- does justice to the biblical material which makes it clear that God works through his word to change people’s lives—as it ‘uncages the lion’ and allows God’s word to speak.
- acknowledges that it is God alone, through the Spirit, who works in people’s lives, and that it is not our job to change people through clever or inspiring communication.
- minimizes the danger of manipulating people, because the text itself controls what we say and how we say it. The Bible leaves little room for us to return repeatedly to our current bugbears and hobbyhorses.
- minimizes the danger of abusing power, because a sermon driven by the text creates an instant safeguard against using the Bible to bludgeon (or caress) people into doing or thinking what we want them to do or think.
- removes the need to rely on our personality. While we all feel the weight, at times, of having little ‘inspiration’, energy or creativity, if our focus is on allowing the immense richness of Scripture to speak in all its colour and variety, the pressure is well and truly off.
- encourages humility in those teaching. While it can be a temptation to think that we are somehow special because we are standing at the front doing most of the talking (and, on a good day, receiving the encouragement), getting it straight that the key to preaching to the heart is simply uncovering the power and freshness of God’s words helps to keep us in our place.
- helps us to avoid simple pragmatism. If our focus is on working consistently to enable people to encounter the God who speaks through the text, we will not feel under pressure to address every single issue and topic as it comes up in the life of the church. Conversely, working through the Bible week by week will force us to cover subjects that we wouldn’t choose to address in a million years. In other words, expository preaching is the simplest, longest-lasting antidote we have to pragmatism.
- drives us to preaching the gospel. As we’ll see in more detail in chapter 5, expository preaching is also uniquely valuable in that it persistently drives us to the Lord Jesus Christ (wherever we are in the Bible) and so ‘forces’ us to preach the gospel—that is, to spell out what God has already done for us in the death and resurrection of his Son, and then to move from that grace to what God asks and enables us to do. When we preach the gospel we are not simply telling people how to be good or leaving them to wallow in the overwhelming sense that they are irredeemably bad.
Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. 1 Thessalonians 1:5
“Paul knew he was clothed with power and authority. How does one know it? It gives clarity of thought, clarity of speech, ease of utterance, a great sense of authority and confidence as you are preaching, an awareness of a power not your own thrilling through the whole of your being, and an indescribable sense of joy. . . .
What about the people? They sense it at once; they can tell the difference immediately. They are gripped, they become serious, they are convicted, they are moved, they are humbled. Some are convicted of sin, others are lifted up to the heavens, anything may happen to any one of them. They know at once that something quite unusual and exceptional is happening. . . .
What then are we to do about this? There is only one obvious conclusion. Seek Him! Seek Him! What can we do without Him? Seek Him! Seek Him always. But go beyond seeking Him; expect Him. Do you expect anything to happen when you get up to preach in a pulpit? Or do you just say to yourself, ‘Well, I have prepared my address, I am going to give them this address; some of them will appreciate it and some will not’? Are you expecting it to be the turning point in someone’s life? Are you expecting anyone to have a climactic experience? That is what preaching is meant to do. That is what you find in the Bible and in the subsequent history of the church. Seek this power, expect this power, yearn for this power; and when the power comes, yield to Him. Do not resist. Forget all about your sermon if necessary. Let Him loose you, let Him manifest His power in you and through you.”
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids, 1971), pages 324-325.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
Are you afraid that preaching the gospel will not win souls? Are you despondent as to success in God’s way? Is this why you pine for clever oratory? Is this why you must have music, and architecture, and flowers and millinery? After all, is it by might and power, and not by the Spirit of God? It is even so in the opinion of many.
Brethren beloved, there are many things which I might allow to other worshippers which I have denied myself in conducting the worship of this congregation. I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years? I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life!
In this house we have proved successfully, these many years, this great truth, that the gospel plainly preached will gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church. We beseech the people of God to mark that there is no need to try doubtful expedients and questionable methods. God will save by the gospel still: only let it be the gospel in its purity. This grand old sword will cleave a man’s chine [i.e., spine], and split a rock in halves.
How is it that it does so little of its old conquering work? I will tell you. Do you see the scabbard of artistic work, so wonderfully elaborated? Full many keep the sword in this scabbard, and therefore its edge never gets to its work. Pull off that scabbard. Fling that fine sheath to Hades, and then see how, in the Lord’s hands, that glorious two-handed sword will mow down fields of men as mowers level the grass with their scythes.
There is no need to go down to Egypt for help. To invite the devil to help Christ is shameful. Please God, we shall see prosperity yet, when the church of God is resolved never to seek it except in God’s own way.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1888, vol. 34, p. 563
(HT: Justin Taylor)
“God teaches both outwardly and inwardly at the same time. Christ reserves his authority to himself and does not transfer it to any other, ‘so that he might stand idly by as a spectator while his ministers work.’ Yet when they do what their Lord commands, they may be said to open the kingdom to the obedient and shut it to the disobedient. . . .
Such a conjunction between the work of the Spirit and human ministry suggests how congregations should honor the latter. ‘As we receive the true ministers of the Word of God as messengers and ambassadors of God, it is necessary to listen to them as to God himself’ (Genevan Confession 20). The first chapter of the Second Helvetic Confession deals with Scripture as the true Word of God. . . . ‘When this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed and received by the faithful.’ As the sub-heading puts it, in a memorable phrase, ‘The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.’”
David F. Wright, “Word, Ministry and Congregation in the Reformation Confessions,” in Pulpit & People, edited by Nigel Cameron and Sinclair Ferguson (Edinburgh, 1986), page 48. Italics original.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)
Do you have a communication gifting? Have others commented on how well you speak or write? Do you find yourself dreaming about using your gifts in ministry? Wonderful! We are praying for more herald-labors in the gospel harvest (Matthew 9:38). Consider it strongly.
But as you consider, consider this:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)
When it comes to people being saved, it all hangs on what they believe. So when it comes to teaching, heaven and hell are in the balance. What you teach people really, really matters. You will be judged by what comes out of your mouth and your keyboard. And you will be judged more strictly than others.
Teaching is serious business. The Holy Spirit even limits his activity based on what teachers teach (or don’t teach). In Acts 19:1–7, Paul found a group of twelve Christians in Ephesus who had been presumably taught by Apollos before he had a correct understanding of baptism or the ministry of the Holy Spirit. When Paul asked them “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” they answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So he asked them, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” So Paul promptly taught them correctly, baptized them, and laid hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit and “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”
Teachers tremble: the Holy Spirit withheld blessing from these believers until they were taught correctly.
Why didn’t the sovereign Spirit simply overcome Apollos’s good intentioned but deficient teaching and fill these disciples right away? Because God’s design is that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Jesus is the Word (John 1:1) and the truth (John 14:6). The Spirit honors the word of Christ because he is the “Spirit of truth” (1 John 4:6). Like he did for Cornelius in Acts 10, the Spirit may draw or direct people to where they will hear the word of Christ, but he will wait for the word of Christ to be preached or taught (Romans 10:15) before he grants the blessing of it. To the degree the word of God is taught deficiently, the blessing of it is withheld. And the teachers will be held accountable for the blessing they withheld from their hearers.
So if you want to be a teacher, wonderful! Teachers are precious gifts to the church (Ephesians 4:11). But take Paul’s warning very seriously: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Let’s do this inductively. I ask. You answer.
John 3:17, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
- Why did God send his Son? _______________
John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
- Does not obeying the Son (e. g., when he commands us to trust him) bring us under God’s wrath or leave us under his wrath? _______________
- So what did God send his Son to save us from? _______________
- Is this a felt need among the unbelievers you know? _______________
- What are the implications for the content of preaching and evangelism? ____________
In his book on Acts, Alan Thompson notes five characteristics of apostolic evangelistic preaching (90-99). These five features serve as good models for all types of preaching, both then and now.
1. God-centered. The sermons in Acts begin with God. They announce the good news of what God has promised, what God has done, and what God will do. The preaching is not centered around the felt-needs of the audience, but around the mighty acts of God in history. The emphasis is on God’s initiative and how we are accountable to him.
2. Audience-conscious. While the preaching begins with God, it is not ignorant of those to whom the sermon is delivered. We see throughout Acts evidence of audience adaptation and sensitivity to what the audience already knows or doesn’t know. The sermons do not unfold as canned messages with a series of doctrinal propositions. The preaching is deeply theological, but not at the expense of be careful to communicate that theology in a way that is understandable. The core content stays the same, but the starting point and type of final appeal may change.
3. Christ-focused. Though God is often portrayed at the main actor in history, the preaching in Acts is relentlessly focused on Christ. The sermons highlight the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. They also explain the theological significance of these events. Christ is proclaimed as the climax of redemptive history and the good news for today’s sinners.
4. Response-oriented. The preaching in Acts is not response-driven. That is, we never see messages crafted or delivered in such a way as to manipulate a desired response. But the preaching always called for a response. This is often the difference between faithful teaching and anointed preaching. The apostles not only taught about God and Christ, they peppered their preaching with promises and warnings. Specifically, they called people to faith in Christ and repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5. Boldness. The noun form of “boldness” is used five times in Acts and the verb form is used seven times (out of a total of nine in the NT). If there was one distinctive homiletical trademark of apostolic preaching it was boldness. In the context of much hostility, the apostles were often granted a unique freedom to preach Christ with exceptional clarity. In an age like ours with increasing opposition to Christianity and Christian claims, it is imperative that preachers reclaim this mantle of boldness. Preachers should not be obnoxious or obtuse, but we must question our approach to preaching if we are not willing “to be clear in the face of fear” (97).
If you’re interested, here are my sermons preached at Frinton Mission last week.
My theme was The Goal of the Gospel – what it is, how it works, and why it’s important:
In a day when many pastors are downplaying serious study of God’s word and the necessary time for their own sermon preparation, I found this quote from Andrew Perves bracing and prophetic:
To ministers let me say this as strongly as I can. Preach Christ, preach Christ, preach Christ.
Get out of your offices and get into your studies.
Quit playing office manager and program director, quit staffing committees, and even right now recommit yourselves to what you were ordained to do, namely the ministry of the Word and sacraments.
Pick up good theology books again: hard books, classical texts, great theologians.
Claim the energy and time to study for days and days at a time.
Disappear for long hours because you are reading Athanasius on the person of Jesus Christ or Wesley on sanctification or Augustine on the Trinity or Calvin on the Christian life or Andrew Murray on the priesthood of Christ. Then you will have something to say that’s worth hearing.
Remember that exegesis is for preaching and teaching; it has no other use.
So get out those tough commentaries and struggle in depth with the texts.
Let most of what you do be dominated by the demands of the sermon as if your whole life and reason for being is to preach Christ, because it is.
Claim a new authority for the pulpit, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, over you and your people.
Commit yourself again to ever more deeply becoming a careful preacher of Christ.
Don’t preach to grow your congregation; preach to bear witness to what the Lord is doing, and let him grow your church.
Dwell in him, abide in him, come to know him ever more deeply and convertedly.
Tell the people what he has to say to them, what he is doing among them and within them, and what it is he wants them to share in.
He is up to something in your neighborhood, if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
Develop a christological hermeneutic for all you do and say. Why? Because there is no other name, that’s why.
Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ (IVP, 2007), 44-45.
From Justin Childers:
Here is a post with some great quotes supporting these ten reminders:
1. Effective ministry consists not of fads or gimicks, but of faithfully preaching the truth.
2. Preaching is a far more serious task than most preachers realize.
3. Faithfulness in the pulpit begins with the pursuit of personal holiness.
4. Powerful preaching flows from powerful prayer.
5. Passionate preaching starts with one’s passion for Christ.
6. The preacher is a herald, not an innovator.
7. The faithful preacher stays focused on what matters.
8. The preacher’s task is to make the text come alive for his hearers.
9. The preacher is to be Christ-exalting, not self-promoting.
10. Faithful preaching requires great personal discipline and sacrifice.
Read the post here, including the quotations.
“St Paul expected his hearers to be moved. He so believed in his preaching that he knew that it was “the power of God unto salvation” [Rom. 1:16]. This expectation is a very real part of the presentation of the Gospel. It is a form of faith. A mere preaching which is not accompanied by the expectation of faith, is not a true preaching of the Gospel, because faith is a part of the Gospel. Simply to scatter the seed, with a sort of vague hope that some of it may come up somewhere, is not preaching the gospel. It is indeed a misrepresentation of the gospel. To preach the Gospel requires that the preacher should believe that he is sent to those whom he is addressing at the moment, because God has among them those whom He is at the moment calling: it requires that the speaker should expect a response.”
—Roland Allen, Missionary Methods—St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962), p. 74.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
I have been preaching Christ for nearly forty years, and in the contemplation of him I am more and more filled with wonder, admiration, and joy. Perhaps this may have given some new freshness, and power and unction to my preaching. ‘O, that I all but knew him!’ In Christ there is a beauty that is unspeakable; there are wonders which human language cannot describe. If I may say so, in Christ there is a an ocean of wonders. For, how wonderful, that he who was so rich, for our sakes became poor–so poor as to have no place to lay his head. How wonderful, that he who, in heaven, is the Savior of all, should for our sakes on earth, become a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief!…This has been the principal theme of all my sermons, and hence what some are pleased to call the ‘remarkable success’ which has crowned my preaching. And to God be all the praise!
Daniel Baker. Quoted in Douglas Kelley, Preachers With Power, p. 36
(HT: Justin Buzzard)
R.C. Sproul on the Difference Between Teaching and Preaching:
Like prose and poetry, these two terms are better understood as opposite ends of a spectrum, rather than raw opposites. When we write prose we are given to sundry poetic devices, word-plays, metaphors, etc. and when we write poetry we are communicating information. In like manner it is rather difficult if not impossible to teach without preaching to some degree, or to preach without some level of teaching.
One way to illustrate the distinction however is to note the difference between the indicative and the imperative. The former tells us what is, the latter tells us what we’re supposed to do. Teaching, obviously, tends toward the indicative while preaching tends toward the imperative. But what if we made the distinction absolute? Would not any teaching utterly bereft of any imperative cause us to yawn, to reply, “So what?” In like manner, were we to drain preaching of all indicative, and be left with only imperative, would we not have sermons that merely shout, “Do something!”? Would it not end up sound and fury, signifying nothing?
Which means, in the end, that these are each matters of degree. I am blessed to be able to teach at Reformation Bible College. Because my desire for my students is that they would grow in grace and wisdom it is not my design to merely download information from my brain to theirs. My classes therefore tend to follow a real, though unplanned pattern. It usually happens that I spend roughly two thirds of my class time giving and explaining information. Then, in the final third of class I tend to commence to preaching. I begin to exhort my students to live in light of what they have learned, to change their perspectives, and their lives. I begin to implore them to change their hearts.
I am blessed also, though not as often as I would like to be, to preach. Here I certainly have an obligation, as best as I am able, to explain the text. I seek to place the text in its historical context. I try to clear up any grammatical ambiguities, or translation issues. But, persuaded that the Bible is not some odd and mysterious book that isn’t eminently understandable, believing that our problems are more moral than intellectual, that we are more foolish than stupid, I exhort the congregation to believe, to trust, to rejoice, to give thanks, to love, to forgive. Every Sunday when I am blessed to preach I walk into the pulpit not only hoping to be true to the text, but hoping to encourage growth in godliness. I want the flock to go away persuaded that in Christ they are beloved of the Father, and that Jesus changes everything.
We who are Reformed tend to be stronger teachers than preachers. The non-Reformed tend to be stronger preachers than teachers. We agree with the Bible, but remain unmoved by it. They are quick to be moved, but not always by the Bible. The Bible is not just filled with truth. It is filled with truth that ought to change us. It isn’t enough that we are taught the Bible. We need the Bible preached.
“What a wonderful open door God has placed before the church of today. A pagan world, weary and sick, often distrusting its own modern gods. A saving gospel strangely entrusted to us unworthy messengers. A divine Book with unused resources of glory and power. Ah, what a marvelous opportunity, my brethren!”
J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent (Edinburgh, 1982), page 154.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
“There is no inconsistency between believing that God has a special sovereign love before the foundation of the world that is efficacious and brings in all the Body of Christ and that there is too love for all men, and that no man knows to which of those loves he has been brought until he is converted. In other words, it is the love of God in Christ that is proclaimed. And theoretical problems about how is this consistent with that, and so on, are not really our concern. And ultimately, we don’t even know the answer to that. So, Robert Candlish (1806-1873), another Free Church divine, says, ‘We don’t preach a limited atonement or a universal atonement. We preach a saving Christ.’ And when people come to Christ, then they find they have been redeemed and his blood has been shed for them.”
Rev. Iain Murray, in a 9 Marks interview with Dr. Mark Dever.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
According to James Durham, in his Spurgeon-acclaimed work Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53, Jesus stands in fourfold relation to preaching.
First, all preaching is to explain him. If it does not explain him, it falls short and “that preaching, which stands not in relation to him, is beside the text and mark.” (74)
Second, he is the foundation of all preaching and “preaching without him lacks a foundation, and is the building, as it were, of a castle in the air” (74).
Third, he is the great end of preaching. Durham states that hearers must “have him known in their judgments” and “have him high in their hearts and affections” (75).
Fourth and final, he stands in relation to preaching as its life and power. Without him, says Durham, “no preaching can be effectual, no soul can be captivated and brought to him.” (75)
(Durham, James. Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53. Dallas: Napthali Press, 2007. Print.)
(HT: Jude St.John)
Probably the most important sermon on missions preached in years.
David Platt at Together for the Gospel last week:
Brethren, weigh your sermons. Do not retail them by the yard, but deal them out by the pound. Set no store by the quantity of words which you utter, but strive to be esteemed for the quality of your matter. It is foolish to be lavish in words and niggardly in truth. - C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, p. 71
There is no intrinsic value in an overlong sermon. Nor is there anything to boast about that a congregation has become conditioned to endure them. What constitutes a long sermon is a relative term anyway, isn’t it? In any case, a long-winded preacher is just as capable of wispy words as a short-winded one. Likewise, a short sermon is just as capable of filling a room with hot air as is a long one. Twenty minutes of gospel power would do far more for a congregation than forty minutes of gospel lite. Likewise, forty minutes of Biblical exhortation would hold the attention of God’s people far more than twenty minutes of pointless patter.
Sometimes congregations expect preachers to keep it short, and those congregations need to be conditioned over time to allow longer expositions. But sometimes preachers value sermon length as an end in itself, and they may need to measure their sermons more by the pound than by the yard.
A final word from Spurgeon:
Do not overload a sermon with too much matter. All truth is not to be comprised in one discourse. Sermons are not to be bodies of divinity. There is such a thing as having too much to say, and saying it till hearers are sent home loathing rather than longing. An old minister walking with a young preacher, pointed to a cornfield, and observed, “Your last sermon had too much in it, and it was not clear enough, or sufficiently well-arranged; it was like that field of wheat, it contained much crude food, but none fit for use. You should make your sermons like a loaf of bread, fit for eating, and in convenient form.” - C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, p. 77