Radically God-Centered Preaching
We are preachers of the cross. We proclaim the truth, the stumbling block, the foolishness, the painful, curse-destroying, soul-anchoring gospel of Christ. We do so, according to Paul, not in eloquence, or superior wisdom. We do so by focusing our lives, ministry and preaching upon God. Notice that was how Paul geared his ministry to them. Paul didn’t come seeking affirmation in 1 Corinthians 2:1. He came talking about God. The focus was upon God, not upon himself. Paul would tell us that right preaching:
- Talks plainly about God (1). God doesn’t call people to assemble together to hear the preacher talk about politics, psychology or culture. God calls his people to assemble together to hear his word spoken plainly to them so that they might apply it to their lives. Paul explains that he came to the Corinthians without a lot of eloquence and pretension. He says that again in 2 Corinthians 4:2, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” The task of the pastor is to open the truth to people. Paul told Timothy that was his primary responsibility in 1 Timothy 4:1-2 when he told him to give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he expands on this idea when he calls on Timothy to “preach the word.” Our words are not words of men, but the very words of God, and God needs no rockstar guitar solo to accompany his message.
- Talks mainly about the Cross (2). Paul determined to know nothing among the Corinthians but Christ and him crucified. The point of the Bible, the point of ministry and indeed, the point of preaching is the cross of Jesus Christ. The substitutionary atonement, the propitiation, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as the peak of importance of Christianity was and still should be the center of the message of God’s preachers. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV).
- Requires that the preacher be himself (3). Paul came to them in weakness, in fear and trembling. We all come to this task as weak, sinful men. We stand before God’s people, over God’s book, under God’s authority in God’s power for God’s glory. Our focus, motivation and source of energy is God. Colossians 1:28-29 reminds us of the need for this, “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.” It is the energy of Christ that works in us. It is the energy of Christ that holds us together. I am to be myself. I preach in the name of Christ, not in my own name. Seeking to be impressive to other people is missing the point of the entire Christian endeavor. I try to remember, to paraphrase Spurgeon, “there may be those who preach the gospel better than I, but they will never preach a better gospel.”
- Is not about making fans (4). The goal in preaching and in pastoral ministry is never to create a personal following or fan club. That temptation is always a factor, because it feeds our self-worship, but it is always destructive both to the pastor and to the people. John Stott reminds us, “It seems that the only preaching God honors through which His wisdom and power are expressed is the preaching of a man who is willing in himself to be both the the weakling and the fool.” The desire of the heart should not be to make people say, “I am of Piper, I am of Driscoll, I am of Jessen” but to so clearly present the truth of the gospel that people see only Christ, hear only Christ and worship only Christ.
- Is accomplished in the power of God (5). My power is limited. My strength is minimal. I am to bring the truth to the people of God in the power of God. There’s no need to be cute. Jesus doesn’t need cute preachers. There’s no need to try to be novel and new. The gospel is enough to save a soul who will wake up each morning to find that God’s mercies toward him or her are always new. There’s no need to try to be clever. I can’t come up with a new angle that will make the gospel sound cool. There’s no need to try to be controversial. The idea that we are calling people to take up their cross and die daily in their journey after a Jewish carpenter who walked out of a tomb 2,000 years ago is controversial enough. We simply stand before you and preach the gospel in the power of God for the glory of God and leave the results up to God. Words of wisdom from Spurgeon are helpful here: “The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher, otherwise men would be the converters of souls, nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning, otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach until our tongues rotted, till we would exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless the Holy Spirit be with the word of God to give it the power to convert the soul.” Preaching is accomplished by the power of God.
The practice of preaching: How do we do this?
- The preacher:
- Preparation: According to the Bible, the most important task in my week is the preparation of the message. There are many things that distract from that task, and some of them are good things and necessary things, but in the end, my highest priority in this vocation is the preparation to preach the scriptures. An average sermon takes anywhere from 12-20 hours to prepare, so I take that time very seriously.
- Participation: When preparing and preaching a message, the text has to affect me first. If the text doesn’t affect the preacher, I think people can tell and it is clear that he doesn’t really believe what he is speaking about. The reality is that what comes out on Sunday morning should have already worked its way into my heart the week before.
- Performance: Preaching is different than teaching. There is some teaching involved in preaching, but preaching is declaration with authority in the power of the Holy Spirit. Sermons should be of a decent length, depending how long it might take to cover the material in the passage, and all should be aimed at a faithful treatment of the biblical text. The text should be delivered with reverence, care and passion (unction). Teaching should instruct, rebuke should sting, correction should guide and training in righteousness should provide lighting to the path the church must walk.
- The hearer: For more detailed instructions look at Pastor Ben’s Blog.
- Preparation: Try to get some rest on Saturday night. Read the passage on Sunday morning before coming to church. Pray that God would remove all distractions from your mind as you hear his word.
- Participation: Expect God to speak; Admit that God knows better than you; Check the Bible to be sure I’m right; take notes (not to help you remember it later, but to help you remember it now).
- Performance: Do what the Bible says! Obey! Don’t be hearers of the word only (James 1:22); Pray that God would add his blessing to his word.