by Jay Lockhart
In order to be effective preachers of the gospel, we must, like Jeremiah, have a fire burning in our hearts so that we cannot refrain from preaching (Jer. 20:9). Without this passion for preaching, we will not and cannot be successful. Preaching is not just a job, but a calling from the depths of our hearts to share “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). Like Paul, we consider ourselves to be debtors to all men, and we have a fire in our bones that compels us to preach. It is reported that N. B. Hardeman used to say to his preacher boys at Freed-Hardeman College, “Boys, don’t preach un-less you have to.” That was good advice. If we are going to preach, let us stir up this fire and preach because we have to.
The Message of Preaching
The message of preaching has been given to us by God. We are to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). We are to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). We are “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God,” preach “the kingdom of God,” and “declare…the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:24-25, 27). We are to “hold fast the pattern of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13). We must declare the gospel without fear or favor, without shame or timidity, and without compromise or alteration. We are to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), without quarreling, and with gentleness, patience and humility (2 Tim. 2:23-25). There will be times that we reprove, rebuke and exhort, but always “with longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). This kind of preaching is unlike any other oration because biblical preaching is to hear the divine voice of God through human vessels of clay. Unless we proclaim the word of God, our speech can hardly be called preaching.
Preparation for Preaching
In Paul’s prayer for the Christians at Colossae, we find a progressive plan for effective preparation to preach the gospel (Col. 1:9-12). First, the apostle prayed that the Colossians might “be filled with the knowledge of His will” (v. 9a). The preacher begins his preparation to preach by filling his mind with the word of God—he is a student of Scripture. His task is to study the Bible as he prepares to give a full exposition of the portion of Scripture he wants to share with his audience. He asks questions like: What does this text say? What does it mean? How does it apply to our lives? He examines the text in its immediate and overall context. This is hard work, but it is rewarding both to the preacher and his audience. This kind of study honors the God of revelation and respects the authority of Scripture.
Second, Paul prayed for “wisdom and spiritual understanding” (v. 9b). The preacher undergirds his study with prayer in which he asks God for the wisdom to both understand and apply the message. He prays about the words in the text, his delivery of the message, and the reception of the audience who hears. Prayer becomes a vital part of sermon preparation.
Third, the apostle prayed that the Colossians might “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him” (v. 10a). The preacher must practice what he preaches—he must live right if his preaching is to be credible.
Fourth, Paul prayed that they might be “fruitful in every good work” (v. 10b). Preaching that is biblical, that is undergirded with prayer, and is lived out in the life of the presenter will bear fruit.
Fifth, the prayer of Paul included “increasing in the knowledge of God” (v. 10c). In the preaching described above, the preacher will grow in knowing God better which will unleash the power of God in our lives so that we may face every difficult circumstance (the meaning of the Greek word translated “patience”) and every difficult person (the meaning of the Greek term translated “longsuffering”) with “joy” (v. 11). This “joy” is ours because we are confident that we are fulfilling the will of God in our lives, which is characterized by “giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (v. 12). In the meantime, we experience the “joy” of working through all circumstances and with all sorts of people as we proclaim the greatest message ever told.
Preaching & Evangelism
Preaching is designed to accomplish two basic tasks. First, the salvation of the lost (Mark 16:15-16) and, second, to edify, comfort, and encourage the saved (Acts 20:32). In a word: preaching is designed to save people through proclamation of the gospel.
Therefore, preaching is to instruct people concerning how to be saved by plainly and continually emphasizing God’s plan for how we respond initially to the gospel, and preaching is to help the saved to grow into the likeness of Christ and to stay saved. In the pulpit and “from house to house,” the preacher is to be a soul winner. It is easy for the preacher to become so enamored with the many tasks that are his that he may forget that the focus of his work is the salvation of souls. May God help us to keep the main thing the main thing and to remember that “he who wins souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30).