January 21, 2018
Denise shared an article with me this week about trends in churches — do’s and don’ts, essentially. Most of the comments were pretty straight-forward, common sense even:
-don’t do things just because you have always don them
-don’t plan all of your women’s ministries in the daytime as many women work, etc…
But the real reason that she forwarded the article to me was because of the tenth point, which says that churches should move away from the sermon and approach that time with a more interactive teaching style. The essential idea was that a 30-40 minute monologue was outmoded and distracted from the “experience of worship.”
Denise knew that this would get me fired up a bit, but let me say this…I get it. I really do. First of all, a 30-40 minute monologue takes a lot of energy to pay attention to and follow along with. And, since part of the sermon is usually pointing out areas of your life of which you need to repent, I don’t need someone to tell me my failures, I beat myself up enough, I don’t need someone else beating me up further — give me something simple, Bible lessons and tell me how I can live a more peaceful and satisfying life. But, a detailed exposition of a tough passage of scripture or of a theological idea, that takes work and I’ve already had a hard week, the kids are behaving badly, and this is my day of rest — save the hard stuff for TOPIX and feed me something that will ease my soul and that I can take home with me.
Even from a teaching point of view, there are simply things that one cannot do in a sermon that can be done in a class setting: feedback, questions, dialogue, etc…
So, I get it, I really do. Sometimes people forget that preachers are ordinary people, too. We have hard weeks, we have troubles to work through, and many of us (myself included) are second-career pastors, meaning that we have worked “real jobs” in our life…whatever that really means.
But, let’s stop there because everything we have discussed thus far is centered upon us and our desires…or at least on what we think we desire. But, worship is not about what we want or about what we think we need. It is about God and what he wants. Thus, when we walk into this room, everything we do is not about serving ourselves, but it is about serving God.
Think about it this way. You are throwing a party for your grandfather who is about to turn 100 years old. You ask him what he would like and he says that he would like to have apple pie and a square dance. But you prefer rock music and chocolate cake. Which do you do? If you do the second, are you serving your grandfather or are you really serving yourself?
So how do we serve God? By acknowledging his greatness, who He is, and His Covenant faithfulness through the generations…and also by attending to His word.
As God says in Leviticus 10:3 — “Among those who draw near me, I will be sanctified, and before all people, I will be glorified.”
So, our worship is not about our experience or our preferences or even about what we feel we need. It is about us drawing near to God according to His word, which is what He says we most need. And the primary means by which God insists this be done is by preaching.
Thus, you have the language in Romans 10:14-17…
“But how are they to 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? As it is written, ‘how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel!’ But they have not all obeyed the Gospel, for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Do you notice what Paul writes: how are they to believe without someone preaching…
He did not say teaching; he did not say “creating an experience”; he did not say, “leading worship music”; he did not say, “witnessing and sharing your faith.” He said, “preaching.” And while it is true that much of this particular passage revolves around evangelism, when Paul refers to his own ministry in the churches, he calls it a ministry of preaching.
So, despite what many of the churches in our society are doing, we preach and we make the preaching of the Word the single-most important part of gathered worship.
So, as we reflect on preaching, the question could be asked, “what is preaching then?”
Certainly there are different styles of preaching — some preach more topically, like this series and others preach exegetically, verse by verse through a book of the Bible or a larger text, much like I ordinarily do. Some use lots of stories and illustrations and some are more plain. Some preach for different lengths of time. These are all styles of preaching that are going to differ from man to man.
But what makes preaching, well, preaching? Or, perhaps we could word it, what is the Bible’s definition of preaching?
The answer to this question can be found in 2 Timothy 4:2…
“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season (or more literally: ‘when it is convenient and when it is inconvenient’) reprove, rebuke, exhort with all patience and teaching.”
I’d like to make a few observations about Paul’s definition here:
1. Preaching must be Biblical…he begins, “preach the word.” A sermon must be from the Word of God, about the Word of God, and its reasoning must flow out of the Word of God. The Scripture must be primary, not secondary or in the background. While the ideas of men may be expressed, they must be illustrative and subordinate to the Scriptures. You may go from Dan to Beersheba in terms of the contexts and applications you cover, but preaching, if it is Biblical preaching, is meant to open up the Word of God to the people of God. Anything short of that is but the oratory of men and not what God would have in Christ’s pulpit.
2. Preaching, or the opportunities to do so, will come at convenient and inconvenient times, but note, this is not simply an instruction to preachers…it is an instruction to those who hear sermons and that we must always be ready to listen, whether convenient to us or not.
3. There are three objectives to preaching: reprove, rebuke, exhort
-To reprove means to scrutinize something closely and to recognize truth from error — it is to shine the light of God’s word on an idea or happening in our lives.
-To rebuke means to speak seriously about, to censure, or to warn (even discipline) those engaged in ungodly behavior that they must cease and desist for the honor of God.
-to exhort is to urge strongly, to appeal to one’s sensibilities and conscience and to make a strong and reasoned argument to an audience to call them to live differently than they are doing and to comfort those who are in submission to God’s word.
Notice that the vast majority of what Paul is talking about has to do with the matter of examining and correcting a sinful life. Never is preaching meant to help you feel comfortable in your own skin. Instead, it is meant to illustrate how far we have fallen and separated ourselves from a holy God and then point us to the inconceivable gift of God’s grace (in which we will find our comfort…nowhere else).
And finally, there are two aspects of preaching: “all Patience” and teaching.
Patience or forbearance is an essential aspect of preaching because you will tell people that you care about the same thing over and over and over again and often they will never respond in kind. You’ll tell them to forgive others and not keep a record of wrongs, to consider one another’s needs as more significant than your own, to practice Matthew 18 when confronting sin or offense, to study the Bible intentionally and read good theological literature, to turn off (or at least cut back) the TV and replace it with reading that good theological literature, to practice the Sabbath, and to pray with the family, and many other things. They will not their heads to say they agree, but never start practicing it themselves… Do understand that we preachers are stubborn sinners too, so when we speak out of the Word, we preach to ourselves as well. Without patience, frustration will fill your ministry.
Secondly we are to teach while we preach…we are to teach the Bible. The Sanctuary is many things, but first and foremost, it is the classroom of God’s word. Study is part of our sanctification process and thus we grow as we struggle through the Word.
Jesus said that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4)
And so, we come to the scriptures to nourish our souls and to prepare us for every good work. Without it we will starve and our works will be nothing more than the vanity of men.
And that brings us to Psalm 81, where we will end this morning. I have jumped around a lot to get to this point, but I wanted to end here because these verses serve both as a blessing to those who obey and as a warning to those who do not attend to the Word of God.
“Hear, o my people, while I admonish you (literally, ‘while I witness or testify to you”) O Israel, if you would just listen to me! (God is preaching to his people) There shall not be with you an unauthorized god, you shall not bow down to a foreign god (the gods of the nations around us are not to be a part of our lives). I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt… (and hear the next words), Widen your mouth and I will fill it.”
In other words, open your mouth like a young bird opens its mouth for its mother to give it food. Open your mouth and God will feed you on his Word and it will strengthen your faith and nourish your soul. It is rich and deep and will leave you hungering for more.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6) — but what equips us for righteousness? God’s word.
Regardless of the reason each of you may think that you came here this morning, the real reason that all of you are here is to honor God, to tell of his worth and to be taught from his word that you might be filled. The question really, then, is left with you. If you read forward in psalm 81, you will find that Israel did not do what God asked and it brought their downfall. Let such never be our downfall.
And so, once again, we allocate the majority of the service to the preaching and reading of God’s word. There are helps available to you to help you get the most out of each sermon, from notebooks in the back to Big Church Bingo. But ultimately, you still need to come ready to eat.