“Throughout the history of the church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of their own Christian experiences or the experiences of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God’s powerful word. Essentially they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical text, and said in effect to the congregation, “This is what this verse means. Do you see that meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself, your Creator and your Lord, is saying this to you today!” Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching.”
– Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (p. 82).
(HT: Jared Wilson)
By Bobby Jamieson:
How do you try to fill up your church building? And what does that say about your belief in the Holy Spirit?
TWO WAYS TO FILL A CHURCH
Nineteenth-century Baptist Francis Wayland suggests that there are basically two ways to fill a church (Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches, 43-47). One is to preach in a way that is agreeable and inoffensive to both believers and unbelievers. The other is to preach in a way that highlights the difference between true religion and mere profession, and thus creates a sharp contrast between the church and the world.
The first approach seems reasonable. After all, why would non-Christians come to hear sermons about things they’ve never experienced and can’t understand? Why would non-Christians come to a church that highlights the fact that they are outsiders?
Yet Wayland argues that the price of this approach is far too steep. In order for his preaching to equally please Christians and non-Christians, a minister must “talk of generalities that mean nothing, or the trumpet must give an uncertain sound, so that no one will prepare himself for battle.”
Anticipating the natural objection, Wayland writes, “But it will be said, Are we then to drive away all but the children of God?”
His response compresses volumes of biblical wisdom into a mere five words: “I reply, Is there any Holy Ghost?”
Wayland’s point is that this whole line of thinking assumes that it’s finally up to us to convert people. It’s up to us to get them into the church building. It’s up to us to stir up their interest in the sermon. And it’s up to us to change their hearts and get them to repent and believe the gospel.
Wayland cuts through all of that by asking just whose power we’re depending on for the success of our ministry—ours, or the Holy Spirit’s?
IS THERE A HOLY SPIRIT?
“Is there a Holy Spirit?” I can think of few better questions to ask in order to assess whether our ministry strategies are faithful to Scripture.
You could put it like this: if there were no Holy Spirit, would your ministry work just as well?
What are you trying to accomplish in your ministry? Is that goal something that can be attained without the Holy Spirit?
What means are you using to carry out your ministry? Are they strategies and techniques that sociology, psychology, and common sense can fully explain? Or would your ministry methods prove utterly futile if the Holy Spirit didn’t sovereignly decide to work in and through them?
It’s easy to see, for example, how the promise of wealth will draw a crowd and convert them to your team. Same thing for the promise of better relationships, fewer conflicts, lower stress, or a better self-image. It’s easy to see how consummate presentation, engrossing music, and pleading appeals can generate adherents to whatever cause you’re promoting.
But none of these things need the Holy Spirit to make them work. All those strategies and messages can get along just fine without him.
SPIRIT-DEPENDENT MINISTRY IS WORD-DRIVEN MINISTRY
But let’s put this positively. What does ministry that depends on the Holy Spirit look like?
It looks like preaching to dead people and praying that the Holy Spirit would give life as only he can (Eph. 2:1-3). It looks like shining the light of the gospel as brightly as you can, and praying that the Spirit would give people eyes to see it (2 Cor. 4:6). It looks like aiming for things only the Holy Spirit can give to people: new loves, new hearts, new lives, new selves.
What means does the Holy Spirit use to give new life? God’s Word.
Therefore, Spirit-dependent ministry is by definition Word-centered and Word-driven ministry. Ministry that believes in the Holy Spirit trusts the Spirit-inspired Word to do the work God has promised it will do.
And to return to Wayland, he argues that such Spirit-dependent, Word-driven ministry will in fact fill churches:
If we preach in such a manner that the disciples of Christ are separate from the world, prayerful, humble, earnest, self-denying, and laboring for the conversion of men, the Spirit of God will be in the midst of them, and souls will be converted. The thing will be noised abroad. There is never an empty house where the Spirit of God is present.
Is there a Holy Spirit? There is, and he speaks through the Word. And when he speaks, the dead hear and rise to new life.
(To think more about ministry that depends upon the Spirit to bring new life, check out the new 9Marks Journal on conversion, especially the articles by Jonathan Leeman, Jeramie Rinne, and Owen Strachan.)
Preaching is a strange business. It requires you to stand up and speak with authority and pointed passion to people who may well be your intellectual and spiritual betters. But a man who has confidence in the word of God has everything he needs for the task. Here’s how Herman Bavinck put it:
For if a minister is not convinced of the divine truth of the word he preaches, his preaching loses all authority, influence, and power. If he is not able to bring a message from God, who then gives him the right to act on behalf of people of like nature with himself? Who gives him the freedom to put himself in the pulpit [a few feet] above them, to speak to them about the highest interest of their soul and life and even to proclaim to them their eternal weal or woe? Who would dare, who would be able to do this, unless he has a word of God to proclaim?
– Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1 (p. 461)
Here are 10 instructions for hearing God’s Word preached on Sunday from Thomas Watson (found on pages 129-130 of Sola Scriptura).
1. When you come to God’s house to hear His Word, do not forget to prepare your soul with prayer.
2. Come with a holy appetite for the Word (1 Peter 2:2). A good appetite promotes good digestion.
3. Come with a tender, teachable heart, asking “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” It is foolish to expect a blessing if you come with a hardened, worldly-minded heart.
4. Be attentive to the Word preached. Regard the sermon as it truly is–a matter of life and death (Deut. 32:47).
5. “Receive with meekness the engrafted word” (James 1:21). Meekness involves a submissive frame of heart, a willingness to hear the counsels and reproofs of the Word.
6. Mingle the preached Word with faith (Heb. 4:2). Put on Christ as He is preached (Rom. 13:14); apply the promises as they are spoken.
7. Strive to retain and pray over what you have heard. Don’t let the sermon run through your mind like water through a strainer.
8. Practice what you have heard. “Live out” the sermons you hear. Be doers and not merely hearers (James 1:22).
9. Beg God to accompany His Word with the effectual blessings of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44). Without the Spirit, the medicine of the Word may be swallowed, but it will not result in healing.
10. Familiarize yourself with what you have heard. When you come home, speak to your loved ones about the sermon in an edifying manner. Remember each sermon as if it will be the last you ever hear, for that may be the case.
(HT: Justin Childers)
When I feel my own poverty, my heart wandering, my head confused, graces languid, gifts apparently dormant; when I thus stand up with half a loaf, or less, before a multitude, and see the bread multiply in the breaking, and that, however it may be at the time with myself, as to my own feelings, the hungry, the thirsty, the mourners in Zion, are not wholly disappointed; when I find that some, in the depth of their outward afflictions, can rejoice in me, as the messenger by whom the Lord is pleased to send them a word in season, balm for their wounds, and cordials for their cases; then indeed I magnify mine office.
(HT: Tony Reinke)
Carl Trueman posts:
From JIP’s Collected Shorter Writings 4, pp. 84 and 87:
“In some way there was in the Doctor’s preaching thunder and lightning that no tape or transcription ever did or could capture — power, I mean, to mediate a realisation of God’s presence…. Nearly forty years on, it still seems to me that all I have ever known about preaching was given me in the winter of 1948-49, when I worshipped at Westminster Chapel with some regularity. Through the thunder and lightning, I felt and saw as never before the glory of Christ and of his gospel as modern man’s only lifeline and learned by experience why historic Protestantism looks on preaching as the supreme means of grace and of communion with God. Preaching, thus viewed and valued, was the centre of the Doctor’s life: into it he poured himself unstintingly; for it he pleaded untiringly…. Pulpit dramatics and rhetorical rhapsodies the Doctor despised and never indulged in; his concern was always with the flow of thought, and the emotion he expressed as he talked was simply the outward sign of passionate thinking…. He embodied and expressed ‘the glory’ — the glory of the God, of Christ, of grace, of the gospel, of the Christian ministry, of humanness according to the new creation — more richly than any man I have ever known. No man can give another a greater gift than a vision of such glory as this. I am forever in his debt.”
What then should a pastor do to promote a passion among his people to see God glorified by the in-gathering of his sheep from the thousands of unreached people groups around the world?
My answer: above everything else, be the kind of person and the kind of preacher whose theme and passion is the majesty of God. . . .
The most important thing I think pastors can do to arouse and sustain a passion for world evangelization is week in and week out to help their people see the crags and peaks and icy cliffs and snowcapped heights of God’s majestic character. And let me sharpen the point in two ways:
1. We should labor in our preaching to clear the mists and fog away from the sharp contours of the character of God. We should let him be seen in his majesty and sovereignty.
I know of one denominational official who, when asked how to preach on texts that seem strong on predestination or election or the sovereignty of grace, said something like, “O, I think you can preach on those texts without letting people know what you think. It’s possible to be sufficiently imprecise so that you don’t upset people.”
That attitude toward doctrine and preaching is the source of widespread weakness and shallowness in our churches. It is a tragedy when we believe that we are serving the cause of God by surrounding the peaks of his glory with a fog of ambiguity. If our people are ever going to have a global faith and a global vision we are going to have to stop hiding from them the biblical proportions of the majesty of God.
2. The majestic character of God needs to be seen week in and week out not in the context of casualness and triviality and Sunday morning slapstick, but in the context of exaltation and awe and solemnity and earnestness and intensity.
How will our people ever come to feel in their bones the awful magnitude of what is at stake in the eternal destiny of the unevangelized, if our homiletical maxim is to start with a joke and keep the people entertained with anecdotes along the way. How will the people ever come to know and feel the crags and peaks and snowcapped heights of God’s glory if our preaching and worship services are more like picnics in the valley than thunder on the ice face of Mt. Everest?
That’s the most important thing as I see it for arousing and sustaining a passion for the glory of God in world evangelization — week in and week out to help them see the majesty of the glory of God.
Excerpted from “A Pastor’s Role in World Missions” (1984).
Excellent post by Jonathan Leeman:
There are a lot of things a church should look for in its next pastor. But as your church considers different pastoral candidates, I want to make sure this is toward the top of your list: a supernatural faith in the power of God’s Word.
AS IMPORTANT ANY OTHER QUALITY
I’m not talking about a man who simply checks the belief box on the “authority” or “sufficiency” or “power” of the Bible.
I’m talking about a man who whose conviction here runs so deep that it profoundly influences the way he works and lives. He plans his weekly schedule based on this conviction. He rests his daily mood upon this conviction. He even picks his clothes in the morning knowing that, it’s not how good he looks that will bring life to the dead, it’s the resurrection power of God’s Word and Spirit.
This is as important as any other quality a pastor could have. It’s as important as swimming is to a lifeguard, throwing is to a quarterback, or adding is to an accountant. It defines the very task of what a pastor does.
THE POWER OF THE WORD
Humans create with hands, shovels, and bulldozers. Not God. God creates with words. He says, “Be,” and it is. He says “Peace” to the riotous wind and waves, and they obey. He says “Come forth” to dead people and their eyes pop open.
Just as astonishing, God tells the light to shine in dark hearts, giving them the ability to see the glory of his Son (2 Cor. 4:6). His Word of power saves (Rom. 10:17). It fundamentally changes people (1 Thess. 1:5-7). It gives the new birth (1 Peter 1:23).
Now get this: God gives his faithful servants the ability to do the same things. “If anyone speaks, she should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” (1 Peter 4:11). This is why Don Carson calls preaching “re-revelation.” A preacher’s primary task is to say again what God has already said. Did you think life comes to the dead through the power of our intelligence or humor or charisma?
Picture Ezekiel standing in a valley of dry bones. He preaches God’s Word, God’s Spirit blows, and the bones come to life. Your church wants a pastor who believes—deep in his bones!—that the same supernatural power is available to him. POW! He doesn’t rely on “the weapons of the world” but on “divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). KAZAMM!
WHY THIS IS CRITICAL
Why is this critical for who your church should look for in a pastor search?
- It will keep him from manipulating. Paul said he “renounced secret and shameful ways” but instead “set forth the truth plainly” (2 Cor. 4:2). If a man believes that the Word alone is powerful to save, that’s what he’ll do—preach plainly and not try to emotionally manipulate.
- It will keep him from building your church and your spiritual life on his personality. Paul wasn’t a “trained speaker” with an impressive resume, like the “super-apostles.” He just preached Jesus, the Spirit, and the gospel (2 Cor. 11:4-5). Likewise, you want a man who is a good steward of his gifts, doesn’t rely on or trust his gifts to give life. He plants and waters, but relies on God to give the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). Men who build on their personalities have churches filled with nominal Christians.
- It will keep him happy. A man who trusts God to save by his Word and Spirit is a man who can sleep at night, because it doesn’t finally depend on him. This is a happy man who probably has a happy wife and children because he spends time with them. He doesn’t carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. This is a man who won’t burn out as easily and will serve your church for years.
- It’s the primary means to your growth and your church’s growth. It’s through the words of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that God’s people become prepared for works of service “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).
- It’s your best hope of reaching non-Christian neighbors. “Faith comes from hearing the message,” says Paul (Rom. 10:17). Can the message be proclaimed through special programs and events? Of course. But you want a man who recognizes that it’s the regular, weekly “in season, out of season” work of “great patience and careful instruction” that saves the lost and builds up the saints—you want a man who “does the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:2-5).
HOW CAN YOU TELL?
How do you know if a pastoral candidate has these convictions?
- Consider what he’s excited about. Does he make good but secondary things primary?
- Ask him about his philosophy of preaching.
- Ask him what his last ten sermons were.
- Ask what he could imagine preaching in the first year at your church.
- Ask about his personal evangelism and personal discipleship of Christians. What role does the Word play?
- Look for evidences of patience. A man who believes in the power of God’s Word will be a patient man, not someone who insists on quick, visible results.
Trevin Wax interviews David Platt and discusses God-centered preaching:
Trevin Wax: How does God-centered preaching lead to passion for evangelism?
David Platt: The gospel begins and ends with God. He is the holy, just, and gracious Creator of the universe who has sent His Son, God in the flesh, to bear His wrath against sin on the cross and to show His power over sin in the resurrection so that everyone who believes in Christ will be reconciled to God forever. And this is the gospel that we proclaim in evangelism.
So how do we best lead and shepherd God’s people to evangelize? By giving them a grand understanding of God. In preaching, we unfold the character of God: His holiness, His justice, His grace, and all of His other breath-taking attributes. As we magnify His Word, people behold His glory. And they believe, deep within their minds and their hearts, that God is great and greatly to be praised. In the process, this becomes the ultimate motivation for evangelism. The more the people I pastor see God’s worth, the more they want to make His worth known in the world.
So week after week after week, as I stand before them with God’s Word, I want to show them God’s worth. As they hear His Word and they see His worth, they will lay down their lives to make the good news of God’s grace and glory known to the people around them and people groups around the world. God-centered, gospel-saturated preaching is great fuel for Christ-honoring, world-embracing evangelism.
(HT: Darryl Dash)
(HT: Dane Ortlund)
Justin Taylor reasons (along with the Apostle Paul!):
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?
Break it down into simple theo-logical propositions and it looks like this:
- No one can call upon Jesus if he doesn’t believe in Jesus.
- No one can believe Jesus or believe in Jesus if he hasn’t heard Jesus or heard of Jesus.
- No one can hear Jesus or hear of Jesus if no one preaches Jesus to him.
- No one can preach Jesus to the unreached unless he is sent.
One implication: if you care about people hearing the gospel, believing in Jesus, and calling upon his name—especially where he is not yet named (Rom. 15:20)—then you cannot be indifferent to the twin tasks of “going and telling” and/or “supporting and sending.”
“And [Jesus] said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Luke 10:2).
“You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 1:6).
I like this from Nancy Leigh DeMoss: How to Get the Most Out of Your Pastor’s Preaching. Can’t help but think that this active (as opposed to passive, or non-preparation) preparation would yield far greater fruit in discipleship, and conversions, week by week.
My thanks to Colin Adams for this.
Here’s the abbreviated outline:
Before the service
1. Pray for your pastor as he prepares for Sunday.
2. Take time during the week to read ahead and meditate on the text.
3. Prepare for public worship the night before.
4. Ask God to prepare your heart for the preaching of the Word.
5. Ask God to give you a sense of anticipation.
During the service
1. Participate—you need to be there.
2. Spend a few minutes before the service quietly preparing your heartfor worship.
3. Don’t be a spectator.
4. Open your Bible and follow along.
5. Listen attentively to the reading and the preaching of the Word.
6. Listen humbly to the preaching of the Word.
7. Take notes.
8. Don’t make your pastor a prisoner of unrealistic expectations.
After the service
1. Ask God to give you at least one takeaway from the message.
2. Discuss the message with others.
3. Be a doer of the Word and not just a hearer (James 1:22).
Making It Personal
- Do you highly esteem, respect, and reverence the Word of God (Neh. 8:5; Ps. 138:2)?
- Do you prepare your heart to hear the Word of God (Ps. 119:18)?
- Do you find delight in hearing the Word proclaimed?
- Do you listen attentively when the Word is being read or preached (Neh. 8:3; Ps. 85:8)?
- Do you expect God to speak to you every time you hear His Word proclaimed?
- Do you have a teachable spirit (Ps. 25:9)?
- Do you tremble at the Word of the Lord (Isa. 66:2; Ezra 9:4)?
- Do you pray for those who proclaim the Word to you, that they might be pure, anointed vessels of God (1 Thess. 5:25)?
- When the Word is preached, are you conscious that you are not listening to the words of men but to the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13)?
- Do you have a commitment to obey anything God shows you from His Word (Matt. 7:24; James 1:22–25)?
- Do you respond in faith, that is, acting on the Word you have heard (Heb. 4:2)?
- Is your heart good soil that receives the Word and produces fruit (Luke 8:15)?
- Are you willing to let the message sit in judgment of you rather than you sitting in judgment of the message?
- Do you take the message personally (James 1:22)? Or are you more focused on how it applies to the people sitting near you?
- Do you pass on to others what you’ve learned from the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:2)?
- Do you express appreciation and gratitude for those who minister the Word of God to you (Gal. 6:6; 1 Thess. 5:12-13)?
Read the entire post with explanations here.
Carl Trueman writes:
Preaching on 1 Timothy 1:16-17 on Sunday, I was struck by a number of things. First, doctrine and worship go together. Doctrine may often seem a dry word but in fact it is simply the description of who God is and how he has acted. As Paul reflects in 1 Tim. 1 upon how God has dealt with him, his language becomes exuberant and he speaks of God’s grace `overflowing’ towards him. Then, able to contain himself no more, he bursts into a doxology. This is hardly surprising. The description of God’s actions should naturally call forth worship; and here Paul offers a paradigm of a worshipful response in which he ascribes to God glory and honour, i.e., that to which God’s person and actions entitle him. Paul’s praise is doctrinal in origin and doctrinal in content. To state what should be obvious, praise and worship that is neither is simply not praise and worship as the Bible would understand it.
Yet there is surely more here: the relationship between doctrine and worship in the structure of Paul’s letters allows us to infer that doctrine which does not lead to praise is not really true in the richest sense of the word. Teaching of doctrine and appropriate response to the same are inextricably tied together such that the former should really terminate in the latter.
Sadly, this is not always the case. I was talking to a friend recently who told me of a Sunday school class on providence which he had attended. The presentation, while precise and correct at the level of formulation, left my friend cold. Nothing of the glory or the grace or the mercy or the patience of God had been conveyed in the presentation. There was nothing to call forth a response of praise and adoration.
Now, we need to be wary of being fooled by aesthetics or of rooting truth simply in the reader’s response. Many an inspiring presentation has no doubt been carried along by fancy rhetoric despite a complete lack of content. Yet this does not mean that form is not important. That is one of the reasons why the Bible contains a variety of literary genres. This also carries over into teaching: the man who can regularly teach on things like providence and send his audience away cold or indifferent needs to ask himself if the problem is with the audience or with himself. Is he really qualified to teach in the church if he makes the deep, mysterious and glorious things of God into so much bland tedium? It is hard to imagine Paul speaking on such a topic as providence and not bursting forth in that praise which ascribes honour and glory to God. It is harder still to imagine him sending his audience away cold or indifferent: he might provoke them to anger or to awe maybe; to coldness or indifference, never.
The other aspect of this doctrine-worship connection is that, if doctrine which does not culminate in praise is not true doctrine, then praise which is not a response to true doctrine is not true praise. Praise and worship – the ascription to God of the honour and glory which is his – is a response to knowing who he is and what he has done. It is provoked and shaped by the description of God which the teacher gives. Anything else which calls itself worship, whether traditional or contemporary, whether exhilarating or soothing, is not worship. It is merely an aesthetic experience which helps to achieve a certain psychological or emotional state. I remember at college I would often hear people talk of this church as being great at doctrine and that church as being great at worship. That showed a false dichotomy. One cannot really be good at one and not the other, for they are intimately and inseparably connected.
This is why Bible reading and good preaching are critical in a worship service. If they are absent, then there is nothing to which to respond, nothing which provokes the doxological reaction we see in Paul in 1 Timothy 1. The same applies to worship in the home and on our own. Reading the Bible and reflecting upon who God is and what he has done are basic. These are the necessary foundations for all Christian devotion. Doctrine should be a joyous thing, driving us to our knees in praise and gratitude again and again. We must never forget that.
So, elders should make sure they fire consistently boring teachers and preachers (making providence, for example, as dull as ditch water is false teaching as sure as open theism is); and congregations should connect their acts of praise and worship to the declaration of God’s wonderful acts about which they hear from the pulpit.
“A strangely fascinating power is exerted by those who are utterly sincere. Such believers attract unbelievers, as with the case of David Hume, the eighteenth-century British deistic philosopher who rejected historic Christianity. A friend once met him hurrying along a London street and asked him where he was going. Hume replied that he was going to hear George Whitefield preach. ‘But surely,’ his friend asked in astonishment, ‘you don’t believe what Whitefield preaches, do you?’ ‘No, I don’t,’ answered Hume, ‘but he does.’
I am convinced that in our day simple sincerity has not lost any of its power to appeal or to impress. It was in 1954 that Billy Graham first hit the headlines in Britain, with his Greater London Crusade. Approximately 12,000 people came to the Haringay Arena every night for three months. Most nights I was there myself, and as I looked round that vast crowd, I could not help comparing it with our half-empty churches. ‘Why do these people come to listen to Billy Graham,’ I asked myself, ‘when they don’t come to listen to us?’ Now I am sure that many answers could have been justly given to that question. But the answer I kept giving myself was this: ‘There is an incontrovertible sincerity about that young American evangelist. Even his fiercest critics all concede that he is sincere. I really believe he is the first transparently sincere Christian preacher many of these people have ever heard.’ Today, twenty-five years later, I have found no reason to change my mind.”
John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Grand Rapids, 1982), pages 269-270.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
From John Piper:
The difference between an entertainment-oriented preacher and a Bible-oriented preacher is the manifest connection of the preacher’s words to the Bible as what authorizes what he says.
The entertainment-oriented preacher seems to be at ease talking about many things that are not drawn out of the Bible. In his message, he seems to enjoy more talking about other things than what the Bible teaches. His words seem to have a self-standing worth as interesting or fun. They are entertaining. But they don’t give the impression that this man stands as the representative of God before God’s people to deliver God’s message.
The Bible-oriented preacher, on the other hand, does see himself that way — “I am God’s representative sent to God’s people to deliver a message from God.” He knows that the only way a man can dare to assume such a position is with a trembling sense of unworthy servanthood under the authority of the Bible. He knows that the only way he can deliver God’s message to God’s people is by rooting it in and saturating it with God’s own revelation in the Bible.
From Jonathan Parnell:
Charles Spurgeon writes,
. . . the real reason why God’s people do not feed under a gospel ministry, is, because they have not faith. If you believed, if you did but hear one promise, that would be enough; if you only heard one good thing from the pulpit here would be food for your soul, for it is not the quantity we hear, but the quantity we believe, that does us good—it is that which we receive into our hearts with true and lively faith, that is our profit (excerpted from “The Sin of Unbelief“).
The massive consumerism of our age has taught us to be critical. We are constantly confronted with options—from allergy medicines to zero-calorie soft drinks. We examine and test and compare, ultimately landing on the preference of our personal market. This isn’t necessarily bad, except that we often fail to check this mindset at the door of the Church’s corporate gatherings.
Everything about the worship service can become a target set before the scope of our critical eyes. And we dismiss those things that fail to meet the status of our personal market, complaining as if it were a bad cup of coffee. The real problem—you know, of course—is not the details of corporate worship. It’s us. It’s what Spurgeon says: we lack faith.
Whether we benefit from the worship service depends on if we “receive into our hearts with a true and lively faith” the things that are spoken, sung, and preached. Take Spurgeon’s words to heart and pray for the Spirit’s help. May you gather this weekend in faith, eager to hear from God.
From Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book Preaching and Preachers:
But, ultimately, my reason for being very ready to give these lectures is that to me the work of preaching is the highest and greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called. If you want something in addition to that I would say without any hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also. (9)
We are here to preach this Word, this it the first thing, ‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’ Now there are the priorities laid down once and for ever. This is the primary task of the Church, the primary task of the leaders of the Church, the people who are sit in this position of authority; and we must not allow anything to deflect us from this, however good the cause, however great the need. This is surely the direct answer to much of the false thinking and reasoning concerning these matters at the present time. (23)
(HT: Kevin DeYoung)
“One is unlikely to assert that we are justified by sanctification, but, whether done intentionally or not, that is what happens when we allow the teaching of Christian living, ethical imperatives, and exhortations to holiness to be separated from and to take the place of the clear statement of the gospel. We can preach our hearts out on texts about what we ought to be, what makes a mature church, or what the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives, but if we do not constantly, in every sermon, show the link between the Spirit’s work in us to Christ’s work for us, we will distort the message and send people away with a natural theology of salvation by works. Preaching from the epistles demands of the preacher that the message of the document be taken as a whole even if only a selection of texts, or just one verse, is to be expounded. Every sermon should be understandable on its own as a proclamation of Christ. It is no good to say that we dealt with the justification element three weeks ago and now we are following Paul into the imperatives and injunctions for Christian living. Paul wasn’t anticipating a three-week gap between his exposition of the gospel and his defining of the implications of the gospel in our lives. Nor was he anticipating that some people would not be present for the reading of the whole epistle and would hear part of its message out of context.”
Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching The Whole Bible As Christian Scripture, p. 237
(HT: John Fonville)