simply (not simplistically). John Macarthur writes, ‘ … stay in your study until you know that the Lord will gladly accept what you have prepared to preach because it rightly represents His Word.’ There is no room for lazy exegesis. There are no shortcuts. We need to employ all the tools: prayer, the languages if you have them, biblical theology, systematic theology.
I was part of a church for a short time where good moral living was the diet rather than the word of truth. The Bible was opened but what was preached was Jesus as example and little or no mention of Jesus as Lord and Saviour. People in that church had sat and listened for years, some were zealous, some were servant-hearted but under that incorrect handling of the truth they believed a lie, based their lives on a lie; they had a theology of salvation by good works. God isn’t honoured by that – in that false conception he’s not the one who loves and freely gives. Sin is more serious and devastating than that picture allows, and people aren’t saved. We must teach the truth.
To correctly handle the word of truth we must also sit under it ourselves.
“These are the ones I look on with favour:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.” Isaiah 66:2 (ESV)
It’s incorrect handling to imagine this message is for others and not for us. I try to ask myself these questions: Have you submitted to it? Repented? Do you believe it? Are you convinced? Have you let the word awaken your own heart before you come to the pulpit?
Preach in an expository way
Show the hearers that this is what God says – keep pointing us to the text, show us what’s there.
Let God’s word set the agenda; preach through books. Every sermon will have a topic – the topic that God knows we need to hear.
Conviction 2 – we must love the people
Preach the whole counsel of God
God’s word encourages, warns, rebukes, teaches, corrects, trains in righteousness, and more, because we need to hear it all. So, don’t shy away from saying what’s hard to hear – it doesn’t love anyone, for example, to not speak of God’s judgment. As we bring God’s Word it it won’t be what itching ears want to hear but what God, full of love, proclaims.
Preach simply but not simplistically
We love people when we grasp the truth so clearly ourselves that we can explain it to a 10 year old. The Word of God is clear enough for the simplest person to live by – take care not to muddy it. Preach in a way that shows the hearer they can understand it themselves.
Love the hearer too by plumbing the depths and taking me there. Respect that I’ve given time and attention to hear you, freed you to study the Word in a way not everyone can and bring me something of substance, the weighty word of God. Insightful, not superficial.
For example, use fresh vocab rather than the same well-worn phrases to help me hear the same old rock solid truths I need in ways that cut through. God’s Word does that – use its riches. Or consider how deep the Father’s love and take me down in a submarine to appreciate what can’t be seen on the surface. Or ready the sheep to suffer with firm convictions of God’s goodness, power and love. Or help them see that God’s way answers their deepest problems and the world’s, that it’s reasonable and robust, that it’s good and wise, that it stands up to examination and in fact examines us.
Know where I live, my doubts, my fears, my blindspots, my idols, my relationships, my progress in living by grace for the Lord Jesus, and bring the Word of God to my life, where I am.
Structure and illustration
Give me clear structure so I can listen and follow. Give me illustration to help me grasp big truth and to help me feel big truth.
Conviction 3 – we are not alone
If you’re like me at this point, you’re thinking, “Who can do this?” Martyn Lloyd-Jones captures it well, “A man who imagines that because he has a head full of knowledge that he is sufficient for these things had better start learning again. ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ What are you doing? You are not simply imparting information, you are dealing with souls, you are dealing with pilgrims on the way to eternity, you are dealing with matters not only of life and death in this world, but with eternal destiny.”
The answer, of course, is none of us. That is, none of us by ourselves. So we add to our convictions about preaching:
An old fashioned word: unction
We pray to preach with the power of the Holy Spirit. Lloyd-Jones again, “Consider the apostles: they had all of the teaching and preparation – three years with Jesus, 40 days after the resurrection in Jesus’ masterclass about the kingdom – but this was not enough. They had to wait, remember. The Holy Spirit must come and give these men power to preach the gospel, to bear witness to Jesus.”
The Spirit has been given to all believers and so we pray for his power to be at work in us as the preacher and in the hearers.
We know prayer is good and necessary. We believe it. We need help in our unbelief to pray for ourselves, for the hearers, for our preparation, and for our preaching.
See our previous post: ‘Preacher, do you pray?
Conviction 4 – the kind of work we are in
What kind of work are you in? I wonder how you answer that question.
Through the preaching of his word, God calls people from death to life.
I don’t know how many sermons you’ve preached or whether you’re ever tempted to be blasé about it, to go through the motions, get some words on the page, deliver it and press repeat for next week. I don’t know if you get side-tracked with so many other ministry tasks that are easier, feel more urgent or feel like they make more difference. I don’t know if you’re in need of encouragement to press on in the hard work of preaching week by week, to give your best to this priority when people want other things from you. Perhaps a mixture of these and more.
I think we all need a heart burdened by the eternal significance of the message we bear. A sense that the time is short – the day of Jesus’ return ever one day nearer. Souls lost and dying all around us. Fresh wonder at the momentous news of God for us in Christ. Mercy triumphs over judgment. A way to stand righteous before him, to be adopted as his own.
What business are you in? It’s a business of life and death. So press on and take great care with each and every sermon, clay jars with gospel treasure to proclaim, weak servants strengthened by the Lord himself for his glory.
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