4 Things Preachers Should NEVER Forget
When it comes to preaching, God accomplishes His greatest work through sermons that are both GROUNDED and EMPOWERED. Below are four keys to doing this, and delivering sermons that are both Gospel-centered and God-glorifying.
If preaching is anything, it must be biblical. It must be biblically grounded, biblically faithful, biblically accurate, biblically saturated.
This does not mean we lightly touch on a Bible verse and then proceed to preach our own ideas! Rather, it means that the Bible is the basis and the source of our message. God calls us to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2) not our own ideas.
John Piper, in The Supremacy of God in Preaching, says, “I say that good preaching is ‘saturated with Scripture’ and not ‘based on Scripture’ because Scripture is more (not less) than the basis for good preaching. Good preaching does not sit on Scripture like a basis and say other things. It oozes Scripture.”
Moreover, if our message is biblical, then we must take care that we base our message on sound exegesis. We cannot jerk a verse out of context or twist a passage to fit our own ideas. If we respect God’s Word, then we will be diligent to interpret it correctly. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15).
There is so much spiritual illiteracy and scriptural distortion in the church (much less outside the church!) Unfortunately, lots of preachers contribute to the problem!
If we teach the Bible, we have a solemn responsibility before God to be biblically faithful, with our words and with our lives.
“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1).
Anointing is the power of God on the preacher. It is God’s hand, God’s favor, God’s blessing. It is the mystical, mysterious empowerment of the message by the Holy Spirit.
In 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, Paul described his preaching: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” Anointing is all about the Spirit’s power.
In his book, Prayer, Richard Foster uses the word unction.
“Unction is the mystery of spiritual anointing that comes upon preaching and distinguishes it from every other kind of communication. It is more than earnestness; it is more than fervor; it is more than rhetorical skill. Unction is the divine in preaching. It gives preaching its point, sharpness, and potency. It impregnates revealed truth with all the energies of God. It supports, soothes, cuts, confronts, and brings dry bones to life.”
If we hope to have God’s anointing on our life and preaching, then certain things are essential. We must be surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. (This is the life of the preacher in the previous chapter.) We must be humble, zealous for God’s glory, not our glory. There must be no open disobedience in our life. We must be dependent and prayerful.
Without these traits, we will quench the Spirit and grieve the Spirit. We will not be empowered by the Spirit.
Let me be clear though: These traits do not necessarily mean you will receive God’s anointing on your life. It means you might receive it; you are eligible to receive it.
But anointing is God’s sovereign work. God chooses, not us. Why does God anoint some preachers but not others? Only God knows. Think of Billy Graham. He was an outstanding speaker but he was neither brilliant nor scholarly, and his messages were invariably simple. Yet, when he preached, thousands came to Christ. There was power in it. God’s power. People were gripped by sin and came to Christ. Billy Graham was anointed by God.
For that matter, why was there such an anointing on Paul? Did he deserve it? Did he earn it? Hardly.
Or David? Why did God choose this son and not his seven brothers? God knows.
That said, still we can ask for God’s anointing. We can pray. We can call out to God and enlist others to call out to God. In fact, if I could have people pray one thing for my preaching, this would be it: God’s anointing. The sovereign power of God on your life. For God’s glory.
The preacher must be real. If people sense that the preacher is posing, pretending to be something he’s not, then it’s over.
What does authenticity look like in a message? Basically, the preacher is honest. He’s real. There’s no pretence. He admits his struggles, his weaknesses, his problems, his sin. There is a clear message that he does not have his act together, that he is not as godly as he would like to be, that he does not have fewer problems than he actually has. In other words, this preacher is pretty flawed.
Haddon Robinson, a superb preacher, once commented: “If you knew what God knew about me, you wouldn’t listen to me.” That’s too true to be good.
One danger: Rarely use yourself as the hero of the story. If the preacher frequently talks about all the things he does well, that will get old pretty quickly. Far better to talk about your struggles and failures.
Another aspect of authenticity in preaching is to be yourself. Learn from other preachers but don’t mimic. Don’t imitate. Be who you are.
There is something powerful and attractive when there is genuine authenticity in the pulpit.
“No man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same time. No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save,” (James Denney).
How true and how convicting!
We want to glorify Christ, but at the same time a part of our soul secretly wants to impress people that we are gifted preachers, that we are intelligent, that we are godly, that we are funny, that we are courageous. How nauseating!
Humility is crucial. If we want God’s reward, God’s approval, then we must forget self and glorify Christ (Matthew 6:1-18). Without humility, God won’t anoint us and bless us. Rather, he will oppose us! “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” (James 4:6b). Jesus is looking for the preacher who cares only about the praise of God, not the praise of people (John 5:44).
Yet, humility is not just a crucial characteristic, but it is also an elusive characteristic. It’s tough! All eyes are on the preacher. All ears (OK, a lot of ears) are on the preacher. This can be a bit heady. It’s not easy to forget self. Besides the attention, there is also the affirmation. And the devil is probably whispering to you how good you are! Shut your ears and remind yourself that any good thing in you is a gift of God. He withdraws his hand and you die!
Besides, in our better moments we realize: “There are no great preachers; there is only a great gospel,” (George Buttrick). And: “No man who is full of himself can ever truly preach the Christ who emptied himself,” (J. Sidlow Baxter).
If we thirst for God’s anointing, God’s blessing, God’s approval, our only hope is that Christ would transform us, rescue us from our ego, and give us hearts aflame for the glory of God!