Better Preaching: A Matter of Faithfulness

Preaching is the primary business of the church.  It remains front-and-center in Christian worship because it demonstrates that God still speaks through His word. The act of preaching the Bible points the congregation to the only authoritative source for knowing God.  Unfortunately, the grand nature of communicating truth is not always reflected in the content of the sermons and the behavior of the preachers.  Often, humanistic philosophy, personal anecdotes, and fraternal qualifiers replace scripture for content, and shocking examples of sensationalism and gimmickry masquerade as the power of God. 
Our belief in the inspiration and preservation of the scripture should keep us committed to the practice of expounding the word of God faithfully.  The conviction that we have God’s words written down (scripture) should demand that we always seek to preach them (2 Tim. 3:14-17).  In doing so, we succeed in our efforts to preach faithfully and to fail to do so, we fail to preach at all.

Better preaching requires faithfulness.  Great preaching can be accomplished without intellectualism, entertaining personalities, and highly developed delivery techniques.  However, great preaching will remain an endangered species without faithfulness.  One of the salient verses in scripture concerning ministerial faithfulness is found in Paul’s dissertation to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:24:

But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

This kind of faithfulness was described by John Gill, as, “to testify the gospel of the grace of God, to profess and preach it, to bear a constant and public testimony to it at death, as in life, and faithfully to declare it, and assert it to the last.”  Concerning Paul’s commitment to preaching with faithfulness, John Phillips said, “Paul…looked at life from a higher perspective than most of us.  Self-preservation was not high on his list of priorities (Exploring Acts, p. 403).”  If one is willing to be faithful unto death, certainly nothing will deter him from preaching faithfully.  In contrast, who would die for humanistic anecdotes and syllogisms?

  1. Humility
Humility is the opposite of pride (Pr. 6:3; 16:19; 29:23) and consists of lowliness of mind - a proper self-assessment.  Pride is haughty, high-minded self-interest, which is a sure killer of faithfulness in preaching.  J. I. Packer, called pride the number-one occupational hazard for the preacher.  When we begin to preach and promote self, the biblical perspective will be lost and the power gone, or, as Spurgeon said, “You will never glory in God till first of all God has killed your glorying in yourself.”  Acts 20 is clear - Paul lived for God and others, not himself.  He served “the Lord with all humility of mind” (v. 19), he did not count his life dear unto himself (v. 24), and he frequently warned “with tears” (v. 31).  It is difficult to imagine Paul discouraged because the church forgot his birthday.  Paul was satisfied by the truth that God alone stood with him (2 Tim. 4:17).
Historically, humility has been considered an obvious prerequisite to ministerial success.  Lowliness of mind is expected in a man of God.  While we all have encountered those top-heavy, self-ascribed dignitaries who are proud of their virtue, we must not allow their oft’ intimidating  pretense to dissuade us from pursuing humility.  In spite of clear scriptural rebukes for pride such as, “the Lord will destroy the proud,” and “every one that is of a proud heart is an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 16:5; 16:25), preachers are often more peacock that plow mule.  Many would rather strut than serve.  Hubris, even bullying, and belligerence is preferred by some over sound exposition and charitable application.  It is so bad in certain circles that preachers even boast of their willingness to fight other preachers.  It would be funny if it were not so humiliating. The obvious pitfall is to assume that fruitfulness in preaching is predicated upon the exaltation of the preacher.  This colossal error has caused many to take refuge in the misinterpretation of verses such as…

  • “The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord’s anointed…” (1 Sam. 26:11).

  • “…I magnify mine office.”  (Rom. 11:13).

  • “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)

…To the exclusion of verses like…

  • “…that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.  For who maketh thee to differ from another?”  (1 Cor. 4:6, 7).

  • “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves…” (2 Cor. 10:12).

  • “…lest I should be exalted above measure.” (2 Cor. 12:7).

  • “And I will gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” (2 Cor. 12:15).

  • “…for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me.”  (Gal. 2:6).

Being humble, for the preacher, necessitates submission to a text of scripture.  This trajectory precludes arrogance.  This kind of genuine humility in the heart of a preacher is essential to faithfulness.  Without it, authentic ministry suffers insurmountable blows to reputation and usefulness.  Subtle forms of pride will show up in the preaching experience in two ways: the notion that the preacher must be considered “great” in order to do big things and in the aggrandizement of personal agenda.  The antidote to each respectively is self-awareness and self-denial, the combination of both is de facto, humility.

  1. Commitment to People

To the elders of Ephesus, Paul rehearsed his commitment to the people God called him to serve.  He said, “Ye know…after what manner I have been with you at all seasons” (v. 18) and “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you” (v. 20), “I am pure from the blood of all men” (v. 26), “I ceased not to warn every one” (v. 31), and “I coveted no man’s silver, or gold or apparel” (v. 33).  A lack of humility will lend itself to an ego-centric, preaching ministry.  Contrariwise, the humble man of God will prioritize people - their needs, burdens, and concerns - above his own.  Paul’s profound love for those to whom he ministered is a matter of record (Rom. 1:7-12; 9:1-3; 10:1; 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 Thess. 2; et al.).  As this kind of love is produced in our hearts for the people to whom we preach, we will experience fruitfulness in kind.  The glorious gospel is worthy of this consistency.
Paul’s care for of the saints at Thessalonica provides an insightful guide for how to treat the people to whom we preach.  Here’s a simple, observational rundown of the characteristics of faithful preaching from 1 Thessalonians 2.  Look for…

  1. Boldness (v. 1), not belligerence.  Paul’s boldness was not displayed in his willingness to challenge other preachers to a brawl (re: nutty social media accounts), but his determination to speak unto them the gospel of God with much contention.  Paul was defensive of the gospel, not his silly, personal opinions about every matter on earth from Lebron James to Donald Trump.

  1. Honest exhortation (vv. 3-4), not manipulative, intimidating diatribes (a bitter and abusive speech or piece of writing).  Paul had no personal agenda to perpetuate, nor fraternal loyalties to highlight, thus, deceit was not a temptation.  His aim was to please God by preaching the gospel.  He was not trying to raise money or get ahead (v. 5); he was living and dying for the gospel.

  1. Gentle affection (vv. 6-8), not glory-seeking, self-promotion.  A nurse does not enter the nursery, hoping the children will see how great she is.  A nurse comes to cherish the children, to feed and protect them.  The nurse provides an example of what the pastor is supposed to do through his preaching ministry - love his people by preaching the gospel and expounding its exigencies.  This, and this alone is faithful preaching.

The backdrop against which this amazing example of service is set is Paul’s steadfast belief in the effectuality of God’s word (2 Thess. 2:13).  He believed in the sufficiency of scripture and that conviction drove him.  Faith  in God’s word and its efficacy will lead us to preach it.  Weak faith leads to weak preaching.

  1. The Content of the Message

There was no doubt about Paul’s message.  He preached “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 21).  He testified “the gospel of the grace of God” (v. 24), preached “the gospel of the kingdom of God…all the counsel of God,” (v. 25, 27), and “the word of his grace” (v. 32).  He laid down the most lucid and comprehensive order for the work of preaching found in scripture - “Preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:1-8).  While this should be obvious, it is not; for much time is spent in the pulpit on things that are not in the Bible, do not relate to anything in the Bible and indeed do not illustrate biblical truth.  The energy expended in many sermons on subject matter not supported by the text or any other passage of scripture is stunning.
THE fundamental truth of Christianity is that God has spoken and continues to speak through His word.  God…wrote…a book.  We must preach that book.  The Bible is our agenda.  We do not “get our message” from the text; the text is the message.  We labor to understand it in study, work to communicate what we understand in the preparation of the sermon and we deliver it faithfully by communicating just that - the content of scripture as God has revealed it.
  Imagine the tragedy of an ordinary man getting up on Sunday morning, often his only day off, and going to church.  He is a lost man, but he can sense his need for something more in life.  He awakens his family; they get dressed and rush out the door with little more than a donut for breakfast.  They pull onto the property of a local church to which they have been invited and navigate the off-putting currents of awkwardly, happy people. They are greeted and herded into place.  They take in the music, sing some hymns (hopefully), stare at the decor, people and preacher.  The moment of “truth” arrives and the pastor ascends the steps to the platform and preaches a sermon that is part Rush Limbaugh and part Jerry Seinfeld with a little religious jargon sprinkled in.  The text of scripture is like the national anthem at a ball game.  Once read, it is hardly referenced again.  The pastor preaches patriotism, old-fashioned values, morals, work ethic and an assortment of things that may be amenable to whatever degree, but there is very little gospel, no Bible expounded in context and applied faithfully.  What is said might be the truth, but it is not God’s truth.  This scenario is dreadful.  Every preacher of the word of God should fear their potential for this tragedy above all else.

Better preaching requires faithfulness and faithfulness involves humility, a commitment to people, and the right message.  When we strive for these things, the difference will be self-evident.  The difference will be faithfulness and in the these three areas, we can all do better.

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