Recently I was speaking with a minister here in London who suggested that preaching is old-fashioned and doesn’t connect to the current generation. I will concede that preaching styles do change over generations as the same message is contextualized into our various contexts. The purpose of this post is to give a biblical defense of preaching. The Greek word for preaching (kerusso) means to proclaim or herald. The idea goes back to antiquity of a town crier who would shout out the relevant news to the townsfolk. The business of the herald was to communicate news. If the herald didn’t speak, the townsfolk didn’t know what was going on.
Scripture teaches us that the content of our preaching is the gospel (good news) delivered to us through Scripture. There are many voices claiming that since the culture in which we live is biblically illiterate, we should make the content of our messages something other than the word of God. And many in our culture consider preaching (the idea of proclaiming with authority) too strong, and we are admonished to tone down our message from delivering the message, to delivering our own personal interpretation of a message that may or may not hold any relevance for the hearer. However, God’s word in preaching can’t be excused. To preach without God’s word is to fill an empty void with more emptiness.
In part 1 of this 2-part post, I want to focus on the Purpose of Preaching and the Command to Preach.
1. Purpose of Preaching
In order to consider this, we must ask the question: what is the purpose of preaching? I would argue that preaching is ordained by God to extend the gospel to both believers and non-believers. This takes place by means of understanding being given, by the means of proclamation, through the power of God’s Spirit, leading to salvation for non-believers and sanctification for believers.
1.1. Giving Gospel Understanding
Scriptural record shows us that gospel understanding is given through preaching. If the Gospel is God’s good news, then the good news necessitates the preaching of God’s word for it to be revealed. At the birth of the church at Pentecost, Peter used Scripture in his message to explain what bystanders were seeing (Acts 2:16). This turns to the gospel being given and 3,000 people being converted (Acts 2:37-41). In the chapter immediately following this, Peter is again preaching, explaining to people the basis for a healing that’s taken place in their midst (Acts 3:12). As he is preaching he calls them to stop acting in ignorance (Acts 3:17), further signifying that understanding is being imparted through preaching. But this understanding isn’t in a general sense, but rather an understanding of God. Later Paul in Athens points out that the Athenians were worshiping God in ignorance and that it was time for them to know who God is (Acts 17:23-31). Paul underlines this great need in 1 Timothy 2:4, when he says God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In fact, Paul stresses this purpose summing up the entirety of his three years of Ephesian ministry when he tells the elders that he declared the whole counsel of God to them (Acts 20:27), which was to their profit (Acts 20:20). Essentially preaching brings God’s plan to light. Paul speaking again to the Ephesian church (Ephesians 3:8-10) said that he preached to “bring to light… the plan of the mystery.”
Understanding the gospel contained in Scripture enlightens the heart of the hearer. As mentioned already, when Peter preached at Pentecost, the understanding that 3,000 souls received caused them to trust in Christ. Paul writing to the Romans rhetorically asks how people will believe without hearing preaching (Romans 10:14-16). The word of God is something that is heard, and by responding to that word, we believe (Acts 4:4). Timothy was a partaker of this great salvation when the Scriptures were delivered to him (2 Timothy 3:15). We see in James 1:21-22, that preaching extends to the hearers the “word, which is able to save your souls.”
The gospel word preached is always relevant, for we need it not only for salvation, but the life-long process of sanctification. It is this word that profits the believer in making him both competent and equipped for Christian living (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul tells Titus to teach the church about the doctrine of God so that the hearer’s sanctification will adorn the doctrine of God (Titus 2:1-10). In Thessalonica, the church was known for its life-change (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10), as a response to hearing the word of God preached (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
1.2. Bringing God’s Judgment
It is also worthy of note, that at times the purpose of preaching is actually a means whereby God brings judgment. The prophet Isaiah’s ministry was defined by this aspect of preaching where God says to him in Isaiah 6:10 that his preaching will, “Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Later, Jesus quotes this passage in Isaiah citing the reason he speaks in parables (Matthew 13:13-15). It isn’t for us to determine how God will use His preached Word, but to trust that God himself will determine its purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11). Thus, we must be faithful to Scripture and seek to be clear in our communication, regardless as to whether people respond positively or not.
2. Command to Preach
Preaching the word is an imperative in Scripture (2 Timothy 4:1). If God’s word is not the substance of our preaching, then our preaching is in disobedience to this Scriptural imperative. Earlier in Paul’s letter to Timothy he commands his disciple to continue the pattern of raising up preachers when he says in 2 Timothy 2:2, “what you heard from me… entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This wasn’t simply a Pauline command as Jesus also made disciples intending them to preach as we see in Mark 3:14, “He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach” (italics mine). Preaching the word isn’t simply good practice, it’s good obedience.
In my next post we will look at Preaching under Fire, the fact that God’s Word has Power and Authority, and the Stewardship of Preaching.