“but at the appointed time revealed, peculiarly in his word through preaching, that with which I was entrusted, according to God our Savior.”
How does God reveal himself in the life of his people? He can do so in many ways. He uses teachers, relationships with other Christians, individual Bible studies, tracts that get handed out, and sometimes he uses the trying events of life. But what is the ordinary way that God has ordained that his Gospel be revealed? It is the word of God preached that God has made his own.
At this stage in my life, I have been preaching for a little over 20 years. In that time, I don’t know just how many sermons I have preached, but given that I have often preached multiple times during the week, I am probably closing in on two-thousand sermons under my belt. That, of course, is nothing in comparison to our forebears in years gone by, who have preached often 5 or more times per week.
Anyway, after two decades of preparing sermons to confront the lost and to feed the spirits of God’s people, there is one thing that I have learned about preaching…the one thing is that I don’t know much about preaching. Sure, I know the mechanics of it, but in a sermon, the preacher is called by God to teach the plain meaning of the text and to apply that meaning to his hearers. So far, so good. But wait a minute…those hearers are made up of children, adults, and aged saints, it is made up of those who are new to the faith and those who are mature in the faith, it is made up of those who are convicted in their sins and those who are hardened to sin in their lives, it is made up of tradesmen and office workers, it is made up of folks with basic grade-school learning and those with advanced degrees, and it is made up of people who have had very different upbringings…from growing up milking cows on the farm to growing up in town. We are called on to teach the Bible, Church History, Apologetics, and Theology as part of our sermon and in most contexts, we are given between 30 and 40 minutes per week to achieve all of that. And, after twenty years, all I can say is that I am still trying to figure it out…and probably never will get to the place where I think that I have.
And that is the way God has designed for his word to be taught to his people. It is teaching…but it is more than teaching. It is exhortation, but I am not just trying to get you to change your way of thinking or living. It is proclamation, but much more than that too. It is preaching and it is a shame that many churches do not give it the weight that our God places upon it in the Bible. Much that passes for “preaching” today is little more than pureed food seasoned with sugar and spoon-fed to babes and the church is worse off as a result. Some abbreviate the sermon and some fill the sermon time with stories to capture the attention of their hearers. But most do not place the sermon in a place of prominence in the service and thus do not give it the gravity it deserves.
Indeed, preaching is a peculiar thing, but that is not what Paul means when he calls it peculiar. The word in question, in Greek, is ίδιος (idios). It means something that belongs to or that is particular to another. In this case, preaching is the particular way in which the Word is to be presented in Paul’s ministry — and by extension, in ours. Yet, preaching is not just the work of the preacher. It is the work of the congregation as well. Are you preparing to hear the sermon all week while the pastor is preparing to preach it? Have you read the text ahead of time and thought about its meaning and application in your own life? Are you coming Sunday morning to learn from the pastor and not to be entertained? Do you listen to it again afterwards to glean things you might have missed the first time through? Are you praying for your pastor as he prepares? Are you promptly ready to attend to the Word as the pastor ascends the pulpit?
The sermon is like the main meal of the day in the life of the church. It is the work of the cook to prepare a balanced, healthy meal, but it is the responsibility of the family to eat it…even when those veggies are not things that get us excited and even when the meal is not one of our favorites.
There is one final aspect of preaching that I have deliberately left out until last. Where is the Holy Spirit? The preacher must discipline himself to rely not on his wit or his studies to deliver the sermon, but on the Spirit. If it were just the rhetoric of man, everyone’s time would be wasted no matter how interesting or informative the sermon might be. Further, the congregation must rely on the Holy Spirit and not their own mortal ears to hear the sermon else, it too will be a waste of time, no matter how worthy the sermon might just be. Does that mean the preacher is to slack in his preparations? Most certainly not. Does that mean the congregation may slack in their preparations? Most certainly not. But preparations alone does not make a sermon or a hearer. Those preparations must be joined by the Spirit to glorify God.