Friday, January 28, 2005

What then is preaching?

by Andrew Davies
It is more than instruction, though never less.
It is more than a sermon.
It is more than the careful exposition and application of the biblical text.
It is all of that. But it is more, much more.

1. It is a message from God through a man.

If a man does no more than prepare a sermon, explain the meaning, and show the relevance of the text without also bringing a message from God he has not preached. The exposition must become a burden.

2. It is encounter with God through exposition.

Something is meant to happen when the Word is preached. Preaching is an event, an occasion, in which the preacher and the congregation interact with each other so that there is an encounter together with God. It is a glorious thing when the preacher pours out his soul in the proclamation of the truth, and the congregation is gripped and moved and thrilled with him, both caught up and mastered by God’s Word.

3. It is praise through proclamation.

The preacher is a herald proclaiming God’s Word, announcing a great message from the King. He is to declare the greatness of God and the frailty of man. But that is not all. He is also to announce the coming of the King. God comes with the preaching of his Word. So the congregation is lifted up in praise and worship. Preaching like this is worship. It is the reason why the sermon comes at the end of the service as the climax and pinnacle of worship. (See Isaiah 40:1-11)

4. It is inspiration through instruction.

Preaching must be full of biblical content and rich in biblical theology, otherwise no basis exists for an appeal to respond. But at the same time it must inspire the congregation and move them to action. Peter said “I stir you up by putting you in remembrance.” Real preaching stirs the heart and touches the conscience as it penetrates the mind. It ought never to leave us as we were before. Paul prayed for “utterance” to be given him because he did not want simply to preach good sermons. There must be the demonstration of power as well as the power of demonstration if lives are to be changed and people galvanised to action.

5. It is freedom through form

There must be form! Structure, logic and order are important. Otherwise preachers will ramble. But it is very dangerous to rest contentedly with a good sermon. What is needed is real preaching, and real preaching is about authority and freedom. In the middle of a pastoral letter to a young minister Paul broke out into a cry of joy: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief”. I shall never forget a sermon I heard at Brixham Baptist Church on the preeminence of Christ from Colossians 1, when the preacher suddenly stopped in the middle of his exposition and exclaimed: “What a Gospel!” He was so thrilled with the glory of Christ that he couldn’t contain himself. Nor could I! God grant more of this to today’s preachers.

6. It is application from God through attention to people.

Preachers need to be aware of their congregations and to give them their attention. All the time the Word needs to be applied to the lives of the hearers as the preacher seeks to put himself into their shoes. This will require contact with people, knowledge, pastoral love, and imagination. It is one thing to love preaching; it is another thing to love people. As the preacher gives his attention to his hearers the Holy Spirit applies the truth to their consciences. Preaching that is worthy of the name will be direct, relevant and applied.

The church today needs preaching that is authentically God glorifying, Christ centred and Spirit-inspired. For lack of it for too long the souls of men have suffered. But God can take His truth and make it live in our own hearts so that sermons become preaching. Above all may we avoid the terrible danger that every poet, musician and artist faces, namely, being drawn away from love of the thing told to love of the telling. As CS Lewis once said: “down in deep hell they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they are saying about Him”.

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